Some people argue that the Bible has been changed over time, like a game of Chinese whispers. This activity is designed to demonstrate that the New Testament is actually the best preserved history we have from that time period. Jelly beans are used as a visual and interactive way to engage your audience.
Important! This activity is not designed to prove the truth of the New Testament. Only that is has not been altered over time and can be considered reliable in that sense.
What you will need
- 1 bag of jelly beans (around 55 jelly beans)
- Slide show (download link at the end of the article)
Jelly Beans and History
When examining the reliability of a historical document there are 2 factors that are really important. Firstly the number of copies (often called manuscripts) and the distance in time between when the original was written and the first copy we have is.
For the purposes of this activity we will use Jelly Beans to represent the number of copies we have of famous historical writings. The people receiving the Jelly Beans will have to catch them from a distance depending on how far the gap between the original writing and the first copy is.
1 Jelly Bean = 150 Copies/Partial Copies (You can alter this ratio depending on your needs)
Augustus Caesar (Tacitus)
Augustus Caesar is one of the most famous rulers of the Roman Empire. The month of August was named after him. Most of what we know about Augustus Caesar is from a work known as Annals by Tacitus.
- Tacitus wrote about Caesar in around AD 100 however the earliest copy we have was made 750 years later
Number of copies:
- We have 33 original copies of his writings
That means that if we are rounding up, that’s 1 Jelly Bean worth of sources and quite a large gap.
To illustrate this, have a volunteer stand some distance away from you. The distance represents the 750 year gap between the original and the first copy. Take a single Jelly Bean and throw it to the volunteer. The Jelly Bean represents the number of sources.
Someone who is studied quite a lot in High School ancient history is Herodotus. He wrote Histories which records some famous events like the battle of Thermopylae which was popularised by the movie 300.
- Archeologists and historians have discovered 109 copies of Histories.
- The earliest copy we have was written 1350 years after Herodotus wrote it.
As before, demonstrate this by using a single Jelly Bean and throwing it to a new volunteer. Have them stand a little further away to represent the 1350 year time gap.
The Iliad was an epic poem written by a man named Homer. The Iliad depicts a story you should be familiar with, the Trojan War. In this epic story an army infiltrates a city by hiding inside a wooden horse offered as a gift to the city. At night, soldiers hiding in the horse come out, open the city gates and lay siege to the city.
- We have 1750 copies of Histories
- The earliest copy we have was made 400 years after Homer wrote it
This time you can hand off a small ziplock bag with about a dozen jelly beans to a volunteer who is standing closer than the previous two. You could throw the jelly beans individually if you feel inclined.
The New Testament
So how does the New Testament, the writings about Jesus, stack up against these other famous pieces of history? Well it turns out that the New Testament is perhaps the best preserved historical writing outside the modern era.
- There are over 5700 original language copies and partial copies of the books of the New Testament!
- The earliest copy we have was made within a single lifetime, less than 40 years.
For this final demonstration you can hand a whole packet of Jelly beans (Approx 38) to a volunteer who is standing right next to you. This is to demonstrate that there are more copies of the New Testament than any other ancient writing, and the time gap is shorter than any other ancient writing.
What does this teach us?
Firstly, eight generations have passed between the time that Tacitus wrote about Augustus and the writing of the first copy. But with the New Testament, the first copy we have of the writings of John was only made 29 years after he wrote it. The people making that copy would have been alive when John first wrote.
Secondly, the sheer number of copies and fragments we have of the New Testament means that scholars can be almost 100% sure that what we have in our Bibles today are accurate translations of what was originally written over 2000 years ago.
The consensus of historians is that the writings of the New Testament have not been altered over the centuries like Chinese whispers.