Paul in Arabia -- By: Martin Hengel

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:1 (NA 2002)
Article: Paul in Arabia
Author: Martin Hengel


Paul in Arabia

Martin Hengel

Tübingen University

The few hints of Paul’s time in Arabia (or Nabatea) are much more important than is suggested by the scant attention they typically receive in NT scholarship. Careful consideration of all factors leads to the conclusion that Paul’s stay in Arabia was somewhat longer than is usually thought and resulted in successful missionary activity. However, this activity also provoked vigorous opposition on the part of synagogue authorities, as well as state authorities.

Key Words: Paul in Arabia, Nabatea, Aretas, Christian mission, synagogue

For most Romans and Greeks, the inhabitants of Arabia were, in accordance with the topic of this lecture series, indeed a “marginal society or group” on the periphery of the eastern Mediterranean, and a group that was, in addition, exotic and had acquired legendary wealth through trading in spices. For Horace, for example, the divitiae Arabum are proverbial: 1“Land and sea provide Arabs and Indians on the remotest edge (of the world) with luxurious treasures.”2 For Paul and his fellow Jews in the eastern part of the empire, the Arabs were certainly not a marginal society, because here Rome was not the center or hub of the world; Jerusalem was.3 Rather, the inhabitants

Author’s note: A German version of this paper, “Paulus in Arabien,” appeared in H.-P. Muller and E Siegert (eds.), Antike Randgesellschaften und Randgruppen im östlichen Mittelmeerraum (Münsteraner Judaistische Studien 5; Münster, 2000) 137-57. Portions of the paper summarize several chapters from M. Hengel and A. M. Schwemer, Paulus zwischen Damaskus und Antiochien: Die unbekannten Jahre des Apostels, with a contribution by Ernst Axel Knauf (WUNT 108; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998) 60ff., 80ff., 174-213. I thank Robert Wenning for his valuable references, and I thank Jens Zimmermann and Craig Evans for translating and editing the paper for the BBR.

of Arabia were the nearest neighbors, situated, so to speak, right on their doorstep.

1. “Arabs” And “Nabateans”

During the early time of the emperors, the term “Arabs” designated mostly the mighty and self-assured nation of the Nabateans, which back then dominated a large area extending from Hauran to the northern Hedjaz (from the 33d to about the 27th degree of latitude), and in ad 1 shared a border with Judea that stretched from the southern Ne...

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