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Take A Final Exam on the New Testament!

The semester is over at my university, but since I'm on leave, it hasn't affected me much.  But I was thinking about it this morning -- final exams, grading, wrapping up the term -- and I remembered that some years ago on the blog I posted the final exam I gave to my Introduction to the New Testament course, to see how you'd do! I thought it would be fun and interesting to repost it.  Check it out.  Can you nail it? So, classes are officially over here at UNC, and we are in the Final Exam period. Today I gave my final for the Introduction to the New Testament class.   As some of you may recall, back in January 2014 I posted on the blog the pop quiz I give the first day of class for this course.  It is here, in case you're interested:   When I give this quiz on the first day, I tell the students that even if they bomb it (which most of them do), it's nothing [...]

2020-05-04T09:09:57-04:00May 4th, 2020|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

My Greek New Testament Course

For the first time in forever I am teaching a new course -- one I've never taught before -- at UNC, a class for classics students (and others who already know Greek) on the Greek New Testament.   It is obviously a very small class (6 or 7 students); to be in it students have to have already had at least a couple of years of Greek.   So the class is not teaching the rudiments of Greek grammar, but it assuming knowledge of that. We are reading/translating/analyzing lots of Greek in the class; learning about "textual criticism" (how to establish the oldest wording of the text given all variations among the manuscripts); and acquiring the skills to read and analyze actual manuscripts (the hand written copies of the New Testament, as opposed to the printed editions of the Greek). For anyone interested in the details and the play-by-play, here is the syllabus I handed out yesterday: ************************************************************************************* NEW TESTAMENT GREEK Religion 409 / Greek 409 Spring 2018 Instructor:  Dr. Bart D. Ehrman   Course Description This [...]

2020-05-15T09:57:26-04:00January 12th, 2018|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

My Graduate Level New Testament Course

Classes have started again and we are bursting into the term with vim and vigor!   For my graduate course this term I am teaching my "Problems and Methods in New Testament Studies" seminar (I offer this ever two or three years).  This is a kind of "Introduction" to the field of New Testament studies geared not for undergraduates but for graduates, all of whom have undergraduate degrees already and who (at least this semester) have already done some work in New Testament..   Well, the course is self-explanatory from the syllabus, which I attach here for your amusement.  It can give you an idea of how one might *start* on this kind of thing at the graduate level. *************************************************************************** Religion 707: Problems and Methods in the Study of the New Testament \ University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Fall 2017   Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman This course will explore some of the classical problems addressed by the discipline of "New Testament Introduction."  Some of these problems are as old as the discipline, many are [...]

2018-01-13T21:33:33-05:00August 28th, 2017|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Spilling the Beans on my Beliefs on the Last Day of Class

About fifteen years ago or so I started doing something completely different on my last day of class in my New Testament course.  I have a lecture scheduled for then, of course, but the scheduled lecture rehashes material that is earlier covered in the class and that students can pick up easily from their reading – so it’s not one of the crucial class periods of the semester.  Sometimes that last class is not even that (depending on how the semester schedule works out) but is a kind of review session. But about two weeks before the end, I tell the students that I have an option for the last day, and I’ll let them vote on it. The option is to do the class as scheduled or, instead, to have a non-required class (no taking of attendance, no reason to come unless they want to) in which I explain what I myself really believe and why I believe it.   That is of some relevance to the class, of course, since the beliefs I’ll be [...]

Can Teaching Be Objective?

I have been discussing how I see the separation of church and state when it comes to teaching religious studies in a secular research university.  All of this has been a lead up to what I do on my final day of class in my course, Introduction to the New Testament.   On that last day, if students want, I tell them what I actually believe and why. I feel constantly torn between two different perspectives on teaching, which I call the Socratic and the Kierkegaardian models.   For Socrates (at least as reported by Plato) (which means that this may be Plato’s view, rather than Socrates’s) truth was truth, and the person who spoke the truth was irrelevant to the question of whether it was true or not.  What matters is whether one can establish through logic, reasoning, and evidence that claims are true or not.  The person delivering the claim has nothing to do with it.  Fools can speak the truth (sometimes) and savants can utter nonsense (often!). The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard [...]

