The letters attributed to him account for almost half of the New Testament’s 27 books, but Paul—originally Saul—of Tarsus didn’t start out a fan of Jesus or his followers. It took a blinding flash of light and a fall to transform this persecutor of Christians into Christianity’s all-time greatest advocate. His famous change of heart on the road to Damascus is depicted in this work by Romanian-born New York painter and master calligrapher Stefan Arteni.
The Book of Acts tells how Saul, a tentmaker, oversaw the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Fired by a zealous hatred for the followers of Jesus, Saul denounced other Christians and voted for their execution, and then took his show on the road—heading for Damascus to trouble Christians there. On the way, however, he experiences one of the Bible’s great turnabouts: “While he was still on the road and nearing Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed all around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Tell me, Lord,’ he said, ‘who you are.’ The voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ ... Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could not see” (Acts 9:3–8).
With the help of his companions, Paul continues to Damascus, where his sight is restored and he is baptized a Christian. Before taking up his new career spreading the Word, the tentmaker Saul chooses a new and humble name for himself: Paul (or Paulus), meaning “little one” in Latin.