S24-333 Performance Criticism of Biblical and Other Ancient Texts

11/24/2013 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Room: 341 - Convention Center

Theme: Performance and Its Consequences

Lee Johnson, East Carolina University, Presiding

Shamir Yona, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Two Types of Anaphora in Biblical Literature (30 min)

Jeanette Mathews, Charles Sturt University Performance Features Embedded in Prophetic Texts (30 min)

Kelly R. Iverson, Baylor University The Present Tense of Performance: Reimagining Time in the Gospel Traditions (30 min)


The concept of time has rarely, if ever, been a focal point of scholarly discussion in biblical studies. No doubt, this is due to the seemingly mundane nature of the discussion, as well as the perceived insignificance of the concept for interpretation. However, as Augustine once quipped, time is a trivial matter “as long as no one asks.” Given this lacuna in the scholarly literature, this paper explores the concept of time in the gospels, with particular attention to the function of time within the framework of oral performance and Luke’s passion narrative. This paper argues that, despite being a neglected feature in the gospels, time functions in an entirely different capacity when appreciated in oral/aural performance.

Stephen D. Black, Vancouver School of Theology Performing Mark in the Context of the Early Jesus Movement (30 min)


The Gospel of Mark emerged in a dominantly oral culture where such texts were performed and not read silently. What did these performances look like? Because we do not have direct access to first-century performances, we cannot offer categorical answers. Nevertheless, with the help of ancient texts that speak about the art of performance, scholars have offered tentative reconstructions. For example, Whitney Shiner, delving into such ancient authorities as Tacitus, Dio Chrysostom, Quintilian, Pliny the Younger, and Plato, has suggested a possible style of performance for Mark. The limitation of this approach, I will argue, is that it does not take the Jewish roots of the Jesus movement seriously enough. While these Hellenistic forces undoubtedly influenced the early Jesus movement, I will argue that Jewish performance practices are more of a primary influence. Because Mark was, in large part, patterned after the Elijah-Elisha cycles, it is only logical to assume that both Mark and the Elijah-Elisha cycle would have been performed in similar ways. If we can determine how the Elijah-Elisha cycles were performed, then we might have a sense of how Mark was performed. While there are less sources relating to Jewish performance compared to Hellenistic performance, there are nevertheless some hints that can be exploited. Looking to the DSS, Philo, Josephus, Luke and Paul, I will create a sketch of what early Jewish (and early Christian) performances might have looked like. From this, I will argue that a performance of Mark would have likely been quite a bit less extravagant from what scholars such as Shiner have suggested.

Nicholas A. Elder, Marquette University Questions, Audience Inclusion, and Identity Formation in the Performance of Mark's Gospel (30 min)


One of the founding and unique contributions of performance criticism to the field of biblical exegesis is its recognition of the dynamic relationship that exists between performer and audience—a relationship that is minimized in interpretive methodologies that are inherently literary in nature. Practitioners of performance criticism have recently demonstrated that the ‘homeostatic balance’ and ‘oral synthesis’ created between the performer and the audience ought to bear heavily on, and strongly affect, interpretations. While direct audience address has been considered an effective rhetorical tool within this homeostatic balance, the rhetorical value of questions in the performance of biblical texts has been left unexplored.

This dearth of studies related to question asking and answering within the performance of the gospels is symptomatic of a lacuna in the field of biblical studies at-large, and gospel studies in particular. Propositions have held more ‘epistemological value’ than questions have in modern interpretations because of an inherent typographic bias. This paper, then, addresses this bias and argues that questions serve an essential rhetorical and performative function in the gospel of Mark. Rather than simply ‘moving the narrative along,’ questions often function as direct address, keeping the audience’s attention while shaping their formation of characters’ identities; the audience is summoned to judge the characters in the performance based on the kinds of questions they ask and answer (or don’t answer.) The audience is also invited to supply their own answers to questions posed in Mark’s performance.

Exegeting questions asked and answered by the Judean leaders, the disciples, and Jesus, the paper demonstrates that as the audience supplies their own answers, they distance themselves from the characters that do not properly understand Jesus’s identity as ‘Son of God.’ However, at crucial points in the performance, questions also function to catch the audience off-guard and cause them to reassess their assumptions about the gospel’s characters and their own answers to those questions. This is precisely what happens in Mark 8, where the audience, for the first time, strongly identifies with the disciples’ answer to a question. However, with the disciples, the audience finds themselves rebuked as ‘Satan;’ this serves as an encouragement for the audience to reassess and learn what it means for Jesus to be ‘Son of God.’ Only towards the end of the performance, at the height of the passion narrative in 14.63-64, can the question be readdressed by the High Priest. It is only under the circumstances of suffering and crucifixion that the audience truly comprehends Jesus’s identification as ‘Son of God.’ In this way, questions also serve a strong educative effect in the performance of Mark’s gospel.