My Recitation Debates

Before I talk about the debate I had with myself in front of my class this week, on the topic Resolved: The New Testament Book of Acts is Historically Reliable, I need to do some considerable stage-setting.  First, in this post, let me explain how the class is set up (including the debates the students themselves do), to make sense of what I was trying to accomplish in my staged split-personality (affirmative and negative). So the class is an Introduction to the New Testament, which presupposes no background or knowledge about the field.  It is, of course, historically oriented, rather than confessionally, religiously, theologically, or devotionally.   Students learn the Jewish and Greco-Roman background to the New Testament, and they study the Gospels, the historical Jesus, the letters of Paul, and the other writings of the New Testament from the historical-critical perspective. Twice a week students hear me give a lecture (most recently three of the classes involved lectures on the historical Jesus: problems with our sources; methods scholars have developed for dealing with these problems; [...]

2020-04-03T03:47:38-04:00March 11th, 2016|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

The Value (or Not) of Debates

As most readers of the blog know, I do a good number of public debates, almost always (I’m trying to think if there is an exception!) with conservative evangelical Christians or fundamentalists who think that my views are dangerous to the good Christians of their communities and to all those non-Christians they very much want to convert.   My view all along has been that my historical views are not a threat to Christian faith, but only to a particular (and particularly narrow) understanding of that faith.   But most of my debate partners can’t see things that way.  For them, their views are Christianity, and any other kind of Christianity is not actually Christianity. I usually look forward to these debates in advance, but I have to say that almost every time I’m actually having one, I start jotting notes to myself, asking “Why Am I Doing This?” or “Why Do I Do This To Myself?”   I often find the debates very frustrating. I imagine my debate partners do as well.  They just can’t understand why [...]

2020-04-03T03:47:46-04:00March 10th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

My Final Exam for NT

So, classes are officially over here at UNC, and we are in the Final Exam period.  Today I gave my final for the Introduction to the New Testament class.   As some of you may recall, back in January 2014 I posted on the blog the pop quiz I give the first day of class for this course.  It is here, in case you're interested:   When I give this quiz on the first day, I tell the students that even if they bomb it (which most of them do), it's nothing compared to what they're going to be learning in the class over the course of the semester.   Looking at the Final Exam in comparison with this introductory pop quiz pretty much shows it.   Anyway, comparisons or not, I thought you might be interested in the exam, to see how you would do.   And so I give it below in its entirety For the i.d.s, anything they've read or heard during the semester is fair game.  I don't give them [...]

2017-12-09T08:25:40-05:00May 1st, 2015|Teaching Christianity|

Where Do You Start an Introduction to the NT?

One of the hardest parts of writing an Introduction to the New Testament is figuring out where to begin.   If someone were writing a literary introduction, or even a theological one, it might make best sense to begin at the beginning, with the Gospel of Matthew, and then continue through the New Testament all the way to the book of Revelation.  But what if one is writing an Introduction from a *historical* perspective?   Matthew wasn’t the first Gospel to be written; Mark was.   So doesn’t it make better sense (after discussing the Greco-Roman and Jewish milieu out of which these books arose) to start with Mark? But the problems go even deeper.   The Gospels were not the first books written: Paul’s letters were written earlier.   Students almost never know this; they simply assume that since the Gospels occur first in the NT, and since they talk about Jesus, who lived before Paul, that they were written before Paul.   So if one wants to deal with the NT historically, doesn’t it make best sense to begin [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:46-04:00October 5th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Getting Started on My NT Introduction

So far I have been talking about how I conceived of my textbook when I first started working on it in the mid 1990s, stressing in particular that I wanted to approach the task from a rigorously historical perspective.   I should say again, I really was not sure that anyone would be interested in a textbook like that.  The only think comparable that I knew about at the time was a textbook by Joseph Tyson, a fine scholar at SMU, whose book, though, was not widely used. In addition, I heard, while I was doing the research for my book, that an Introduction was being written by none other than Raymond Brown.  I thought that this was *certain* to make my book a non-entity.  Many of you may not know who Raymond Brown was.   At the time, he was arguably the premier scholar of the New Testament in North America.   He was extremely learned; incredibly deep; unusually insightful.  He had read everything.  He was tremendously energetic.  He trained some of the finest scholars of my [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:57-04:00October 3rd, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

