QuestionQuestion

1. For each of the apocryphal Gospels assigned (Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, Gospel of Peter, Infancy Gospel of Thomas and Infancy Gospel of James'), briefly answer the following in a sentence or two each:
a. Compared to the canonical Gospels, what blanks or gaps in the story about Jesus are each of these “Gospels” attempting to fill or perhaps are trying to “correct” or clarify? (give some specific examples)
b. Why do you think each of these “Gospels” was excluded from the Christian canon? (include an example from the text to support your answer)
c. What did you think was the most interesting, unusual, or surprising thing in each “Gospel”?

2. How would our understanding of Jesus be different if the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (Inf.GThom) had been included in the canon? How does the portrayal of Jesus compare with that of the canonical Gospels? Why do you think Inf.GThom was written and what major theological point(s) do you think the author was trying to make? What is your reaction to this “Gospel”?

3.
a. In your own words, briefly summarize in 1-2 sentences why the passage about Jesus in the writings of Josephus are suspected of not being authentic.
b. What 2 or 3 details did you find most interesting, surprising, or most significant in Pliny’s letter and why? How does his letter shed light as to why Paul was sent to Rome for judgment by the Romans rather than executed where he was first arrested (e.g., see Acts)? What 2 or 3 details did you find most interesting or surprising or which you think is most significant in the Didache and why? Which canonical Gospel do you think is most similar in contents to the teachings in the Didache and why? What is the significance of Pliny’s letter and the Didache for understanding the early Christian communities?

4. Using some of the “key players/terms” (see the list below) in the book of Revelation and keeping in mind the information in Beale’s article about the purpose of symbolism in Revelation, write an updated description and critique of the beast(s) and harlot in response to more modern events/people (within the past 50 years). Like John of Patmos, you need to communicate your critique in symbolic “code” to avoid to maintain plausible deniability if the “beast” and his minions should capture you or so that they don’t hire an assassin to kill you. Thus, you need to be careful not to make it too obvious who or what you are critiquing (e.g., if you write about 9/11, you need to find symbolic ways to discuss the relevant events and people). Your “revelation” should incorporate the following:
Dragon = Satan (e.g., Rev 12:9; 20:2)
First beast = person or authoritative body / position of power held by various people
Number of the Beast = symbolic number related to the name of the beast (does not have to be 666)
Second beast = exercises authority of first beast and compels the people to worship the beast (Rev 13:12) and take the mark of the first beast (Rev 13:16-18)
Mark of the beast and consequences for those who don’t have the mark
Whore/harlot = symbolic of a city or place that is a seat of power whose leaders are “promiscuous” with regard creating and maintaining alliances with other leaders and whose behavior is what causes the city/place to be characterized as a whore/harlot
Babylon = symbolic of a city/place that is a seat of power for ruthless rulers responsible for numerous deaths and, in this case, connected with the “whore”/“harlot”
The dragon should remain the same (= Satan) and references to any city

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2. How would our understanding of Jesus be different if the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (Inf.GThom) had been included in the canon? How does the portrayal of Jesus compare with that of the canonical Gospels? Why do you think Inf.GThom was written and what major theological point(s) do you think the author was trying to make? What is your reaction to this “Gospel”?

The apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas portrays a less benevolent image of Jesus than do the canonical Gospels. In the Infancy Gospel Jesus on a number of occasions curses people and inflicts evil and suffering on them which contrast sharply with the Gospels we find in the Bible. Besides, the Infancy Gospel seems to be particularly dedicated to miracles and supernatural deeds Jesus performed. Canonical Gospels also contain miracles, but in them miracles usually teach you a lesson, while in the Infancy Gospel they do not have much ethical value.

I think it is easy to understand why the Infancy Gospel was not included in the canon. Jesus we meet there looks a bit like a naughty kid, rather than a Son of God. Besides, the Infancy Gospel does not make any important doctrinal points. I think it is a very interesting text to read in order to know what other views of Jesus existed during the first centuries of Christianity....

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