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End of the Year Final Exam!

We are near the end of the year.  What better time for a final exam?

In my classes I normally give essay exams — they are by far the best way to find out how much a student actually knows (as opposed to testing them for what they don’t know) and how well s/he can express thoughts in writing and develop an argument.

I’ve pulled out an exam that I once gave to my students in a class called Jesus in Scholarship and Film.  It’s a terrifically interesting course: we examine ancient Gospels, mainly but not exclusively the ones in the New Testament, to see what each of them is trying to teach about the life, teaching, and meaning of Jesus; then we use the Gospels as historical sources to see what we can say about the actual man himself, the life and teaching of the historical Jesus; and then we look at modern films to see how *they* portray Jesus in light of what we’ve already learned (e.g. Infancy and Crucifixion narratives in Ben Hur — both the silent and the Charleton Heston verions; The Greatest Story Ever Told; Jesus of Nazareth; The Passon of the Christ; sometimes the Last Temptation of Christ; always ending with my all-time favorite, the best Jesus movie ever made, Jesus of Montreal;  it’s hard to choose the movies since there are so many options!)

For the exam, I gave the students the following questions two weeks in advance, and told them I would choose two of them for the final. They would not know which two I would choose. (Or how I would choose!  So second guessing would be a very bad idea.) They had three hours to write their essays.

This year I rolled the dice, and chose questions #2 and #6. So –- how would *you* do? 🙂


Want to see if you have a passing knowledge of the Gospels and Jesus?  Join the blog and see how well you can do on the exam!

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Once More on the Credibility of Miracles: Guest post by Darren Slade
Why Does Matthew Have the Story of the “Wise Men”?



  1. Avatar
    JayinHK  December 29, 2019

    I would imagine any of your fans who have read your books would do pretty well. #8 would be more fun, but for #6 John is probably the easiest for a deconstruction of historical realibilty. I would use my favourite Schweitzer quote: “Here is a man who…appears in a character which gives no hint of a coming spiritual metamorphosis, one, moreover, who…was chosen, along with James and Peter…as an apostle of the Jews—“how is it possible,” asks Weisse, “to explain and make it intelligible, that a man of these antecedents displays in his thought and speech, in fact in his whole mental attitude, a thoroughly Hellenistic stamp? How came he, the beloved disciple, who, according to this very Gospel which bears his name, was admitted more intimately than any other into the confidence of Jesus, how came he to clothe his Master in this foreign garb of Hellenistic speculation, and to attribute to Him this alien manner of speech?”

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 29, 2019

    I would do very poorly, given that I haven’t taken the course… 🙂

    There’s a story in the synoptic gospels about Jesus casting demons (a demon?) out of a man and into a herd of swine nearby. What is the purpose of this story? What had the swine done to Jesus? Had the swineherd been disrespectful?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2019

      It turns out to be *really* complicated. Among interesting questions: Why are there pig herds in Israel (uh, kosher food?!?); and what’s the significance of the demons being called “Legion,” the designation of a group of soldiers specficially in the Roman army, which was in control of the Promised Land. Are they demons? Does Jesus drive them out? All sorts of things going on there.

      • Avatar
        Bernice Templeman  December 30, 2019

        We are all created good. Stories and prayers can be used to create good or evil. Stories and prayers can turn people into sinners and make people suffer. That isn’t loving and it isn’t kind.
        People can change. They can stop sinning.

        True God/Love/Kindness/Light empowers all as equals, loving, good, kind.
        So disempowering people is not who we were created to be or do.

        Jews, like all people, are created equal. There is no chosen people or religion.

        Babies are born in the light and they do not know religion. That is learned.
        So the Jewish religion, Judaism, is not the chosen people or religion.
        Then Israel is not a promised land. It is like the rest of the planet. The country is like the rest of the countries.
        The Jewish messiah is a ruler, not in the light.

        There are people in the light and there always has been.

        Disempowering women and other people is not great or in the light.
        Light drives out darkness. (we can change our beliefs and actions).
        Stories and prayers can be used to create darkness or light.

        Sinning is learned and a choice. People can choose to be kind instead of sinning.
        Each person has to choose.

        Help people to the light. Don’t turn them into animals. Don’t kill their Spirit. Don’t disempower them.
        It doesn’t seem like a story that you want to follow.

      • Avatar
        Silver  January 1, 2020

        You recently noted that there are a number of interesting issues around the story of the Gadarene / Gerasene swine. Please are you able to elaborate on the point as to why there were pig herds in Israel?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2020

          My best guesses (there are probably other better guesses out there) is that they were for the gentile population in the large cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris or that it’s an anti-Jewish polemic (violating their own law, those damn Jews….) or that it’s all metaphorical about those Roman pigs, opposed to God in every way…..

