In March 2004 I had the honor to give the inaugural lectures in the Deichmann Annual Lecture Series at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beer-Sheva, Israel). Revised versions of these lectures form Chapters One through Four of this book. In response to requests from my Israeli colleagues, and with the encouragement of Eerdmans, I have also included several essays that originally appeared as articles in journals (Chapters Five through Eight) and that are directly relevant to the issues in view in the Deichmann lectures.
The annual lecture series at Ben-Gurion University, which I was privileged to inaugurate, forms part of the Deichmann Program for Jewish and Christian Literature of the Hellenistic-Roman Era, a project that owes much to the vision and generosity of Herr Dr. Heinz-Horst Deichmann. I am pleased that Herr Deichmann's opening address for the lecture series is included in this book (see appendix 1). The central aim includes promoting the academic study of the New Testament in Israel as an important historical resource for analysis of Jewish religion of the Roman period. I am pleased to have been invited to participate in the formative stages of the program, and I will watch with much interest the further developments. For both my wife and me, one of the additional pleasures of the time in Beer-Sheva was to make the acquaintance of Herr Deichmann and Frau Deichmann, who honored the lectures with their faithful attendance.
The lectures represented now by Chapters One through Four of this book were written originally for an audience made up largely of educated and interested people but who might well not have much acquaintance with either the early Christian texts or the approaches and conclusions of