I’m teaching  The Birth of Christianity this semester, a course that deals with the history of Christianity from right after the New Testament up to about the conversion of Constantine.  Want to take my Final Exam?   Well, I ain’t gonna grade it if you do.  But here are the instructions I gave to the class so they could know what to expect — including the ten POSSIBLE essay questions, from which I will choose two for them to answer, in essays they could take one hour (each) to write.  What do you think?  Could you nail it?


The Birth of Christianity, Reli 208

Final Exam Questions

Our final exam is scheduled for Tuesday, December 12 at (gulp) 8:00 – 11:00 am in our regular classroom.  The exam will consist of ten short answer identification questions and two essays. The exam will be closed book, closed notes, and open mind.

You will need to write out your answers in a blue book (bring several) with pen and ink!



The first section of the exam will involve identifications of terms we have covered during the semester, either in the reading or in the lectures.  You will be allowed up to 50 words to answer each i.d.   As examples, you could be asked to describe:  “Canon,” “Tertullian,” “Arius,” “The Gospel of Mary.”   You will need to provide a succinct and accurate answer filled with as much detail as you can muster.

You will be given some choice in this part of the exam – for example, I may ask twelve from which you are to answer ten.  You should plan on devoting no more than an hour to this part of the exam.



You will then have two essay questions, and should plan to devote about an hour to each.  In this case, unlike the identifications, I am providing (below) the entire range of potential questions.  I will choose two of these at random.   On the final they will be worded exactly as they are here.

Please make your essays as full, informative, and well-written as you can, basing them on both the reading for the class and the class lectures.


Structure of your essay:

The best essays will state the thesis at the outset.  The thesis is the major point that you will want to argue in the essay.  It should be short and to the point.  The rest of your essay will try to demonstrate your thesis.

For example, if your essay were about the New Testament Gospel of John (which it will not be!) you could state a thesis such as this: “The Gospel of John is different in significant ways from the Synoptic Gospels” or “The Gospel of John does not present a historically reliable portrait of Jesus” or “The Gospel of John presents the most advanced theological understanding of Christ in the New Testament.”

Once you state your thesis, whatever it is, then you begin to present the data and evidence that support it.  Make sure that one point/idea flows clearly to the next, and that the entire essay is well organized.

There will be brownie points for (correct) details: names of authors and books, dates, and anything else that seems to contribute to the case you are trying to make.


Possible Questions:

These are the options from which I will choose two, possibly by rolling dice.

  1. In as many ways as you can, discuss how early Christianity was both like and unlike the pagan religions of ancient Rome.
  2. In what ways can early Christianity be seen as both Jewish and anti-Jewish? How, why, and when did elements within Christianity become anti-Jewish?  Provide as much detail as you can.
  3. Discuss the persecutions of the Christians prior to the “Great Persecution” of Diocletian. If Roman religions were basically tolerant, why were Christians persecuted?  Were there any legal grounds for the persecutions?  How extensive were they?
  4. In as much detail as possible, discuss why Christianity spread so far and wide in the Roman world. What did Christians say or do to make pagans want to convert?  What aspects of Christianity made it succeed?  Why did Christianity succeed instead of some other religion(s)?
  5. What can we know about the conversion of the emperor Constantine? What are our sources of information?  How can we determine if it was a “genuine” conversion?  What difference did it make to the success of the Christian mission?
  6. Choose one of the following texts and describe it in as much detail as you can:
    1. The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
    2. The Proto-Gospel of James
    3. The Gospel of Mary
    4. The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter
  7. How would you characterize the changing roles of women in the first three centuries of Christianity?
  8. Choose one (and only one) of the following expressions of Christianity in the early centuries and describe it as thoroughly as you can:
    1. Gnosticism
    2. Marcionism
    3. Proto-orthodoxy
  9. In as much detail as you can, explain how one of the following developed over the first four centuries of Christianity.
    1. The doctrine of Christology (particularly: in what sense is Jesus God?)
    2. The doctrine of the Trinity
  10. As thoroughly as possible and with as many details as you can muster, explain how we got the canon of the New Testament. What were the major factors in forming the canon?  Who made the decisions?  What grounds did they have for making them?  When did it all happen?

