One of the prime purposes of the gospels, obviously, is to induce belief in the reader -- belief that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the only Son of God. If you resist that purpose (as millions of people do) what changes might you have made in the manuscripts of Mark and John -- changes that would have made their central contentions more convincing to you?
Though Mark and John do not set out to give you a detailed, intimate biography of the birth, career, and death of Jesus of Nazareth, deduce from your study of their central figure whatever you can honestly find of biographical and/or physical distinctiveness. Does the fact that Jesus could cover large distances on foot in rocky landscapes suggest that he was an especially robust man, for instance; or does the fact that he died on a cross in about three hours suggest the opposite -- that he was frail and quickly succumbed to torture? Deduce, as well, any mental and emotional traits you find implicit in what the gospels tell you about their main figure.
Given the immensely broad effects of Christianity (for good and for havoc) on the planet and on the lives of all living creatures, what changes do you think Mark and John might make in their works if they could return now and see the result of their efforts some two thousand years ago?
Is there any convincing evidence in either Mark or John that Jesus of Nazareth intended to found a new religious community -- a congregation of believers in his Sonship -- that would capture a great part of the Earth and hold it, even till now?
In his lifetime, Jesus seems to have been most noted for his healings of the sick and perhaps even the raising of the dead. Look at Mark's and John's accounts of those alleged healings and decide which seem most convincing, or most fantastic, to you now. How does he differ, from, say, a televised religious healer of the present? Perhaps he doesn't differ in an significant way? Why does he seem to you either a convincingly uncanny healer or a skillful charlatan or a little of both?
Ignore, if you can, Price's prefaces to the three gospels and deduce as much as possible of the character and personality of the three gospel writers.
How would you personally account for the astonishing ongoing success, in a world so different from their own, of two documents as brief and ancient as the gospels of Mark and John?
Recommended Readings Read several ancient Greek or Latin biographies of remarkable men -- lives roughly contemporaneous with the gospels of Mark and John -- and compare the gospel treatment of Jesus with (for instance) Plutarch's treatment of Alexander the Great or Suetonius's life of August Caesar or Tiberius. Discuss the differences in outlook and purpose you detect between the various works.
Reynolds Price (1933-2011) was born in Macon, North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Merton College, Oxford University, he taught at Duke beginning in 1958 and was the James B. Duke Professor of English at the time of his death. His first short stories, and many later ones, are published in his Collected Stories. A Long and Happy Life was published in 1962 and won the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. Kate Vaiden was published in 1986 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Good Priest's Son in 2005 was his fourteenth novel. Among his thirty-seven volumes are further collections of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations. Price is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his work has been translated into seventeen languages.