The Travels of Paul
by Robert Brenchley
The travels of St. Paul begin, at least as far as history is concerned, at Antioch, one of the great cities of the Roman East. He was an inveterate wanderer, and there are more than sufficient hints to show that these were not the only travels of his life. According to the Book of Acts, there had been tension between Judean Jews, the ‘Hebrews’, and Hellenized Jews within the Jerusalem church. This would not be surprising; the Judeans tended to be nationalistic, as we would term it today, strict on the Law, and would probably be recognizable to us as fundamentalists. The Jews of the Dispersion, on the other hand, spoke another language, Greek, were far less threatened by the pagan world they obviously knew well, and were concerned to maintain their Jewish identity while getting on with Gentile neighbors. A group of them lived in the Holy City, and some of these probably made up the ‘Hellenist’ group in the Jerusalem church. According to Acts, their leader, Stephen, was stoned to death on a charge of speaking against the ’Holy Place’ (the Temple) and the Law, the two great pillars of the Judaism of the time. Persecution of the Hellenists followed, and they fled the city, while the Judean majority in the church seem to have carried on much as before. Paul, or Saul, as he was originally known by his Jewish name, seems to have had a foot in both camps. We have two main sources of information about him; his own letters, and an account written a generation later, probably right at the end of the 1st century, which we know as part of the Acts of the Apostles. This appears to be somewhat sanitized, with the sharp conflicts within the church which appear in Paul’s letters glossed over. It is clearly pro-Roman, possibly written for a Roman official, and consistently blames the Jews for whatever trouble Paul got into. Silver stater, Tarsos, SNG Levante 106 var. 361-334 BCE. Struck by the satrap Mazaios, obverse BLTRZ (=Baaltarz) in Aramaic behind. Baal of Tarsos enthroned left, head facing, holding bunch of grapes, grain ear, and eagle in right hand, lotus headed scepter in left hand, M below throne, all within a circle of dots; reverse lion bringing down bull, attacking with teeth and claws, MZDI (=Mazdai) in Aramaic above, letters below, all within a circle of dots. Paul was a Greek-speaking, Hellenized Jew of the Dispersion, from Tarsus according to Luke, clearly having had a good education, who moved to Jerusalem, becoming a keen Pharisee. He went through a phase of being hyper-zealous for the Law, and persecuted the Hellenistic section of the church, under the authority of the High Priest. The High Priest was a Sadducee, one of the aristocratic group of priests who controlled the Temple. The Pharisees were ordinary craftsmen and the like, who adapted the Law to make it possible for everyone to keep it. Their relationship with the Sadducees was extremely poor, yet Paul hated the Jesus movement so much that he was willing to go to Damascus with letters of authority from the High Priest, if that was what it took to ‘get’ the believers who had fled there. At the same time, his Pharisaic belief in the resurrection, and the Pharisees’ close relationship with the people, gave him a good deal in common with them. On the way to Damascus, he had a vision of Jesus, and joined the group he was hoping to destroy. Paul joined a group of Hellenist believers at Antioch; according to Acts 11:26, the name ‘Christian’ was first applied to them there. So by this time they must have been a clearly identifiable group, though its not known whether the name was first used by Jews or Gentiles. A new Jewish movement, as the church originally was, would certainly be more immediately obvious to the former.Antioch in Syria was founded by Seleukos I, founder of the Seleukid dynasty, in about 300 BCE. Its site on the River Orontes, combined with the fertility of the surrounding countryside, led to its rapid growth into an important regional centre. By the time of Paul, it had grown to become the third city of the Roman Empire, and the site of a major eastern mint. It had had a large Jewish community from the time of its founding, which, despite its importance, had often had a difficult relationship with the city’s Greek rulers. As a mark of the city’s importance, and his desire to impress his neighbors, Herod the Great had had the main street paved with marble at his own expense. Nero Tetradrachm, Antioch; reverse an eagle standing on a thunderbolt. RPC 4181; 60-61 CE. Some time after Paul’s arrival, there was a prophecy of a famine in Judea; these happened fairly regularly at this period. Paul was sent to Jerusalem with a man named Barnabas, possibly a nickname, or a name he took at baptism, to present an offering from the community. The name may mean ‘son of encouragement’, and this is how Luke takes it, but it does have other possible meanings. He was clearly a man of some wealth, as Acts records that he sold a farm (the familiar 