"'Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water,
but thick and dark like blood'" (50).
C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces (1956)
Points of Reflection
The Bible: I Corinthians 1:1-2:16
1. in this, the first of his letters to the church at Corinth (in Greece), St. Paul encourages this early group of followers to be united instead of allowing themselves to become divided over what kinds of minutiae (v.10-16)?
2. why might St. Paul, the author of I Corinthians, suggest it is better to preach the gospel without "eloquent wisdom" (v.17, ESV)?
3. for those of you who have a passing familiarity with The Bible, what Christian principles can you identify that fly in the face of conventional wisdom and intelligence (v.18-25)?
4. in what ways is "Christ crucified" a "stumbling block" that gets in the way of some people accepting Christianity (v.22-24)?
5. does this brief passage emphasize differences between, or commonalities shared among Jews and non-Jews? (The author, Paul the apostle, references "Greeks" since he's writing to an early church in the Greek city of Corinth, and mentions "Gentiles" as a catch-all for those outside of Judaism.) Do these verses seek to bridge the gap separating the people groups in question, or further divide them?
6. is Paul calling God either foolish or weak? What is he getting at in verse 25?
7. what criteria must apparently be present, or absent, for a person to be chosen by God (v.26-29)? Why, according to St. Paul?
8. was Paul a dynamic, persuasive speaker, by his own account (2:1-5)?
9. does Paul closely define the divine wisdom which he claims is far superior to earthly wisdom, or gesture towards it in abstract fashion (v.6-10)?
10. how, presumably, do Christians gain access to the mind of Christ (2:12-13)?
The Passion of Jesus Christ (The Bible: Matthew 26:47 - 28:10, The Bible: Luke 22:47 - 24:53, The Bible: John 18:1 - 20:31)
1. consider the three varying accounts of Jesus' time praying before his arrest; does the barebones version in John exclude information necessary to understand Jesus' state of mind?
2. As Jesus asks his father, the Lord God, to take away the horrific trial Jesus is about to experience, how much agency does he give to God? Compare the wording in Matthew 26:39 w/ that in Luke 22:42.
3. why might Jesus be concerned about temptation at this juncture (Matthew 26:41, Luke 22:46), right before he is taken by force to the local authorities?
4. in which one of the arrest accounts does Judas kiss Jesus, in which is his proffer of a kiss rejected, and in which is a kiss not even mentioned?
5. which of our authors describes the soldiers and priests as drawing back and falling to the ground when Jesus identifies himself?
6. in which version does Jesus heal the ear of the man whom Peter struck with a sword?
7. which gospel does not provide the name of any priests involved in the council that questions Jesus, and which version involves not only Caiaphas the high priest, but his father-in-law, Annas?
8. in which version does Jesus not identify himself with the "Son of Man" seated at the right hand of God the Father, instead encouraging his questioners--who wish to know what he has actually claimed--to ask those who have actually heard Jesus preach?
10. who describes Peter as swearing oaths, and cursing, in his efforts to dissuade his questioners that he knows anything about Jesus?
11. in which of the accounts does Jesus turn and look right at Peter the third time the disciple denies that he knows Jesus?
12. does Pilate, the governor of Judea, appear hostile to Jesus in any of the three accounts, or sympathetic in all?
13. does Judas, the traitor, become a more sympathetic figure when he attempts to return the bribe money given him to betray Jesus (Matthew 27:3-10)?
14. Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, is currently in Jerusalem, a good deal south of his own territory (Luke 23:7). Why is he so eager to meet Jesus?
15. with what tone do you imagine Pilate saying "What is truth?" (John 18:38)? With seriousness, sarcasm, or something else?
16. what does Pilate's wife contribute to the question of Jesus' fate?
