Thursday, January 03, 2008

Mysteries of the Bible -- Paul the Apostle: Part 1

I recently watched the Biography Channel's program entitled, "Mysteries of the Bible: Paul the Apostle." It is part of a larger series, which can be purchased for 52.46 USD from Biogrpahy's online shop. There are seven volumes in the series:
  • Volume 1: Abraham: One Man, One God; Herod the Great; The 10 Commandments; Bonus Documentary
  • Volume 2: Jacob’s Ladder; Joseph: Master of Dreams; Cain and Abel; Queen Esther: Far Away and Long Ago
  • Volume 3: King Solomon; King David: Poet Warrior; The Last Revolt; Archenemy: The Philistines
  • Volume 4: Jesus: Holy Child; The Execution of Jesus; Bonus Documentary
  • Volume 5: The Lost Years of Jesus; The Last Supper; Paul the Apostle
  • Volume 6: The Bible’s Greatest Secrets; Biblical Angels; Heaven and Hell; Apocalypse: The Puzzle of Revelation
  • Volume 7: Magic and Miracles; Prophets: Soul Catchers; Bonus Documentary
Regarding "Paul the Apostle," here is the little blurb from Biograhpy's site:

Follows Saint Paul's journeys to explore his stunning transformation from Christianity's bitterest foe to its strongest advocate. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus determined the future of the Christian movement and the Western world.

The program is actually pretty good. I was expecting it to be either hokey or so secularized that nothing resembling the records of Paul's life in the Bible would be seen. However, it was neither. Instead it presented a fairly balanced and some-what thorough overview of Paul's life. I do wish that they would have had more time to discuss Paul's teachings, but, alas, this program was intended to fit into a sixty minute time slot.

The program has five segments or "Acts." Act I is called "Road to Damascus." In this segment it is stated that "Jesus had been crucified for blasphemy" and that his followers were worshiping him after his death. No mention is made of the resurrection. It is mentioned, however, that "the Jews" were angry that a criminal who had been executed was being praised; among these Jews was Paul. On his way to bring to justice "Christians" in Damascus, Paul experienced something amazing, what the show calls one of "history's turning points."

At this point in the program I thought that I was simply going to be presented with an explanation of the account in Acts of Paul's life. In my notes I wrote, "Assumes Acts' authenticity," to which I later added, "at first." The "at first" was necessary because next the viewer hears from Robert M. Price, who was then from Drew University but is now at Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary. He states that we have little "reliable evidence" about Paul's "conversion," that Paul's letters don't mention it explicitly, and that the supposed account in Gal 1 is at best ambiguous. However, 2 Cor 12.2 and The Apocalypse of Paul are then brought forward as possible witnesses to visionary experiences that may have had a major impact on Paul's move from persecutor to promoter of belief in Christ. The program presents the event of Paul's "conversion" as murky but its "result is not in doubt."

Act II is called "The Hidden Years" and deals with Paul's experiences directly after his "conversion." The program pits the Acts account, in which Paul returns to Jerusalem after a short time in Damascus, with Galatians, in which Paul goes to Arabia for an extended period of time. While the former account is not explicitly denied, the latter position is the the only one that is talked about with any sort of depth.

The viewer learns about the kingdom of the Nabateans and their capital, Petra, where Paul may have gone after his "conversion." Wayne Meeks, from Yale University, then says Arabia was "where he [Paul] first tried his hand at this new mission he saw himself called to." In an effort to find evidence to support Paul's evangelistic endeavors in Arabia, the viewer is read 2 Cor 11.32, where King Aretas chases Paul out of Damascus. This "Aretas" from the Bible matches evidence outside the Bible of a Aretas IV who ruled the Nabatean kingdom during the first century. Meeks then wraps up this section nicely by stating that Paul "already stirred up trouble," which would continue to be a defining characteristic of his ministry for the rest of his life.

The next post (which I hope to write later today) will cover the third, fourth, and fifth acts. A third post will include a critique of the program and will discuss its usefulness in teaching courses on Paul.

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