Aside from the lightweight references I used in my A Course in Biblical Mysticism, some of you may take an interest in looking more at some of my studies on the background of the Bible.
Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament; William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard and Frederick William Bush; 1982 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; ISBN 0-9028-3556-2. Online prices vary around $30 US. It’s about as cheap as you’ll get for a graduate level text on OT History and related material.
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Alfred Edersheim. You can find it free online and some print editions are available; I have a PDF copy on my FTP server. Among other things, this is where you can find precise documentation from a converted rabbi on how the rabbinical schools circa 300 BC began buying into Hellenism.
Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible; ed. David Alexander and Pat Alexander; 1973 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; ISBN 0-8028-3436-1. Several editions and printings exist and they are cheap. It’s good stuff for a quick overview, with lovely charts showing timelines, feasts, weights and measures, coinage, etc.
You can read Josephus if you keep in mind that his work isn’t self-consistent and is loaded with hearsay. The point is to catch glimpse of a Hellenized rabbinical scholar of Jesus’ time.
Finally, for those of you learning to study the Bible heart-led, I discovered some time ago that I am not the only guy who can read an interlinear text of the Bible and absorb things that my mind doesn’t recognize until later. I won’t pretend to explain it, but when I prepare my study notes for posting and for publication in the Ancient Truth series, I spend time reading through the text in both Greek and Hebrew interlinear translations and it made a difference, particular with Hebrew. You have to remember that it reads right to left in the text, but even that seems to be part of triggering something deep in the human soul…
The Interlinear Bible; Jay P. Green, Sr.; 1986 2nd Edition is printed by Hendrickson Publishers; ISBN 0-913573-25-6. It’s expensive; I stumbled across a copy for sale in the foyer of a Charismatic church in Aachen, Germany and thought it was a good buy at $50 US. You might stumble across a used copy for as little as $35, but it’s not often, last time I checked. Beware that some editions are only the New Testament and I’ve seen it offered deceptively because demand is still pretty strong.
This might be a good start. Nothing beats a good solid course with someone who really knows this stuff, but this will help you decide if a bigger investment is worth it. As always, you need to consciously develop your own biases, because we all have them.