If you really want to know how, why and when the holy book of the Christians that is commonly known as the New Testament was written you should definitely read the magnificent book by Bart. D. Ehrman called Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them).
Bart D. Ehrman does tell in this book what the modern biblical scholarship knows with certainty of the process that did in the end produce a rag-tag collection of wildly differentiating and often even strongly contradictory texts. This collection was magically transformed into a real book by the simple act of collecting them under the same covers and giving them a common name.

The most fantastic part of this all is that Bart D. Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar. He works as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been an evangelical Christian and has spent whole of his adult life in the study of the Bible and all things relating to it. All in all, he is a serious, heavy-weight professional biblical scholar and not a some atheist dilettante on a Sunday cruise in biblical lands.
Bart D. Ehrman is not an embittered atheist trying to undermine the Christian faith at its foundations. He is a biblical scholar who simply has realized during the long years that he has spent studying this book that it is a purely, utterly and completely human work. He realized that it was produced to market and promote a struggling new faith that was in its infancy.

This is a book about the New Testament and what the modern biblical scholarship knows about the contradicting messages of the different authors of the book. It is also about the near complete lack of information on who really has written these texts. We just know how some later Christians did collect some of these stories and called the result "New Testament".
Bart D. Ehrman tells how we quite certainly know that not a single one of these texts was written by a person who would had known the Jewish preacher called Jesus personally or even known any of his closest companions. Modern biblical scholarship is quite united in the view that these texts were written by people who did speak a quite different language than those people of whose life these storied purport to tell.

The texts of "New Testament" were probably written in a different country than where Jesus did allegedly live. They were written by people who did come from a very different social class than the original followers of this preacher. Jesus and his disciples were Aramaic-speaking lower class fishermen, carpenters and handymen. The writers of the gospels were Greek-speaking people with a working knowledge of philosophy and other higher learning.

Jesus, interrupted

The early part of the book is spent on studying the endless, apparent, and very easy to spot contradictions that are found in all of the biblical texts. Bart D. Ehrman also spends time explaining why these apparent problems are overlooked and forgotten so easily by the believers.
Bart D. Ehrman also explains how the different gospels are products of different theological views that did fight for supremacy in the early Christian church. He tells how the development of theological ideas has transformed the later gospels. This process has changed them at parts so much that the main character of these stories would be hardly recognizable for the readers of the very first gospels.

Bart D. Ehrman shows convincingly how the writers of the gospels were at best transmitting old oral traditions. These traditions had been circulating for decades among early Christian before the writing down of these short stories finally happened.
He explains also how things tend to change and become all more colourful with every new telling, and how oral tradition really is not a reliable source of anything really. Bart D. Ehrman goes also through the process that did lead to inclusion of certain texts in to the current Bible, and the exclusion of others quite similar gospels with a quite similar antiquity. He explains how the early extremely diverse and rich Christian movement was turned into a monolith with only one allowed and accepted truth.

All this all happened mainly because the Roman Emperors did soon see that this new religion could be used as a tool to forge a united empire. They wanted to create a more coherent whole out of the rag-tag collection of conquered lands that the Roman Empire was at the time.
Bart D. Ehrman does tell how the accepted gospels do represent the theological ideas of this winning faction. This faction was ultimately backed to win by the might of the Roman Empire and the Emperor. Without this outside help, the ultimate winners could also have been, for example, the powerful group of Gnostic's. They revered quite different texts as their only truth about the life of Jesus.

Bart D. Ehrman also looks what are the real facts about the central character of the Bible. These facts can be discerned from the bible by cross-examining and comparing the textual evidence and by finding out the parts that really could tell about the real-life Jesus. The result is that the real Jesus was a quite typical Jewish preacher of apocalypse of his time, who did apparently did sincerely believe that the world would come to an end during the lifetime of his own direct followers.
Jesus did evidently gather a base of followers. However, when he was unexpectedly killed by the authorities and no apocalypse was forthcoming, his stubborn followers had to re-think it all. In this process, the new ideas of sacrifice of the only son of god and redeeming all sins were invented. Decades later brand new gospels were written to support these grand ideas. This originally quite simple figure did became in every new telling more and more embroidered in mystical qualities.

In this process, his death was transformed from a terrible loss to the faithful to a winning proposition. Most of all the new ideas of heaven and hell and the ideas of getting to heaven only be believing in Jesus did emerge. They did give a great boost to the marketing of the faith.
Bart D. Ehrman tells in the end how he slowly lost his own faith. He is now an agnostic professor of Biblical studies. He is also adamant in claiming that the revealing of the true nature of the Bible and Jesus were not the deciding factor for him. He lost his faith because the idea of how God can allow the suffering in the world if he would really exist.

(This review was refurbished on 14th of December, 2012)