The Damascus Road Novel

I pondered what he had said. “I must pray to God?”

“No,” he said. “You must learn to pray throughGod.”

In the years after Christ’s crucifixion, Paul of Tarsus, a prosperous tentmaker and Jewish scholar, took it upon himself to persecute the small groups of his followers that sprung up. But on the road to Damascus, he had some sort of blinding vision, a profound conversion experience that transformed Paul into the most effective and influential messenger Christianity has ever had.

Last Sunday, while reading the NY Times (I’ve done this since my college days in Washington, D.C.), I ran across the publication of a new novel about Paul. Since, we’ve begun our Bible Study on the Acts of the Apostles (on Tuesday evenings, led by Pastor Gaye) and over half of Acts is about Paul, I thought it would be a good read and immediately purchased it for the church. Although I’ve just started reading….

In The Damascus Road novelist Jay Parini brings this fascinating and ever-controversial figure to full human life, capturing his visionary passions and vast contradictions. In relating Paul’s epic journeys, both geographical and spiritual, he unfolds a vivid panorama of the ancient world on the verge of epochal change. And in the alternating voice of the Gospel writer Luke, Paul’s travel companion, scribe, and ghostwriter, a cooler perspective on his actions and beliefs emerges — ironic but still filled with wonder at Paul’s unshakable commitment to the Christ and his divinity.

The author writes,

“In this novel, I hoped to imagine what it was like for Paul and his fellow missionary, Luke, to live and move around the Roman world in the early to middle years of the first century. What did it look and smell like? What were its tastes and sounds? How did people talk? What were the religious currents that shaped their thinking?

“Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and so it made sense to use him as a co-narrator in this novel, a contrapuntal voice that reflects a contrasting temperament. In fact, the writer of these texts may or may not have been the same man who traveled with Paul, but that is a traditional assumption that seems at least possible and worked for me as novelist.

The Damascus Roadis a vision of what might have happened, as attempt to take in the world of early Christianity. And it conforms largely to the sequence of events as narrated by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, a chronology augmented by the letters of Paul, which represent the earliest Christian writings.

“This is, needless to say, a novel and not a work of scholarship per se. I wanted to imagine as fully as possible the world of Paul and Luke, seeing the men and women of the earliest Jesus movement with the usual failings, worries, and ambitions. I left out a lot of things, as one must… overall, I adhere to the agreed upon facts of his life and travels, and my vision of Paul is an attempt to dream the particulars of this world in ways that could well be true.”