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2023-11-23T11:40:51-05:00November 26th, 2023|Public Forum|

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  1. Jody1066 November 26, 2023 at 10:15 am

    This reminds me of my Roman Republic final I had to take when I was was in my junior year pursuing my History undergrad at a different UNC school. Professor asked us to choose 3 out of 6 or so essay questions and write quite a bit on each of them. I remember one of the prompts asking us to describe the development of the Roman legal system (in detail by memory), and all of his other tests were the same way. I think that was probably the hardest class I took because you had to know everything for the tests by memory, opposed to having a lot of multiple choice questions where you could sort of guess the most likely answer if you did not know for certain.

    If I had to answer your questions on my own in this same manner, I would probably struggle just as much as I did in that class haha.

  2. cherylmlyle November 26, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    I’m doing some work on ‘other virgin births’ in ancient history and found a video from David Litwa that says you are incorrect on your version of this. How do you respond to that?

    • BDEhrman November 27, 2023 at 11:49 am

      Depends on what he says. Does he cite an instance of a woman in the Greek or Roman worlds who conceived without ever having sex (with a human or a god)?

  3. Steefen November 26, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Where would the Son of Man live and for how long? What were the logistics of separating people from who would and would not enter the Son of Man’s kingdom? Would the empire let that happen to a client kingdom?

    Would Titus, Claudius, Nero and Seneca, or Vespasian even have diplomatic meetings with the Son of Man about what he was going to do?

    He cannot be received by Jewish religious authorities since they tore their clothes twice over the matter (first with Jesus, then with Stephen, the martyr).

    The remaining 11 disciples and loyal women could not be the only people staffing the glorious return of the Son of Man. Paul implied Jesus needed evangelizing to the Gentiles more than people to work the return of the Son of Man.

    Not only did the prophecy of a celestial being coming to earth not happen but the practicalities for it to manifest were not present.

    It’s one thing for Jesus to make a false/mistaken prophecy (credibility). It is another thing not to speak with authority to make things happen.

    Was the manifestation of the Son of Man inside of the Roman Empire impractical?

    • BDEhrman November 27, 2023 at 11:49 am

      I’m assuming these are rhetorical questoins!

      • Steefen December 3, 2023 at 4:51 pm

        – The diplomatic realities of the biblical Son of Man and the Roman Empire are impractical.
        – Practical matters of hosting a celestial, Jewish Son of Man have no plans or staff for execution.

        Why did the high priest rip his clothes when Jesus and Stephen mentioned seeing the Son of Man at the right hand of God?

        Jewish authorities did not want Jesus’ vision
        Jesus presented it as his final victory: you may arrest me and turn me over to Rome for execution but I will be vindicated and you will see me vindicated before you die, some of you. You will be judged guilty for the outcome of your scheming to have me killed.
        The high priest is sad for the retribution due him and the Sanhedrin at large.
        The high priest and Sanhedrin are not afraid of Jesus’ prophecy, they know it is not going to happen that way (TOO unrealistic). They are sad Apocalypticism has developed to this extent. So much can go wrong holding this belief. The Roman Empire will not accept or tolerate it.


      • Steefen December 3, 2023 at 4:52 pm

        Jesus has already received the parable of the Wicked Tenants and knows the son of man of Jewish Apocalypticism will be replaced by a Gentile son of man.
        Destroy Jesus, a candidate for the hero of Jewish Apocalypticism, then Jewish Apocalypticism (which gave people inspiration and hope) is also destroyed.
        God leaves a Roman Empire’s client kingdom for the Roman Empire and/or Gentile client kingdoms, with no hope of return.

        The high priest is sad because a Gentile son of man is at the right hand of the Power and the hundreds of years relationship with God is gone.

