The TJ indicates that Jmmanuel, after sending for his brother, Judas-Thomas, and also for Judas Iscariot to join him in Damascus, became aware, through unspecified means (probably his prophetic ability), that Saul was soon coming to Damascus to track down the two men and return them to Jerusalem in shackles. It was a full week's trip to travel afoot from Jerusalem to Damascus. From a friend who was knowledgeable in "secret things that involved powders, salves and liquids, which smelled bad," Jmmanuel acquired the chemical ingredients necessary to prepare a display of fireworks. This probably included sulfur, magnesium, charcoal and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). The TJ states that after a day's journey outside of Damascus he waited in the rocks two days for Saul to appear along with his group of men.
However, it was at night that Saul and his men came by there, and although the TJ says that Jmmanuel saw "a large group of armed men coming," one must presume that he could sense this much, including the presence of Saul, through his capability of clairvoyance or remote sensing. It is not surprising that it was night when the group was traveling, for, as has been noted, "Most overland travel in biblical Palestine likely sought to avoid the oppressive heat of the day. There is some evidence to suggest that especially noncaravan travel may have been nocturnal" (Beitzel, 1985).
At the appropriate moment Jmmanuel struck a fire, threw it down into his chemical concoction alongside the road, and from behind a large rock, stirred it with a long stick, causing a bright, flaring, smoking illumination. Then Jmmanuel called out to Saul, asking why he was persecuting his disciples, and identified himself by voice. He was not visible, it being nighttime, and because he must have been situated on the opposite side of the fireworks from Saul and his men and partially hidden by the rocks. After a few more words Jmmanuel retreated back to Damascus, while Saul and his men lingered, waiting to get over their temporary blindness, which, however, for Saul lasted for three days due to his having stared the most intently into the bright light, trying to see the source of the voice that was addressing him. Not long after this event, Jmmanuel sent for his mother Mary to join him in Damascus, and about a month later the four of them set out on their long journeys, with Saul no longer being the arch persecutor he had previously been.
The traditional place where this event occurred is called Kaukab (which means "Celestial light"), and is the name of a hill alongside the road leading southwest from Damascus towards Jerusalem, some 12 or 13 miles from central Damascus. This road was the very "Road to Damascus," which only went alongside Kaukab hill, not over and on top of it. The hill top is where a shrine, built in 1965, exists to commemorate the event. (See the map below, where Kaukab hill ("Kokab") is located by the two arrows, along whose west side the road passes. As of a century ago this road still existed intact, as mentioned by Renan (1890). He noted that, "The road from Damascus to Jerusalem has in nowise changed;" however as of today the road is a main thoroughfare.
|From Baedeker's Palestine and Syria, 1912, p. 320.|
A careful examination of satellite photos of this Road to Damascus doesn't disclose any obvious spot near Kaukab hill where a suitable field of rocks exists at which Jmmanuel could have carried out his fireworks trick. Evidently the hilltop was chosen as the most appropriate spot to erect the shrine.
There is also a tiny village of Kaukab on the Road some 9.3 miles southwest of Damascus. Although inspection of a satellite photo did not disclose any obvious location for the site near the village either, an old local tradition does place it there, according to Minardus (1981)
However, upon proceeding farther southwest along the road one finds several possible locations judging from the satellite photo. One of these is located 20 miles (a long day's journey) from central Damascus.
|Photo from the Ikonos satellite of a section of the "Road to Damascus" 20 miles SW of the city.|
Resolution 0.8 m. North is up. Photo taken about 10:30 local time on Dec. 13, 2002. Solar elevation
was between 32 and 33 degrees. Acquired from the Satellite Imaging Corp., Houston, TX.
The TJ's version of Saul's conversion event is consistent with its portrayal of Jmmanuel as a man of knowledge, action and clairvoyance. It is also consistent with the saying in Matthew 10:16 to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves," which was carried over from the TJ without alteration. In fooling Saul into wondering if he had heard a ghost, and causing him to give up his persecution of Jmmanuel's early followers, Jmmanuel was being clever. In truthfully stating to Saul who he was, he was being innocent and honest.
Baedeker, Karl (1912): Baedeker's Palestine and Syria (Leipzig: Karl Baedeker, Publisher), p. 320.
Beitzel, Barry J. (1985): The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 65.
Meinardus, Otto F. (1981): "The site of the apostle Paul's conversion at Kaukab," Biblical Archeologist (winter), pp. 57-59.
Renan, Ernest (ca 1890): The History of the Origins of Christianity, Bk. 2 (London: Matheison & Co.), Chap. x, p. 96.