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GCSE RE Quiz

Christianity - Jesus Down the Ages

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz focuses on Jesus down the ages. Through the Gospel accounts and other writings, we may feel we have an adequate picture of the earthly life of Jesus: the Nativity story of that first Christmas, a glimpse of His childhood, the baptism, ministry, parables and miracles; the entry into Jerusalem and events we now commemorate as Holy Week, culminating in the Crucifixion and Resurrection; His subsequent appearances to His followers and others, and eventual Ascension into heaven.

But views on these points, and conjecture about what may have happened in between, have variously swirled among and between different traditions of believers and other scholars down the ages. It would indeed, perhaps, be surprising if such an extraordinary figure had not provoked discussion and debate, as He did in life ~ with several incidents of friction with the religious establishment of His day, and even with King Herod.

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Clearly enough, for everyday Christian purposes (and indeed for GCSE RE!) it is the main sequence of events that needs to be known about, but it can surely do little harm to be aware of a wider range of interpretation and conjecture. If you actively belong to a particular Christian tradition, you may well have specific ideas that are not necessarily commonly agreed within the wider faith community, but which may well be sincere, tenable and interesting to others.

Jesus of Nazareth is probably the single historical figure who has had more written about Him than any other ~ even the more sadly newsworthy monsters of the 20th century such as the dictators Hitler, Stalin and Mao (at least two of whom published their own ~ as it were ~ ‘bibles’, to impress their thoughts, views and values on those whose lives they controlled). By the nature of Jesus, there is room for people to claim individual visions and revelations, which may or may not be genuine or helpful.

Let’s do what we can to clarify and sort some of the more significant post-Biblical claims and interpretations...

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  1. 'To begin at the beginning ...': Which of the following is now accepted as factually true?
    In earlier Christian days the year-numbering was set up using the 'BC/AD' ('Before Christ / Anno Domini [= Year of our Lord]') system, but subsequent scholarship suggests that the original start-point was wrong. There is no specific evidence of the birth being in December (when sheep would be less likely to be out on the hills overnight, for instance); the Biblically-attested 'wise rulers' may not have been actual kings, nor necessarily three in number ~ even if they brought three distinct gifts.
  2. Biblically speaking, we know nothing of the years between Jesus' pre-barmitzvah pilgrimage to Jerusalem (aged 12) and the baptism and start of His earthly ministry (15-18 years later). It seems fair to suppose that His earthly father Joseph died at some point during this time-gap: why so?
    We are not told in the Gospels that Joseph was 'an old man' (though at least one subsequent folk-carol suggests this in its opening line), but there is at least a supposition that Mary was a young woman, perhaps 'a bit young for him' as some might have been tempted to remark when she had the baby. By the standards of the day, and even though this was someone particularly special whose life they were describing, it seems conspicuously odd that Joseph is not mentioned in the main later phase of the Gospels, so the inference that he was no longer around seems reasonable.
  3. Rarely do we see Jesus inside the Temple in the Gospels: indeed, probably only (a) when He lingered after the pilgrimage, apparently talking on equal terms with the old priests there while Mary and Joseph were worriedly searching back for Him, and (b) after the Triumphal Entry, when he openly criticised the traders in the forecourt.

    Cynical readers might criticise Jesus for being selfish &/or disobedient in the former instance, and losing His temper and being judgemental in the latter ... all behaviours He normally stood against.

    How might a Christian address these objections?
    Answer 1 is on dodgy ground, accusing an omnipotent god-figure of knowingly hurting people who loved Him. The Jewish God of the Old Testament certainly comes over vengeful sometimes, but usually on behalf of His people rather than against them (though He did not flinch from punishing His own either, where He knew they needed 'correcting', e.g. after they had been ungrateful to Him by dallying with other false gods); Answer 2 has a similarly inappropriate truculence to it.

    Answer 4 was wrong because Jesus was not angry at Mary and Joseph, nor at Himself for putting them to any distress; He knew that above all else He should be making the most of His time in the Temple. (The mental picture of this boy in late childhood, with yet-unbroken voice, joining in on level terms or better with venerable, robed & bearded religious experts, is one to savour, and which some classical painters have sympathetically illustrated.) His later visit, including overturning the tables of the traders who had been taking advantage of pilgrims in an elaborate cartel of charges, was obviously a different occasion, not least since He was full-grown by then.
  4. What Jesus did during the 15+ years between the first Temple visit (as in question 3 above) and the start of His ministry, is completely unspecified in the Gospels ~ but therefore quite intriguing. (What was Jesus like as a teenager, for instance: did he sulk and bang doors, as many 'typical human teenagers' do?)

    There is at least one quite well-established legend ... at which point of the following, do you reckon, might one first have serious doubts about this story?
    This tale is known as the Glastonbury Legend; and while it just about makes a plausible story, by the time we reach answer 4 it perhaps becomes overstretched and far-fetched. It isn't entirely impossible, but surely more than somewhat unlikely?

