Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17)

(Originally published in Journal of Biblical Literature vol. 115, 683–692. Reproduced by permission of the author)

We don’t know, say most of the commentators, why Paul went to Arabia or what he did there. We aren’t even sure which bit of “Arabia” he visited. In what is, for Paul, an unusually long autobiographical section (Gal 1:11-2:21), he describes the events leading up to and following from his dramatic experience on the road to Damascus, including two visits to Jerusalem, his confrontation with Peter at Antioch— and his trip to Arabia. Whatever precise reasons one gives for this lengthy account, it clearly has something to do with reinforcing the basic point he enunciates in 1:11-12: he received his gospel message not from other human sources (to whom, by implication, his hearers might appeal, over his head, for a more accurate version) but rather by “a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12)…

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