Audience Participation in First-Century Performances

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


Oral performances of written texts were a common feature in the Greek and Roman world of the first-century CE. Poetry and prose writings were orally delivered by trained lectors in public as well as in private settings. The various performances were affected by commonly held conventions of delivery (as described by e.g. Whitney Shiner, Proclaiming the Gospel, and William David Shiell, Reading Acts). An essential part of these conventions were the active participation of the audience.

Most analyses of audience participation in antiquity focus on statements found in the rhetorical treatises (e.g. Kathy Maxwell, Hearing Between the Lines). This paper turns instead to letters and literature of a less theoretical character (e.g. lectures and essays by Plutarch and letters by Pliny the Younger and Cicero). With the help of these accounts it moves beyond the conclusions drawn by Shiner and Shiell and finds evidence and examples of commonly held conventions about audience participation.

This paper presents some of the conventions of audience participation found in the first century CE. It shows that these conventions were influenced by public performances of popular lecturers, an increasingly common phenomenon in the first centuries BCE and CE. As a result, audience participation included a lively interaction with the performer that focused on much-favored features of popular performances, such as style, phrasing, and gestures. The final section of the paper examines how these conventions affected oral performances of New Testament writings, especially with regards to sections containing moral teaching.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Religious Studies


  • Performance, Orality, New Testament, Lector
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012
Publication categoryResearch
EventSociety for Biblical Literature Annual Meeting 2012 - Chicago
Duration: 2012 Nov 172012 Nov 20


ConferenceSociety for Biblical Literature Annual Meeting 2012

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: New Testament Studies (015017052)