        So, no, Dr. Ehrman, this is no rhetorical question, this is a former believer looking at the final act of The Gospel, knowing The Gospel is a Shakespearean tragedy. The ministry of the Gospel which in Act 1 was so promising that Jesus told John the Baptist, wait for no one else ends with the death of the awaited one, the abandonment of the people by God, and ultimately, with the Battle of Galilee lost, the Temple and the city destroyed, and two more Jewish-Roman wars won by Rome.

        Lean towards interpretation A or B? Do you choose B?

        • BDEhrman December 4, 2023 at 12:08 pm

          My view is that the authorities were ticked off that Jesus was preaching a form of Judaism that opposed them and what they stood for (temple cult) and did not like the fact he was gaining followers, so that in addition to having personal motivatoin they had political-social motivatoin not wanting a riot), and so decided to get rid of him.

          • Steefen December 7, 2023 at 11:11 pm

            Steve Campbell, author of Historical Accuracy:

            That does not address the likely reasons for the high priest crying and ripping his clothes.

            It does not address the consistency with Jesus predicting his death and the parable of the wicked tenants where he is killed.

            It does not address Christians incorrectly thinking the Sanhedrin had its victory over Jesus but Jesus would have his victory and glory over them when he arrives in glory on the clouds of heaven and whether or not Jesus meant, when he addressed the Sanhedrin, that some would see the Gentile Son of Man coming in Glory, since the author of the Gospel of Mark knew after the Battle of Galilee (year 67) that God gave the Holy Land to the Roman Empire when the Sanhedrin had his son killed.

            Ask scholars, churchgoers, students: Why did the high priest cry and rip his clothes when Jesus and Stephen the martyr said they saw a new hierarchy of power?

            The son of man was not reverting back to Jesus from a Gentile.

          • BDEhrman December 9, 2023 at 1:16 pm

            It’s not clear if you’re dealing with a historical questoin or a literary one. Historically, there’s no evidence the high priest ripped his robes during an examination of Jesus. Literarily, he does so in the Gospels because he thinks Jesus has committed a blasphemy. It’s just not clear what Jesus said that would be a blasphemy.

  4. SBCoffey November 26, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    Hello Professor Ehrman,

    Would it be possible for you to share the syllabus for the class?

    Thank you for all of your work.

    Steve Coffey

  5. Icanoedoyou November 26, 2023 at 5:23 pm


    Unrelated question here, but something I heard from an evangelical preacher speaking on the last part of John 7:

    41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”

    First, would the genealogical records in the Temple have been comprehensive and accessible enough that anyone could have looked up the genealogy of Jesus and his parents to determine if he was of the correct lineage to be Messiah?

    And related to that, what to you think of the claim that the genealogy of Jesus in Luke was Mary’s lineage, thus explaining the difference from Mathew’s. I realize that Mary isn’t mentioned in this genealogy, so from where did this idea originate?


    • BDEhrman November 27, 2023 at 12:03 pm

      1. There were no genealogical records in the Temple. If someone says there were, they’re makin’ stuff up. 2.Luke’s genealogy can’t be Mary’s. Read it closely: it goes to Joseph, not Mary, explicitly. The idea that it is comes from an attempt to reconcile the two by noting that the Infancy narrative in Matthew focuses on Joseph and the one in Luke on Mary so, hey, maybe they’re different genealogies. They are indeed different. But they are both of Joseph, not Mary.

      • Icanoedoyou November 27, 2023 at 2:05 pm

        Thank you! I am often surprised that people who claim to be so interested in truth are so careless with their claims. Now I can tell people who make claims about temple records that they are “making’ stuff up” and this is on the word of a veritable and published historian. It is so great that you are available to answer our questions!

      • MountainMike December 3, 2023 at 6:46 pm

        I have always noticed that religious believers “make stuff up” all the time! So, making BS up about the distant past does NOT surprise me at all. I think to continue to believe in the face of some uncomfortable facts is a necessity.

