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The Final Part of My First-Day Quiz

Here is the second half of my pop quiz (see yesterday’s post); some of the questions are just … factual questions.   Some of them give me a chance actually to teach something. ….


  1. According to the Gospels, who baptized Jesus?  Who carried his cross?  Who buried him?

Answers:  John the Baptist, Simon of Cyrene and/or Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea.  So this question allows for a teachable moment.  Mark’s Gospel indicates that Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus.  It does NOT say that Jesus started to carry it, stumbled, and so they had Simon carry it.  That’s how it’s portrayed in a lot of the movies.   But the reason is because of the Gospel of John.  In John we’re told that *Jesus* carried his cross.   How can both be right?  Well, if he stumbles and then Simon (unwillingly) comes on board, the problem is solved.  Part of my course is designed to show how directors have to make decisions when the Gospels are at odds, and this is a place where that has to be done.

The bigger problem is that John indicates that Jesus carried the cross himself the whole way.  So then how could Simon of Cyrene have done it?  In the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told (which some viewers have argued is false advertising) Simon of Cyrene is played by none other than Sidney Poitier.   Jesus (Max von Sydow – long before his Exorcist fame) starts off carrying the cross; Simon of C. is compelled to help him carry it; but he *helps* him carry it – Jesus still carries it himself as well.  So *both* Gospels are right: Mark is right that Simon was compelled to carry the cross and John is right that Jesus carried it!

On the burial question, some readers of the blog rightly pointed out that in John’s Gospel Nicodemus also helps bury Jesus and that in the book of Acts it’s actually a group of Jews from the Sanhedrin who bury him; but the latter is not one of the Gospels (cf. the question!), and Joseph of A. works for John as well as the Synoptics.


  1. In about what year did Jesus die? What year was he born?

I use this question to deal with basic chronology, to situate students in time (since some of them have NO sense of history); I also use it to explain why there was no year zero, again, and to explain that we don’t know how old Jesus was when he started his ministry or when he died.  Luke says (and Luke *alone* says – I assume he was guessing) that Jesus was “about 30” when he started his ministry.  In Mark he may have been 21 or 40; same with the others..   Only in John is there any indication that the ministry took more than a few months (which is the clear impression you’d have from Mark); in John there are three separate Passover feasts mentioned, so the ministry there lasts at least over two years.  Most people round it up to three, add that to Luke’s dating of the beginning of his ministry, and PRESTO, Jesus then is widely assumed to have died when he was 33.  But who knows?  (In my view, no one knows.)


  1. The author of the Gospel of Luke wrote two books.  Name two of them.

Luke (most of my students get that one.  J ).  And Acts.   This question is just for some factual information.


  1. What is normally thought to have been the occupations of (a) Matthew and (b) Luke?

Tax Collector and Physician.  If I have time in class, I explain that in fact we don’t know who wrote these books, and I point out that if you read the only passage in Matthew that mentions someone named Matthew, you would have no idea that the author is referring to himself (as the students can see simply by reading Matt. 9 for themselves.   And if I have more time – which I usually don’t – I explain the complex logic by which one gets to the idea that Luke and Acts were written by Luke, the Gentile physician, the one-time traveling companion of Paul.  If anyone on the blog wants to know the logic, I’ll be happy to spell it out in a subsequent post.


  1. Which of the following were Jews?  John the Baptist, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Simon Peter, Tacitus, the Apostle Paul.

JB, Jesus, Peter, Paul.  I use this to give a relatively long talk on how Jesus was a JEW and not, decidedly not, a Christian.  Some of my students start getting nervous about the semester at just this point….


  1. What is the shortest verse in the New Testament?

OK, a number of you on the second try got it right (thank the gods for Google….).   So here’s the deal.  Virtually every English speaking human on the planet who has any idea of the answer thinks that it is “Jesus wept,” John 11:35.   That’s wrong.   I scarcely need point out that the NT was not written in English, and different translations translate different passages differently, so you can’t decide a shortest verse on the basis of an English translation.   I would accept TWO different answers for this question (I tell my students that this is a great trivia question for their next frat party; at this point they start understanding my sense of humor).   If you count by WORDS, 1 Thess. 5:16 is the shortest verse in the Bible: two words, in Greek, “rejoice always” (“Jesus wept” is actually three words in Greek).   If you count by LETTERS, Luke 20:30 is the shortest.  It has 12 letters in Greek (though three words), 1 Thess 5:16 has 14 letters, and John 11:35 has 16 letters.

