Several readers have asked me about the weekly papers that I assign for my undergraduate seminar on “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” I call these “position” papers because the students are required to stake out a position on a controversial topic. There are no (absolutely) right or wrong answers. The point of the papers is to get the students to think about a topic before we have a discussion about it in class, so that when we do talk about it, we’re not simply pooling our ignorance.. For that reason I don’t actually grade the papers, at least in any regular way. Instead. if the student has clearly thought about the question, answered it clearly, and shown that they have invested some time reflecting on it, I give the paper an S (= Satisfactory); if they have not, I mark it a U (= unsatisfactory). All the papers are to be two pages, double-spaced.

Here are the instructions for this term’s papers. (The students write other papers as well: they are writing a book review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot and are writing their own Gospel)


Position Paper One (September 9). The Gospel according to Mark: Who is Jesus?

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 the Gospel of Mark 1-10; 14-16.

Read the Gospel now a second time, and jot down the different views of Jesus that the author gives. What does he call Jesus? Who does he understand him to be? How does he characterize him?

As you are reading, consider also: what do people in the Gospel think about Jesus? Who thinks what about him? Does anyone understand who he is? Who?

In your paper you should indicate how Mark understands Jesus and how the characters in the Gospel understand him. How do you explain the differences? I.e., why is it that no one seems to understand Jesus? Or do they?


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