'field' is too rigidly literal a translation, and misses the real meaning). This offering would have been an act of solidarity, confirming the link between the two Christian communities, and could have been intended, in part, to overcome any tensions left after the persecution. When they returned, they had another man with them, named John Mark. Nothing in known about him apart from Luke’s account; the common belief that he is the young man who runs naked from the scene in Gethsemane, and that he is the author of Mark’s Gospel, is pure speculation.Dates are rather vague, unfortunately; Paul’s conversion probably came a couple of years after the crucifixion, give or take, and the first visit to Jerusalem perhaps a year or two after that, if the story in Acts is complete and correct. However, Paul himself (Galatians 1:17-2:1) says that he went to ‘Arabia’, that is, the kingdom of Nabataea, and then returned to Damascus. According to his account in 2 Corinthians 11:32-3, there was an incident, either on this visit to the city or another, when ‘King Aretas’(Aretas IV) trapped him in the city, and he escaped in a basket lowered through a window in the wall. He did not meet with the apostles in Jerusalem, suggesting that his ides were already at odds with theirs. ‘After three years’, he paid his first visit to Jerusalem, meeting Cephas (Peter) and James the Lord’s brother, who dominated the Jerusalem church for a generation after the crucifixion. He says that he wasn’t known at this point to the churches of Judea, suggesting a flying visit. It’s hard to reconcile this with Luke’s statement that he studied under Gamaliel, as the Pharisaic leader was resident in Jerusalem, and this would have implied a protracted period of residence in the city. A second visit to Jerusalem came ‘after fourteen years’. Reconciling Acts with Paul’s letters is notoriously difficult, if not at times impossible, but the letters must always take preference; Paul was there, while Acts, according to most scholars, was written a generation later, at the end of the 1st Century. Aretas IV, King of Nabataean 9 BCE - 40 CE. SNG ANS 1438 – 43, jugate busts of Aretas and Queen Shaquilath. Petra mint.On the second visit (Galatians 2:1-10), which is often, perhaps dubiously, identified with the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, Paul went ‘in response to a revelation’; prophecy or something similar is never very far away in this book. His account, not for the only time in his letters, shows a degree of bitterness towards his opponents, described as ‘false believers secretly brought in’, and towards ‘those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders’. Barnabas was with him; it seems the two sides agreed that he should go to the ‘uncircumcised’, i.e. the Gentiles, safely away from Jerusalem, while they should go to ‘the circumcised’, the Jews, presumably in Judea where they were already established. Paul ends by saying that ‘They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do’. It’s clear from his account that he had to go along with what the Jerusalem leadership, Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and John, demanded, and that, however he wanted to gloss over the fact, he didn’t like it. Their main difference seems to have been over the Jewish law, which is a recurring theme in Paul’s letters. It is clear from Acts, and every other source, that James dominated the Jerusalem church at this period. Paul mentions a triumvirate of Peter, James and John, but his account gives James the last word. Tradition has it that James was a devout Jew, strict on the Law, who followed it according to the Pharisaic interpretation. According to one, doubtless exaggerated, account, he spent so much time praying that his knees ‘became as the knees of a camel’.From Jerusalem, Paul may well have returned to Antioch; the next thing he mentions (Galatians 2:11-14) is a clash with Peter which occurred there. Jewish law requires that food be kosher, or pure; certain animals such as pigs may not be eaten, meat has to be killed so as to minimize the amount of blood in the carcass, and it must not have been sacrificed to idols. Gentile meat, of course, was not kosher. Gentiles were not kosher, the animal would probably not have been killed correctly, so that forbidden blood would have been eaten, and since secular slaughter was the exception at the time, it would probably have been sacrificed in one of the many pagan temples. Not only this, but there seem to have been issues about table fellowship; eating together was a sign that the people involved were members of a single community. Could you have a community which included both Jews and Gentiles? The Jews were an important minority within the Roman world, but as a minority, they were always insecure; it would have been important for them to remain within the expected boundaries. If there were problems, as there were in Rome in 49 CE, the Romans were likely to respond by expelling them. Then there was the