A Review by Amir Eitan

of Twice Used Songs: Performance Criticism of the Songs of Ancient Israel by Terry and William J. Doan

twice_used_songsFrom the review:

To sum up, this is an important book that paves the way of performance criticism into the study of the Old Testament. Still, in order to understand its innovation, the reader must alter one’s default approach on how texts were used in the ancient world. In other words, one cannot understand the performative nature of the Old Testament without the ability to identify materials with the potential of immediacy, such as those of Twice Used Songs. In this respect, the fact that the authors refer to the performance audience both as readers and as listeners is rather unexpected. Reading is a distant and solitary action that cannot achieve the response a storyteller is hoping for; there is no reading community in the ancient world. Performance criticism offers a paradigmatic shift, and its proponents must insist and maintain that the texts were experienced aurally.

Read the full review.

Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome

(Oxford University Press, 2009)

William A. Johnson (with Hold N Parker)


ancient_literacies_book.jpg Classicists have been slow to take advantage of the important advances in the way that literacy is viewed in other disciplines (including in particular cognitive psychology, socio-linguistics, and socio-anthropology). On the other hand, historians of literacy continue to rely on outdated work by classicists (mostly from the 1960's and 1970's) and have little access to the current reexamination of the ancient evidence. This timely volume attempts to formulate new interesting ways of talking about the entire concept of literacy in the ancient world--literacy not in the sense of whether 10% or 30% of people in the ancient world could read or write, but in the sense of text-oriented events embedded in a particular socio-cultural context. The volume is intended as a forum in which selected leading scholars rethink from the ground up how students of classical antiquity might best approach the question of literacy in the past, and how that investigation might materially intersect with changes in the way that literacy is now viewed in other disciplines. The result will give readers new ways of thinking about specific elements of "literacy" in antiquity, such as the nature of personal libraries, or what it means to be a bookseller in antiquity; new constructionist questions, such as what constitutes reading communities and how they fashion themselves; new takes on the public sphere, such as how literacy intersects with commercialism, or with the use of public spaces, or with the construction of civic identity; new essentialist questions, such as what "book" and "reading" signify in antiquity, why literate cultures develop, or why literate cultures matter. The book derives from a conference (a Semple Symposium held in Cincinnati in April 2006) and includes new work from the most outstanding scholars of literacy in antiquity (e.g., Simon Goldhill, Joseph Farrell, Peter White, and Rosalind Thomas).

Jesaja 40-48

by U. Berges

Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament, Freiburg and others: Herder 2008 (esp. p. 64-73)

Parts of the so-called prophet II-Isaiah (Is 40-55) are certainly part of the most often performed pieces of biblical literature, consider alone the many quotations in Handel’s “Messiah”. The inherently dramatic character of this work in antiquity and the matter’s long reaching scholarship history may, however, have escaped many modern scholars in biblical performance criticism. This first half-volume of the new Herder commentary series, written by Ulrich Berges, Muenster, offers an erudite summary on more than twenty scholarly contributions on Isaiah 40-55 that all focus on this prophecy’s dramatic character. Berges evaluates contributions that begin with the myth-and-ritual scholarship of J. H. Eaton, Festal Drama, 1979 and that lead until discussions about dramatic interpretations of II-Isaiah early in this century. Berges himself refers to Isaiah 40-55 as “dramatic” in the sense of a literary category, not as an on stage event.