It may seem amiss for this blog to recommend the reading and study of books external to the Bible – anything “non-canonical” or “uninspired.” Actually, it isn’t.
This blog is called the Naked Bible because I want to present the Bible unfiltered through creeds and traditions that are imposed on it or presumably distilled from it and then turned back on it like some sort of inspired commentary. That sort of material is not the same kind of material as texts that are contemporary with the Bible. The latter texts help us recover and discern the context of the Bible itself – the intellectual, historical, religious contexts of the biblical writers. When we are able to think like the biblical writers, we situate the Bible in its own world — not a world subsequent to it that looks back on the Bible. Any context other than the one that produced a given biblical book is by definition a foreign context to the biblical material.
One of the best ways to think like a biblical writer is to read the intellectual output of the cultures contemporary to the biblical writer. This helps us process the biblical material in light of the worldview of the people who produced the Bible. It enables us to understand the biblical content the way someone living at the time would have understood it. It helps us discern intellectual overlaps and divergences for proper interpretation.
This recent essay by Prof. Lawrence Schiffman is recommended as a general nudge for readers to read this sort of material. It’s a nice overview of things like the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.