question of Gentile status within the Kingdom of God, which was expected to come at any moment. Jesus was expected to return to inaugurate this; would Gentiles be included? Liberal Jews seem to have thought that they would be; there are plenty of righteous Gentiles in the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, and there was a protected place in Israel for the stranger and the exile. But their status was inferior; even the liberals would have wanted Gentiles to convert, and gain full status. But at Antioch, Jews and Gentiles were eating together in an assembly which was no longer clearly Jewish. Paul seems to have been comfortable with this, but given that so many issues came together in the apparently simple question of eating together, it was inevitable that some deep-seated prejudices would be stirred up.Peter came to the city, and seems to have eaten with the Gentiles for a while. Then ‘certain people came from James’, and he started eating separately. When it came to the pinch, they all did what James said. This led to an argument between Peter and Paul, who says nothing about having confronted the James people. Paul seems to have regarded the weaker Peter as a hypocrite, or ‘mask-wearer’. Tensions like this were to dog Paul throughout his life.According to Acts, the Holy Spirit said that Barnabas and Saul, as he was still known, were to be set aside for the work to which God had called them. If this is historical, perhaps this came through another prophecy. So they set off, perhaps in around 47 or 48 AD, first to Seleucia, an important port not far from Antioch, which had been named after Seleukos I. At this time it was the base of a Roman fleet, and the harbor was maintained at imperial expense. They then moved on to Salamis, on the island of Cyprus, where there was a large Jewish community. They visited Paphos, the seat of government, and met the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and a Jewish magician named bar-Jesus, or Elymas, who was one of his associates. Apparently, bar-Jesus was struck blind, and this impressed Sergius Paulus so much he became a believer. The island had become a senatorial province, but while the name Sergius Paulus is known from an inscription, the date does not appear to correspond to that of Paul’s journey. However, his family is known, and originated from Antioch in Pisidia, which Paul visited next. From Paphos, they sailed to Perga, in Pamphilia, part of what is now Turkey. This was an important river port, extremely wealthy, and with a predominantly Greek culture, despite the Roman influences which would clearly have been present. Here John Mark left the group, which continued to Antioch in Pisidia. The city had become important since Augustus visited in 25 BCE, annexing the province of Galatia, and re-founding Antiochas a Roman colony for veterans from Legions V and VII. A grandiose building scheme was being completed at around the time of Paul’s visit. Paul preached here, making, according to Acts, a deep impression on the local Gentiles, some of whom were already believers in the Jewish god, but unwilling to become full Jews; these are referred to as the 'Godfearers'. The Jewish community was offended, however, and stirred up trouble until Paul and Barnabas were driven out of the city. Luke does not specify what the problem was, but its difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would have been down to Paul’s ambiguity over the Law, and his blurring of the dividing line between Jew and Gentile. Nothing else really explains why it was that Paul apparently had nothing but trouble, while the Jerusalem church, which was far more conventional in its attitude to the Law, seems to have had good relations with the rest of the Jewish community.So they went to Iconium, which had been temporarily renamed Claudiconium during the reign of Claudius. It subsequently became a centre of early Christianity. Here Paul and his companions had a similar experience; they preached in the synagogues, but the Jews stirred things up until they had to flee, after being warned of a plot to stone them to death. This was the punishment for blasphemy, so whatever the precise details of the offense, it has to have involved the Law. They continued to Lystra, in Lycaonia. This was a Roman colony, founded by Augustus in 26 BCE. In Lystra, it seems that Paul healed a lame man, and caused a sensation. The local pagans hailed them as ‘gods in human form’ (Acts 14:11), and the priest from the local temple of Zeus brought animals to sacrifice. Jews came from Antioch and Iconium to make trouble, however, and Paul was stoned and left for dead. He recovered,and they went to the nearby city of Derbe, a Greek city which had been briefly known as Claudia Derbe under Claudius. In fairness, it should be remembered that Luke is distinctly anti-Jewish, and some of this is probably influenced by tensions which arose in the generation after Paul’s death. Clearly, such tensions were there from the beginning, at