    • Avatar
      mwbaugh  January 2, 2020

      While we don’t know about this specific swineherd, the mere presence of a swineherd in Jewish territory may have been offensive because of the dietary laws. And it may have appealed to the sensibilities of a Jewish audience to have unclean spirits cast into unclean animals. Maybe.

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  December 29, 2019

    As soon as I read the title of this blog post I had an anxiety attack! Flashback! I haven’t had to deal with a final exam in many, many, years. Have mercy, sir. Please. I’m old. And my feet are cold…

  4. Avatar
    nichael  December 29, 2019

    As a reader of the blog I would find it useful to know what a “good” answer might look like; that is, not simply in terms of the factual content of the answer but also, and perhaps more importantly, how the answer was expressed and how its argument was formulated.

    Would you be willing to share a couple examples of A/A+ answers which you received to the question?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2019

      Ah, I would if I kept any of them! (We do have to keep final exams for a year, in case of any problems — like, say, a lawsuit! — but then we just dispose of them….)

      • Avatar
        doug  December 30, 2019

        I’d be curious to see how conservative Christian students answered #8 in regard to Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet who expected an imminent end of the age.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2020

          Most of them give the evidence and don’t say whether they personally buy it!

  5. Avatar
    dankoh  December 29, 2019

    Tough questions! I’ll take a try at #6, choosing Matthew. For starters, there’s no evidence of any kind for the “massacre of the innocents,” which would not be the sort of thing that would go unnoticed by any of the contemporaries. (Not to mention it would have left an obvious hole in the population.) Matthew also misrepresents the Pharisees in ch. 22 (I’m allowed to crib from my notes, right?) when he portrays them as being unable to rebut Jesus’s interpretation of Ps. 110. This kind of disputation is what students of the Pharisees did all the time, and there are plenty of possible answers. And of course the infamous self-curse of Matt. 27 is not something that ANY sane person or people would say. The fickleness of the crowd also goes against known crowd behavior. The charge of blasphemy (ch. 26) is also inconsistent with known history; the Sadducees, who adhered strictly to the Torah laws only, would not have seen a claim to being the messiah, or the king of the Jews, or the son of God, as blasphemous. There was no Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner on a holiday (though there was one in other parts of the empire), and Pilate would not have offered a known insurrectionist, as his assignment was to prevent insurrections. (If we understand lestes as robber instead, why did Pilate offer only Barabbas and not the other two lestai who were crucified with Jesus?)

    There is a line of scholarly argument which sees Matthew as written to persuade Jewish members of the Jesus Movement to break with their kin and associate only with other believers. Also, Matthew – and for that matter all the gospels – were not written with the intent of setting down history, but with the intent of persuading people to follow Jesus – in other words, as propaganda. Propaganda is more useful for dissecting what use people were making of a story than as a source for what probably did happen.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2019

      I won’t post your grade online. That would be a violation of the univesity ethics code. 🙂

    • Avatar
      hankgillette  January 3, 2020

      “Massacre of the innocents”: I don’t believe it happened, but what was the population of Bethlehem in 4 BCE? If the population was very small, it could have gone relatively unnoticed, as just another Roman atrocity.

  6. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  December 29, 2019

    – So –- how would *you* do? –
    Phew! I read all the questions carefully. Then I went and lay down for a little rest . .
    I see how this really would reveal what you actually know. ‘Winging it’ wouldn’t work so well here!

  7. Avatar
    clintrussell  December 30, 2019

    My mother once told me I do not do well on writing long answers to question, but sit with me and talk the test, and I would do a good job. I looked at the questions and had a little panic state, and I am not even a student. I do like the questions and will give some a bit of answer, but not I sure as a student would. But being 87, I think a bit slower and need more then 3hours, thanks for you time .

  8. Avatar
    clintrussell  December 30, 2019

    I will answer question 2. Mark and Luke , Mark being written as it were a “Reader Digest book” in the sense it is not a full every day account of the life of Jesus, but rather a “snap shot” look at some parts of his life, or as has been said “a, long introduction to the last wee of Jesus life, death and a glimpse of the resurrection story. The full ending may have never been written or was bot been lost . There is not a lot of what Jesus said In comparison to his travels. The undercurrent is that I am trying to picture in writing the story of our Savior, without hitting you over the head with it. Now Luke, has far less about Jesus’s movement and more about what he said., also Luke was written after Mark. Ecause one finds a good portion of Mark imbedded in Luke. This falls well into the synoptic hypotheses of Mark being written about 60ce and Luke and Matthew being written later as well as Q being in the mix. This is a whole different question. I hope this answers the question in a small part, thanks

