DOI: 10.3390/rel14091110 ISSN:

Shifting Gears or Splitting Hairs? Performance Criticism’s Object of Study

Zechariah Preston Eberhart
  • Religious studies

In keeping with the call of this Special Issue, this article is but one voice in the midst of a much broader conversation, attending to whether the differences between narrative and performance criticism are a matter of degree or kind. Narrative and biblical performance criticisms are natural bedfellows. The two appear genealogically related as they share similar founders, attend to similar features, and to a degree share similar interests with regard to interpretation. In fact, their interests appear to be so closely aligned at several points that attempts to distinguish between these two approaches run the risk of simply “splitting hairs”. Yet, our recognition of these distinctions is essential for highlighting the unique contribution of each approach. In what follows, I suggest that the differences between performance and narrative criticisms are rather (at least theoretically) a “shifting of gears”, a progression toward a more complex understanding of how biblical texts work in various contexts and how we as scholars may approach them as objects of study. While the object of study in narrative criticism is relatively well established (again, at least theoretically), this is not necessarily the case for performance criticism. In short, by way of contrast, I will suggest that for performance criticism, its object is similar to yet distinct from the object of study of narrative criticism. Such a claim is by no means groundbreaking, especially among the performance critics, nor should it necessarily be viewed as controversial. Rather, in exploring the contours of each approach, this contribution aims to provide additional theoretical credence to certain areas within this conversation. In doing so, this inadvertently has implications not only for our thinking in this particular volume, but also perhaps more broadly for biblical studies.

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