Several discussions have broken out on “Biblical Criticism & History Forum” over the verses in 2 Corinthians describing Paul’s escape from Damascus by being lowered in a basket from a window in the city wall.
2 Corinthians 11:
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 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.
This passage is the only explicit chronological marker in Paul’s letters. In this post I leave aside the question of which Aretas is being referred to and play the villain by looking at those arguments that raise doubts about the very authenticity of the passage.
First, a brief word in defence of its authenticity:
Against all these conjectures [against authenticity] 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
60 Plummer, Second Epistle, 332. [the link is to archive.org where Plummer suggests that if there is interpolation it may even have been made into the original letter by the Apostle himself]
61 Barrett, Second Epistle, 303. [again, like is to the relevant page in archive.org where this time Barrett sees a problem if we try to imagine a scribe inserting such a passage at this point.]
Welborn, Laurence L. “The Runaway Paul.” The Harvard Theological Review 92, no. 2 (1999): 122.
Welborn also posted a list of critics who have thought the passage should be deleted entirely:
- J. H. A. Michelsen, “T Verhaal van Paulus’ vlucht uit Damaskus, 2 Kor. XI:32,33; XII: 1, 7a een interpolatie,” Theologisch Tijdschrift 7 (1873) 424-27;
- J. M. S. Baljon, De tekst der brieven van Paulus aan de Romeinen, de Corinthiers en de Galatiers als voorwerp conjecturalkritiekbeschouwd (Utrecht: Boekhoven,1884) 159-61;
- Windisch, Zweite Korintherbrief, 363-64;
- Hans Dieter Betz, Der Apostel Paulus und die sokratische Tradition: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu seiner “Apologie” 2 Kor 10-13 (BHTh 45; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, n. 201.
What did they say?
In short, the episode is thought not to fit with the other experiences Paul has been writing about and it doesn’t seem to follow from the preceding words. It even seems to get in the way of what would otherwise be a coherent sentence. Paul insists that he will boast of his weaknesses, and then declares most emphatically that he is not lying …. and then, the basket escape. Is that not an odd scenario to follow a boast in weakness and an oath that he is not lying?
Remove the basket escape and we have Paul saying he will boast in his weaknesses, then swears he is not lying — then speaks of his vision and being taken up to the third heaven and being made to suffer a thorn in the flesh as a result. Does not that sound like a coherent line of thought? Where does the escape from Damascus fit?
Machine translations, with a little human polishing here and there, follow. Highlighting added for easier focusing on the main points.
First, for reference, here is the passage in context:
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 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.
12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
The arguments quoted:
If it is thus sufficiently established that 2 Cor. VI: 14-VII: 1 is an unpauline piece of inconsistency, we take into consideration that Dr. Matthes 1) has shown that also XII: 12b is a false addition, or rather, that Dr. M.. A. N. Rovers 2) has made it probable, that this judgment must be extended to XII: 11b-12, then the question arises: would not more interpolations be found in this letter? The sooner, for those who share with the writer the conviction, that our letter, before it was taken up into the canon, had a sad history behind it, that it arose from the joining together of two letters of Paul more or less in their entirety, the older of which contained chapters X-XII and VIII, the younger chapters I-VII and IX 3).
If such a thing could actually have happened to Paul’s letters, how much more could they have been marred by all kinds of naturally mostly meaningless inserts!
As far as the text is concerned, I keep that of Codex Vaticanus for the original, only with change of δει (Vat.) or δε (Sin. Cantabr.) (XII: 1) in δὲ with the younger codices.
This conjunction indicates here, as it does several times, that the thought is broken off by a somewhat long interlude, taken up again with about the same words, and now continued. Καυχάύθαι δή is thus the repetition of the words in vs. 30 εἰ καυχᾶσθαι δεῖ; this last word is one of the reasons that δη is corrupted into δει 4).
1) In his work: The New Direction, one.
2) Did Paul rely on miracles in defense of his apostleship? 1870.
3) It is usually assumed that this letter was compiled from 8 letters, and chapters VIII and IX are taken as the fragment of the third. It seems to me that these two chapters do not belong together and that chapters VIII is written in the sharp tone of X – XII, and chapters IX in the mild spirit of I-VII. The opening of chapter IX indicates that Paul is going on to a subject which he has not yet dealt with in this letter. It is therefore impossible that VIII, which deals with the same subject, originally preceded IX.
