Use and meaning of the word "damascene"

Here is a brief excerpt from an article I’m reading in today’s New England Journal of Medicine:

In the excerpt, I’ve italicized ‘damascene’, a word that, frankly, I’m not familiar with. Judging by its place in the sentence, I assume it’s being used an adjective here.

Various on-line sources define the adjective ‘damascene’ as:

  1. Of or relating to damascening.


  1. Of or relating to damask.

(with damascening meaning to ornament with wavy patterns, and damask referring to either a gray-red colour or a firm, lustrous fiber)

I don’t understand how any of these definitions fits the usage of damascene in the NEJM article above. Has the author used the word inappropriately? Are the online dictionaries I’ve consulted wrong or incomplete? Something else?

I’ll look forward to your help and comments. Thanks!

From what I can tell, it’s intended to convey the sense of being elaborate, complex, convoluted, sophisticated or embellished. Things of that nature. One example here.

Ah! Very helpful. Thanks.

I’m going to take issue with Q.E.D on this: a “damascene conversion” is one like that which Saint Paul {or Saul, as he was then} experienced on the road to Damascus, when God suddenly appeared to him in a blinding flash when Saul was on his way to persecute some Christians: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” {Acts ix. 4}

In context, a damascene conversion is a sudden and unexpected reversal of postion; I’d call something politically over-elaborate or over-wrought “Byzantine”, not “Damascene”.

On preview, I see that Case Sensitive got in ahead of me. I agree.

Indeed, in this case Sensitive is right and Q.E.D. is incorrect. It’s talking about a sudden and complete change of attitude or beliefs in a person.

Here the British Crown ministers switch from taking all responsibility for problems in their portfolios to taking none unless they were directly involved. Another proud export from Australia, where our Lords and Masters have perfected the art of not knowing anything that goes on in their portfolio so they are accountable for nothing.

Incidentally, the phrase “the scales fell from my eyes” also stems from the same chapter, after Saul’s sight was restored: “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptised.” {Acts ix, 18}

The scales falling from one’s eyes is usually associated with a Damascene conversion; whoever wrote the article that Q.E.D linked to ought to have spent more time in Sunday School

Wow! Thanks for your input.

Pleasure - always nice to earn one’s keep around here.

Incidentally, Saul was a tax collector

  • they worked on commission

His conversion on the road to Damascus was like the Pope advocating contraception.

There’s no tradition that Saul/Paul was a tax collector. You’re thinking of Levi/Matthew.

A quick check on Google suggest 22,800 pages that think Saul was a tax collector.

Also, from memory, he was not visually blind, the ‘scales’ were a metaphor.

I could be wrong, but despite my derision of old myths, I’ve always been fond of using widely understood allusions.

Saul/Paul is described as being a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” and a “Pharasee.”
Philippians 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

Right…but his profession isn’t specified.

Are you sure those aren’t just pages that have both the words “saul” and “tax collector”?

Anyway, here’s the passage from Acts…Acts 9:3-18

Here are some images of what damascened steel looks like. Wavy, complex, not as shiny, but perhaps tougher than normal steel, and capable of being sharpened to a much finer edge than normal steel.

I’m no expert in these matters but from this page:

I can’t comment on the reliability of the specified link.

And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
Acts 18:3
FRDR, there is no tradition that Paul was a tax collector and no such claim is found in the New Testament.

Spingears, Pharisees had nothing to do with tax collecting.

Thank you for finding that. I knew it was in there somewhere. Yeah, guys, as one of the most churchified people on this board, I promise you it was Matthew who was the tax collector, and Paul who apparently was the tentmaker. This in fact has created a phrase in the modern church, where “tentmaking” means you’re holding down a real job as you do your mission work so that you’re more (or wholly) self supporting.

And you’ve no doubt noticed that the larger cited passage doesn’t really allow for metaphorical blindness.

In one of the epistles, doesn’t Paul rather snippily mention that he’s out there working for a living, while the Church is supporting some other characters… (maybe including Peter)?