Mike Koke on Paul's Calling/Conversion
Mike Koke asks whether or not Paul was called or converted, an issue I've addressed quite heavily in the past. Here's the comment I left for Mike, but with added links to older blogposts on the subject.
The biggest problem in the 'conversion/calling' debate is the question of perspective. Paul describes his calling in a prophetic way, but that's not the end of the story because his opponents could readily deny his claims and say he actually taught apostacy. And in view of texts like Philip 3, in which he cheerfully writes off his heritage as excrement in view of the Christ event, I think it's entirely reasonable to speak, objectively, of Paul's conversion.
Then there's the technicality of the structure of Hellenistic Judaism which further blurs distinctions between 'calling' and 'conversion'. Zeba Crook argued that by this time, it was possible to speak of someone being called and thus converted: Paul was invoking the call of the divine patron-benefactor (which involved conversion by definition) and the call of the prophets at the same time.
As for why Paul initially persecuted Christians, Fredriksen dismisses the issue of indiscriminate table-fellowship too lightly. In my view that stands as the best reason, and thus precisely why Paul did an about-face on this issue: like many converts, he was attracted to what repulsed him.
The other two reasons commonly advanced for Paul's persecuting the Christians — for belief in a crucified messiah, or for politically subversive reputation — aren't as impressive, especially the first which is too abstract and doesn't do justice the diversity of messianic beliefs at the time. The second (advance by Fredriksen) is admittedly more plausible, but one would think that whatever political misunderstandings were (understandably) fueled during Jesus' final week during passover would be increasingly corrected and put into perspective.