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The little narrative of Paul's flight from Damascus in 2 Cor 11:32-33 holds a promise to the ear of the historian. In the first place, Aretas is the only figure of political history mentioned in an authentic letter of Paul.(1) This fact alone indicates the importance of this text for the chronology of the apostle's life.(2) Second, there is the remarkable parallel provided by the account in Acts 9:23-25.(3) The extent of the agreement is impressive: it consists not only of the general course of events, but extends to the wording, which is partly identical and partly synonymous.(4) The correspondence appears more extraordinary in light of the fact that Acts otherwise exhibits no verbal connections with the letters of Paul.(5) Third, there is the vivid manner in which Paul relates the experience: the mention of a place and a particular person, the detailed description of the circumstances, and the concentrated account of the action, together create a living image of a dramatic event.(6) The clarity and strength of representation suggest that the experience had a special significance.(7) Perhaps, as Calvin postulated, haec persecutio fuit quasi primum tirocinium Pauli ("this persecution was, as it were, Paul's first military service").(8) The incident left a deep trace in the memory of the early church,(9) one that time has not erased: the Damascenes still point to an opening in the wall as the window through which the apostle was let down.(10)
Yet, the promise of the passage for historical knowledge has hitherto failed to fulfill the historian's hope. Many exegetes, and among them the most critical, are inclined to dismiss these verses as an "afterthought,"(11) or to delete them entirely as a "scribal gloss" that has crept into the text.(12) The source of the critics' dissatisfaction lies in the obscurity of the narrative's intent. The prosaic account of Paul's successful flight seems to lack a purpose in its present context, following the lofty and rhythmical catalogue of hardships in 2 Cor 11:23-29, and even more the solemn asseveration of truthfulness in verse 31.(13) The little narrative appears to be "out of context, out of style, quite out of connection."(14)
Attempts to discover the rationale for the inclusion of the Damascus episode at this point in Paul's "foolish discourse" (2 Cor 11:1-12:10) have proven less than successful. The majority of interpreters explain the narrative of Paul's flight as "a crowning illustration of the weakness and humiliation of which Paul boasts,"(15) but the wording of verses 32-33 contains nothing about weakness or humiliation.(16) It is natural for the modern reader to assume that resort to flight, or the means of escape Paul was forced to employ (namely, the fish basket), implies a confession of weakness.(17) The author of Acts, however, tells the story as an example, not of anything ignominious, but rather of the courage and cleverness of Paul and his disciples.(18) Ancient accounts of flight under similar circumstances, employing similar means, emphasize, alongside of the danger of the situation, the daring and expediency of the action.(19) For example, according to Josephus in Ant. 5.15 the Israelite spies, "having made a compact [with Rahab], departed [from Jericho], letting themselves down through the wall by a rope and, when safely restored to friends, recounted their adventures in the city" ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).(20) Athenaios reports that when Athenion made himself dictator, he proceeded immediately to put out of his way the more sober minded citizens. "Many Athenians, apprehending what was in store for them, let themselves down through the walls with ropes by night and fled" ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).(21) Josephus reflects the ancient attitude toward flight in his account of the reaction of various groups to the siege of Gamala:(22) "At Gamala, while the more adventurous were stealthily escaping ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and the feebler folk dying of famine, the effective combatants continued to sustain the siege." If Paul's flight from Damascus belongs to the [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of which he boasts in verse 30, his action is not merely the antithesis of human pride or prowess.(23)
