It is on this last point that I want to expand here. Having recently listened to two different courses from the always fabulous "Teaching Company", one exclusively about The New Testament, and one on "The foundations of western civilization P1", I have been fueled in my skepticism towards these books as any more than a fiction which one can interpret and then depending on who you are, help you do good things or bad things. (By the way, feel free to send comments and point out if I make any blatant mistakes – I have never read the book in their entirety)
Jesus was never famous during his lifetime it seems. Apart from the bible he is barely mentioned in any historical documents. So what we know about Jesus we know mainly from the gospels in The New Testament.
Mark, which is generally regarded as the earliest of these gospels was written, according to most historians, about 70AD, that is almost 40 years after the death of Christ (the exact year of this event is also very uncertain). 40 years in an age where very few people had access to any written sources and where perhaps even fewer could read. This means that the story of Jesus must have been passed on verbally for about 30 years or so.
Anyone who have ever played Chinese whispers (I just saw that this game also goes under the name of "Arab phone" or "Russian scandal" =)), knows that this is a problem. In Chinese whispers a message is passed along in a ring eventually coming back to the person who formulated the message. The final message is compared to the original message and there is invariably an astounding difference between the two.
The normal way to play this game is to have a group of children passing along a short message, say ten words or so, with little personal significance and hence little motive amongst the children to change the message in any way. In contrast, The New Testament is a rather long message, and the people who have passed it along have had every reason to alter the story to make Jesus sound better and greater than he actually was (does anyone seriously believe that he can turn water into wine?). What would 30 years of Chinese whispers with people who would have a strong interest in changing the story do to tales about Jesus? Well, let's just say that it would be no less of a miracle should the story be accurate and precise.