Unlike many of the other great religions of the world - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, even Judaism to some extent - Christianity is founded not on a philosophy or a metaphysical idea, but on an historical event.
According to Christianity, sometime around the year 0 a boy was born in the town of Bethlehem; sometime around the year 30 that same boy, now a man, started preaching, gathering disciples, healing and confronting the authorities that be. A few years later, those same authorities had him crucified. But a few days later he was seen alive by his disciples. After he returned to heaven these disciples travelled all over the known world, preaching this message - that the word has become flesh and has dwelt among us. A good number of them were killed before denying what they believed. 2000 years later, millions of people around the world still live lives, not just according to this man's teaching, but in some way 'in' him, and he in them too.
My question is very broad, but basically very simple. If Christianity is indeed based so firmly on real historical events, then surely there must have been significant scholarly work to discern the reliability of the New Testament cannon. Has this work been summarised in any books? Are there any objective (as far as that's possible) reviews of the historical reliability of the claims of the New Testament writings (particularly the Gospels and Paul's writings). Or possibly are there several complementing (should I say competing :) ) works that would give a balanced overview.
What frustrates me the most about this issue is the dichotomy of views. To take but one example, my good old NIV study bible says, concerning the authorship of 1 Timothy, that '...evidence is convincingly supportive of Paul's authorship' yet according to Wikipedia 'most modern scholars' hold that Paul was not the author.
As I said at the beginning, Christianity is in many ways unique in that the entire religion is firmly based on purported historical events. In light of the great range of opinions and views we hear on this issue, I want to spend some time looking at the new testament independently of my Christian bias. Any help (particularly recommended reading) would be greatly appreciated. Thankyou