One of the most important ideas in 'The Da Vinci Code' is that we can't trust what the Bible says about Jesus. The Gospels in the Bible were made up later, or they've been altered. But there are other Gospels that didn't make the cut into the Bible.
These give us a more authentic picture of Jesus. These show us that the first Christians believed that he was just a mortal man - a great prophet and teacher, perhaps, but not the Son of God, as the Church later made him out to be.
The part of the Bible that relates to the time of Jesus - the New Testament - is made up of twenty seven documents. Sometimes when people in The Da Vinci Code talk about them, they call them all Gospels, but this isn't accurate. A Gospel is an account of the life of Jesus, and there are only four Gospels in the Bible - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Leigh Teabing talks about these four Gospels 'among others,' but there aren't any others - just these four.
Jesus was put to death in 29 or 30 AD. In the years that followed, the man who did most to spread the new Christian faith across the Roman Empire was Paul, the apostle. Paul was a Jew who started out hostile to Christianity, but was converted around 35 AD. He was probably executed for his faith by the Roman emperor Nero in 66 AD.
The Bible contains thirteen letters that are said to be by Paul. Specialists disagree whether he actually wrote them all. However, most specialists agree that he really wrote at least seven of them - the letter to the Romans, two letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.
Paul wrote these letters between about AD 50 and AD 66 - twenty to thirty years after Jesus died. This makes them the earliest Christian documents that we have. We will see why this is important when we look at when Christians first started believing that Jesus was the Son of God.
What about the Gospels? When were they written? Most specialists, whatever they believe about Jesus, date them to the last thirty years or so of the first century. John's Gospel might have been written near the beginning of the second century.
By early in the second century, Church leaders were already quoting from these Gospels. So, for example:
So people were already recognising Paul's letters and the four Gospels as authoritative two hundred years before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.
But couldn't they have been altered? Couldn't they have been 'sexed up' like other official documents, to make a political point? Well, not really. There were too many copies for them to have been altered easily. There are far more copies of the New Testament documents than of any other document from around that time:
In all, we have about twenty five thousand hand copied manuscripts of New Testament documents.
Compare this with Homer's famous poem the Illiad. There are about six hundred manuscript copies of the Iliad. Or consider the 'Gallic Wars' written by Julius Caesar, from roughly the same time as the New Testament. Today, there are only about ten copies of it altogether.
The New Testament documents were the most copied, and most widely circulated, of any ancient documents. No other documents from the same period of time come anywhere near having as many copies. Not only that, but there are manuscripts around today that were made very soon after these documents were first written.
For example, in a museum in Manchester, there's a small piece of a document called the Rylands Fragment. This is part of John's Gospel.
It was found in Egypt in 1920, and scientists have dated it to 125 AD, plus or minus 25 years. This makes it the earliest manuscript of any part of the New Testament that's ever been found.
Specialists believe that John's Gospel was written some time between about 85 and 105 AD. So this fragment comes from a copy made just a few years after the Gospel was written.
Because of the number of copies, and how close in time some of them are to the originals, we can be sure that what we read in our Bibles today is what the original writers wrote - they haven't been altered.