Yet Another Contradiction in Damascus?

18 Nov

Before going on to other matters in Acts, I would like to mention one more place that some modern critics point to in their efforts to show disagreement between Luke and Paul. As we have seen thus far, these “contradictions” are really points of misunderstanding whereby the modern critics have read incongruities into the text, and that mentioned below will be no different. One must be very careful not to take a matter for granted when the text isn’t clearly stating one’s presumption.

In Acts 9:22-25 Luke records that Saul (Paul) was preaching in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ), and in doing so he incurred the wrath of some important Jews there who were offended with his preaching. Luke says that the Jews secretly waited at the Damascus gates with the hope of apprehending and then killing Paul as opportunity arose. Nevertheless, Paul became aware of the plot and some disciples let him out a window in the city wall during the night, and he made his escape to Jerusalem. However, the critics like to point out that Paul disagrees with Luke concerning this event. Paul writes later to the Corinthians that the governor of Damascus under Aretas (the king of Nabataea or Arabia) was the one who wished to apprehend Paul, and it was he from whom Paul made his escape to Jerusalem (2Corinthians 11:32-33).

So, who sought Paul’s life; was it the Jews or King Aretas? The answer may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t if one looks at the history of Damascus and similar cities in the Roman Empire with a large Jewish population during the days of Paul. Scholars are divided concerning who ruled Damascus. Some say the city was part of the Syrian province, and Rome ruled there. Others say, because no Roman coins have ever been excavated in Damascus with either Caligula’s or Claudius’ image upon them, but coins before and after their reigns had the then current emperor’s image, that Damascus was ruled by the Nabataean king.

Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the first century CE, records that Jews in many cities throughout the Empire where a large Jewish population resided, were granted their own governor, called an ehtnarch. These governors ruled their own people in these large cities and represented their nation in matters of controversy before the ruler of the city. Alexandria in Egypt had one such governor.[1] Josephus quotes Strabo:

“Now these Jews are already gotten into all cities, and it is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that has not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them; and it has come to pass that Egypt and Cyrene, as having the same governor, and a great number of other nations, imitate their way of living, and maintain great bodies of these Jews in a peculiar manner, and grow up to greater prosperity with them, and make use of the same laws with that nation also. Accordingly, the Jews have places assigned them in Egypt, wherein they inhabit, besides what is peculiarly allotted to this nation at Alexandria which is a large part of that city. There is also an ethnarch allowed them, who governs the nation, and distributes justice to them, and takes care of their contracts, and of the laws belonging to them, as if he were the ruler of a free republic.” [2]

Therefore, there is no contradiction between Paul and Luke. Luke claims that the Jews sought Paul’s life and waited at the gates of the city in an effort to apprehend him. Paul says the (Jewish) ethnarch, under Aretas the king of Nabataea, plotted Paul’s capture and waited vainly at the city gates, because Paul made his escape by being let down through a window in the city wall and fled to Jerusalem!

[1] Josephus: Antiquities; 19.5.2

[2] Strabo; quoted by Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews; 14. 7. 2


Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Textual Criticism


Tags: , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Yet Another Contradiction in Damascus?

  1. Jerald Davis

    June 28, 2014 at 20:46

    Possibly it was a Nabataean ethnarc in cahoots with the Jews who was after Paul. (See F. F. Bruce’s commentary on the English text of Acts, p. 204) There is no contemporary evidence that the Nabataean king controlled Damascus, and a strong probability that he never did. If Paul in the three years included some time in the Nabataean territory (“Arabia” Gal. 1:18) evangelizing he might have stirred up trouble there, and a Nabataean ethnarc might have conspired with the Jewish authorities to try to kidnap Paul and/or kill him. The Nabatean ethnarc would not have direct authority over Paul since he was not a subject of Aretas.

    • Eddie

      June 29, 2014 at 05:32

      Greetings Jerald, and thank you for reading my blog and being interested enough to leave a comment.

      When I first began writing about the events of Acts, I did believe the Nabataean ethnarch (not a Jew) was after Paul, but after further consideration and study, I realized that the Jews had their own ethnarchs to rule and represent their own people in various cities throughout the Roman Empire. There is no reason to suspect they didn’t have one in Damascus with such a vast Jewish population. So, although he was under the authority of King Aretas, the ethnarch in Damascus was a Jew. Therefore, whether reading Paul or Luke, there is no disagreement between the two. The Jews sought Paul (according to Luke), and the Nabataean ethnarch, who was also a Jew, sought him (according to Paul).

      Concerning whether or not King Aretas ever governed Damascus, I’ll let that be fought out in scholarly realms, but in the meantime, we know that no Roman coin dating to this period was ever found in excavations of the Damascus area. This leads to the assumption that Rome didn’t rule there while Paul evangelized Damascus and parts of Arabia.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: