2 Corinthians 11:32-33
New International Version
32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
Various suggestions have been made in this thread regarding 2 Cor.11.32.33.
Whether or not there was an Aretas V in Petra - another matter altogether to have an Aretas V controlling Damascus.
Trying to salvage 2 Cor. 11.32.33 as applying to an Aretas V prior to 70 c.e. - and controlling Damascus - is to avoid the elephant in the room. We already have an Aretas III controlling Damascus....that is recorded history i.e. Aretas III issued coins in Damascus.
Various speculative scenarios have been suggested.
It is speculated that control of Damascus was gained by Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabatea between the death of Herod Philip in 33/34 AD and the death of Aretas in 40 AD but there is substantial evidence against Aretas controlling the city before 37 AD and many reasons why it could not have been a gift from Caligula between 37 and 40 AD. In fact, all these theories stem not from any actual evidence outside the New Testament but rather "a certain understanding of 2 Corinthians 11:32" and in reality "neither from archaeological evidence, secular-historical sources, nor New Testament texts can Nabatean sovereignty over Damascus in the first century AD be proven."
Dating for Aretas III in Damascus is 85 to 72 b.c. and 69 to 64/63 b.c.
These dates are relevant dates for Hasmonean history. Taking in the rule of Alexander Jannaeus and the loss of Hasmonean sovereignty to Rome in 63 b.c. (Aretas III losing control of Damascus around 64/63 b.c.) The rule of Alexander Jannaeus being mentioned in the Toledot Yeshu story.
The dates for Aretas III do not fit with the NT timeline for the apostle Paul. (Hence the speculation regarding Aretas IV referenced in this thread.)
Interpolation of the Aretas and Paul story into 2 Cor. 11.32.33.
Interpolation removes the only dating in the Pauline epistles for a historical Paul. However, it also removes the history indicated by this verse as being relevant to the NT Pauline story.
What can be learned from 2 Cor.11.32.33 ?
The Romans demolished Corinth in 146 BC, built a new city in its place in 44 BC, and later made it the provincial capital of Greece.
Corinth was reestablished in 44 b.c. Add a generation if you want - usually given as an average of 25 years. So, lets say the reestablished Corinth was a going concern around 20 b.c. Give a historical Paul an age of 20 when escaping from Aretas III in 85 b.c. - and we have a historical Paul aged around 85 years in 20 b.c. (Yep that's old for those times - but Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus, lived to 85/86 years.)
Born 30 January 59/58 BC
Died 28 September AD 29 (aged 85/86)
The above scenario runs from 85 b.c. - Maybe Paul was older when he escaped from Aretas III - but then again maybe it did not take 25 years before Damascus was a functioning city.
The date of 69 b.c. when Aretas III retook control of Damascus, takes in a younger Paul in 20 b.c. - and a still younger Paul working from 64 b.c.
Bottom line with Paul and Corinth - Corinth is no problem for a historical Paul escaping from Damascus and Aretas III.
1. Dating which references historical events.
2. An illusion to the OT story about the escape of spies from Jericho. An escape that leads to the fall of Jericho and hence the road ahead to the Promised Land.
3. This allusion to the OT story indicates that the Aretas dating of relevance to the Paul and Aretas story is primarily the dates for the fall of Damascus and Jerusalem to the Romans i.e. the date 64/63 b.c.
4. The Pauline allusion to the OT spies and Joshua and Jericho story indicates that the NT figure of Paul is a modern day Joshua, a figure that leads, after the 63 b.c. fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, a way forward to a spiritual kingdom, a philosophical kingdom of neither Jew nor Greek.
5. While it is possible, using the Aretas III dating, to propose a historical Paul in the first century b.c. this scenario would necessitate linking in the Toledot Yeshu story. i.e. a Pauline philosophy requires a linkage to terra firma - otherwise one is on a Pauline magic carpet ride.
6. However, as evidenced with the gospel story, the Jesus birth narratives move the story from the time of Herod to the time of Quirinius. Hence, a moving Jesus story requires a moving Paul story.
7. In other words: both the NT figures of Jesus and Paul are literary, movable, figures.
8. The Jesus story is focused on terra firma - on physical reality.
9. The Paul story is focused on spirituality - on philosophy.
10. 2 Cor.11.32 .33. is not tracing, or situating, a historical Paul to the time of Aretas III. It is tracing Pauline philosophy back to its roots in Hasmonean history. A historical time period in which Hasmonean sovereignty was lost to the Romans around the time that Aretas III lost Damascus to the Romans. 64/63 b.c.
Thomas Brodie: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
PAUL: THE PENNY FINALLY DROPS
A mass of data had suddenly fallen into place.
What hit me was that the entire narrative regarding Paul, everything the
thirteen epistles say about him or imply-about his life, his work and travels,
his character, his sending and receiving of letters, his readers and his
relationship to them-all of that was historicized fiction. It was fiction,
meaning that the figure of Paul was a work of imagination, but this figure had
been historicized-presented in a way that made it look like history, history like,
'fiction made to resemble the uncertainties of life in history'
So- and this reality took time to sink in-the figure of Paul joined the
ranks of so many other figures from the older part of the Bible, figures who,
despite the historical details surrounding them, were literary, figures of the
The idea that Paul was a literary figure did not remove the possibility that behind the epistles lay one outstanding historical figure who was central to the inspiring of the epistles, but that is not the figure whom the epistles portray. Under that person's inspiration - or the inspiration of that person plus co-workers - the epistles portray a single individual. Paul, who incorporates in himself and in his teaching a distillation of the age-long drama of God's work on earth.
