Was Paul knocked off his high horse on the way to Damascus?

Many people believe that Paul was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. Caravaggio’s famous painting titled “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” (depicted above) has seared into our imaginations the image that Paul fell in amazement from his horse when Christ appeared to him in the midst of a blinding light. However, if you go back and read the biblical account of the miracle, nowhere does it describe Saul falling off his horse. In fact, we can be certain that Rabbi Saul was not on his horse at midday when Christ appeared to him (Acts 26:13). We know this because Pharisees prayed regularly throughout the day in obedience to Psalm 55:16-17, “But I call upon God, and the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon.” Jewish men recited these prayers standing on their feet and facing toward Jerusalem. Saul no doubt observed noonday prayer on that day as he traveled along the road to Damascus. He was likely standing erect and facing south to Jerusalem when Jesus Christ spoke to him and blinded him with light. Paul described the experience like this:

caravaggio_stpaul (1)

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’
And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:14-18).
Blinded by this brilliant apparition of Christ, Saul went to Damascus where the very Christians whom he had sought to imprison received him. A Christian leader in Damascus by the name of Ananias laid his hands on Saul, and at once the one-time persecutor of the Christians received back his sight. Saul then received the sacrament of baptism. Incidentally, Saul was baptized in a home and not in a river (Acts 9:17-18). As might be expected, the Christians of Damascus were not eager to receive Saul into their fellowship. “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests” (Act 9:21). However, Saul’s conversion proved genuine as he immediately began to proclaim that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel.

The post above was excerpted from first chapter of The Catholic Perspective on Paul by Taylor Marshall, Ph.D. For more, please click her to view the book at amazon.com.

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