least where Pauline Christianity was concerned, but after the destruction of the Temple in 70, the break became far worse. Paul must have founded churches somewhere in this area, though their exact location is not known; his letter to the Galatians is proof of their existence. The letter was written in order to persuade the Galatian believers to remain true to Paul’s version of the church in the face of opposition, either from the James group or from local Jewish communities, which tried to pressurize them into observing the Law as ‘proper’ Jews. As a minority, the Jews, together with the new movement, which was still seen as Jewish at this time, would have been under pressure to conform to what was expected of them; here Gentiles were suddenly to be found claiming to be full members of a ‘Jewish’ group. All sorts of insecurities could have been triggered by such a, doubtless incomprehensible, phenomenon.After spending some time in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas went on their travels again; Acts gives the barest summary of the rest of their itinerary. They ended up at Attalia, whence they took ship to Antioch, spending some time there before traveling again.Acts 15 describes how ‘certain individuals’ came from Judea, and taught that ‘unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’. The difficulty here is that the Judaism of the period was incredibly diverse, and that much of it failed to survive the destruction of the Temple in 70, leaving little or nothing in the way of records behind it. Undoubtedly some groups rejected Gentiles altogether; the Damascus Covenant, for instance, insists on separation from all other Jewish groups, never mind non-Jews. The underlying idea is probably the earthly Kingdom of God; the people concerned may have imagined it as exclusively Jewish, or perhaps non-Jews were to have an inferior place in it, and Luke exaggerates. Whatever the underlying debate, Paul and Barnabas apparently went to Jerusalem with a delegation, to discuss the issue. Paul’s journeys were described to the Jerusalem leadership, and James, inevitably, seems to have had the last word. The Law was not to be imposed on Gentile believers, but they were to avoid ‘things’, presumably sacrificed meat, ‘polluted by idols and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood’. The major concern seems to have been the dietary law; Gentiles had to go along with at least some basic taboos in order to join the community. In fact, a generation after Acts was written, the early Rabbis came to a similar consensus. Seven basic commandments were believed to have been given to Noah, and through him to all humanity, while the Law of Moses had only been given to the Jews. The ‘Noahide Commandments’ are very similar to the decisions Luke attributes to the Jerusalem Council. Whatever the tensions which are apparent between Luke’s gentile readership, and the Jews, the book still inhabits a recognizably Jewish world.The Council of Jerusalem is often identified with Paul’s second visit to the city, described in Galatians; if the man John mentioned there is the son of Zebedee, then this meeting must have happened before Herod Agrippa I’s death in 44, as he is credited with having John killed. Peter is present in the city, and his departure is described in Acts 12:19. If it is the same event, some good explanation has to be found of the fact that the two accounts are so different; the tensions which come over in Paul are totally absent in Luke, and Paul makes no mention of James’ decision, which appears to favor his position. Luke, of course wrote for a Gentile church, which did not observe the Law, and would be unlikely to describe a decision which went against his position. He persistently covers up the tensions which are apparent elsewhere in the New Testament, not just in Paul, and tries to present an idealized picture of a perfect community, without significant quarrels. Personally, I’m far from convinced that the two accounts can be reconciled so easily.Prutah of Herod Agrippa I. Canopy with fringes, three ears of barley between two leaves on reverse.According to Acts, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, where they decided to set out on another missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul disagreed. This led to an argument (they do happen, even in Acts!), and the upshot was that Paul traveled separately. He returned first to Derbe and Lystra, where he persuaded a disciple called Timothy to accompany him. Timothy had a Jewish mother but a Greek father; by Rabbinic reckoning, this would have made him a Jew. The picture for the Second Temple period is not clear, but Acts emphasizes the point in a way that suggests that, as far as Luke was concerned, Timothy was Jewish, at least by birth. He was not circumcised, suggesting that he had never been a practicing member of any Jewish community, but the operation was performed before he left. Acts describes Paul as delivering