Call and Conversion on the Road to Damascus. Contributions to a Hermeneutics of Surprise
The experience of surprise involves an encounter with novelty that transforms one’s understanding of the prevailing context and even of oneself, as a participant there. However, in the order of understanding absolute novelty is unintelligible, and absolute transformation would suspend the unity of the one who lives through it. We find indications for these theses in some reflection on Paul of Tarsus.
Paul was undoubtedly taken by powerful surprise when on the road to Damascus he heard the voice of Jesus. Yet what we know of his religious practice as an observant Jew suggests a range of conditions that may well have prepared him for what transpired there, and what we know of his subsequent actions suggest a long period of discernment. These considerations outline the possibility of further existential psychological work, without claiming to render Paul's experience fully transparent.