    (Joseph's walking-stick was supposedly stuck into the ground at Glastonbury and became a hawthorn tree, surviving to this day.)
  5. Modern, or even recent-historical celebrities are usually recognised by their portraits: photographs (stills, or movie footage) in any significant case over about the past century-and-a-half, painted portraits &/or statues prior to that (e.g. of King Henry VIII). What do we know about the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, after whose birth the whole internationally-accepted historical dating system is ~ albeit imperfectly ~ calibrated?
    There are passing references in the Gospels to Jesus wearing a beard, as obedient Jews were then expected to do; and a vivid foremention (in Isaiah) of sadistic guards plucking at it ... but no hint at all of its colour, nor of Jesus' physical stature (tall/short; stocky/slender). Answer 3 may slightly suggest the Turin Shroud; Answer 4 may seem to be true, but the convention ~ perhaps just a form of visual shorthand for Him being 'bright' or 'clean', or at least in some way 'different, though still one of us' ~ has no proven factual foundation. Certainly those milky watercolours of the benign red-headed shepherd ('Gentle Jesus, meek and mild') are no more than a well-intentioned guess.

    For a robust fundamentalist rebuttal of all supposed images of Christ, and detailed discussion and argument, see All of Grace
  6. Rather in similar spirit to pilgrimage journeys, many people have a hankering for relics: objects associated with great people ~ supremely, of course, Jesus, though also the saints. It may seem cynical to suggest that enough pieces of wood have been put forward as 'relics of the True Cross of Calvary' to re-make far more than one single gibbet, but one can understand the proponents' keenness.

    One particular surviving object appears to hold a very special fascination, in connection with the pivotal Passion story: what is it?
    It would verge on the sacrilegious to refer to this object as a potentially holy analogue for the Loch Ness Monster, but, in purely logistical terms, the nature and origins of the image on it appear quite extraordinary, and science has yet to prove or disprove conclusively whether it genuinely is what it purports to be, or to offer any plausible alternative explanation. You could doubtless research this further yourself, and may well find it intriguing.

    The crown of thorns was a temporary and biodegradable object which, even if split into short pieces, would surely hardly have survived in provable or even recognisable form; the Grail is almost certainly the stuff of legend (probably via Glastonbury again), while there seems to be no particular trace of the Supper table ~ that workaday piece of carpentry at the focus of so many (conjectural) Last Supper paintings.
  7. With the perspective of the past couple of centuries in Europe and worldwide, well might one ask 'Was Jesus a revolutionary?'

    Which of these would seem the fairest response?
    Any or all of these seem tenable readings of what Jesus came to do, but answer 4 surely has the strongest ring to it
  8. Over many centuries ~ more certainly the last handful or so ~ the Church has come to be seen (in many 'civilised countries') as an arm of the Establishment: with its professional, learned staff, its commanding position socially and architecturally in many communities, its patronage both of the creative arts and of charitable works (schooling, medical missions) etc.

    Yet this is the organisation founded in the name of someone whose own mother Mary, when told she was to bear God's Son into the world, gave thanks to that God 'who raises the humble, and puts down the mighty'.

    This urge to 'get back to helping the disadvantaged' in our modern world ~ instead of social stagnation, or the church 'feathering its own nest' ~ is right in line with much of Jesus' teaching and ministry. What is this Movement called?
    'Liberation' here means the freeing of people from everyday burdens of disadvantage, hunger and disease ~ so that they can better aspire to fulfil their potential as human beings made and beloved by God. One could certainly claim an echo of the 'suffering servant' image prophesied by Isaiah.
  9. Keen evangelical ('born-again') Christians will rarely miss an opportunity to share their message, with ICHTHUS ('fish') signs on their cars and other belongings, and catchy tee-shirt slogans ('My foot is on the ROCK and my name is on the ROLL'). You may have seen or heard the acronym WWJD: what does this mean?
    Such followers would always ask themselves this guiding question before taking a decision, be it something everyday ('Shall I chat online or start my homework?') or more far-reaching ('Is this the person I should be looking to spend the rest of my life, and raise any children, with?'). It may be hard to see how Jesus, as we know Him from the scriptural stories, would answer such modern questions in personal detail, but the point is to seek to discern and apply His values.
  10. In 1977 an iconic television miniseries was made by Franco Zeffirelli, entitled 'Jesus of Nazareth', with a star-studded cast. Obviously the casting of a suitable, credible and technically accomplished actor in the title role was pivotally important: Robert Powell was chosen for this honour, and by most accounts made a suitably creditable job of it.

    What was said to have been the clinching factor in the choice of this actor?
    Apparently it was the serene yet penetrating gaze that created such an impression in the screen-tests.

    On a somewhat more frivolous yet poignant note, the story is told of veteran Western actor John Wayne who was cast as the Centurion on duty at the Crucifixion, who had only one significant line: 'Truly this man was the Son of God'. Come the day, the cameras rolled and he delivered the line; the director cut the action and asked Wayne to try again but 'say it with awe'. Lights, camera, action once more ... and out came the line: 'Aw, truly this man ...' (!)

Author: Ian Miles

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