4) By the way, Δὴ does not occur in Paul’s real letters: in 1 Cor. VI:20 Sin. omits it. In 2 Cor. XII: 1, of course, the word naturally makes no objection, if this verse is spurious.
Without reason Dr. Holwerda has tied up trouble in the explanation of the end of this verse as well. Μεν-δέ means here: well – nevertheless: “To glory then is well not useful, nevertheless I will come (also, xai only Vat.) to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Similarly μέν-dé are used by Xenophon, cf. Anab- IV 2 § 1 and 4 § 17. Cyrop. I: 4 § 4 1).
1) Nowhere else with Paul, nor in the other writings of the N. Covenant have I found a use of μέν-δε. Also the word οπτασία and the plural ἀποκαλύψεις do not occur with Paul except in 2 Cor. XII: 1, 7.
It has already appeared to us, that the idea expressed in vs. 30 is broken off by the following verses and taken up again in XII: l. This is certainly no proof of interpolation, unless by breaking off the coherence is broken, destroyed, and by the removal of the sense restored. The latter has now undeniably taken place here.
Indeed, many interpreters of our letter have often expressed their surprise that Paul, with the solemn formula: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is to be praised for ever and ever, knows that I am not lying,” vs. 31, finds it necessary to assure us that he has really crawled into a basket and been smuggled out of the city wall through a gate. No one understands why the Apostle swears to tell this story; what is more, no one can say what prompted Paul to share this story here. As far as I know, no one has come up with the idea of finding in this incident a proof of Paul’s ἀσθενεία (weakness). That the ἀσθενεία, on which he wants to boast vs. 30, is first mentioned in XII: 7, 8 (the angel of Satan), is irrefutably proven by verses 5, 9, 10. But it seems to me no less clear, that also the solemn assurance in vs. 31 refers to the story of the vision described in XII: 2 ff. That vision, for which he could not call witnesses, that vision, which more than anything else, if it had really come to him, proved his apostolic dignity, that vision needed and was worthy of being introduced with an invocation of God as witness to the truth.
Therefore vs. 30 seems to refer to nothing else than XII: 2-10, and vs. 31 only has sense and meaning if it immediately precedes the vision told there and relates to it, which is not possible, as long as XI: 32-XII: 1 in the text.
But what could have moved an interpolator to interject that history in Damascus here? Nothing is easier to explain than this. He did not understand the apostle. He does not find anywhere in the sequel anything of that ἀσθενεῖς, which Paul says he wants to boast XI: 30; he does not notice that it is contained in XII: 7-10. He judges that Paulne in 2 Cor. Xll: 2-5, far from boasting of his weakness, on the contrary, boasts of an appearance of the Lord. He overlooks the fact that these verses are merely an introduction to vs. 7-10, and that Paul in vs. 2-5 speaks of himself in the third person as of another, precisely because he “will not glory in himself except in his weaknesses,” vs. 5, about which he then expands in the first person. The interpolator is looking for what he thinks is missing here: an example of weakness in Paul; he goes through his history and finds that he once saved his life in Damascus by fleeing. Indeed, in the eyes of Christians of the second century, this was almost an unforgivable weakness, a crime. One only has to think of the well-known story of Peter’s escape from prison in Rome. Outside the city he meets the Lord. “Where to, Lord?” is his question, and the answer: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” And the apostle returns to his path ashamed, delivers himself once again into the hands of his persecutors and bravely undergoes martyrdom.
The interpolator thus sets aside the incident in Paul’s life, or, more likely, in order to restore the connection with the preceding incident restored by XII: 1, he inserts it into the text of Paul’s letter. Unfortunately he allows the apostle to mention an incident in his life, which, if it is a weakness, is a weakness in which he cannot glory, because then it is not a physical, but a moral weakness; all the more proof that the verses mentioned are not from Paul’s hand.