An influential variant of the view that the narrative of Paul's flight is intended as an illustration of his "weakness" is found in the suggestion by Edwin A. Judge that Paul's account of his descent from the city wall is a parody of the soldier's boast at being the first up the wall in the face of the enemy.(24) The courageous soldier was awarded the corona muralis.(25) Aulus Gellius explains: "The `mural crown' is that which is awarded by a commander to the man who is first to mount the wall and force his way into an enemy's town; therefore it is ornamented with representations of the battlements of a wall."(26) Assuming rightly that readers in Roman Corinth would have been familiar with this military honor,(27) Judge argues that Paul constructs an ironic analogy to expose the competitive basis of his opponents' boasting.(28) The argument gains in plausibility when one observes that the epistle opens with a detailed portrait of the apostle as a man at war demolishing fortresses, taking captives, and punishing insubordination.(29) Paul's account of his descent from the wall in a basket would then be an ironic reversal of his description of himself as a city sacker.(30)
Judge's explanation has limits, however, and it depends upon unproven assumptions. The point of comparison in his interpretation is the reversal of the motion up the wall.(31) In Paul's account of his experience, though, the emphasis falls upon the success of his flight.(32) That Paul "was let down" through a window in the city wall is one circumstance of a narrative whose subject is the apostle's flight. Nor is it clear that the assumption is warranted that the circumstances or manner of Paul's escape involved anything ignominious.(33) As noted, ancient accounts of flight under similar circumstances emphasize the danger of the situation, and the daring and expediency of the action. This is especially true of accounts that would have been known to Paul and might have shaped his narration.(34) Pursued by the king of Jericho, the Israelite spies were helped to escape by Rahab: [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].(35) Shut up in his house by agents of King Saul, David was told by his wife Michal, "If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed."(36) The narrative continues in the next verse (LXX): [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. ("So Melchol lets David down by the window, and he departed, and fled, and escaped.") In neither instance, nor in those recorded in secular literature,(37) is there any suggestion that flight under such circumstances was viewed as cowardly, or the means of escape disgraceful.
Of the variety of additional explanations that have been offered, none is adequate to the difficulty. Some commentators suggest that Paul adduces this hardship as a kind of supplementary proof that everything he has said from verse 23 on is true (compare verse 31).(38) Yet, why should this episode have greater evidential value than others? In Paul's account of the incident, moreover, it is the escape itself that is highlighted, not the hardship that he suffered.(39) More speculative is the suggestion that, when Paul began to dictate these verses, he intended to record several instances of peril, then broke off inexplicably after mentioning his flight from the ethnarch of King Aretas.(40) Another exegete supposes that the incident is narrated as an introduction to the account of a revelation that follows in 2 Cor 12:2-4.(41) One fails, however, to see the point of such an ample introduction, if the incident had no significance of its own. Why, then, the interruption in 2 Cor 12:1?(42) Somewhat similar is the suggestion that the "undistinguished descent" from a window in the city wall counterbalances the "ineffable ascent" to heaven described in 2 Cor 12:2-4.(43) Had this been Paul's purpose, though, one would expect a transitional remark substantially different from that found in verse 1.(44) Such explanations only serve to make clear what difficulty interpreters have had in ascertaining why Paul chose to relate precisely this incident, at this point in his discourse, in such detail, and with such a solemn asseveration.
A number of scholars have sought an explanation for the narrative not in the logic of Paul's argument itself, but in the polemical context of the letter.(45) Paul's opponents, some suggest, made use of the episode to represent him as a coward. They cried: "The first heroic exploit of the great apostle was a cowardly flight!"(46) Paul thus finds it necessary to give his own version of what actually took place.(47) There can be no doubt about the apologetic character of 2 Corinthians: the legitimacy of Paul's apostleship has been called into question; he must defend himself against a host of charges marshaled to raise doubts about his status and authority.(48) Still, the straightforwardness of the narrative makes it difficult to reconstruct the nature of the accusation.(49) Indeed, the absence of a discernible tendency in his account makes it unlikely that the story of his flight from Damascus was exploited by his opponents against him.(50) The account of Paul's flight from the ethnarch of Aretas plays a part in Paul's defense of his apostleship,(51) but what role, and whether it was intended as a direct response to an accusation, remains to be determined.
