Test Your Knowledge about Jesus on a Harvard Final Exam

This course was taught in 1999 by Helmut Koester (John H. Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History) and M.P. Bonz a graduate teaching fellow.

The course was offered as HDS 1500 (Harvard Divinity School 1500) and as FAS 1419 and E 1325 in the general University.

This is the final exam for this Divinity School course entitled Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels.

Harvard Divinity School 1500
Fall 1999

Professor Helmut Koester and Graduate Assistant Marianne P. Bonz

Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels

Final Examination

Section 1: Essays (Write an essay on one of the following topics)

(1) Describe your own portrait of the historical Jesus. What elements of the various gospels (canonical and non-canonical) would you select for your portrait, and why do you regard these particular traditions as more likely to be authentic than other traditions that you would choose to omit?

(2) Discuss the differences of the views of Jesus as they are presented in two gospels of your choice, for example, the Synoptic Saying Gospel and Matthew, or the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Luke.

(3) David Friedrich Strauss claimed that the gospels depict a mythological Jesus; that is, that they are not trying to represent Jesus “as he actually was”. Using relevant biblical texts, respond to this claim. What sort of evidence might either corroborate or refute this claim? Does such appear evidence in the gospels, and if so, what is it?

4) Choose one Gospel and discuss the redactional method(s) and literary concept of the author that have shaped his/her image of Jesus. Be sure to make reference to specific passages that demonstrate the special christological perspective of the author.

Section 2: Exegetical Passages

Choose one form part A and one for part B.

In your comments, discuss form-, source-, and redaction-critical questions, consider parallels in other Gospels as well as the role of the passage for the understanding of that Gospel and the probable value of this text for the question of the historical Jesus.

A. Comparisons (choose one)

Compare Mark 8: 34 - 9: 1 to Matt 16:24 – 28 and Luke 9: 23 – 27.
How does a comparison of these passages indicate Markan priority. Please provide a detail analysis.

Compare Matthew 22: 1 – 14 to Luke 14: 16 – 24 and Gospel of Thomas 64.
Identify the common source and the ways in which the individual authors modify their source to further their individual schemes.

Compare Matthew 16: 5 – 12 and Mark 8: 14 – 21.
What theological themes does the Markan pericope develop? How does Matthew’s version differ and why?

B. Passages (choose two, but not both from the same gospel)

Matthew 6: 1 – 18 (Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting)
Matthew 22: 1 – 10 (Parable of the Great Supper)

Mark 8: 34 – 9:1 (About discipleship)
Mark 12: 28 – 34 (Question of the Great Commandment)

Luke 9: 37 – 43a (Healing of the Epileptic Boy)
Luke 17: 22 – 37 (The Son of Man)

Q/Luke 7: 18 – 35 (Question of John the Baptist)
Q/Luke 13: 22 – 30 (Judgment over Israel)

John 5: 17 – 29 (The judgment that Jesus proclaims)
John 13: 31 – 38 (The new commandment)

Gospel of Thomas 12 – 13
Gospel of Thomas 91 - 94


Beyond Words said...

I think I found a typo in the exam. I don't think "periscopes" had been invented by the First Century, unless this is a use of the term I'm not familiar with. However,biblical passages are divided into "pericopes." :)

"Compare Matthew 16: 5 – 12 and Mark 8: 14 – 21.
What theological themes does the Markan periscope develop? How does Matthew’s version differ and why?"

Harry McCall said...

Why they sure did have periscopes in Biblical days! Noah had one sticking out the top of the ark looking for both land and flying Ravens and Doves! (Thus Biblical evidence trumps Galileo as the inventor of the telescope which only later became the periscope.)

Thanks Beyond for the observation.

The original exam had the correct word “pericope”, but MS Word saw pericope as a misspelled word and the auto correct change to periscope.

I've add it to my MS Word dictionary.

That's what happens when one is blog posting using two computers.

Harry McCall said...

I know! I know! For all you anti-Bible atheists out there, your are going to say: Well if that was true, then just what happen to the periscope / telescope up until the time of Galileo?

Well you see, God destroyed this invention at the time he destroyed the Tower of Babel. God(s) not only feared humans building a tower up to Heaven, but, damn it, God hates Peeping Toms too!

Russ said...


Isn't it the case that question one is asking the student to make up their own version of Jesus, simply compositing it from those gospels that the student regards as more likely to be authentic? Isn't this telling the student to cherry pick the various Jesus stories out there to concoct the Jesus they want, thus mimicking the approach taken by faith healers and televangelists everywhere?

This is the exam! On the exam they are asked to invent a Jesus.

I understand that this is Harvard Divinity School, not a purely dogmatic sect-specific theological seminary, but I do find it a most peculiar request that they manufacture a Jesus, and, then, justify that construction essentially by quote-mining whatever sources the instructor permits.

John W. Loftus said...

Harry where did you get this test? Interesting!

Harry McCall said...

Thanks Russ for your input.

I think you stopped reading your exam too soon.

If you notice Section One; Essays
2, 3 and 4 (particularly 3) you would have noticed that the exam is only asking you to do just what the early editors of the four Gospels had done, that is, to construct a character of Jesus based on the many different sources (both oral and written sources) floating around in the late first century to early second century at the time or about 50 to 120 years after Jesus was killed.

Unlike Bible College courses which teach the English Biblical text as written dogma for God; the approach (as shown on this exam) is to make one think critically about how the Gospels were really written and created (a major point in all of Bart Ehrman’s books and really noted in his newest book on Jesus Interrupted). (In fact, if one were to read ALL of Bart Ehrman’s books to date, one would to do well on this exam.)

Thus, there is no more “cherry picking” on this exam any more then the way the original editors of the canionized 4 Gospels did when they created their own portraits of Jesus.

Harry McCall said...


I’m not sure what happen on the Harvard University’s website back in 1999, but some how about most all the departments had their final exams posted one line. I was not sure if this was intentional or some student in computer science did it to make a point with Harvard. But one thing was for sure, they did not stay up for long before being removed.

If you think this exams looks hard, you should try the 4 page exam by Lawrence Stager on the Old Testament and Archeology! (I have a copy of it too.)

We need to tell Jason (and any other uneducated dogmatic Christian hounding us here at DC) to take both Koester’s and Stager’s exams on-line and let us review them before they are allowed to post comments.
It is only in this way that their English Bible dogmatic faith will have to at least face reality

Dideamon said...

Jesus Saw test: http://mobopoly.bravehost.com/jesus_saw