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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

The Secret Police Companions of the Anti-VEGAN Paul. By Thijs Voskuilen (2005)

In Paul’s own letters, there is no account of his ‘conversion’, which is described only in chapter nine of Acts, written by ‘Luke’: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there that belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1 – 3) It has been doubted whether this journey ever took place, because the High Priest in Jerusalem had no jurisdiction in Damascus. The city was, at that time, not even under Roman jurisdiction. It had been ceded by Caligula (37 CE) and belonged to the independent Arab Kingdom of Nabatea under the rule of King Aretas IV (9 BCE – 40 CE). So if Saul really went there to capture dissidents, he must have done so as part of a covert operation, under direct orders from the Roman authorities, or not at all. 34

In the simplified version in Acts: As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ [. . .] The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul was blinded, and his fellow travellers took him to Damascus. According to Acts 9, this unknown number of anonymous fellow travellers ceased their persecuting activities along with Saul, even though they did not convert. Next, they did not take Saul to a regular doctor, but left him to the care of Ananias, a ‘man of God’ whom they had originally come to persecute. Ananias allegedly cured Saul of his ‘blindness’, and told him that he would be the Lord’s instrument to ‘carry his name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel’.

So far, the behaviour of the team of Saul’s fellow persecutors in Acts can be called remarkable to say the least. Even though this organised group of agents had travelled all the way to Damascuswith specific orders to persecute messianists, apparently they did not even contemplate apprehending the first member of the enemy movement they encountered. Acts does not mention an interrogation of Ananias to obtain names and addresses of other members, nor another kind of effort made by the persecutors to find out who belonged to the movement.

Moreover, the team of government agents did not attempt to interrogate their colleague Saul about his sudden desire to join the subversives, nor did they try to keep him from joining. Of course, it would have been perfectly possible for them to let Saul enjoy his newfound spiritual insights in jail, in order to prevent an increase of the number of dissidents in the streets. Instead, they simply let him walk, allowing him to take highly sensitive information with him, such as government strategy, the identities of his fellow persecutors, and the identities of possible traitors within the movement, both in Damascus and Jerusalem.

Contemporary Distrust Acts then goes on to say: Paul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalemamong those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’

Yet Paul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. (9:19 – 22)35 Acts gives us no information about the activities that Saul’s fellow persecutors undertook during the ‘several days’ that deserter Saul spent ‘baffling the Jews’ (22) in Damascus. Judging by Acts, they were not in the least bit concerned that he might reveal persecution tactics, the names of informers, or other secrets to the persecuted movement, even though Saul was the agent who had been given the operational instructions by their superior officer in Jerusalem – from which it can be deduced that, up to that point, Saul had not given his superiors any cause for concern about his mental stability, loyalty or dedication.

And, indeed, it turned out that his fellow persecutors had no reason to worry: neither Acts nor Paul’s own letters ever mention his sharing any government secrets with the persecuted movement he had supposedly joined. We must therefore assume that he never shared any with them. This was a very odd state of mind for a deserted persecutor who had the survival of his persecuted friends at heart, but it does fit the profile of an agent who kept on undermining his original victims.

Not surprisingly, the Jews were deeply distrustful of the ‘changed’ persecutor: After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Paul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Acts 9:23 – 25)

Original article: Thijs Voskuilen (2005) Operation Messiah: Did Christianity Start as a Roman Psychological Counterinsurgency Operation?, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 16:2, 192-215, DOI: 10.1080/09592310500079940 . Corr. Email: MA in History and Journalism from the Rijksuniversiteit Groninggen, The Netherlands

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