Perplexed about the purpose of the narrative, a number of scholars have proposed the deletion of these verses as an interpolation, unskillfully inserted into the text.(52) The motive for the interpolation is sought in the desire of an early copyist to adduce an example of the [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] announced in verse 30, having failed to find instances of "weakness" in the "visions and revelations" of 2 Cor 12:1-4.(53) Proponents of this solution find support in the improvement in the flow of thought that results from the elimination of verses 32-33, together with the transitional comment in 2 Cor 12: 1a.(54) One fails to see, however, why a copyist should have inserted a narrative with no apparent connection.(55) Nor is it conceivable that a reader could have mistaken Paul's perception of his revelations as instances of "weakness," given the explicit statements of 2 Cor 12:5 and 9.(56) Conscious of these difficulties, critics have conjectured that the narrative had its origin as a scribal gloss on verse 26, with which it has a material affinity ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).(57) Even less demonstrable is the speculation that the episode was added by the amanuensis to whom Paul related the story during a pause in dictation.(58) More radical still is the suggestion that the narrative has been displaced from its original location between Gal 1:17 and 1:18, where Paul mentions his return from Arabia to Damascus.(59) Against all these conjectures one must object that manuscript evidence of an interpolation is lacking. "There is no evidence that the epistle ever existed without these verses at this point."(60) Nor is the difficulty alleviated by the hypothesis of a scribal gloss, which merely transfers the problem to the copyist who would have inserted the verses at this point.(61)
The Mime and Its Fools
The signpost to the proper understanding of the narrative appears in Paul's repeated reference to the "foolishness" of his discourse (2 Cor 11:1, 17, 21) and to himself as a "fool" (2 Cor 11:16; 12:6, 11). Windisch recognized that the character of the passage 2 Cor 11:1-12:13 consists in the apostle's sudden assumption of a role that was foreign to his nature, that of the "fool."(62) Windisch proposed, specifically, that the role Paul is playing is that of the "boaster" or "braggart" ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the mime.(63) He even suggested that Paul had personal experience of the theater: "Dass Paulus den Mimus selbst gesehen und dass er von ihm gelernt hat, scheint mir nicht unmoglich" ("That Paul had seen the mime himself and had learned from it seems to me not impossible").(64) Windisch thus designated the speech proper in 2 Cor 11:21b-12:10, which follows a lengthy apologetic prologue (2 Cor 1 1:1-2.1 a),(65) "Die Narrenrede."(66)
Scholars have generally adopted Windisch's description of the passage as a "fool's speech,"(67) assuming the existence of such a genre(68) and observing the appropriateness of the designation to a passage that is introduced and concluded by references to the "fool."(69) Hans Dieter Betz adduced literary analogies to Paul's foolish discourse in the speech of Alcibiades in the Symposium and in Seneca's Apocolocyntosis.(70) Yet, interpreters have failed to investigate Windisch's suggestion that Paul's discourse in 2 Cor 11 and 12 is modeled upon the performances of the mimic fools who populated the ancient stage.(71) Because of this deficiency in research, many aspects of Paul's most powerful composition are poorly understood, above all the account of his flight from Damascus.