In the opinion of the interpolator, Paul does indeed glory, not only in his weakness, but also in visions and revelations of the Lord. Hence in vs. 6, 6 I will not boast about myself except in my weaknesses – for if I wished to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would speak truth: but I avoid it, lest any man should think more highly of me than that which he sees of me or hears of me -” he adds the words “and in the excellence of revelations” (xai [read xav d. i. xal εν] ττ} υπερβολή των αποκαλύψεων) by which insertion vs. 6 becomes an excruciatingly long parenthesis, and moreover Paul expresses with round words what he wants to cover with all his might. Paul himself is to blame for the fact that the editor of his letter misunderstood him and therefore twisted the sentence. Paul is not being entirely sincere in this pericope. He pretends to want to glory in nothing but his weaknesses; he makes it seem as if he is only mentioning the vision because it is necessary for a proper understanding of what happened to the angel of Satan; he assumes the appearance as if he wants to conceal the fact that it happened to him. But for all that, Paul is no less concerned about his weakness than about the excellent revelation in vss. 5 and 6, and because of this, ‘that man in Christ’ is so transparent that the interpolator does not even notice that Paul wants to pass him off as an anonymous person, i.e. that he is pretending to be one of the others. In other words, he acts as if he does not want to glory in the visions of the Lord; he believes (and actually has every right to do so) that the apostle clearly glories in them and therefore takes the liberty of making it a little clearer in vs. 7a 1)
1) The recipe has included these words in vs. 7 and therefore omitted the following διὸ. The new Bible translation here and usually elsewhere slavishly follows the poor text of the editio rec., especially where it corresponds to the if possible even worse text of Tischendorf’s ed. 7a.
Whence is the story of XI: 32, 33 derived? The comparison with Acts IX: 22-25 suggests two things to us. First, the sometimes verbal similarity points to the same source. Second, the difference in Luke being the Jews, and in 2 Corinthians being the ethnarch of king Aretas, who wants to imprison Paul, points to a greater credibility and originality of the latter story, since Luke’s apparent tendency is to blame the Jews as much as possible for Jesus’ death and for Paul’s persecution. So the author probably made use of the same source from which Luke drew, which points to a high age of this interpolation, probably rising to the end of the first century.
(quotes passages from Michelsen)
2 Cor. 11: 32 – 12:1. Michelsen (Tlieol. Timehr. 1873 ׳, bl. 424-427) counts these verses among the ״later additions” in the Pauline letters. He says: ״What concerns the text, I hold that of the Vat. to be the original, only not changing δεῖ or δε into δη. This conjunction indicates here, as it does several times, that the thought is interrupted by a slightly long clause, taken up again with about the same words and now continued. Καυχᾶσθαι δή is thus the repetition of the words in v. 30 Εἰ καυχᾶσθαι δεῖ; this last word is one of the causes, that δη in dei is corrupted… . Many interpreters of our letter have already expressed their amazement that Paul, with the solemn formula ״the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is to be praised for all eternity, knows that I am not lying’ vs. 34, deems it necessary to assure them that he really crawled into a basket and escaped through a gate into the city wall. No one understands why the Apostle swears to tell this story, and what is more, no one can say what prompted Paul to share this story here. As far as I know no one has come up with the idea of finding in this incident any proof of Paul’s ἀσθενεία [=weakness]. That, moreover, this ἀσθενεία, on which he wishes to boast vs. 30, is first mentioned in 12:8,7 is irrefutably proved by vss. 5, 9, 10.