  9. Avatar
    Zak1010  December 30, 2019

    In Mark vs Luke, I can not understand how in the same event, Jesus utters statements completely opposite to one another. One showing Jesus anxious and in wonder ( Mark ) while the other showing Jesus having a full understanding of what is going on and what is about to happen ( Luke ). Totally different.
    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34) Mark
    “Father, forgive them…” (23:34);”Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit” (23:46) Luke
    Mark is written in poor Greek, while Luke was written in good Greek or by educated elegant Greek writers.
    The healing of the possessed person in the synagogue -Mark 1:23-28/Luke 4:33-37- an example of a similarity ( if not borrowed ). Interesting though, I can understand Mark saying this ‘ The holy one of God ‘, I do not get why Luke would. Nevertheless, It is clear that these 2 earlier Gospels depict Jesus as man ( with great status ) not God.
    I believe both emphasis Jesus great had great knowledge, but did not have all knowledge.

    Now lets move on to the one Gospel on steroids……. The Gospel according to John.

    (Too much to point out in the limited words allowed)
    The Gospel of John claims to be written by a witness but speaks in the third person. However, It is clear that John was unschooled / uneducated ( in ACTS ). John is the last Gospel; written much later than the first three and contradicts them.The resurrection in Mathew, Mary Magdalene saw Jesus at the tomb, why does she report that the body had been stolen according to John? Jesus is perceived as divine in John, John concentrates on Jesus as a deity. John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. ( not found in the earliest manuscripts and nowhere in Mark,Matthew nor Luke ) It seems to be written by more than one author. Has a fabricated story of the adulteress.( not found in the earliest manuscripts ). Did the last supper occur before or after Passover? and on and on…..

    Dr Ehrman,
    If Justin Martyr and Polycarp were students of John, did they ever allude to John or his teachings? Why not?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2020

      Yes, the commparisons of Gospels is striking for just these reasons. I’ve talked about the differences between Mark and Luke with respect to the portrayal of Jesus oging to his death a number of times on the blog (look up “Bloody Sweat” e.g.) And of course John and the Synoptics.

      Justin was not thought to have been John’s student. Polycarp is said to have been, and the most striking thing is that he makes no allusion to the Gospel of John at all, even though he is familiar with the other three Gospels. I think the traditoin of his relation to John is probably legendary.

  10. Avatar
    Eskil  December 30, 2019

    I would have answered to #2 by comparing gospel of Matthew to gospel of Thomas:

    Both gospels tell that Jesus thought with parables and only his inner circle could understand his message. However, gospel of Matthew also has a narrative and claims that the narrative “took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [OT]”. Tomas on the other hand only claims that “whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death”.

    The truly interesting question is did Matthew add the narrative and claims to gain more followers or did Thomas remove his shockingly narrative for some unknown reasons or are the two gospels completely independent accounts of Jesus’ life?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2020

      My view is they were independent and heard similar stories, understanding them differently

  11. Avatar
    RogerWright  December 31, 2019

    I appreciate the shout out to Jesus of Montreal. To me, it’s the most thought provoking look at the Jesus story ever filmed.

  12. Avatar
    LWH  January 1, 2020

    I would love to see some of the best answers you have received from your students to all of these questions.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2020

      Me too! Unfortunately we don’t keep our final exams once we grade them (we retain them for a year for legal reasons: then it’s to the recycling!)

  13. Avatar
    mannix  January 4, 2020

    After reviewing your questions, I decided if I should ever take your course it would be as an audit!

    What ever happened to multiple choice?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 4, 2020

      We chose to get rid of the multiples…. (I think they’re awful exams: I used to use them, but I couldn’t help getting carried away, after A B C D there would be E [A and C but not D] and F and G and…..

  14. Avatar
    madmargie  January 7, 2020

    I would choose the gospel of John as being not an “authentic” gospel. In most every way, it is a different representation of Jesus. In the synoptic gospels Jesus seldom talks about himself. Yet in John he does. John was written so late he could not have known anything about Jesus except third or fourth hand information. His portrayal sounds more like a Greek perspective.

    Most of the Roman emperors believed themselves to be “gods” and the gentile population bought into that . So after the early Christian movement became more gentile, I believe the early leaders of the movement thought surely Jesus would be divine too. Then they “made him” the son of God.I believe Jesus was entirely human.

    I do not believe Jesus was a “son of God” except in the same way we are all sons and daughters of God. (created beings). I believe Jesus was a human being, I also do not believe in a virgin birth. That is impossible. I would imagine that she had perhaps been raped by a Roman soldier and got pregnant. That is a lot more probable. And of couse, the obvious thing is that if she had given birth, she could not possibly still be a virgin..

    Just my opinion….

    Of course, I also do not accept the concept of the “Trinity” either. The Jews were the people of the one God and the earliest Christians would have been Jews. The Trinity was dreamed up by men in the fourth century. It was such a divisive creed that it divided the early church .

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