The fool ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] stupidus)(72) was a familiar figure in the cities of the Roman Empire where the mime was so popular that it "practically monopolized the stage."(73) The fool was the secondary actor in the mime ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], actor secundarum partium)(74): that is, he aped the performance of the archmime, comically misinterpreting and reacting to him.(75) Like other mimes, the fool appeared barefoot,(76) and usually maskless,(77) bis grimaces and gesticulations an essential part of the performance.(78) The fool typically had a shaven head,(79) and might be endowed with a prominent phallus.(80) Although he might wear a variety of costumes, those most often associated with the fool were the [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a short frock, the centunculus, a colorful patchwork tunic, and the ricinium, a cloak with a square hood that could be thrown back or drawn forward to conceal the head.(81)
Vivid portraits of mimic fools survive in terra-cotta statuettes of the, Hellenistic age and the early Empire.(82) A terra-cotta lamp found in Athens(83) depicts three maskless performers standing in a group (Fig. 1). That they are mime actors is proven by the inscription on the side: [GEEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "EKup[Alpha], that is, "mime actors; the theme (or subject of the play), The Mother-in-Law." Of the three mimes represented, the one in the middle, facing front, is clearly the fool. He wears a short chiton and lays his right hand over his protruding belly. He has a bald head, large ears, a broad nose, small eyes, and a wry mouth. He stands, rather dejectedly, between the other characters, as though he had just received a heavy lecture from them. To the left is a young man with long hair, clad in a himation draped in the usual fashion. The scroll in his hand identifies him as an ambitious young scholar, perhaps of rhetoric or philosophy. To the right stands a second himation-clad figure, beardless but older than his companion, with a bald head and thick lips. He holds his hands before his body and throws his head back. Both men are on the verge of withdrawing from the central character but turn back to look at him, creating the impression of lively interaction. Another statuette (Fig. 2), probably from Alexandria,(84) shows two mimic fools with shaved heads, broad noses, and full lips, dressed in short chitons, engaged in animated dialogue. One fool places his arm around the shoulders of the other, who leans toward him, listening, endeavoring to imitate with his right hand the gesture of his companion. One cannot fail to notice the grotesque realism of these figures. The caricature of grotesque persons corresponds to the Greek and Roman concept of the laughable, namely, that laughter has its origin in the contemplation of the ugly or defective.(85)
[Figures 1-2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
One gains some impression of the antics of the fool from the fragment of a mime preserved in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus of the late first century CE.(86) The piece is a farce, with a theme akin to the Greek romances, written in vaguely rhythmical prose.(87) The characters are marked by symbols,(88) but references in the text enable us to identify them. The chief part is that of A, named in the dialogue as Charition, a young Greek woman who has fallen into the hands of some barbarians. The king of the land intends to sacrifice her to Selene, in whose temple she has taken refuge. The second actor, marked B in the manuscript, is a fool. It is upon the low humor of this clown that the amusement of the play chiefly depends. His methods of raising laughter are obvious: he plays oft the heroine and others, picking up their words and imitating their actions. Sometimes he takes the words of the archmime too literally; at other times, he comically misinterprets what is said. Always he reacts in an exaggerated manner. Associated with the fool is the word [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], evidently a stage direction that plays an integral part in the action; it implies some noise of a vulgar sort, for at one point it clearly signifies flatulence.(89) This last business illustrates a feature of the mime that in part accounted for its popularity: obscenity.(90) However vulgar the humor of the fool might be, his importance to the mime is underlined, in this case, by the fact that it is he who effects the heroine's rescue by making her captors drunk.
The apostle Paul would have had many opportunities for contact with the mime and its fools. Apuleius attests in Met. 10.29 what scholars should otherwise have surmised: that the mime was performed in the theater of Corinth, presumably in the orchestra, while the stage was being set for a new play.(91) It would not, however, have been necessary for Paul to visit the theater to encounter the mime. Mimes were frequently presented as entertainment at banquets in private houses.(92) Xenophon describes the performance of a mime representing the love of Dionysos and Ariadne, given at a private banquet by a boy and girl, the property of a Syracusan dancing master.(93) As wealth accumulated in the late Republic and the early Empire, it became the custom for well-to-do Romans to include mime actors on their household staffs.(94) Augustus himself employed mime actors as entertainment at his private banquets.(95) The "Room of the Masks" in the house of Augustus on the Palatine hill depicts, a brightly colored wooden structure thought to be a temporary comic stage.(96) The tastes of the emperor were widely imitated. The parvenu Trimalchio in Petronius's Satyricon 53 confesses over dinner that although he employs a troupe of comic actors, he in fact prefers them to perform Atellan farces.(97) Pliny the Younger acknowledges that although he prefers to amuse himself and his guests with the more refined art of poets, musicians, and comedians, many others favor at dinner the antics and coarse humor of clowns and buffoons from the mime.(98)
