For anyone who is totally unfamiliar with the Bible, the first four books of the New Testament are called the gospels ("gospel" meaning "good news"), and they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They basically summarize the life of Jesus from birth to death.
The New Testament, beginning with Matthew, picks up about 400 years after the Old Testatment leaves off the story of the Isrealites, who had been struggling under one oppressive ruler after another. When Jesus enters the picture, the Jews are living under Roman rule, which wasn't totally bad, but wasn't too great either because the Romans were not God-fearing men. They preferred to revere Zeus and other Greek gods.
I've heard the stories from the New Testament many times in Church, but it's interesting to read them on my own, directly in the Bible. I'd never done that before. The story of Jesus, whether one believes it to be the truth or just a fairytale, is a riveting read. If I'd never heard of Jesus and had just randomly picked up this book called the Bible and flipped to Matthew, I would have been hooked. It really is a page turner, filled with stories within stories, intrigue, miracles, life lessons, high drama and inspiring quotes. It's history and religion and literature wrapped into one. I'm a fan.
Of course, I'm not sure I understand it all, what all the parables are about and what I believe is history and what is story (the gospels were written long after Jesus died, and by humans, who are, after all, fallible), but I'm glad to be getting it straight from the source. Whatever one believes, I think it has to be conceded that Jesus was a pretty cool guy.