Saturday, May 23, 2015


We began the day with a lecture and discussion of what sort of man Paul was. We talked quite a bit about his Damascus road experience and its impact on his life. Paul wrote of it only indirectly but Luke tells the story three times. The thing I find puzzling is that Paul does say he was a Pharisee and student of the Pharisees. Luke tells us he was a student of Gamaliel and that Gamaliel was tolerant of Christians. That makes sense, as we know independently that Gamaliel was a student of Hillel, which makes him a liberal inclusive Pharisee. The Pharisees were quite at odds with the Sadducees. So what was Paul doing on the road to Damascus persecuting Christians under the auspieces of the Temple authorities who were Sadducees? The whole situation was odd to begin with. I am not suggesting it did not happen like that. I am wondering what shifting and shaking was already going on in Paul’s religion when he set out for Damascus.

Then we hit the road for Konya, which was known as Iconium when Paul and Barnabas stopped to spread the gospel on their way back to Antioch (Syria) from Cyprus.

On the bus we got 3 lectures, including an overview of the 7 Ecumenical Councils and one on the life and teachings of Rumi. We were learning about Rumi because we were on our way to visit his tomb. I had always thought of Rumi as a Sufi. My ignorance is vast. It turns out Rumi’s son founded Sufism to continue Dad’s teachings and carry on the practice of whirling dervish dancing that Rumi took up late in life to deal with the emotional pain caused by the disappearance and possible murder of his teacher. I was surprised at my sense of the holiness of Rumi’s tomb despite the photo-snapping crowds.

I was also struck by how many verses of Rumi could as easily have been written 900 years earlier by the Cappadocian poet Gregory of Nazianzus. FB friend Joe Rawls tells me that the dervishes learned some of their dance from the dances of the Christian monks of Cappadocia. Clearly Rumi took up his dance form someone who was doing it before there were Sufis.

From there we went to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul for a prayer service. The art was a mix of Byzantine and Western religious painting. I was puzzled by a large fresco behind the altar.  It featured a woman, St. Thekla, with a lion. It drove me to the Internet where I learned that it comes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thekla. The story goes that Paul’s main message was celibacy. When he visited Iconium this message got him tossed in the dungeon, and kept in fetters, Thekla slipped in and spent the night providing non-conjugal comfort to the bound Paul. This outraged her parents who turned her over to the authorities who in turn sentenced her to be burned at the stake but a storm extinguished the fire. So they attempted to feed her to the wild beats but she was protected by a lioness who shared her religious perspective. Thereafter she and Paul travelled about as missionary partners. A theological disaster of a story, but what a plot! I have so much to learn. The fact that a Roman Church would have a fresco from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thekla behind the altar still has me shaking my head. So much that I assume in life keeps turning out to be wrong.

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