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FOOTPRINTS OF PAUL
W E entered the “street which is called Straight,”
VV and came to the house of Judas, where St. Paul lodged when he was led blind into Damascus, trembling and astonished of the Lord. His name was Saul, and he had been on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, by the authority of Rome. The story is in the ninth chapter of Acts, and is too familiar to repeat here. I believe, though, most of us thought the house of Judas had some connection with the unfaithful disciple of that name, until Habib enlightened us. Habib said that this was another Judas—a good man-well-to-do for his time. The Street called Straight runs through the Grande Bazaar, and the house of Judas is in the very midst of that dim aggregation of trades. It is roofless and unoccupied, but it is kept clean and whitewashed, and its stone walls will stand for another two thousand years.
Next to the birth and crucifixion of the Saviour, the most important event in the story of Christianity happened there. It seemed strange and dreamlike to be standing in the house of St. Paul's conversion - a place which heretofore had seemed to exist only in the thin leaves and fine print of our Sundayschool days — and I found myself wondering which corner of the house St. Paul occupied, just where he sat at table, and a number of such things. Then I noticed the drifting throngs outside, passing and repassing or idling drowsily, who did not seem to know that it was St. Paul's house, and paid no attention to it at all.
At the house of Ananias, which came next, Habib
“This," he said, “is the house of Ananias, once fed by the ravens. Later, through being a trifle careless with the truth, he became the founder and charter member of a club which in the United States of America still bears his name. Still later he was
Saphira, who perished at the same time to furnish
with the guilty (see Deuteronomy xi. 16): This is the spot where Ananias fell. That stone marks the spot where his mother-in-law stood. The hole in the roof was made by the lightning when it came through. We will now pass on to the next-”.
That was good enough gospel for our party if Habib had only let it alone. He came in just then and interrupted. He said:
“This is the house of Ananias-called St. Ananias, to distinguish him from a liar by the same name. That Ananias and his wife, Saphira, fell dead at the feet of St. Peter because of falsehood, a warning to those who trifle with the truth to-day. St. Ananias was a good man, who restored St. Paul's sight and instructed him in the Christian doctrine."
We naturally avoided the Doctor for a time after that. His neighborhood seemed dangerous.
The house of Ananias is below ground, and was probably used as a hiding-place in a day when it was not safe for an active and busy Christian to be at large. Such periods have not been unusual in Damascus. St. Paul preached Christianity openly, but not for long; for the Jews “took counsel to kill him," and watched the gate to see that he did not get away.
“Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down the wall in a basket.”
We drove to the outer wall, and came to the place and the window where Paul is said to have been let down. It might have happened there; the wall is Roman, and the window above it could have been there in St. Paul's day. I prefer to believe it is the real window, though I have reason to think they show another one sometimes.
Habib said we were to visit some of the handsome residences of Damascus. We were eager for that. From the Minaret of the Bride we had looked down upon those marble courts and gay façades, and had been fascinated. We drove back into the city, through narrow mud-walled streets, forbidding and not overclean. When these alleys had become so narrow and disheartening that we could travel only with discomfort, we stopped at a wretched entrance and were told to get out. Certainly this was never the portal to any respectable residence. But we were mistaken. The Damascus house is built from the inside out. It is mud and unseemly disrepute without, but it is fairyland within. Every pretentious house is built on the same plan, and has a marble court, with a fountain or pool, and some peach or apricot or orange trees. On one side of the court is the front of the house. It has a high entrance, and rooms to the right and to the left-rooms that have a raised floor at one end (that is where the rich rugs are) and very high ceilings—forty feet high, some of them -decorated with elaborate designs. In the first house the round writhing rafters were exposed, and the decoration on them made them look exactly like snakes. The Apostle took one look and fled, and I confess I did not care for them much myself. The rest of the house was divided into rooms of many kinds, and there was running water, and a bath. We visited another house, different only in details. Some of the occupants were at home here — women-folks who seemed glad to see us, and showed us about eagerly. A tourist party from far-off America is a diversion to them, no doubt.
Then we went to still another house. We saw at once that it was a grander place than the two already visited, and we were simply bewildered at the abundance of the graven brass and inlaid furniture, rich rugs and general bric-à-brac, that filled a great reception-room. Suddenly servants in Turkish dress appeared with trays of liqueurs—two kinds, orange and violet-urging us to partake of the precious stuff, without stint. Also, there were trays of rare coffee and dainty sweetmeats, and we were invited to sit in the priceless chairs and to handle the wonderful things to our hearts' content. We were amazed,