The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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A dramatic roadside conversion turned Saul into Paul (circa AD 3 - 67) and a persecutor of Christians into one of their greatest missionaries. But in spreading the word, Paul would ruffle many feathers.

Paul began his working life as Saul, a zealous Jew who traveled around Judaea looking for members of a small Jewish sect who called themselves “the followers of Jesus”. Saul was dedicated to wiping them out altogether.

Road to Damascus

But all this was about to change. One day Saul was traveling from Jerusalem on the road to Damascus. There, he claims he saw a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus telling him to stop persecuting his followers and join them.

Saul changed his name to Paul and, with the same energy that he had previously used to destroy the followers of Jesus, he began spreading their message. This was a mission that would take up the rest of his life.

It was a dangerous job. Although he won a lot of converts, Paul also made many enemies. On one occasion, a violent mob trapped him in a top floor apartment. He only escaped death by hiding in a basket and being lowered to safety through a window.

Traveling the world

Over the next 30 years, Paul traveled some 10,000 miles across the Roman Empire, preaching in cities that were brimming with the poorest people, desperate to hear a message of hope and everlasting life. Some historians believe that Paul’s family were once Roman slaves who were later freed, and that this experience made his message that much more believable.

While Jesus had only preached to Jews, Paul felt strongly that the message should be spread more widely, to Jews and non-Jews alike. To do this, he had to take a less rigid approach to ancient Jewish customs concerning food and circumcision.

Fervent fury

Abandoning the laws of his ancestors horrified many Jewish followers of Jesus, but Paul was adamant. When he heard that some of his disciples had changed their minds and now required converts to be circumcised, Paul was furious. He wrote to them, telling them that it did not matter. The letter was one of many, and was typical of his passionate approach.

According to legend, Paul returned to Rome, intent on seeing his controversial approach win out. There he was imprisoned for causing a riot that broke out after he invited non-circumcised men into the temple.

In jail, Paul revealed his Roman citizenship and was sent to Rome. Along the way, he was whipped, stoned and shipwrecked. He recognized himself that he had had a tough life, full of danger and worry.

Massive success

No one knows how or where Paul died. What is certain, however, is that he had been more successful than he could have hoped. His obstinacy in insisting that his message must be spread to Jews and non-Jews alike had upset many people, but played an important role in helping Christianity to become a new religion in its own right.

In the end, Paul had turned a small Jewish splinter group into the makings of a world religion – one that would eventually conquer Rome itself.

Where to next:
Religion in Ancient Rome – Early Christians
Religion in Ancient Rome – Jesus

Related Links:

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The Roman Empire - In The First Century