Saul’s vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9) has been a popular theme for artists over the centuries because it expresses something meaningful to both the artists and their audiences. Meaning, however, changes over time. My aim in this article is to explore how and why the narrative of Acts asserts the authority of Saul’s vision and how audience perception of this authority evolved over time, as evident in artistic representations of Saul’s vision. By employing literary and rhetorical analysis, I will clarify the claim that the author of Acts employs this vision as a reliable message from God by exploring two related issues: (1) the centrality of the life of the community to the function of the vision; and (2) the establishment of credibility by means of the shared visionary experiences of unrelated corroborative witnesses. However, as many visual interpretations of Saul’s vision indicate, the conception of this vision encounter as divine guidance for a whole community did not continue to be a central part of its value for later Christians. On the contrary, Paul’s personal authority and/or transformation become(s) the significant outcome of the vision for later audiences. Therefore, this article will also engage in the study of reception history to show how perception of the authority granted to this vision changed over time and ultimately reframed the power of the vision by elevating the transformation of the individual over the transformation of the community.
Susan NiditchAncient Israelite Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press1997) pp. 35-45; Frances Flannery-Dailey Dreamers Scribes and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (JSJSup 90; Leiden: Brill 2004) pp. 53-56; Susan Garrett No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press 2008) p. 30.
Flannery-DailyDreamers p.17- 22. Flannery-Dailey states that dreams in the ancient world were thought to be “actual meetings with a transcendent reality” (p. 17) and that a “message dream is a theophany” (p. 22). See also Johannes Lindblom “Theophanies in Holy Places in Hebrew Religion” HUCA 32 (1961) pp. 91-106 (93).
Charles W. Hedrick“Paul’s Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts,”JBL100.3 (1981) pp. 415-32 (425 427-32); Haenchen The Acts of the Apostles p. 322; Gerhard A. Krodel Acts (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament; Minneapolis: Augsburg 1986) pp. 172-73; Joseph A. Fitzmyer The Acts of the Apostles (AB 31; New York: Doubleday 1998) pp. 426 706.
Witherup“Functional Redundancy in the Acts of the Apostles” p. 78; Walsh “‘Realizing’ Paul’s Visions” pp. 31-33. Robert L. Brawley concludes that Paul’s characterization in Acts is intentionally ambiguous the discrepancies between the three vision accounts both subordinate and do not subordinate Paul to the apostles (Centering on God: Method and Message in Luke-Acts [Louisville: Westminster/John Knox 1990] pp. 155 158).
Corley“Interpreting Paul’s Conversion” pp. 7-8. Walter Friedlaender notes that horses are not present in the oldest depictions of the scene specifically in Byzantine manuscripts of the ninth and mosaics of the twelfth century (Caravaggio Studies [Princeton: Princeton University Press 1955] p. 3).
John ShearmanRaphael’s Cartoons in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen and the Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel (London: Phaidon1972) p. 44 cited in Hornik and Parson Illuminating Luke vol. 3. p. 66.
Graham-DixonCaravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane p. 217. See also Friedlaender’s conclusion that this unusual combination of biblical scenes imitates Michelangelo’s frescos in the Pauline Chapel (Caravaggio Studies p. 7).
Grietje Sloan“The Transformation of Religious Conversion from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation: Petrarch and Caravaggio,”Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques15.1 (1988) pp. 131-49 (143 146) emphasis mine. Sloan sees a connection between the Cerasi Conversion and Protestant religious traits that were developing at this time.