So, about my quiz on the New Testament. Most of you who sent me answers failed miserably. I think you should buy *me* dinner…. I did this already with my other quiz, but I’ll do it again here – explaining what I try to accomplish by the various questions.
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- 27 books in the NT (when you think NT, you should think God; then think trinity; and what is 27? 3x3x3) (It’s a miracle). I ask this question not only because it’s basic information, but also because I want them to start thinking about why we have these books and not others – the subject of my first lecture on Monday.
- Written in Greek. I want them to know the importance of Alexander the Great’s conquest and the Hellenization of the Mediterranean for early Christianity – and that Jesus’ teachings in Aramaic come to us by way of Greek by way of English – and something is always lost in transmission.
- Written mainly in the 1st century CE, one or two possibly 2nd century. I want them to get oriented to when all this stuff happened, and to explain why scholars use BCE and CE instead of BC and AD (which does *not* mean “After Death”!)
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A gimme. But opens up the question of there being yet other Gospels that did not make it in.
- John the Baptist baptized Jesus. But who carried his cross depends on which Gospel you read. The Synoptics say Simon of Cyrene. John says Jesus. NONE of them says that it was first Jesus and then (after he stumbled or whatever) Simon! I introduce them to this problem because it’s a glaring discrepancy, and they can see it for themselves if they read the Gospels. So too, less significantly, with who discovered the empty tomb. Always it was Mary Magdalene – but with anyone else? If so, whom? Depends which Gospel you read.
- Paul wrote the most books. I use this to explain that 13 of the NT books claim to be written by Paul. But scholars doubt whether Paul wrote 6 of them. Most of them have never heard this before, even though they’ve heard about Paul’s writings most of their conscious lives. Part of the class will involve showing why scholars doubt the authorship of so many books, and what grounds they have for claiming that a bunch of them were pseudonymous. I.e., forged. I don’t use the word “forgery” on the first day of class. (!) Also, I point out that Paul did not write the most words in the NT (even if you think he wrote all thirteen of the Pauline epistles.) That would be Luke – whose two-volume work, Luke-Acts, makes up about ¼ of the entire NT.
- Peter allegedly wrote 1 Peter; Paul allegedly wrote 2 Timothy; and no one wrote 1 Andrew since there is no such thing.
- Paul didn’t have a last name. The vast majority of people didn’t: the exceptions were the highest level of the aristocratic elite. I want the students to know this so they don’t think that Christ is Jesus’ last name (born to Joseph and Mary Christ). And so they realize that socially the world was different then. And that the people we’re dealing with in the NT are not on the top end of the social scale.
- Jesus died somewhere between 29-33 CE. We don’t really know which year. And that’s worth knowing. But somewhere in there. Alexander 323 BCE. As you can see, I’m trying to get them to think about history, not just about religion, when it comes to the NT.
- In the order of their deaths: Moses; Isaiah; Alexander; Augustus; Jesus; Paul; and Constantine. Again, I’m trying to get them to think historically.
- Jews: John the Baptist, Jesus, Simon Peter, Paul. This question these days is less important than it was a long time ago when I began teaching. (I began teaching precisely 30 years ago this semester. AI YAI YAI!!!!) It used to be that a lot of students didn’t think Jesus was a Jew, but was a Christian. It takes a long time to unpack the problems with that. But we do it in this class. Most of the students today know perfectly well that Jesus was a Jew – this idea has seeped, finally, into our collective consciousness. But what they don’t know, or haven’t thought much about, is that this means that if we want to understand who Jesus was, or make sense of what he said, or figure out the significance of what he did – we have to know what it meant to be a Jew in Jesus’ time and place. What was Judaism like in first-century Palestine? What did it mean to be a Jew in the early Roman empire? Most of them have no clue. And so we begin the semester, after some preliminary basic information on the books of the NT (how it is organized as a canon; what the various books are) and how it came to be collected into a canon of Scripture (when other books competing for a place were left out, and some of those taken in had a hard time getting there) – all of this in my first lecture – we move to the world of Jesus and his followers. I lecture, and they read, about the Greco-Roman world (politically, culturally, religiously – i.e., the character of “pagan” religions subscribed to by 93% of the population) and about Judaism (in the Diaspora and in Palestine). It’s hard to make this kind of historical information accessible and interesting for 19 year olds. But I have ways of trying.
Anyway, I hope you passed the quiz with flying colors. Anyone who missed five or more questions should feel morally obligated to send me a very fine bottle of single malt scotch.