Biblical Performance Criticism: Performance as Research

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore the New Testament as performance literature. Recent scholarship has brought to the fore the importance of interpreting the New Testament in the context of the oral cultures of the first century. This leads us to ask about the oral/performance dynamics of the “writings” now in the New Testament canon. The paper is comprised of three parts. Part 1 offers some reasons why the New Testament writings, if they are to be appropriately interpreted in their original oral context, must be treated as performance literature. Part 2 outlines performance criticism as a methodology for this task—constructing first-century scenarios of performance as a context for interpretation, reorienting and expanding methodological approaches to the New Testament as oral literature, and employing contemporary performance as a research tool. Part 3 represents the bulk of the paper, laying out in detail the idea of performance as research, arguing that what we can learn from contemporary performances may help us interpret the New Testament writings in the context of the oral cultures of the first century.

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