This was almost a comment/footnote under the last post, but it turned into a post of its own! So now call it Part Three in this Series on Damascus.
I wrote "The Damascus Story" over two years ago, and dated it as posted, "February, 36 AD". I have since felt the need to revise that, but not before I can do intense scrutiny of the years 34-38.
Now, since I have been reviewing my notes on all this recently, I'll just have to take a stab at this redating project now, while I'm thinking about it!
It does seem like the most likely date for the battle of Gamala (if a full scale battle is even what it was) is still summer 36 AD, because it happened while Antipas was away at the Euphrates with Vitellius & the Parthians. So if Paul fled Nabatea AFTER that attack (see May 3rd post), then he couldn't be in Damascus again until late summer or early autumn, 36.
As I said, I'll look at that later. This summer maybe. But for now I'll make a few key points towards a tenative conclusion on this date.
Point One: Aretas' military forces can't be anywhere near Damascus after spring of 37 at the latest. News of Tiberius' death arrives at Pentecost that year, and by that time Vitellius was already near Jerusalem with a Legion or two. The Nabateans had, of course, retreated...
Point Two: I firmly believe Paul may have seen the Lord and gone blind as early as February of 34 AD. (Details I'll have to share someday, based on events in 33. But not yet.)
So these are the boundaries. Paul's time in Arabia has to take place between February 34 and February 37. Of course, that might be the "three years" right there. Maybe... But that brings me to...
Point Three: Saul(Paul) has to sail from Caesarea to Tarsus BEFORE Jerusalem hears the news about the christians in Antioch. Now, I've got a strong hunch that it was Vitellius' servants - who naturally shared all kinds of gossip with Herod Antipas' servants when the Governor was the Tetrarch's guest at his Jerusalem Palace [or townhome] - that it was THOSE SERVANTS at Pentecost in 37 AD who first brought the news that Antioch had a gentile christian church.
((See, Jerusalem didn't get a whole lot of DIRECT contact with Syria, generally! Ancient grudges ran that deep and there were no needs for going that far. But if just anyone, anytime could have delivered that news to Jerusalem, then why did it take more than three years to get that news down there? That's why I think it had to be Vitellius' visit that brought the news.))
To be more specific, then: if Saul leaves Damascus AND sails from Judea (both) BEFORE Pentecost [May 12] of 37, then Saul has to sail in September 36 or April/May 37. And I have a hard time imagining Saul lasting all winter long in Jerusalem when he was surely quick to make enemies. Not to mention Saul couldn't have spent so many months in Jeru when years to come would prove Paul was so little known by the saints there.
And finally, Point Five: It was still most likely LESS than three full, chronological "years". (IE, less than 36 months.) Therefore, I still like the general point made in the story about months and "years". I might revise the dialogue someday, but FOR NOW, it does still show the possibility that Paul COULD have been in Arabia for a mere 25 months and still called it "three years". Not that I'm trying to preserve "wiggle room"! ;)
Now let's see, can we put all that together?
If I had to guess tonight, I'd say Saul got saved before Passover in 34, fled Damascus and spent two Passovers in Nabatea, fled TO Damascus in August of 36, and almost just as quickly fled FROM Damascus for the second time in the same month, 36 AD! After that, I'd guess it didn't take Saul very long at all to get in major hot water in Jerusalem... so he can still sail out of Caesarea by mid to late September and easily make it to Tarsus before the end of sailing, mid-October. (Lots of ships sailed that direction so late in the season. Going up the coast in August/September was much safer and easier, weather wise.)
By the way, this scenario gives Paul three Passovers AND three summers, for as much as 32 months in Arabia, total. Hmmmm...
Anyway, that's what I'd guess tonight. ;)
But like I said... I need to look at it more closely this summer! :)