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Jesus Final Exam

I have just finished grading my final exams for my undergraduate first-year seminar, Reli 070, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” I don’t ever recall teaching an undergraduate class that I enjoyed more. This was an amazingly bright and engaged group of twenty-one first-year students. The exams were superb – the best bunch I’ve ever seen. Some of them were stunningly good. (A few of the students are on the blog: you done good!)

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. 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? 🙂


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Reli 070

Potential Final Exam Questions

For your final exam you will be asked to answer two of the following questions.  You will have three hours total


1.       Choose any two methods we have learned for studying the Gospels, and describe how they work;  then select one of the Gospels and show how the two methods could be used to unpack its meaning.

 2.       Choose any two Gospels we have studied so far and do a comparative analysis (looking at both similarities and differences) in order to show the distinctive emphases of each.

 3.       Take either side of the following debate resolution and argue it, providing as much evidence as you can.  Resolved: the New Testament Gospels contain irreconcilable differences.

4.       Discuss the distinctive portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel according to XXX  (XXX stands for the Gospel that I, the professor and exam-creator, would choose; this could be either a canonical or a non-canonical Gospel that we have studied).

 5.       Evaluate the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of independent attestation.  Why are these criteria needed to establish what really happened in the life of Jesus?  What is the logic behind both of them?  What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each?  Finally discuss various words and deeds of Jesus recorded in our ancient sources that pass each of the criteria in your judgment.  In the final analysis, do you find these criteria necessary and/or useful?

 6.       Choose one of the canonical Gospels and discuss why scholars might find it problematic as a historical source for reconstructing the life of Jesus.

 7.       Choose any of the full-length movies we have seen in class and compare and contrast its portrayal of Jesus with that found in any of the Gospels we have studied.  .

8.        Take either side of the following debate resolution and argue it, providing as much evidence as you can.  Resolved: Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic prophet who expected an imminent end of the age.

9.        Compare and contrast the methods and conclusions presented in (a) Reza Aslan’s Zealot and (b) Bart Ehrman’s Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet.

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Video: Ehrman & Evans 2012 Debate – Part 2



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  December 10, 2013

    An chance of seeing some sample answers…even if just partial selections?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 12, 2013

      Ah, that would be interesting! But I’m afraid I’m not allowed to do that. Wish I could!

  2. Avatar
    Adam0685  December 10, 2013

    These are great questions! These students were certainly blessed to have you as a professor this term!

  3. Avatar
    SJB  December 10, 2013

    Prof Ehrman

    Would you care to weigh in on #9?


  4. Avatar
    toejam  December 11, 2013

    As someone who has been studying the Historical Jesus and Christian Origins pretty intently in my spare time over the past two years, I’m confident I could smash out a convincing paper in 3 hours. That said, I know I’d forget to mention something obvious, or run out of time to make a certain point! Must be tough to mark these, taking into consideration their age, experience and time constraints. Most of your students are Protestant-ish, right? If so, they probably have a good head start on just basic knowledge of the NT. Go hard on ’em LOL.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 12, 2013

      I have a range of students, but the majority come from Protestant Christian backgrounds. But most of them do not have a lot of knowledge about the Bible coming into the class….

  5. Avatar
    alexius105  December 11, 2013

    I would have to listen to your classes first, I guess. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    RichardToothman  December 11, 2013

    I probably wouldn’t do very well, I hate to write. That’s why I got my degrees in math and physics!

  7. Avatar
    fishician  December 11, 2013

    I believe I would have compared Mark, with Jesus as the misunderstood Messiah, and John, with Jesus as the divine son of God. For #6 I probably would go with Matthew. I think the way “Matthew” is willing to use Old Testament passages totally out of context in order to make his points shows that his views of Jesus take precedence over accuracy and truth. Along with the other obvious gaffes, like the genealogy, the star of Bethlehem story, the post-resurrection zombie story, and the conflicts with the other gospels. Wish I could have taken that course!

  8. Avatar
    Jim  December 11, 2013

    I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you how I would do on the Reli 070 final. What is the current journal ranking status for the “Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus” (high tier, medium tier, low tier)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 12, 2013

      I’m afraid I have no idea or opinion! Sorry!!

      • Avatar
        Jim  December 12, 2013

        Then I won’t mention that I would have done absolutely lousy on the final exam. 🙂
        I just ran the question by you re tier rating because I loosely toyed with the idea of a personal subscription. By your comment I’m guessing that the journal might have more of a philosophical focus than a historical one.

  9. Avatar
    willow  December 11, 2013

    How would we (I) do? Does that mean you’ll read and grade our papers if we write and submit them to you? This isn’t to say that iI am considering such a thing! 🙂

  10. Avatar
    jsoundz  December 12, 2013


    You have debated quite a few apologist. Maybe its in the nature of the beast ( no biblical reference intended ) but most opponents were of a conservative religious bent. With the exception of, perhaps, Craig Evans they seemed dubious ( my opinion ) of objective scholarship. . This appeared especially so with the DeSousa and Craig meetings. where a faith/political objective seemed to be their only concern.

    Anyway, I have always thought a more “fair” fight might be with the likes of a LT Johnson or NT Wright. Both who take scholarship a bit more seriously in my view. What is you opinion of this?

    (And best wishes with the Tar Heels this season. I see they already handed a loss to my team, Michigan State)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 13, 2013

      I have debated N.T. Wright (on the problem of suffering). Both he and Johnson are top-level scholars, absolutely!

      Heels seem to come alive playing top 5 teams; teams nowhere near the rankings are a problem. Saturday its Kentucky! (I have season tickets)

  11. Avatar
    Elisabeth Strout  December 12, 2013

    Do they get to choose which two, or you assign them? If I had to choose, #3 and #6 stand out to me most, with #5 as a close third.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 13, 2013

      Oh no, I choose! (If I let them choose, they would study only for two questions!)

  12. Avatar
    Beatle792  December 12, 2013

    From the 3 books of yours that I’ve read, and your debate with Craig Evans, I think I would do fairly well. LOL

  13. Avatar
    VistanTN  December 14, 2013

    As both someone who “attempts” to be a Biblical scholar (at some rudimentary level) and a former professor (albeit of “Naval Science”), #4 is the professorial gambit. Be able to do this for any of the four canonical Gospels (and however many non-canonical ones you covered, to whatever extent). That alone is a substantial study for a final. It would match, “Be prepared to discuss, compare, and contrast, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s thesis versus any and all of the other viewpoints presented in class.” Not only are you a fine scholar, lecturer, and author but a “crafty professor as well, sir!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 14, 2013

      Yeah, I thought that was a good ‘un….

    • Avatar
      EricBrown  December 17, 2013

      I once had this question on a Naval Science exam: What was the name of A.T. Mahan’s dog? The answer, naturally, is “Jomini” (Clausewitz being the only other imaginable option).

      You see, every field of study has its arcana!

      By the way, Bart, you have a 9-sided die?

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 21, 2013

    Wow! Pretty heavy stuff for first-year college students!

  15. Avatar
    SpaceCoast  December 23, 2013

    I do not miss the days of final exams whatsoever, but I’m fairly confident I could do passably well on all questions with the exception of number 7. I am very curious as to which movies the class saw. Is there a list somewhere?

  16. Avatar
    shakespeare66  December 29, 2013

    There is a lot to prepare for with that many questions. I think I limited my list of questions to five with two of them to be answered. I think the students had time to outline the five possible questions, but nine would be daunting. I was teaching at the community college level, and you have university students so quite understandable. I think I would do fairly well on your exam given that I taught English and can write a decent essay, and I have read so many of your books. LOL

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