See how much fun you can have at a frat party?

My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha
More on My Quiz



  1. Avatar
    dfogarty1  August 30, 2013

    As I understand it, Luke was identified as the author of “Luke” and Acts by a process of elimination. There was a finite number of followers of Paul identified in the New Testament. Was Bartholomew ever considered a possible author? If not, is that because there was actually a gospel of Bartholomew actually discovered? And since there was a gospel of Bartholomew, Luke was the only likely candidate?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 1, 2013

      The Gospel of Bartholomew was not widely known in antiquity. (or known at all?) I deal with Luke in today’s post.

  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  August 30, 2013

    Very good. I enjoyed that. Let’s do more.

  3. Avatar
    David Chumney  August 30, 2013

    Funny, no one told us we had to answer according to the Greek text. Clearly that’s an unfair question since very few of your students will have ever seen a Greek NT. However, please remember, O great one, that none of the NT “books” had any verse divisions to start with. Our earliest extant GREEK manuscripts certainly don’t have those verse divisions, so it seems to me that even the teacher missed one. That’s O.K., though; you can just buy each blog reader dinner the next time we see you at a lecture or book signing!

  4. Avatar
    nautis  August 30, 2013

    Wow. Thank you for taking the time to write these out. When it comes to the Bible, even seemingly simple questions can have really complex answers. Most of your readers probably have one or more of your books or have taken your Teaching Company courses. If there is an opportunity for us to dig a little deeper on a particular topic you’re discussing please point us to a chapter or section of one of your books or other authors you respect. It’s not self-promotion since I’ve already bought all of your books. 🙂

    BTW, you’re supporting an excellence cause. I saw your debate with Dinesh D’souza and could see that the question of suffering in the world is not an academic one for you. The suffering in the world is real and it will take more than prayer to solve. It will take action. Lots of it. Thank you for taking action. I’m proud to help support the cause.

  5. Robertus
    Robertus  August 30, 2013

    Verses that are not even present in the original text are even shorter, eg, Lk 22,43-44!

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 30, 2013

    Delightful! Love the “shortest verse” answer!

    I’ve thought at times that Christians might have embraced the idea that Jesus began his ministry at age 30 and died at 33 because of the *symmetry*: three decades of private life, three years of public life, (parts of) three days in the tomb. Do you think that’s possible?

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 30, 2013

    I have been interested in Gospel discrepancies for years and also interested in how translators sometimes manage to harmonize such discrepancies. I had, however, totally missed the one about who carried the cross and found this discussion, and how it gets reconciled in the movie, to be fascinating. Thanks so much.
    I would like to learn how one concludes that Luke and Acts were written by the same author. You may have covered this in your textbook on the New Testament, but I have forgotten the explanation. How did one author mange to write 3 different versions in one book, Acts, of Paul’s conversion? Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

      Read the first four verses of both Luke and Acts, and that will give a good indication. Plus the writing style, themes, parallels, theology etc tie them very much together.

  8. Avatar
    Rosekeister  August 30, 2013

    The length of Jesus’ teaching career has always interested me. The Gospels give the impression of a few months or three years but since both cannot be correct there is also the possibility that neither is correct. It seems doubtful that Jesus lived as a time bomb waiting for the time to set down his tools and walk off thus beginning the Gospels.

    Do you believe it possible that his teaching actually lasted as long as possibly 10 or even 12 years? The line of thought here would be that while John was alive, Jesus was the lesser-known of the two and it was only after John’s death that Jesus became so well-known. The Gospels then would only be reflecting the time when Jesus’ fame spread outside Galilee.

    Could Jesus’ teaching actually lasted more along the lines of age 25 to 35? In other words there are no lost years. He simply was not known outside of Galilee until the death of John? It just seems more reasonable that Jesus had to spend years working his way up to the fame and crowds of the Gospel traditions.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

      My hunch is that it probably went the other way — instead of three years it may have been only one ,or so. But I suppose longer is a possibility. I can’t think of any way to decide.

  9. Avatar
    hwl  August 30, 2013

    Why on earth would anyone think Jesus was not a Jew?
    If one defines a Christian, as someone who believes Jesus is the incarnate divine son of God who atoned for humanity’s sins, who follows and believes in the teachings and claims of Jesus, then one can argue Jesus was a Christian – if we also assume the complete historical reliability of all 4 gospels. After all, Jesus necessarily followed and believed in his own teachings and claims. If one defines a Christian as someone who worships Jesus as Lord and God, then obviously Jesus was not a Christian, for he did not worship himself.

