Acts of the Apostles has three, somewhat different accounts of the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus - Acts 9:3-8, 22:6-11 and 26:12-19. Not only does Paul never mention this experience, but it differs in material respects from what Paul does say about his conversion.

If Luke did not learn of this from Paul, he might have been inspired to write this story by another source. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, author of Putting Away Childish Things claims that parallels between Acts and the Bacchae mean that the story of Paul's conversion could have been inspired by the play.

For example, she says that the parallel passage has the god Dionysus complain to Pentheus about persecution, just as Jesus complains to Paul about persecution. A well known saying among Greeks and Romans, but apparently never used by Jews, was "kick against the goads," the goad being a prod used to keep an ox working - painful if you kick against it. She asks why Jesus would use a Greek saying to Paul, a Jew who would probably not understand it, and why Jesus would pointedly speak this Greek saying "in the Hebrew language" when we know he was quite fluent in Greek Koine.

The text appears to be of Greek cultural origin. What is the evidence for this being specifically from the Bacchae.

  • @DickHartfield Is there any suggestion from the text that it relates to 'Bacchae' by Euripides? I see the parallelism suggested by the author quoted in your answer; perhaps using her reference in the question would help clarify the source of such an oblique comparison and give perspective on why it should be considered.
    – Tau
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 11:46
  • @Tau Thanks for your help. I am still getting my head around what is expected of a good question, in terms of format, context and content, one reason I have been reluctant to ask questions so far. I'm getting there. And I hope these changes meet site requirements. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:23
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    A few borrowed phrases does not add up to a borrowed story. We borrow from Shakespeare language all the time, but only sometimes do we borrow his stories. Is there any more than just the kink-against-the-goads phrase?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 0:19
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    Paul grew up in a city of Greek philosophy. He quotes and refers to Greek writers and philosophers in his letters and speeches (Titus 1:12 and 1 Cor 15:33 are the most well known, but there are others). If Paul enjoys doing this, why wouldn't Jesus do this when speaking to Paul?
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 15:14
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    Paul, a Jew who would probably not understand it - The Apostle of the Gentiles ? Whose father was probably rich enough to buy himself Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28), but apparently not rich enough to take his son to the theater, or even pay for a good classical education ? And wasn't Christ a Galilean ? Did the city of Sepphoris, located less than four miles away from Nazareth, not possess a Roman theater ? Doesn't he constantly label Pharisees hypocrites, a word whose basic meaning is actors ? I'm sorry, but at this point I am afraid I have to echo Frank Luke's amazement.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 10:32

2 Answers 2


In Acts 26:15, it is said that Paul hears the voice of Jesus say: “Saul, Saul, why persecute me? it is hard for thee to kick against the goads[pros kentra laktizein]," with the KJV using the English synonym 'pricks'. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, in Putting Away Childish Things, page 163-9, claims there is a parallel in the Bacchae, which is approximately five hundred years older than Acts. Here, Dionysus, the persecuted god, says to King Pentheus, his persecutor: "You disregard my words of warning... and kick against the goads [pros kentra laktizein]” (line 794). Luke retains the plural form of the noun 'kentra' which, while maintaining the meter in the Bacchae, seems out of place in Acts. Not only are these words surprisingly similar, but Acts says Jesus that Jesus quoted a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic ("in the Hebrew language"). Even the situations are similar, with Jesus as the persecuted God in Acts and Dionysus the persecuted god in the Bacchae.

If further evidence of inspiration from the Bacchae were needed, we can look at Acts 16:25-26, in which Paul is given the opportunity to escape when there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and their fetters were unfastened. In The Bacchae, Euripides writes of the maenads who were being kept in the city's prison: "The chains on their legs snapped apart by themselves. Untouched by any human hand, the doors swung wide, opening of their own accord.”

  • I DV'd your question, but UV'd your answer....net value...? Your answer made sense, although I don't agree with the parallelism. The question from my previous comment made an 'audacious' statement without apparent support from the text-hence my DV.
    – Tau
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 11:52
  • Dynosius? The god that also change water into wine?
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 10:51
  • @JimThio Yes, although this would not have occurred to the author of Acts. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 21:24
  • If anything, the (graceful and elegant) freeing of the Maenads reminds me more of Peter's (equally nonviolent) escape described in Acts 12, rather than the sheer and utter brutality of the earthquake responsible for Paul's and Silas' release, detailed in chapter 16. Forgive me for saying this, but snapping apart by themselves, or opening of their own accord, is a far cry from the force majeure mentioned in Saint Luke's Second Letter to Theophilus.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 10:56

Here is something for you. Do you imagine an ancient world where the people knew nothing of agrarian life but only spoke in terms of Greek theater?

Picture a team of Oxen pulling a wagon, and the driver using a long sharp stick to motivate the oxen, poking them in the buttOx - pun intended. And what do you think would happen to Oxen who kicked against the goads?

Answer: they would injure themselves by kicking into the sharp stick.

Jesus knew Paul's heart and that he persecuted Christians to the death because that is what his religious zeal demanded of him. And so He revealed to Paul that it was He (Jesus) who was poking Paul in the butt as it were, every time he ruined the life of another disciple of Christ... moreover, Paul fighting against the awareness that he was doing wrong, was wounding him.

Kicking against the goads was a well known metaphor and neither Luke nor Jesus blew it by using the phrase the way they did.

  • Thank you for this answer. Ranke-Heinemann, whose book caused me to raise this question, says it was indeed a well-known saying in Greek and Roman circles, but not used by the Jews - and Jesus deliberately talks in Aramaic when using this Greek saying. Also she mentions a strange grammatical parallel to the Bacchae, in the plural use of kentra. Would you be able to provide some explanations in respect of these? Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 6:34
  • @JonahsAttempt Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! I think you can benefit a lot if you see the kind of answers that this site is looking for. Be sure to visit the tour to learn more about this site. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 19:01
  • @DickHarfield A related question that occurs to me: Does Jesus speak to people in language that he is comfortable hearing, or does he speak to people in language that they understand? Especially after his resurrection and ascension, I would expect that Jesus' words would need have no tie to the Hebrew or Aramaic that he spoke during his earthly mission. I would expect Jesus' words to Paul to have their best expression in the language and usage that Paul understood.
    – mojo
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 18:20
  • @mojo Paul was certainly both fluent and comforable in the Greek language, but the text says that Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew language, generally assumed to have been Aramaic, since no one really spoke Hebrew in the first century, and certainly not a diaspora Jew. Nevertheless, this does not get to the issue of why Acts should portray a persecuted Jesus as using the same words as a persecuted pagan god in a Greek play, when a Jew such as Paul was probably unfamiliar with this usage. Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 2:54
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    @DickHarfield Why could Paul not have been familiar with an agrarian metaphor like this?
    – mojo
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 5:14

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