Scala/Art Resource, NY

Paul, depicted in this luminescent mosaic from the Vatican, recounted in an enigmatic verse that he “went away into Arabia, and…returned to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17). The Arabia of this short sojourn in about 33 A.D. was most likely Nabatean territory in modern Jordan—also called “Arabia of the Nabateans.” Some scholars argue that Paul’s trip was a retreat to the desert to reflect on his new mission following his conversion. But Paul’s sudden departure from Arabia—and his pursuit in Damascus by the local Nabatean authorities three years later—suggests he must have done something while in Arabia to offend the Nabateans. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor explores what that might have been.