Below is Part 1 of the handout I give them, the opening instructions and then the specific directions for each week’s paper.  (Part 2 will do the same for the rest of the semester’s weekly sessions)

So hey, go at it yourself!  But, well, I won’t be grading yours….

(NTHI =  my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings)



Reli 104


For basic instructions on Position Papers (purpose, grading, etc.) see the syllabus.

Please double-space your paper, in size 11 font, and submit it on “Assignments” before the recitation begins.

NOTE: On occasion you will want to make a reference to a passage of the New Testament.  There is a standard format for doing so.  When referring to a biblical passages, first give the name of the book (or an abbreviation of it), then the chapter number, followed by a colon, and then the verse number.  A semi-colon is used to separate one chapter and verse reference from another; a comma is used to separate two or more verses that occur within the same chapter; and a hyphen is used to indicate two or more verses that occur in sequence within the same chapter.  Thus Matt 2:7; 7:4, 9; 19:8-11 would refer to Matthew chapter 2 verse 7; chapter 7 verse 4; chapter 7 verse 9; and chapter 19 verses 8 to 11.


Recitation One: Getting Started

 Blessed are the neophytes!  For this your first position paper you have just one assignment.  List the three most important questions that you want to have answered in this course.  These should be things that you are most curious about with respect to the New Testament or early Christianity.

There are no dumb or wrong questions to ask here.  We’re simply interested in knowing what you’re interested in.


Recitation Two: Jesus and the Other “Divine Men”

Your first task for this position paper

is to read the following selections (found on Sakai under Resources) taken from David Cartlidge and David Dungan, Documents for the Study of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994).  These passages are all drawn from ancient sources that relate the words, deeds, and experiences attributed to persons who were thought to be divine by some people living in the Greco-Roman world.

Now read the Gospel according to Luke, chaps. 1-2; 4-5; 7-8; 21-24.

For your paper, you are to list three specific ways in which Jesus as portrayed in Luke is similar to other people who were thought to be divine. (Give exact chapter and verse references when referring to passages in Luke.)  Are there ways in which Jesus appears to be different from other divine men?  How do you explain these similarities and differences?


Recitation Three: Jesus According to Mark

Pretend that you know nothing about Jesus, that you’ve never heard any stories about him and have never read anything about him.  Now, in your complete ignorance, read Mark 1-6.

Write a brief position paper in which you describe the portrayal of Jesus in these six chapters.  According to Mark’s account (based only one what you read here), what was Jesus like?  What kind of person was he?  Who was he?

Resuming now your own knowledge of Jesus, how does Mark’s portrayal of Jesus (in the first six chapters) differ from the views of Jesus that you personally have held or heard?  What is different?  What is missing?


Recitation Four: The Resurrection of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, and Luke

As indicated in the textbook, the Gospel of Mark originally ended at 16:8 (later scribes appended an ending because the account seem to conclude too abruptly).  For this position paper you are to compare the descriptions of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark 16:1-8 with (a) Matthew 28:1-20 and (b) Luke 24:1-56 and Acts 1 (Acts is a continuation of the story by the same author who wrote Luke).

Read through each of the accounts carefully, a couple of times each.  Then do a careful comparison of them.  On what points do all the accounts agree with one another?  On what points do they differ?  Do any of the differences seem to you to be irreconcilable?  Look very carefully:  (As examples:  What do the women do once they learned Jesus has been raised?  Where are the disciples if/when they see Jesus?  Do they go anywhere else?  There are lots of other interesting contrasts.  Find them!)

How do you explain the similarities and differences between these narratives?  What is each account, in your opinion, trying to emphasize?


Recitation Five: Redaction Criticism of Luke

Review the method of studying the Gospels known as “redaction criticism” from NTHI ch. 7 and recall how this method was applied to the Gospel according to Matthew in NTHI ch. 8.

Now engage in a redactional study of your own, but this time on the Gospel of Luke (which, like Matthew, used Mark as one of its sources).  Your study is to be based on Luke’s account of Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate in 23:1-25 (cf. Mark 15:1-15).

