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The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul

Review

The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul

THE DAMASCUS ROAD is a novel that dramatizes the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Written by Jay Parini --- an esteemed essayist, poet and trailblazer in the genre of biographical fiction --- this deeply moving page turner delves into the stories of those who sacrificed themselves to spread the word about Jesus and share the message of salvation.

Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was an ardent crucifier of Christians. He strictly abided by Jewish law and believed that anyone who proclaimed Jesus was the son of God committed blasphemy. Paul persecuted disciples of Christ and threw the last stone that killed Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs. Paul’s job was to arrest followers of “the Way.” No one ever would have predicted his conversion.

It was on the road to Damascus where Paul saw a choir of angels in the sky and heard the mesmerizing music. The ground shook, and Jesus called out to Paul, asking why he was persecuting him. The apostle fell to his knees and was blinded by God. He never again questioned that Jesus was the son of God. Instead, he became one of the most important followers of the Way. Once well known in the Jewish community for being a well-to-do intellectual who knew scripture like the back of his hand, Paul surprised his community, especially his father, when he became a Christian.

Parini makes Paul come alive for the reader, highlighting his quirks and powerful personality. He gives us a front row seat through the eyes of Luke, a physician and follower of the Way who is collecting information and writing about the life of Jesus. In fact, the novel cuts between both points of view, showing the different ways that the men view one another and the world around them. They argue regarding which parts of Jesus’ life are worth writing about. Luke wishes to write about his childhood, while Paul feels that only the crucifixion and resurrection are important.

"Parini has written a timeless novel. Those who love the film Paul, Apostle of Christ will enjoy THE DAMASCUS ROAD and the way it immerses you in the life of Saint Paul..."

At times, Paul comes across as insufferable and stubborn. He scares off one young male follower of the Way with his affections. He is against marriage because he believes there is no point, as he awaits the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Those who abide by Jewish law find Paul troublesome, as he proclaims there is no Greek nor Jew in Christ, and that God loves everybody and wants them to have eternal life. In one scene, during a gathering for followers of the Way, a group of Jewish men state that they cannot eat with the Greeks due to the law. Other issues concern whether or not one must be circumcised to join the Way. Yet Paul says that the law has been abolished. He connects with Peter, an apostle of Jesus, but doesn’t feel embraced by the man.

Some doubt that Paul has a connection with God, but they’re proven wrong when Ariston, a crippled man, appeals to him. Paul says to rise in the name of Jesus, with a crowd watching, and the man slows to a stand and walks. Other miracles happen in his presence. When a young man falls out of a window and dies, he prays over him as well. The boy’s eyes open, and he asks what happened. He was dead and then alive.

At one point, Paul and Barnabas are worshiped as Zeus and Hermes for their healing powers. Yet later, after being praised, Paul is nearly stoned to death. He thought he’d die like Stephen. It is a miracle he lives, and he believes it’s because God has more work for him to do. In a scene where Luke and Paul travel together, Gabriel speaks to the apostle by the water and tells him to go to Macedonia.

In another event, after delivering a woman from spirits, Paul and Silas are arrested for sorcery. They are flogged and chained. An earthquake erupts, and their chains are miraculously released. After pouring water on their wounds, they are healed. Matthius, who was guarding them, wept that he’d be punished for letting them go. Instead of running away and saving themselves, Paul and Silas stood with him and then baptized him.

Parini describes the places where Paul visited in such a manner that you’re transported back in time, right beside those who follow the Way, immersed in their struggles, embracing those who accept them and feeling persecuted by those who don’t. The novel is visceral and all encompassing. Parini doesn’t make any character too sympathetic. Their flaws are real, as well as their strengths, which include how much they’re willing to sacrifice to spread the message of salvation. One day, when imprisoned in another city, Paul is finally moved by the spirit to write.

Many who come to life here are brutally murdered. Towards the end of the novel, Luke finds Christian martyrs, and those he knows personally, burning at the stake. The book has ups and downs. In some scenes, followers of the Way enjoy meals together, beautiful scenery, miracles and good conversations about Jesus and salvation. In others, those same people die a brutal death. Standing up for what you believe in is not always easy, but in the case of the life of Paul the Apostle, it is necessary. He knows his time is coming, but will not stop for a second until he can no longer speak.

Parini has written a timeless novel. Those who love the film Paul, Apostle of Christ will enjoy THE DAMASCUS ROAD and the way it immerses you in the life of Saint Paul, who is well known for being one of the greatest writers of the New Testament and fiercest followers of the Way, who sacrificed his life to spread the message of salvation.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on April 19, 2019

The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul
by Jay Parini

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385522789
  • ISBN-13: 9780385522786