In just on two months time, I will leave for a four and a half week journey through The Levant. That’s what I have taken to describing as the otherwise difficult to collectivise visit to Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Greece with the Catholic Theological College’s Bible Lands Study Tour. It will be a mix of long service leave and sabbatical for me. I have been to Turkey twice before, but this will be the first time in the other countries, and my first time in Eastern Turkey.
Above all, I look forward to following in “The Footsteps of St Paul”. I have been to some Pauline locations already, namely Ephesus and Konya (Iconium), but I am looking foward to others, such as Lystre and Derbe, Phillipi, Thessaloniki, Boroea, Corinth, and Athens (I don’t think Tarsus or Antioch are on the list). Originally, Syria was on the program, but for obvious reasons that is now off the list. Pity. I wanted to go to the mosque at Damascus, to see the head of St John the Bapist. Since visiting the Topakai Palace in Istanbul, and seeing a be-gemmed triangular piece of “St John the Baptist’s Skull” there, I was curious to see if there was a similar sized piece missing from the head at Damascus!
In any case, tonight SBS TV aired the first half of a documentary by the name of “In the Footsteps of St Paul” hosted by one David Suchet, better known to many as Hercule Poirot (minus the moustaches in this program). David Suchet is always entertaining, and he obviously enjoyed making this documentary. He clearly has a passion for St Paul, and has confessed to a desire to play the great evangelist at some stage in his career – I think he would do this very well. I gather that Suchet is a Catholic. It was certainly very interesting to see his very Catholic interpretation of Poirot in that last episode, the Murder on the Orient Express.
Nevertheless, I found this first installment disappointing on two counts:
1) the psychologising of the Damascus Road experience. Much study has been done of this event (related by Luke three times in Acts, but never – in quite the same way – by Paul himself in his letters). Paul was convinced that he had been privileged with nothing less than a Resurrection appearance of Christ. It is widely acknowledged that Paul may have experienced a conversion, but not a change of character – his conviction for his new faith in Jesus was as zealous as his former way of life. Yet he was willing to go to his death for this new faith. Psychology seems less than helpful at this point.
2) Suchet’s itinerary took him to Istanbul, which Paul never visited, but not to Cyprus, Lystra, Derbe and Konya, which he did. A sad ommission, as his first journey contrasts with his later concentration on urban evangelisation. From my own experience in Iconium (on a cold April day, staying overnight), I can say that it must have been a desolate and unwelcoming place in the 1st Century AD. No wonder St Mark turned back.
The second half of this documentary plays next Friday night, and I look forward to it – but even more to the forthcoming movie length feature of St Paul starring David Suchet!