It is even more likely that Paul observed the mime in the streets and marketplaces of the city, where plays were regularly enacted on a hastily erected stage.(99) Small companies of players traveled from town to town giving their shows wherever an audience could gather.(100) Cicero refers to extempore performances by mime troupes of improbable themes like "The Beggar Turns Millionaire."(101) The staging requirements of such troupes were minimal. A rough platform served to raise the actors above the heads of the crowd. For scenery, a portable curtain (siparium) hung from columns or posts was sufficient.(102) The actors were concealed behind the curtain until their turn came; then, parting the curtain in the middle, they stepped into view.(103) While the mimes performed, a colleague might be collecting coins from the spectators, as one sees in a Roman wall painting.(104) It is impossible that Paul would not have encountered the mimes in the marketplaces of Roman cities, where they performed during the day, and where they slept at night upon mats and pallets in booths that they shared with conjurers, dancers, and the like.(105) Indeed, it is possible that Paul had already become familiar with the mime in the East, even before the beginning of his mission in Greece. The mime song written on a temple door in Marissa (between Jerusalem and Gaza) in the second century BCE(106) tends to confirm the statement of Athenaios that all Phoenicia was full of such songs.(107)
It is also likely that Paul encountered the mime in literary form during the course of his education. The mimes of Sophron, for example, were widely read and greatly admired.(108) The surviving titles and fragments indicate an interest in character and realistic situations.(109) Books of his mimes were introduced to Athens by none other than Plato,(110) who read them avidly and alludes to them.(111) According to Diogenes Laertius, it was evidently from Sophron that Plato learned the art of character drawing employed in his dialogues. A copy of Sophron's mimes was reportedly found under Plato's pillow on his deathbed. (112) Theocritus adapted one of Sophron's mimes in his second idyll, "The Spell."(113) An influential commentary on the mimes of Sophron was composed by Apollodoros of Athens in the second century BCE.(114) According to Statius,(115) the mimes of Sophron were still being read in the schools in the first century CE. One of Sophron's fools, a [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Boulias the orator), is mentioned as an example by Demetrius.(116) The case of Sophron illustrates what made the mimes so attractive to the ancient audience: they portrayed the rich variety of everyday life--its situations, characters, and manners--with such realism and frankness that spectators of all classes recognized themselves and their contemporaries.(117) Thus Augustus, on his deathbed, is reported to have asked his friends whether he had played his part well in "the mime of life."(118)
The mime significantly influenced the style and content of other literary genres: comedy and satire, naturally, but also elegy, philosophical dialogues, and the novel.(119) From these sources, as well, Paul may have derived his image of the fool. The comedies of Plautus and his successors contain much jesting and buffoonery of a kind that can scarcely have been found in the literary originals of Greek New Comedy, but that was characteristic of Atellan farces and of the mime.(120) Plautus's "braggart warrior" (miles gloriosus) can be traced back to a character in Greek mime of the earliest period.(121) Lucilius composed verse satires that blended elements of comedy, diatribe, and the mime; the first book of his satires contains an attack upon Lentulus Lupus, princeps senatus in 131 BCE, whom he portrays as a monstrous fool.(122) In his splenetic Apocolocyntosis, Seneca's satire of the dead emperor Claudius as a fool, is likewise influenced by the mime.(123) From Lucian's Icaromenippus, Deorum Concilium, and Juppiter Tragoedus, where gods and philosophers are portrayed as fools, one may form some conception of similar characters in the influential satires of Menippus of Gadara (third century BCE).(124) Plato's account of Socrates is replete with references to the philosopher as a fool, especially in the Euthydemus, the Gorgias, and the Symposium, where Socrates engages in self-parody.(125) The source of the allusions was not unknown to Plato's contemporaries: Aristotle speaks of the [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the mimes of Sophron in the same breath.(126) Like the mime, the novel achieved enormous popularity in the early Empire. Many of the features of the character Trimalchio in the Satyricon--his vulgarity and pretentiousness, but also his vitality--doubtless are owing to Petronius's familiarity with the fools of the mime stage.(127) It seems probable that it was from the personality of the …