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Many people (especially Catholics; I don't know about others, but some say that Protestants usually don't believe this) think that Saul/Paul fell from a horse at the moment of his conversion, perhaps influenced by Caravaggio. As far as I know, there's no notion Saul did travel on a horse or fall from it in the Bible. In fact, the Bible suggests that Saul fell on the ground while standing and praying.

How old is the "fall from a horse" tradition (if it's less accurate than a century, tell why we don't know)? Can it be traced to a single author or a group? Is there any reason for it deeper than "everyone travels on a horse, so Saul must have been on a horse at the moment"?

EDIT: to be clear, this is NOT "Did Paul fall from a horse?" I consider further arguments against Paul falling from a horse off-topic and will downvote them unless they also answer the question of the origin of the believe they argument against. Even if those arguments are as good as Dick Harfield's links proving that only the rich could afford horses.

  • I'm an orthodox christian, I don't have the answer but I may have a lead for you to follow in order to get an answer: Both Catholic and Orthodox Churches consider as an authority, besides the Holy Scripture, the Holy Tradition. It is this Holy Tradition that the protestants are, well, protesting with the 'sola scriptura' doctrine. For example, The Presentation of The Holy Virgin Mary is an event not described in the Bible, but preserved by the Holy Tradition. Similarly, there may be a story in the Catholic Holy Tradition with Saul on a horse, you could ask a priest about this. – Florian May 4 '15 at 14:33
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There are art references that cause many to think Paul fell from his horse. One of the most famous of these is Caravaggio’s famous painting titled “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”.(1) Wikipedia (2) suggests the Golden Legend (3) may have framed the event for Caravaggio.

In doing some online research on this question, I discovered some interesting information related to this question.

Dr. Taylor Marshall points out "Pharisees prayed regularly throughout the day in obedience to Psalm 55:16-17, “But I call upon God, and the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon.”"(4)

Mr. Hector Molina, refers to the significance of this happening in daylight, "It was midday ... Some commentators point out that this was to show that there was no delusion from nightly appearances." He also refers to Dr. Marshall's statement about midday being a prayer time for the Pharisees. (5)

There is no mention of Paul riding any animal to Damascus, but this fact in no way can be used to assert he was not. That would be an argument from silence which is an error in reason. Further, it cannot be successfully argued that because it is not explicitly stated it did not happen. One example should suffice: Scripture rarely refers to Joseph, Mary & Jesus eating, but that does not mean they fasted their entire lives. The Catholic Church does not accept the belief that unless something is explicitly stated in Scripture it cannot have happened. The Church accepts and teaches the four senses of Scripture (CCC 115-119), among other information such as "In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words" (CCC 101).

Since Damascus was about 135 miles from Jerusalem, it seems reasonable that Paul was riding on an animal, perhaps a horse or a camel, particularly since he was sent on the very important mission of weeding out all those in "the way". He could have also been walking with his companions, it just seems like a long journey on foot when he was so impassioned about this mission. The prayer time referenced by Dr. Marshall in no way would indicate Paul couldn't have been riding an animal and dismounted to pray. I would expect this of the "Pharisee of Pharisees" as he referred to himself (Phil 3:5).

(1) http://allart.biz/up/photos/album/B-C/Caravaggio/michelangelo_caravaggio_18_conversion_on_the_way_to_damascus_1601l.jpg, accessed 5/2/2015.

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus, accessed 5/5/2015.

(3) https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/JACOBUS.HTM, accessed 5/5/2015.

(4) http://taylormarshall.com/2012/01/was-paul-knocked-off-his-high-horse-on.html, accessed 5/1/2015.

(5) http://www.catholic.com/blog/hector-molina/did-saul-actually-fall-off-his-horse-on-the-road-to-damascus, accessed 5/1/2015.

  • “It is hard for you to kick against the goads”. “Goads” is what horse riders wear on their heels. It is strange why Jesus would use this word if it in some way didn’t mirror the occasion. – Constantthin Nov 2 at 8:09
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The conversion of Saul falling off a horse appears in medieval art.

Caravaggio about 1600

Michaelangelo about 1550

Jean Fouquet about 1450

In literature, John Calvin about 1550 had this to say about Saul falling from his horse.

In the night-season there appear oftentimes lightnings, which come of the hot exhalations of the earth; but this was more strange, that about noon a sudden light did not only appear, but did also compass him about like a lightning, so that through fear thereof he fell from his horse, and lay prostrate upon the ground. Calvin

  1. And therefore Luke saith that he fell to the ground. For what other thing can befall man, but that he must lie prostrate and be, as it were, brought to nothing, when he is overwhelmed with the present feeling of God’s glory? And this was the first beginning of the bringing down of Paul, that he might become apt to hear the voice of Christ, which he had despised so long as he sat haughtily upon his horse. Calvin

The actual source for these references is yet to be determined, but the history must predate 1450.

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