  10. Avatar
    toddfrederick  August 31, 2013

    I have an idea for a weekly blog entry….you are starting your Fall course on the New Testament. Why not devote one of your blogs to us each week on what you presented to your students? You could even include some exam question. I know I would be interested and I know I would lean many new concepts. Think about it.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

      Yes, I’ve been thinking about this too!

    • Avatar
      Fearthemunky  September 2, 2013

      That would be fantastic if you did that. I’m sure everyone else would agree.

  11. Avatar
    Jeff  August 31, 2013

    I would be interested to see the logic behind Luke’s authorship of his ascribed Gospel and Acts. The subject of my high school religion course this semester is Jesus of History vs. Jesus of Faith, and we discuss the formation of the New Testament. Of course, it is somewhat watered down (the textbook is by Thomas Zanzig). My teacher briefly mentioned how Luke probably wrote the books attributed to him.

  12. Avatar
    Sblake1  August 31, 2013

    Thanks – this was really interesting! I, for one, would be very interested in the logic behind the ascription of Luke/Acts to Luke, the Gentile Physician. Thanks….

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  August 31, 2013

    “According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion, and died on the cross instead of Jesus. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross.” – Wikipedia entry for The Second Treatise of the Great Seth.

    As in the Gospel of Judas, in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Jesus is laughing in this work also.

    Dr. Ehrman, I do not recall you mentioning this work in From Jesus to Constantine. Maybe it is in one of your college textbooks you wrote.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

      I do talk about this in some of my books (I think it’s in Lost Christianities, e.g.,)

      • Avatar
        Steefen  September 2, 2013

        Not exactly Lost Christianities. it doesn’t appear in the index. I looked under “second” and “great” and “seth”. There is an entry for treatise (not indicating first or second). it’s probably a different treatise but related and part of Nag Hammadi. In the index is Treatise on the Resurrection.

        Now when I double check wikipedia, I see a book of your referenced: Lost Scriptures. Lost Christianities is a close title. I don’t have Lost Scriptures but my brother and sister-in-law had given me Lost Christianities as a Christmas gift.

        HHhhhm. I wrote on the title page: [How can we have Lost Christianities and] no mention of Therapeuts [which Eusebius praises in his History?]

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 2, 2013

          I don’t deal with the Therapeutae because they were almost certainly a Jewish sect, not Christian (despite Eusebius’s comment).

          • Avatar
            Steefen  September 3, 2013

            And Jesus’ sect wasn’t Jewish? Of course it was.

            Dr. Ehrman, you know this!

            And when did the Jesus movement become separate from Judaism? I would have waged money that you gave a lecture in From Jesus to Constantine that for at least a decade, the Jesus movement was Jewish, with Peter, then James.

            This summer, the Kerygma teaching service at Highland Park United Methodist Church also taught (Sermon series on Acts of the Apostles) we would not find Jesus’ followers outside of Hebrew synagogues and the Hellenistic synagogue (those who wanted the Jews to remember the Hellenistic widows).

            During Jesus’ lifetime, his mission was Jewish. In the beginning of Acts, the first phase of Jesus’ sect without Jesus involved the surviving disciples meeting at the Gate of Solomon, I think, at the Temple.

            Sorry, I’m surprised by your reply.

  14. Avatar
    Jim  August 31, 2013

    Regarding question 13 (dating of the gospels) 😉 , (i) what is the primary rationale for dating Mark in the 70s CE, and (ii) is there a snowball’s chance in hell that the synoptic apocalypse is from the early second century?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

      Seems unlikely! It looks like pretty primitive material, much of it possibly going back to Jesus in part.

  15. Avatar
    nichael  September 5, 2013

    Thank you. This was great.

    I assume that this was similar in form to the so-called “Baby Bible” quiz that you’ve written about elsewhere and which beginning students were required to take when you started classes at Princeton.

    Would you consider putting together a similar set of questions for the OT?

  16. Avatar
    Fearthemunky  September 16, 2013

    I don’t know if you’re talked about this before or not, but what do you think of Mark Goodacre’s Case Against Q? Do you think he could be right, or do you still accept the Q hypothesis, and what kind of scholarly acceptance has he gotten for this?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 17, 2013

      I think he makes the best case that can be made against Q, and that it isn’t good enough. 🙂 To my knowledge he hasn’t had a lot of converts — but I haven’t done any polling….

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