When the New Testament was read publicly, what effect did the performances have on the audience? In Delivering from Memory, William Shiell argues that these performances shaped early Christian paideia among communities of active, engaged listeners.
Using Greco-Roman rhetorical conventions, Shiell's groundbreaking study suggests that lectors delivered from memory without memorizing the text verbatim and audiences listened with their memories in a collaborative process with the performer. The text functioned as a starting place for emotion, paraphrase, correction, and instruction. In the process, the performances trained and shaped the character of the reader and the formation of the audience. The lector's performance functioned as a mirror for the audience to examine themselves as children of God.
These conventions shaped the ways lectors performed Jesus. Just as the New Testament reflects many titles for Jesus, so the canonical form of the Gospels offers many ways Jesus was performed in the ancient world. By interpreting through the eyes of performance, we join a conversation that has existed since the formative stages of the Christian movement. By performing with the ancient audience, we shape the character of reader and audience through the emotions, rhetorical figures, and memories in the text. We raise new questions about audiences in the ancient world and interpret stories through the ears of performance.