the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem to the churches he visited; if it was really that simple, one wonders how the tensions and conflicts described in his letters could have originated. They traveled through Phrygia and Galatia, after being ‘forbidden by the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 16:6) to preach in Asia. The Spirit didn’t let them visit Bithynia, so they headed for Troas, a major port near the site of ancient Troy. Paul then had a vision ‘during the night’, seeing a Macedonian begging them to go and help the people there. Clearly, Luke is emphasizing the visionary, mystical aspect of Paul, portraying the Spirit as the driving force controlling the journey, and is making a special effort to portray the move into Europe as coming from God himself. However, the move to Troas, which was strategically sited for a journey into Macedonia, suggests that this was intended from the beginning. In that case, Luke’s reference to the Holy Spirit here is theologically based, deriving from his obvious desire to present the journeys as being driven by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. He writes for a Gentile audience, and if they were European, Roman perhaps, then this move would have had a special significance for them Throughout Acts, every stage in the expansion of the mission, to non-Palestinian Jews, to Samaritans, to Gentiles, and now to Europe, is marked by the personal intervention of the Spirit, in one way or another.So Luke, swapping to the second person plural, describes them as sailing from Troas to Samothrace, the highest of the Aegean Islands, then going via Neapolis to Philippi, a nearby Roman colony. There were a number of towns by the name of Neapolis, but the context makes it clear that this was the one which served Philippi as a port. The latter was an important, well-established city, which had become a Roman colony in the aftermath of the battle in which Brutus and Cassius were killed in the civil war following the murder of Julius Caesar, in 42 BCE. Over 700 square miles,with the city at the centre, were used to settle legionary veterans.The ‘we’ passages are often quoted as evidence that Luke was an eyewitness to some of Paul’s travels, but if he knew him so well, it’s strange that his version does not always agree well with Paul’s. All the ‘we’ passages are found in the latter part of Acts, and centre on sea voyages, with some interludes on land. Its possible that Luke was copying an earlier document describing Paul’s voyages, written in the second person plural, or that he may have been following some convention used when describing sea voyages. The picture is too unclear to draw and definite conclusion.While in Philippi, Paul and his companions visited an outdoor meeting place by the river, where Jewish women gathered on the Sabbath; ten men were required to establish a synagogue, according to, admittedly later, Rabbinic rulings. It looks as though the Jewish community in the town was too small for this requirement to have been met. The leader of the group seems to have been a woman called Lydia, who was baptized along with her household, and persuaded Paul to stay in her house. Dominant women were not unknown in Roman society, and there were times when they were the effective rulers of Rome. Of the New Testament writers, Luke is particularly sensitive towards women, and while Paul has a reputation as a misogynist, he seems to favor the active participation of women in some passages. Many of the obviously anti-feminist passages in his letters are of disputed authorship, and while both men were obviously the product of their time, there seems little justification for the blanket condemnation of women’s leadership which has marred much of the history of the church. Augustus, AE 17. Philippi mint, reverse two colonists (or priests) plowing behind oxen. It seems that a slave girl started to follow them to the meeting place, crying out ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation’. Paul became irritated, and drove out the spirit which enabled her to make money for her owner by telling fortunes. He then reacted by having Paul and Silas dragged before the local authorities, accusing them of advocating illegal customs. They were beaten and thrown into prison. This is typical of the early persecutions, they were local and unsystematic, and often seem to have resulted from complaints from neighbors who were out to make trouble. Often, these seem to have originated from situations where there was at least a perception that somebody’s livelihood was in danger from the new sect.That night there was an earthquake which broke open the prison and shattered everyone’s chains. The jailer was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped, and he was disgraced, when Paul called out that they were all present. He became a Christian, and he and his whole family were promptly baptized. The magistrates (local rulers) sent word to release Paul, but he made a complaint that he was a Roman citizen, and forced the authorities to apologize before they left the city. There is some tension between Paul and Luke here; Luke represents Paul as being proud of his Roman citizenship, while Paul himself never mentions it. If Luke is writing for Romans, perhaps a Roman official, then it would make sense for him to emphasize this, as it would inevitably make a good impression on such an audience.Tetradrachm, Amphipolis mint. Obverse a Macedonian shield with bust of Artemis, reverse