To do the redactional study, you will first have to do the following: (a) indicate what Luke has added to the story he took from Mark; (b) indicate what Luke has omitted from the story; and (c) indicate what Luke has changed in the parts of the story that he and Mark both have.

Finally, based on all this information, comes the payoff: Discuss what the additions, omissions, and changes that you have found in Luke can tell us about his overarching concerns in his portrayal of Jesus.


Recitation Six: Jesus, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan Woman

Before doing your position paper, review the “comparative method” discussed at the beginning of NTHI, ch. 9.  For this paper you will be applying a comparative method not between Gospels, but between passages within the same Gospel.

Read carefully the discussions that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the Samaritan woman in John 4.   Then engage in a comparative analysis of the two passages.  That is to say, identify all of the things that make the two accounts similar and all of the things that make them different.

Taken together, what do these two passages, found only in John, indicate about the identity of Jesus (who was he?) and his theological importance (what role does he play in human salvation?)?  Are these portrayals of Jesus unique to the Fourth Gospel, or do you also find them in the other Gospels we have studied to this point?


Recitation Seven: The Gospel of Peter and the Synoptic Gospels

Read through the Gospel of Peter (in The New Testament and Other Christian Writings) carefully, several times, noting its prominent themes.  Now reread the passion narratives of Matthew 27-28, Mark 14-15, and Luke 23-24.  What specific things does the Gospel of Peter have in common with these canonical accounts of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection?  What is different about it?  Based on your analysis of these similarities and differences, would you say that the Gospel of Peter is literarily dependent on one or more of the others?  That is, do you think that the Gospel of Peter used any (or all) of these accounts as a source for its account?  Or, conversely, does it seem to you that one or more of these accounts used the Gospel of Peter for one of its sources?   What evidence would you cite in support of your views?

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2022-10-21T12:40:28-04:00October 16th, 2022|Christianity in the Classroom, Teaching Christianity|

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  1. cmayfield33 October 16, 2022 at 8:02 am

    I’ve been doing a comparative study of the major events of Jesus in the gospels. In Luke 9:35 at the transfiguration, the voice says “This is my Son, the Chosen….” I’m using the Oxford study Bible (NRSV). However Matthew and Mark don’t say chosen but use beloved. You’ve discussed on the blog before about the apparent inconsistency in Luke’s christology. Is this just another example? Do you have anything else you could say about this word or the manuscripts/translations? Thanks in advance.

    • BDEhrman October 16, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      Yes, the voice at both the baptism and the transfiguration differ among the Synoptics, and this is a good example. In terms of manuscripts, this particular verse helps show what the voice said at the baptism in Luke (only in Luke), not “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (as in most mss) but “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (as in a few). I do talk about that on the blog, in my discussiones of Luke 3:22.

  2. Seeker1952 October 16, 2022 at 11:51 am

    As I learn more and more about the historical Jesus, I keep thinking that someone who wants to be his follower should become Jewish.

    Yet you emphasize that the imminence of the Kingdom of God was the heart of his message. God’s kingdom didn’t come which invalidates his central teaching. A great many Jewish leaders rejected him as Messiah-though not originally because God’s Kingdom didn’t come.

    One can still find great value in Jesus’s ethics despite the Kingdom failing to come. That’s a big part of the attraction of reverting back to Judaism.

    But you also emphasize that Jesus’s ethics were based on the imminence of the Kingdom. Does its failure also invalidate his ethics? Probably not, at least not entirely.

    My main question is whether Jesus’s ethics-and some other things he said and did-by themselves would be enough to make him an important part of the Jewish tradition? Could one be Jewish and legitimately give special-but not exclusive or even predominant-emphasis to Jesus’s non-apocalyptic teachings? I suspect many/most/all Jewish prophets made some fairly serious mistakes like Jesus but are still important parts of the Jewish tradition.

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2022 at 2:53 pm

      Some people would say that since his ethical message was premised on a failed apocalyptic tradition, there’s no reason to take them seriously. But I would argue that the issue is bigger than that. The *reason* they mattered for him apocalyptically was that for him, before it’s too late, people needed to begin to behave in the ways God wanted. So ultimately these ethics are his understanding of how God desires people to live. That would be true whether the end was coming soon or not.

