The Talmud is notoriously intimidating to approach, but this initial intimidation should not scare you from approaching the Talmud. There are two compelling reasons why one should not be completely steered away from the Talmud. First there is the universal utility of method. Second there are, at least, four valuable resources that I can recommend to the new student.
The universal utility of method
First, it must be stressed that the Talmud can be approached in a similar manner to nearly any other book. That is, it can be approached with basic questions concerning historical analysis (i.e. when was it written, what group of people is responsible for compiling it, etc.) it can also be approached with literary analysis (i.e., genre, subgenre, function). In addition, one can apply careful exegetical analysis (i.e. grammatical, semantic, and rhetorical analysis). The bottom line is the Talmud can be read both critically and creatively. That is, ultimately the goal of the Talmud is to provide an instruction in the practice of Mosaic Law.Four valuable resources for studying the Talmud
Second, there are some valuable resources out there for your benefit. I will recommend for resources to get one started. It must be stressed that the resources help orient the reader with regard to the material content of the Talmud. That is, they apprise the reader to unfamiliar concepts and content that may otherwise allude, however the methods used for studying Talmud consist of the basic analytical devices used for any piece of historical literature (i.e. historical, literary, and exegetical).
The first resource I would recommend is The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Talmud by Rabbi Aaron. This certainly is not the most comprehensive introduction of there; however it certainly is a quick and dirty introduction. He quickly orients the reader to some basic facts and hot topics. He also provides a handy reference guide of a list of rabbis who appeared throughout the Talmud. Although I would admonishes the reader to be careful with some of this author's handling of hot topics surrounding the Talmud. He speaks about some hot topics and quickly gives his opinion as if it were the consensus among all contemporary scholars; however he fails to cite his support for his opinion. I suppose one should expect too much out of this book, but it is useful nevertheless.
The second resource I would recommend is The Invitation to the Talmud by Jacob Neusner. This is an interesting study that brings the reader into the world of the Talmud without really showing how he or she got there. The book is basically a step-by-step study of one passage within the Talmud. It is fascinating to watch Neusner work through the Talmud by starting with the Mishna and moving to the Tosefta and on through the
The third resource I would recommend is Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concept of the Talmud by Solomon Schechter. This book is an extremely hopeful manual on basic rabbinical theological concepts. This classic work was written in 1909, but has yet to be outdone by successive scholar. This compendium is ideal for the Christian student who is quite familiar with the Tanak from a Christian perspective. Solomon Schechter enables the student to set aside some Christian preprogrammed presuppositions such as the concept of original sin, positive imputation, etc. this book is highly recommended.
The fourth resource I would recommend is Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Harry L. Strack and George Stemberger. This classic study has been continually updated to me that present demands of the rabbinical student. This volume will provide a more comprehensive introduction than The Complete Idiots Guide. In addition, it will prove to be more reliable than The Invitation to the Talmud. This volume will help familiarize the new student with the content and structure of the Talmud. In addition, the updated bibliography will prove beneficial to anyone seeking out further secondary research materials.Conclusion
The new student should not be intimidated by the overwhelming size of the Talmud. The reason is because the Talmud is a body of literature that can be study using the same methods that are applied to any other body of literature. This should not minimize the uniqueness of the content; however the content should not and does not exclusively inform one's method. In addition, the new student should not be overwhelmed by the content because there are many great resources available to apprise the reader as he begins the task of studying.
 Aaron Parry, The Guide to the Talmud, (
 Jacob Neusner, The Invitation to the Talmud: A Teaching Book, Revised and Expanded, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1984)
 Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud, (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998)
 Harry L. Strack and George Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, translated by Markus Bochmuel, (Edinburgh, T & T Clark Publishers, 1991)