Thomas Brodie: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
Somebody, or some people, wrote the material that is now in the Pauline epistles. Whether there was someone called 'Paul' involved in that writing is really neither here nor there. The story the NT relates about it's Paul figure, re Brodie, is a literary construct. So, we don't know who wrote the epistles, we don't know when they were written. What we do have are the words that were written. Words that relate ideas, that relate a philosophy. That philosophy relates to neither Jew nor Greek. (a philosophy, unfortunately, that has been taken by the Christian West as a model for a social political system - with all the negative consequences apparent today.)
What 2 Cor.11.32.33 is indicating with it's mention of Aretas - and only Aretas III controlled Damascus - is that the roots of that Pauline philosophy grew from the time Rome took control of Damascus - and Jerusalem - around the years 64/63 b.c. The neither Jew nor Greek philosophy stems from a historical context in which Jewish/Hasmonean sovereignty was lost. In other words; a physical, land based, kingdom was lost. Paul, in 2 Cor. 11.32.33 is contrasting the loss of the earthy kingdom to the birth of the spiritual kingdom - the new Pauline philosophy.
Consequently, from this perspective of tracing a philosophy back to it's roots, back to a time in history when loss of an earthly kingdom opened, as it were, the door to something different. A kingdom without end. Was this an immediate turn around - probably not as history relates the Hasmoneans kept trying to unseat Rome - having a partial success with Antigonus for a few short years. However, someone did grasp the significance and built a road to a spiritual, an intellectual or philosophical kingdom.
Aretas, Paul, over wall - Jericho, spies, over wall. The fall of Jericho and the road ahead to the Promised Land. That is the essence of 2 Cor. 11.32.33. The fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 63 b.c. led, in time, to ideas that developed into what we know today as Pauline philosophy.
Who were the historical figures involved with the ideas inherent in Pauline philosophy - well now - that is the question that raises its head when we put aside Aretas IV - and the unknown supposed Aretas V - and deal with the history as referenced in 2 Cor.11.32.33.
Yes, one can attempt to move the Paul, Aretas and Damascus story to 70 c.e. (with the speculation regarding an unknown Aretas V .) Moving the Paul, Aretas and Damascus story to the late 30 c.e. has no historical evidence re control of Damascus by Aretas IV. The only date that has a historical foundation is 63 b.c. and the fall of Jerusalem and Damascus to the Romans - as Jericho fell to Joshua. From that historical event - Pauline philosophy was born. Yep, Paul says he is as one born prematurely or untimely born - but the time would come when Pauline philosophy would leave the confines of it's links to the land and escape over the wall of Judaism. Whether that time came in 70 c.e. or 132 -136 c.e. - the foundation stone was laid in 63 b.c. A linkage to which 2 Cor.11.32.33 is demonstrating with it's allusion to Joshua and the fall of Jericho.
Bottom line in all of this ?
Bottom line - Whether or not the NT figure of Paul is a historical figure the NT story about this figure is a literary construct. i.e. the life of a flesh and blood Paul figure is not the story the NT relates. Thus, a flesh and blood Paul figure - or another Jewish philosopher by whatever name - did not need to have lived under any Aretas - whether III, IV or V. (that's the NT story) All Aretas in 2 Cor.11.32.33 is doing is providing a date - 64/63 bc. A date in which both Damascus and Jerusalem fell to the Romans. A date, a historical context to which a flesh and blood Paul or another Jewish philosopher - traced back the moment in time from which change became a necessity: The fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, the loss of sovereignty - opened the road forward towards the spiritual, the philosophical kingdom without end. The NT Paul the later day Joshua setting out to conquer the world - well at least the Western part of it...... but now of course it's hit a brick wall.....
Upholding a historical NT Paul is a fundamentalist position on the NT. Pauline philosophy is not a philosophy for a social/political system. It is fundamentally flawed as a political theory - as is easily observable from the present political chaos in the Christian West. Reading Paul literally is to doom the West to disintegration. While the French revolution desecrated the churches - Christian, Pauline, theology simply used the backdoor into the political arena. Thus, if the West wants to save itself from irrelevance - then it’s Pauline theology, along with a historical Paul, that has to be ditched. And to do that - then 2 Cor. 11.32.33 needs to be addressed by facing the history of Aretas III, facing the history of the Hasmoneans with the Romans - hence facing what will be traumatic for many Christians - the apostle Paul is a paper apostle. A paper apostle preaching not a political theory but a spiritual theory - a theory of the life death and rebirth of the spirit - of intellectual evolution. A philosophy of intellectual evolution, of how the mind works.
2 Cor. 11.32.33 - Paul, the paper apostle, preaching a philosophy of neither Jew nor Greek - a philosophy of mind, of intellectual evolution, a philosophy set to conquer, to save the world, compared to the OT figure of Joshua undertaking a military conquest of the Promised Land.
The literal reading of the NT, of the gospel story and the Pauline epistles, has survived for nearly 2000 years. Intellectual evolution, philosophical ideas, might get stuck now and again - but eventually the old order gives way. Viewing the gospel Jesus as an ahistorical figure, a literary figure, has opened up a road forward in understanding Christian origins - but an obstacle remains - the NT figure of Paul. 2 Cor. 11.32.33 offers an opportunity to demolish that obstacle and gain further mileage along that road.