      • Seeker1952 October 22, 2022 at 5:17 pm

        Would it make sense for someone who is inspired by and wants to become a follower of the “historical” Jesus to convert to Judaism?

        Of course there’s more to Judaism than being a follower of the historical Jesus.

        • BDEhrman October 24, 2022 at 8:28 pm

          Yes, people still do. (Jews for Jesus, e.g. Though I dn’t think they officially convert; but they adopt the ways of Judaism)

  3. RonaldTaska October 16, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    These are really interesting and helpful discussion issues. I would love to read some of the student answers if it is possible to put some of them on your website.

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2022 at 4:13 pm

      Ah, I’ve never saved them!!

  4. nikpapageorgiou October 17, 2022 at 10:48 am

    Dear Dr Ehrman,

    I was recently discussing your Smith-Pettit Lecture “The History of Heaven and Hell” and a friend pointed me to Richard Steiner’s book “Disembodied Souls: The Nefesh in Israel and Kindred Spirits in the Ancient Near East”, in which my friend claims that Steiner “concluded Israelites did believe in souls that exist apart from death.”

    He also pointed to Psalm 16:11 as evidence of a belief in the afterlife – I personally can’t see it.

    I was wondering if you had any comments on Steiner’s book and how it relates to your “Heaven and Hell” book (which I can’t wait to read!). Many thanks in advance.

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2022 at 4:26 pm

      I looked at it when I was doing my research, but it was years ago now, and all I remember is that he is erudite adn highly learned, that he makes strong points, but in the end I wasn’t convinced. Of course it’s not possible to say what “ancient Jews” thought, any more than we can say what “modern Americans” think. But by far the majority view in the Bible and in the other surviving texts is the unity of body and soul. (Even in my book I talk about the alternative view found — I was about to say embodied (!) — in 1 Enoch.)

  5. Jtwarren October 17, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    Hey Dr. Ehrman. Is Dr. Goodacre a Christian or atheist? This whole Q thing is bothering me.

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2022 at 4:28 pm

      I don’t know! He may have told me at one point, but I honestly don’t recall. My *sense* is that he is Christian, but it’s a guess more than anything. Weirdly, NT scholars almost never talk aobut their personal beliefs.

      • Jtwarren October 19, 2022 at 4:57 pm

        Okay, thanks. I’m assuming he’s not a conservative evangelical. I just get confused when reputable scholars are still Christian because it makes me think what if Christianity is true. The Q source doesn’t really matter I’m assuming. So, many varying opinions.

        • BDEhrman October 21, 2022 at 6:54 pm

          Oh, yes, most critical schoalrs of the New Testament — even those who agree with me on most things — are Christian. Christianity historically is not about belief in the Bible. (That’s hard to understanding only because Fundamentalists have convinced so many people that if you don’t believe in the Bible you can’t be Christian. That’s completely bogus)

          • Jtwarren October 21, 2022 at 7:05 pm

            I don’t want to keep bothering you, but you are right it’s always belief in the Bible. It’s just scares me how critical scholars can still be Christian. I guess because I still fear he’ll even after reading your book. I just don’t christianity to be true at all. I don’t see how critical scholars can still believe in the resurrection.

          • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:51 pm

            I was a Christian myself for years, knowing all that information. Christianity is not belief in the infallibillty of the Bible! It’s belief in Christ.

  6. AngeloB October 17, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    I will definitely try at least some of these activities. Thanks!

  7. rivercrowman October 18, 2022 at 11:32 am

    Bart, on Recitation 3, why did you cut off the reading assignment only through Chapter 6 of Mark? Just curious. Thanks!

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      To make it simpler. And more interesting. I tell the class that they are to imagine they are a first century worshipper of Roman gods, who has never even heard of Jesus, and someone invites them to a Christian meeting. At the meeting there is a reading of a sacred text (a Gospel), and because of time constraints the reader finishes at the end of what is now ch. 6. Now, based on what you’ve heard what do you know/think about Jesus?

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