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Saul in Damascus

 

Background

In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria. The Romans occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis because it was considered such an important center of Greco-Roman culture. In the year 37, Emperor Caligula transferred Damascus to the Nabataeas, an Arab merchant people. The Nabataean king Aretas IV Philopatris ruled Damascus from his capital, the rock-cut city of Petra (in modern Jordan). Many Jews lived in Damascus, perhaps a legacy from the commercial community set up by Ahab, the infamous ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BC. From this a community of Christian disciples grew.

 

In the footsteps of Saul — Damascus

Damascus, in southwest Syria, stands 2300-feet above sea-level, and lies northeast of Mount Hermon, about 60 miles east of the Mediterranean port of Sidon and about 190 miles northeast of Jerusalem.

Modern Damascus in Syria

Three-quarters of the Old City section of Damascus is still surrounded by walls, creating a city within a city. First erected by the Romans, the walls have been flattened and rebuilt several times over the past 2000 years. What stands today dates mostly from the 13th century. Below, wall of the Citadel.

Walls of the damascus citadel

The Barada River acts as a moat along the north side of Damascus' Old City (below).

barada river

The walls are pierced by seven gates (bab); the restored Bab ash-Sharqi (East Gate), below, dates from Roman times, and thus the time of Paul.

bab ash sharqi

With its long straight streets, intersecting at right angles, the layout of the Old City still follows the ancient plan. Bisecting it is the street historically known as "Straight Street" (Latin "Via Recta") (below). Nearly a mile long, it was the main east-west thoroughfare of the city in Roman and Byzantine times. In Saul's day it was one hundred feet wide with colonnades on each side; the central passage was for pedestrians, the side passages were for carts and horsemen going in different directions. It was joined at right angles by streets leading to various gates. Today the western end is known as Sharia Medhat Pasha and it is lined with shops selling textiles and clothes; at the east end it is called Sharia Bab Sharqi.

straight street in damascus

Below, Remains of the Temple of Jupiter, built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. It now serves as a shady spot for Qu’an and magazine sellers at the entrance to Souk al-Hamidiyeh.

temple of jupiter remains

Below, Souk al-Hamidiyeh, the most famous souk (bazaar or market) of old Damascus.

 

Saul in Damascus

After his conversion (Greek epistrepho "to turn to"), Saul was taken to the house of Judas on Straight Street, where presumably arrangements had been made for him to stay. He remained there three days, still blinded, refusing to eat or drink until one of the local disciples of Jesus, Ananias, visited him at the urging of God. He placed his hands on Saul and his sight was restored:

"Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength." (Acts 9:18-19)

Chapel of Ananias, below, reputedly (but probably not) the place where Ananias laid his hands on Saul to restore his eyesight.

chapel of ananias in damascus

Saul remained in Damascus for some time, preaching his new found faith in the city's synagogues.

 

The lost years after Saul's conversion