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Religion Discussion Questions

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1. Images of Jesus: Explain Borg’s “four strokes” that characterize his portrait of the historical Jesus (pp. 29-30; 31-36; 48-58; 80-85). How are these images different or similar to what is found in the Gospel sources we have read? Make reference to two of the following: the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Matthew.

Guide line: Four “positive strokes,” according to Borg

  • Spirit person
    • Jesus had an experiential awareness of the reality of God.
      • Jesus prayed and fasted.
      • Jesus often went off on his own and prayed for hours at a time.
      • It is quite possible that he practiced wordless prayer.
      • He addressed God as Abba, his Father. This was very intimate and personal.
      • For Jesus, God was not just an outside source.
    • Jesus wanted the Spirit to transform lives. Jesus wanted people to be centered in God.
  • Teacher of wisdom
    • Jesus taught in parables and memorable short sayings (aphorisms)
    • His parables and aphorisms invited his hearers to see something they might not otherwise see.
    • He wanted to open eyes to a new way of seeing. He invited people in and made them think for themselves.
    • He did not give them the answer. He wanted them to find the answer themselves.
  • Social prophet
    • He criticized the economic, political and religious elite with his alternate social vision.
    • Jesus was often in conflict with the authorities.
    • Jesus stressed that compassion not holiness was the dominant quality of God.
  • Founder of a movement
    • He reformed Judaism.
    • It was an inclusive movement. It included all: women, untouchables, the poor, the sick, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the marginalized. It also included those people of stature who found his vision attractive.

Gospel of John, 3

  • “I am” statements allude to tetragrammaton (name of Jewish g*d in four letters)
  • Long discourses of self-revelation. Not “of this world”: descended from Father (John 3:13-14, 15:19)
  • Jesus as Lamb of G*d, crucified on the Passover (Pesach). Divine Son who died for sins of world
  • In John, Jesus teaches about his own identity.

Gospel of Thomas

  • Thomas consists, for the most part, of isolated sayings listed serially using the simple introductory formula "Jesus said…

2. Jesus and Judaism. In what way was Jesus critical of his own religious tradition, ancient Judaism? Was he simply a reformer, or was his position more radical? Did Jesus advocate rejecting the Jewish law (Torah); if not, how did he think it should be followed? Choose one of the three positions for “Jesus and the Torah" presented in the lecture 4.1 on Jesus, Purity, and the Torah, and defend it with additional evidence from the ancient gospels we have read.

Guide Line:

Torah: First five books of Hebrew Bible, traditionally ascribed to Moses

-ancient judaism:

•Strict monotheism, abstract divinity with no natural symbol (ex. Shema, Deut. 6:4)

•Israel as the chosen people of G*d with a covenant relationship

•Repentance and redemption.

-Three Positions in the Canonical Gos

1.Mark 7: 18-19: "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart, but the stomach, and then goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

• Rejection of Jewish Torah. But not in the words of Jesus, but in the words of “Mark.”

2. Sayings common to Matthew and Luke

•Respect for both the spirit and the letter of the Torah. These are sayings of Jesus.

(Matt 23:23/Luke 11:42): But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. …

•(Matt 5:18/Luke 16:17): But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped…

•Respect for both the spirit and the letter of the Torah. These are sayings of Jesus.

3. Matthew

• 5:17, 19, 20: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets…. Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven … . For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. …

• Radical observance of the Torah.These are sayings of Jesus.

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