On Boring Textbooks

There is one other general principle that I tried to follow when writing my NT textbook in the 1990s.  In my experience, most textbooks – not just in biblical studies, but in all fields – suffer from one ubiquitous problem.   They are BORING.   A guiding principle for me was to try my best to keep from boring readers to death. I’ve always been amazed over the years how otherwise intelligent human beings can take really fascinating material and make it dull, uninteresting, soporific, and general snooze-worthy.   Take the Hebrew Bible – the Christian Old Testament – for example.   It’s an amazing book, filled with incredibly interesting stories, and beautiful poetry, and gut-wrenching reflections on life and the disasters that happen within it.  How can you make the boring?  Simple!  Ask someone to write a textbook on it. The New Testament too is a really interesting book – even apart from being the most important book in the history of Western civilization.   Any textbook written for undergraduates will be, for many of them, their first (and [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:07-04:00October 1st, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Jesus Position Papers

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 [...]

My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha

A couple of weeks ago I shared on the blog the syllabus for my undergraduate class, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.”  Periodically I’ll discuss on the blog what I’m doing in that class.  But I thought today I could provide the syllabus for my other course, a PhD Seminar that meets for three-hours, once a week, to discuss “Early Christian Apocrypha.”   Here it is! ************************************************************************************** Reli 801: Early Christian Apocrypha Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman Fall 2013 The Early Christian Apocrypha are an amorphous collection of early and medieval Christian writings, many of which were forged in the names of the apostles.  They have long been a subject of fascination among scholars.  In this course we will consider a selection of the most interesting and historically significant examples. Closely connected with the apocrypha are the writings that eventually made it into the New Testament; part of the course will involve understanding the process by which some early Christian texts came to be included among the canonical scriptures whereas others came to be excluded. We will engage [...]

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. ….   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 [...]

2017-12-25T22:39:05-05:00August 30th, 2013|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

More on My Quiz

OK, back to my quiz, which most of you failed miserably.   (OK, OK, many of you missed just one question).   So the deal is that I use the quiz as a way to break the ice with the class, have some fun with them, get them to see that even if they’ve been through Sunday School their entire lives they probably don’t know even the most basic things about the NT, and then use the quiz as an opportunity to teach some rather important things. The following are the answers.  Most of you got them.   I do have to say that when I challenged you to pick the question that everyone was missing, there were some *very* interesting suggestions based on nuanced readings.   But, as many of you correctly perceived, I had in mind #12.   As you’ll see below.  here are both the answers and the things that I try to teach the students based on the answers, here on the first day of class. How many books are in the NT? 27.  I tell [...]

2020-04-03T18:14:58-04:00August 28th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

My Pop Quiz For First-Year Students

It’s been a very long day of teaching (six hours of talking!), so something substantive for the blog will need to wait for another day.   Instead, I’ll say something about what happened today. As some of you have seen by examining my syllabus, I begin my class on Jesus by giving a pop quiz.  I did that this morning.   The class has 24 students in it, all first-year students, most of them 18 and 19.   (One swallows hard to think of it, but that means the incoming class was born in 1995.   Ai yai yai….) I begin most of my undergraduate classes with a pop quiz, both to see how much knowledge the students already have about very basic issues related to the NT and to have an opportunity to teach them some very basic issues (such as dates of important events in antiquity, the use of the abbreviations CE and BCE, the diversity of early Christianity, some basic Gospel facts,), to stress some others (Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian), and to have [...]

2017-12-31T19:27:04-05:00August 26th, 2013|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Back To School! My Jesus Syllabus

Back to School. I am the only one I know who actually liked the (Rodney Dangerfield) movie.... Anyway, school starts for me on Monday. I'm teaching two seminars (they meet for three hours each, once a week). My undergraduate course is for first-year students only, and deals with how Jesus is portrayed in ancient Gospels, in modern scholarship, and in film. Here, for your reading pleasure, is the syllabus. ********************************************************************************************************************** Jesus in Scholarship and Film First Year Seminar, Reli 070 Fall 2013 Prof. Bart D. Ehrman COURSE DESCRIPTION Jesus of Nazareth left an indelible mark on Western Civilization. The religion that was founded in his name ‑‑ beginning as the faith of a mere handful of his Jewish followers ‑‑ within three centuries had become a major religion in the Mediterranean. By the end of the fourth century, it was the official religion of the Roman Empire. Ever since, the Christian church has been a major political, socio‑economic, and cultural force. Ultimately, it is a church rooted in a belief in Jesus. How did Jesus' [...]

2020-11-30T23:30:13-05:00August 24th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|
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