Here’s the other five resources which I recommend for an amateur in biblical studies just getting started.
6. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha The NRSV is pretty much the standard for biblical citations in academic work in the United States. If you are only going to get one item out of the ten I recommend, this should be it. If you don’t like my recommendation, then any number of modern translations would also be fine. However, I would recommend that you don’t get sucked into the “My Bible translation is better than yours” wars that are constantly erupting. The bottom line is that if you feel passionate enough to fight over which translation to use, you are better off funneling that energy into learning Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and bypassing translation altogether. Finally, please no arguments for using the KJV. The bottom line is that the base text for the KJV is poor and it puts up too many barriers to understanding the text (especially Paul).
7. The Oxford History of the Biblical World This book has four things going for it. First, it is dirt cheap. Second, it introduces the reader to many different approaches to biblical history (textual, archaeological, sociological etc). Third, the informational content is fairly dense. Fourth, it has good bibliographies for the non-specialist. The downside of the book is that because each chapter is written by a different person there is some unevenness. But, for $14 it’s hard to go wrong.
8. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures A standard introductory textbook to the Old Testament. It covers the canonical works and the Apocrypha. You don’t get great depth, but you do get breadth. It is denominationally and theologically neutral and doesn’t wander off on tangents. The only glaring weaknesses are the bibliographies.
9. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings Another standard introductory textbook. Yes, textbooks are boring, but they are the quickest way to get up to speed on the basics. The strongest point is that the book shows multiple ways of approaching the New Testament. It covers every NT book and also covers non canonical books such as the Didache, Gospel of Thomas, Shepard of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter etc.. The bibliographies are very good for beginners (like me).
10. The Oxford Bible Commentary It’s good as a beginner to have a single volume commentary. The main selling point for this commentary is that I can understand it. Some of the more academic commentaries (such as Anchor Bible or Hermeneia) quickly become impenetrable for beginners. Simpler commentaries tend to be geared towards protestant ministers or target a particular audience (Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Jews, Catholics) which are not as helpful. This commentary is a reasonable first step into the world of commentaries.
All of the above books are published by Oxford University Press. If you want something academically respectable and theologically neutral it’s hard to go wrong with Oxford. There are dozens of publishers in the biblical studies and theology market. It takes a little while to figure out which ones are respectable, which ones are theologically biased, and which ones are targeted to lunatics.
I hope at least someone found the lists helpful for getting started. Now all we have to do is get every seminary and institute teacher to study the items on the list and teach it in their classrooms. Should be easy 🙂