That vision, for which he could not call witnesses, that vision, which more than anything else That vision needed and was worthy of being filled with an invocation of God as the giver of truth. Therefore, vs. 30 only refers to 12: 2-10, and vs. 31 only makes sense if it immediately precedes and relates to the vision, which is not possible as long as 11: 32-12: 1 is in the text. But what could have moved an interpolator, to put the Damascus story in between? Nothing is easier to explain than this. He has not understood the Apostle. He does not find anywhere in the sequel anything of that ἀσθενεία, which Paul says he wants to boast 11: 30: he does not notice that it is contained in 12: 7-10. He judges that Paul, in 2 Cor. 12: 2-5, far from boasting of his weakness, on the contrary, is going to boast of an appearance of the Lord. He thinks that these verses are only an introduction to vs. 7-10, and that Paul speaks of himself in vs. 2-5 in the third person as of another, precisely because he will not glory in himself except in his weaknesses” vs. 5, about which he then expands in the first person. The interpolator is looking for what he thinks is missing here, an example of weakness in Paul. He goes through his history and finds that once in Damascus he saved his life by fleeing. Indeed, in the eyes of second-century Christians, this was an almost unforgivable weakness. …. One need only think of the well-known story of Peter’s escape from prison in Rome…. The interpolator thus sets aside this peculiarity in Paul’s life, or more likely because of the connection restored by 12: 1 with the preceding one, he inserts it into the text while overwriting it. … Unfortunately he allows the Apostle to mention an incident in his praise which, if it is an environmental weakness, is a weakness in which he cannot boast, because then it is not a physical, but a moral weakness; all the more proof that the verses in question are not from Paul’s hand. In the opinion of the interpolator, Paul does indeed boast, not only in his weakness, but also in visions and revelations of the Lord. That is why he says in vs. 5, 6 ״I will not glory in myself except in my own weaknesses, which are not for the sake of the church, but for his own sake. If he spoke of them, it was for his own glory, even though he may have been praised in the Lord. But Paul does not know about visions and revelations of the Lord. Vs. 2-4 speak only of a face, not of a face and a revelation (Holsten, p. 402). It. appears to me, that Διὸ of some witnesses before ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι (vs. 7a) is genuine. Very plausibly, I think, some scribes left it out, after κα* (later καὶ) τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῶν ἀποκαλύψεων was included in the text. Conjectured, that Paul had thought of the ὑπερβολῇ τῶν ἀποκαλύψεων one would have expected from him: Διὸ ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῶν ἀποκαλύψεων. Holsten (Zeitschr. f. Wiss. Theol. 1874. bl. 888 400) holds only 11: 32, 33, 12: 1a for an interpolation. Because this scholar considers 12: 1b and 7a to be genuine, he is compelled to take two heterogeneous things as objects of renown, physical weakness and do visions and revelations. Visions and revelations can be held for proofs of God’s grace, but the same cannot be said of bodily weakness. Holsten speaks (bl. 402) of ״a weakness, which is a high grace” – in my opinion, a wonderful kind of weakness -, Paul, thinking of his weakness (διὸ εὐδοκῶ ἐν ἀσθενείαις, vs. 10a), says: ἐδόθη μοι σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί, ἄγγελος Σατανᾶ, ἵνα με κολαφίζῃ (vs. 7).
A postscript (or gloss):The successful escape of the p. from Damascus v. 32f.
This short narrative falls at this point and according to its style completely out of the framework of the first hymn. With v. 3Of. the latter has reached its conclusion; it is impossible for such a detail to follow. For this purpose, the report differs from the previous communications in its localization (Damascus), the naming of a single hostile person (King Aretas), and the description of the closer circumstances. A point of view, under which the narration would be placed, a tendency, is not recognizable: it is nothing more than the vivid description of an adventurous rescue from imminent capture. According to Hnr. of course, the Jews should have spread the reproach of cowardice, as revenge for the failure of their attack; one shouted: The first heroic deed of the great apostle was a cowardly escape! Even after Bis. the incident was connected with the greatest embarrassment for P. and its performance to us. St. a proof that the apostle was not at all concerned with the extinction of his personal honor. Bt. still thinks that the process was ridiculed and claimed that there was no danger for P. at all. But it is not evident how the escape, which included daring, could be interpreted as cowardice, and the wording is not a defense against such a scattering, just as little an assurance that his situation had been dangerous after all. The emphasis lies solely in the contrast between the grave danger in which P. was hovering and the happy rescue, which was due to a cunning of his friends. There is no hint of faithlessness (against Dchsl.; cf. MtlOrr!), just as little of faithfulness and gratitude for divine help. Miraculously, the ApgSegf. offers a parallel report, which is close to ours. St. (cf. Wendt z. St. u. p. 42).
