Did Saul perceive a meteor event as a religious experience that caused him to convert to Christianity? It’s possible but doubtful we will every know for sure.
NEARLY two thousand years ago, a man named Saul had an experience that changed his life, and possibly yours as well. According to Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the biblical New Testament, Saul was on the road to Damascus, Syria, when he saw a bright light in the sky, was blinded and heard the voice of Jesus. Changing his name to Paul, he became a major figure in the spread of Christianity.
William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, has a different explanation for what happened to Paul. He says the biblical descriptions of Paul’s experience closely match accounts of the fireball meteor seen above Chelyabinsk, RussiaMovie Camera, in 2013.
The well-recorded Chelyabinsk event, the Tunguska event, and the re-entry of the Zond IV vehicle offer opportunities to compare reactions of modern eyewitnesses to eyewitness accounts of possible ancient fireball events. The first-century book, Acts of the Apostles, gives three separate descriptions of a bright light “from heaven,” which occurred probably in the 30s (C.E.) near Damascus, Syria. The details offer a strikingly good match to a Chelyabinsk-class or Tunguska-class fireball. Among the most impressive, unexpected consistencies with modern knowledge is the first-century description of symptoms of temporary blindness caused by exposure to intense radiation, matching a condition now known as photokeratitis. An analysis of the re-entry of debris from the Russian Zond IV over the eastern United States in 1968 shows how actual perceived phenomena in an unfamiliar natural celestial apparition are often conceived by the observer in terms of current cultural conceptions, and it is suggested that this happened also in the first-century case.
The story of Saul/Paul’s experience of seeing the blazing light, falling to the ground and hearing noise correspond to a meteor event. Other experts call Hartmann’s piece “informed speculation”. There is always a hazard when taking descriptions in ancient tales at face value. It could just be a story. But if it does require a natural explanation, this isn’t a bad one since we know such things happen. It would be difficult to find evidence of the exact meteor.
Hartmann’s goal of the study was to provoke people to think seriously about what this would mean for religion and humanity. “My goal is not to discredit anything that anybody wants to believe in,” he says. “But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that’s something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.”
I’d say lots of superstitious beliefs were based on misunderstanding of natural phenomena. LOTS! And it’s still going on today as you can read at DN everyday.