A prutah of Antonius Felix. obverse NEPW KLAV KAICAP (Nero Claudius Caesar), two shields and two spears crossed; reverse BPIT (Britannicus), palm bearing two bunches of dates, L ID KAI (year 14 of Caesar) below. Hendin 652.A few days later, Ananias arrived in Caesarea with his entourage, accusing Paul of attempting to profane the Temple. Paul defended himself, and Felix adjourned the case until he could hear what Lysias, the Tribune, had to say. Felix is said to have been ‘rather well informed about the Way’; this was an early name for the church. He had a series of discussions with Paul, apparently hoping for a bribe. Eventually, he left Paul in prison until he was replaced by Festus two years later, in an attempt to placate the Jews. Porcius Festus was appointed by Nero, and held office from about 59 –62. He appears to have been a total contrast with his predecessor, suppressing the rebels and bandits who had grown in numbers under Felix, and maintaining good relationships with the pro-Roman leadership. Festus is portrayed as being unbiased about Paul, but his desire to have good relations with the Jewish leadership seems to have been uppermost in his mind. Festus was persuaded to transfer the case to Jerusalem, while the Jews were planning an ambush to kill Paul on the road. This led Paul to appeal to Caesar, taking the case out of Festus’ jurisdiction. This was the right of any Roman Citizen, and in Acts, Paul makes full use of his citizenship. In his own letters, however, he never mentions it.A prutah of Porcius Festus. obverse NEP WNO C (Nero) in wreath; reverse KAICAPO (Caesar) and date LE (year 5), palm branch. Hendin 653.Some days later, ‘King Agrippa’ (Agrippa II) and his sister Bernice, who later had an affair with the future emperor Titus, arrived in Caesarea. Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa I, who was responsible for the deaths of James and John. His father died when he was a boy, but he eventually ruled a large area. When the Jewish War broke out, he attempted to quell the rising, failed, and turned to the Romans, supporting them throughout. There is some evidence of his having had an interest in the Jewish faith, despite his evident unpopularity with the Temple leadership. Paul was examined by the pair; their reaction was that he had done nothing to deserve serious punishment. Festus’ first reaction to his defense was that he was mad, but then he concluded that he could have been set free, if it wasn’t for his appeal to the emperor, which removed the case from Festus’ jurisdiction altogether. Here we see Festus’ desire to please the Jewish leadership at work, arranging an unnecessary examination of Paul, which could achieve nothing, and then changing his view in order to agree with Agrippa’s opinion.Bronze half of Agrippa II, Hendin 604, 83-84 A.D.; obverse DOMIT KAI GERMAN, Domitian's laureate head right; reverse ETO KD BA AGRIPP (= year 24 King Agrippa), Nike inscribing shield, foot on crested helmet. The nature of Agrippa’s relationship with Rome is made obvious by his having struck a Judea Capta type! Hendin 604.Paul was sent with some other prisoners, by sea to Myra, in Lycia; the voyage was then continued in another ship. It was late in the year, and as they sailed west, Paul had a presentiment of disaster. He was ignored, however, and they attempted to reach Phoenix, in Crete. A storm blew up, and they were blown off course. Paul had a vision of an angel, reassuring him that while they would go aground, no lives would be lost. After fourteen days at sea, they eventually ran the ship ashore on what proved to be Malta.After three months on the island, they set sail, and after stopping at Syracuse, on Sicily, headed for Puteoli, a prosperous port on the Bay of Naples. Paul found some believers, probably Jewish followers of Jesus, there, and stayed with them before going on to Rome, where he lived under house arrest for two years. Electrum 25 litrai, SNG Cop 705, Syracuse mint, 310-306 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo left, pileus behind; reverse SURAK-OSION, tripod-lebes with lion's feet.Tradition has it that Paul was killed along with Peter in Nero’s persecution of 64; however, the details are not known. Once we get past the period covered by Acts, Paul virtually disappears from history, and nothing can be said with any real certainty. It is clear from his letter to the Romans that he intended to visit the city, but whether he ever did so as a free man, or managed to go further west, is not known.