The similarities (course of events as a whole; lack of any tendency; identical and synonymous words) are significant; each report, however, has its own merits: II Cor names Aretas as persecutor, Acts the Jews; II Cor adds διά θυρίδος [=through a window] – cf. Josh 2:15; Acts reports that the guarding extended over several days and that the disciples helped the P. to escape. None of the reports can be completely deduced from the other; each of them can, but does not have to be said to have had the other before it or to have been aware of it. In no way does the report in II Cor. have a stronger character of self-experience than the one in Acts. From this follows: if v. 32s. is genuine, the author of Acts could have known the St., but would have had another tradition about the event; vice versa, if v. 32s. is a ‘gloss’, the glossator could have known Acts, but would have had another source of his knowledge (Aretas!) besides. The assumption of an interpolation suggests itself very much here. But then it remains quite mysterious for us, where the glossator got his knowledge from and why he wrote just this story in the margin. Schm. et al. think that a reader wanted to add an example of άα-ένεια because he could not discover the weaknesses announced v. 30 in l2i ff.; but the tale of a successful escape falls just as little under the term äaS. as the revelation l 21 ff. Objectively, the little story belongs under the κίνδυνοι (έκ γένους, έξ έ&νών, έν πόλει). The only possibility, then, would be that v. 32 f. was originally placed by a reader as a marginal gloss to v. 26 and then later added to the end of the section. Equally plausible seems to me the assumption that P. himself, while dictating, added the story here, unconcerned about its stylistic inconsistency, perhaps to v. 24f, otherwise to v. 26 (cf. Moffatt Jntrod. 128), or better, that P. interrupted his dictation and told his amanuensis this and perhaps other adventures of the kind, and that the amanuensis, because he particularly liked this story, added to it here, τοΰ Παύλου μήτε κωλύσαντος, μήτε προτρεψαμένου. Significant enough was the experience: it was the first peril of life into which P. fell after his conversion, for Christ’s sake, and the first glorious salvation. The question whether the flight ended the first or the second presence of P. in Dam. is simply settled: it must have been the final leaving of the city.
The peculiar mention of king Aretas and his ethnarch is of some importance for the chronology of Paul, but at the same time it also poses a difficult problem concerning the interpretation of the passage, namely the question is, whether in the time when p. was in Dam, Aretas owned Dam (I), whether A. in the Roman provincial city Dam. had only one ethnarch, a consular official (2), or whether Dam. was Roman and the ethnarch of A. had only the surrounding area in the south (3), m. a. W. whether the soldiers or lands of the Nabataean ethnarch manned the gates as city guards (I and 2), or from the outside the entrances (3). Taken purely exegetically, the wording to us. St. supports the assumption that Dam. was then a provincial city of the Nabataean empire (I). This is supported by 1) the introduction “in Dam. the ethnarch of king A. . . .’, 2) the measure of guarding the gates, which, according to the most probable interpretation, presupposes that the ethnarch had the city of Dam. militarily in hand, and that the gate crews had orders from him to arrest Paul if he showed himself. Obviously, ‘over the city wall’ is synonymous with ‘saved’.
To this there are numerous analogies, so the scouts of Jericho Jos 2:1ff. 7 And the gate was shut, 15, So she let them down by a rope through the window, and Josephus. Ant. V 1,2 §15 With this agreement, they left, letting themselves down by a rope from the wall, further I Samuel 19:11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. . . 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped, Alhenaeus V52 p. 214A (from a tyrant in Athens) and he placed sentinels at the gates, so that many of the Athenians, fearing what he might be going to do, let themselves down over the walls by night, and so fled away., Plutarch Aemilius Paulus. 2b p. 269 A. Aristophanes. Wasps 378, Josephus, Vita 11 § 53 (Varus) by guarding all the passes, lest any one should escape, and inform the king what had been done, Livius 39 17.5 (Rom) Many during the night … were caught trying to escape and brought back by the guards whom the triumviri had posted at the gates.
If, on the other hand, the teams of the ethnarch lay outside the city and even swarmed around it (3), the danger was very great that p. still ran into their hands even after the. adventurous escape over the wall. Of course, φρουράν τήν πόλιν [=guard the city ] can also be said of a siege’: only in us. Context this is not possible. That bands of Arabs could have camped for a long time close to the gates of a large provincial city in order to search for a single occupant of the city is impossible, quite apart from the fact that Roman rule by no means ended at the walls of the city after all The objection that if the ethnarch had met in Dam. he had better have had Paul sought out and captured in the city itself (8t. u. a.) does not reckon with the size of the city of Dam. The control at the gates was the only way to catch a wanted person (think also of the capture of Jesus, which was possible only by “betrayal”).
Betz: n 201
The future tense καυχήσομαι [=I will boast] 11,30 is picked up in 12,1 by ἐλεύσομαι [=I will go on]. Between them stands only the affirmation 11:31; 11:32f – a later insertion (so Windisch, 2 Cor. p. 363ff.)
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