[quote="Bubba_Switzler, post:8, topic:330374"]
Thanks, everyone, for all the great answers.
I am familiar with the standard annotations that most good Bibles include. These are, of course, better than nothing but fall well short of what I'm looking for. (I have heard about the Ignatius series. It's out of my price range and I have yet to find it in a library. I am curious to see how far it goes, though.)
I really enjoyed Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible (in this case, the Torah, not even the full OT). What I really appreciated was the full historical context that is missing from even annotated Bibles. One could almost describe it as a history book of the Biblical period and subject. A while ago I found an audio from a NT course that included such topics as the Roman family and the Second Temple Period Jewish religious life, all of which added to my understanding of the context.
Josephus is an example non-Bliblical NT source but reading Josephus can be almost as difficult as reading the NT as it was written in the same period and relies on most of the same background knowledge. It would also be nice to see some non-Blblical tradition incorporated as well (e.g. the fate of the apostles).
Call me lazy, but I prefer to find scholars who have done the work of integrating sources and explaining them in modern terms. I'm interested in history but I'm not a historian much less a Biblical scholar.
Thanks for the specific book suggestions, I'm making a list of them.
It sounds like you got a good handle on this, but do make sure that you are not confusing the historical-critical method with reading or studying the Scriptures from a historical viewpoint. The Bible set in history and the historical-critical method are not the same things.
The historical-critical method is about reading and studying the Scriptures in human terms, as if to tap into the mindset of the author with all that person's understandings and limitations based on when they lived in history (and what their culture was like at that time,).
It is also about seeing the Scriptures from the viewpoint of the original audience, with their own mindset, concepts, culture, and limitations.
And it is about gleaning this information to understand how the Scriptures stand not only as God's Word but as a human work, without denying their inspiration of course.
To illustrate: some atheists like to argue that the description of a dome or firmament in Genesis chapter 1 proves that the Bible cannot be true, since there is no literal dome covering the earth.
The historical-critical method takes into account that all Mesopotamian cultures understood the earth being a flat disc, with mountains and seas and rivers on it, and with a metallic dome covering everything in which the sun, stars, and moon were affixed (and the dome contained sluices or "floodgates" to allow the rains to come down from waters that the ancients believed were on the other side being held back by this dome).
Knowing this aspect of past cultures allows the exegete to arrive at the understanding that the Bible writer was explaining how the world as they knew it in their own time came about, using concepts that reflected the "science" or cosmology of the day. This counters the atheist's view that the Bible is wrong since it shows that the author wasn't trying to explain the actual facets of the physical universe but was trying to teach how they came about and what this meant religiously.
This method doesn't attempt to place the text into a historical context or explain it in history, like the writings you mention. It merely takes advantage of historical research, ancient literary analysis and the findings of anthropology, and archaeology of the period to use as a lense through which to read the text.