17. Luke's account of Jesus' life is sometimes considered the most detailed of all four, yet he leaves out some of the more gruesome elements of Christ's Passion. He describes Pilate's hesitant decision to hand Jesus over to the crowd (Luke 23:18-25), and Jesus' subsequent crucifixion (Luke 23:26-43), but does not include details about his being spit upon, flogged, or crowned with thorns. How does this omission impact his version of events?
18. in which one of the three accounts does Jesus not speak directly to nearby women, either during the procession to Golgotha or during the crucifixion itself?
19. explain the distinction between Pilate's inscription and that which the chief priests wish were instead placed on the cross (John 19:19-22).
20. Jesus' final words vary dramatically across these three versions of his death (Matthew 27:46, 50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). Which of the three feels the most poweful to you, and why?
21. in the Jewish temple, a very tall and thick curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, a veil bypassed only once a year by the high priest. One gospel account describes this curtain as being torn in two right before Jesus died (Luke 23:44-46), whereas another maintains that it was torn--from top to bottom--immediately after Jesus' death (Matthew 27:50-51). How does this small alteration in time and order alter the dramatic texture of this moment?
22. who prepares Jesus' body for burial, according to the three different accounts?
23. John tells us Mary Magdalene visited Jesus' tomb and found it empty, Matthew mentions both Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary," and Luke identifies Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and "the other women with them." Matthew reports that Jesus meets the two Marys on their way to the disciples, Luke tells us the women's report is believed only by Peter, and John reports that Simon Peter and "the disciple whom Jesus loved" believed Mary M. immediately and raced to the tomb. Do the differences enrich your understanding of this event in the narrative, or complicate it?
24. the gospel of Matthew wraps up relatively quickly following the resurrection; do you prefer its terse account (Matthew 28:11-20), which leaves much to the imagination, or the more elaborated accounts in Luke and John?
25. what does Luke's inclusion of Jesus' encounter with Cleopas and another, unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus add to our understand of Jesus' character? Does he appear playful, mysterious, or something else? Why hide his identity from them, if only briefly?
26. John's account explores Mary Magdalene's state of mind prior to seeing the resurrected Jesus (John 20:1-2, 20:11-18), then does something similar with "doubting" Thomas (John 20:24-29). Do these more individualized anecdotes--this narrative turn towards the individual and personal--make the whole account more powerful than it would be if John described Jesus appearing to a multitude?
27. do the concluding lines of John (20:30-31) suggest that John was attempting an exhaustive, or suggestive, account of Jesus' life? Which does this author appear to believe is more necessary for belief--narrative breadth or depth?
Salvador Dalí's The Spectre of Sex Appeal (1934)
1. what is the sex of the painting's central figure, and what is that of the smaller figure in the foreground?
2. what two objects appear before and behind this smaller figure? Is either object attached to him?
3. though some of the larger figure's limbs seem human, other elements of the figure resemble decidedly non-human objects. Can you identify these?
4. which appendages and other body parts are missing from this central figure?
5. some art critics have identified in the larger figure a dissected human who has been reassembled, while others see a tortured individual. What role do the crutches play in your own interpretation? Are they propping up a weak figure? Are they an integrated part of the figure, or add-ons? Are they necessary?
6. what layer of meaning does the painting's title apply to this work?
Salvador Dali's Corpus Hypercubus (1954)
1. how does the garment worn by Jesus in this painting compare to that in other depictions of the crucifixion?
2. without knowing much (if anything) about Dali's intentions and craft, can you generate any plausible explanations for why this painting's cross is constructed out of cubes?
3. why might Dali have created the particular design that appears on the black and white, board-like ground below the floating cross?
4. Gala, Dali's wife, modeled for this painting. Whom is she intended to represent?
5. is the Christ depicted in this work suffering? What do you make of the absence of blood in this painting?
6. how does this work compare to Matthias Grünewald's The Crucifixion (1515)? (Dalí had Grünewald's work in mind when creating this one.)
Corpus Hypercubus (1954)
oil on canvas
Dr. Paul Marchbanks