  6. AndySeattle November 26, 2023 at 9:36 pm

    Did Jesus just pluck an obscure reference to the Son of man from Daniel and make it a central part of his own teachings? Or was the Son of Man already a part of the religious conversation of Jesus’s time, so that most people hearing his message would have understood the reference?

    • BDEhrman November 27, 2023 at 12:20 pm

      It appears to have been part of the conversation, in Jewish apocalyptic circles.

  7. AngeloB November 26, 2023 at 11:19 pm

    Reading this blog post reminded me of my history exams for the Bachelor of Education Studies that I completed last year! I enjoyed the read but I won’t try this exam I’m afraid. Thanks anyway!

  8. SnowFire November 27, 2023 at 12:52 am

    For question 9.1, the question of Christology wasn’t totally settled after 4 centuries, since there were still anti-Chalcedonians in the Monophysites / Miaphysites of what would later become the Oriental Orthodox Churches. How come this stuck around, despite a few centuries of Byzantine efforts to enforce the Constantinople Chalcedonian variety before Islam rolled in? (I recognize this is kinda like asking “how come Ireland stayed mostly Catholic under British rule”, but I would have thought that it’d be a lot easier to sway the populace back when there’s only a few educated bishops / priests to have to convince…)

    Reflecting, this is probably too big of a question for a short answer, so a book / article recommendation is fine too!

    • BDEhrman November 27, 2023 at 12:21 pm

      Yup, Christology is not a consensus issue (far from it) still today.

  9. Serene November 27, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    Ugh this is fun!

    1. Early Christianity is Eastern. Pagan Rome is Western.

    2. Early Christianity is Jewish because Jesus’ doulè mom is ethnically Jewish, unlike most that were of converted lineage — like Herod. Who keeps this good of a genealogy record? Doulé owners.

    It is ‘anti-Jewish’ in that Jesus was eye-rolling at what are basically almost Canaanites at this point, a diluted and feisty culture led by patrilineally *Canaanite*, Edomite- lineage Herod.

    Mostly these folks aren’t patrilineal descendants of Tribe of Judah, because look how cloistered Abraham made the marriages.

    So the mysterious Semetic king that is one candidate for the survived Jesus sends troops to aid Rome in quelling the Zealot rebellion in 68, that Rabbi Ben Zakkai had to ‘Passion Play’ to escape from.

    But they are still pro-Jewish because those Nabataeans, like Rabbel Savior take in tons of Jewish refugees. And Josephus said that a predecessor, Aretas III, “united the Jews and Arabians”. And ofc, Queen Helen of Adabiene is married to a Nabataean Abgarid, and gives free grain to help the Jewish people. Did any Semetic people care for Jewish folk more?

  10. JacobSapp01 November 27, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    Haha, would you grade ours in exchange for a donation to the blog charities?

    • BDEhrman December 1, 2023 at 4:29 pm

      Sure, if the donation is in four figures. 🙂 (On the bright side, I won’t change a student’s grade for that much!)

  11. ehudgins December 1, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    Hey students- if Bart uses dice to select which questions to use, then question #1 is out and it is most likely you will have questions #7 and either #6 or 8 on the exam……Just thought I would help you strategize your studying. 🙂

    • BDEhrman December 4, 2023 at 11:29 am

      Ha! Good luck with that.

  12. Pcrtje December 2, 2023 at 9:28 am

    How many students take the exams and how long does it take you to grade all those essays?

    • BDEhrman December 4, 2023 at 11:33 am

      I have 24 students this semester; the exam lasts three hours; and however long it takes to grade them it seems like an eternity….

  13. waltbloom December 5, 2023 at 10:49 am

    Tough final exam.

    For what percentage of final grade does score on final account?

    Do you provide this final outline as part of the syllabus / course description?

    • BDEhrman December 8, 2023 at 3:30 pm

      30%. No, I give it separately toward the end of the term. In the syllabus I simply indicate what the exam will cover and be like (short answers and essays)

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