The Jewish festival scrolls known as the Megillot is a collection of Old Testament books that recognize that life itself—with all its joys and griefs, successes and failures, achievements and yearnings—can be a key to interpreting Scripture.
In Reading the Megillot, Jeanette Mathews uses her own translations to reimagine each book as a different type of performance: Songs of Songs as a Greek play, Ruth as a miniseries, Lamentations as performance poetry, Ecclesiastes as a television talk show, and Esther as a pantomime. Each script is introduced with historical and literary context and followed by commentary highlighting performative features that shed new light on biblical traditions. These close readings reveal important connections between the books and contemporary issues. Through these scrolls, the drama of human experience becomes a touchpoint for faithful reenactment by new audiences.
In Reading the Megillot, Mathews extends the performance-critical lens she has previously applied to prophetic texts to now examine a collection of five diverse books from among the Ketuvim (“Writings”) of the Hebrew Bible. Mathews’s work highlights the artistry of composition inherent in the texts of the Megillot, demon- strating how reading them as performances can bring certain meanings and rhetorical devices to the fore. Discussions of the texts’ liturgical settings in various religious traditions as well as their resonance with the important social discourses of today reveal why these millennia-old books still demand our attention. Mathews’s skill as a philologist and vibrant re-imaginings of biblical texts work together to present innovative interpretations that are both accessible to students and lay readers and illuminating for experienced scholars.
—Dr. Rosanne Liebermann
Jeanette Mathews is well known for her creative application of insights from performance criticism when interpreting Hebrew Bible texts. This commentary on the five Megillot is no exception. Mathews consistently and skillfully read each of the five books from the perspective of performance criticism. She creatively translates each book as a “script” intended for aural performance. I have great appreciation for her focus on the five books’ liturgical importance in the Jewish festive calendar, the commentary on each book from the perspective of performance criticism, and the author’s grappling with the implications of these books (called “Connections”) for postmodern societal issues like gender based violence, xenophobia, inequality, and poverty. The book illustrates that ancient biblical texts speak to us today!
—Prof Gert T.M. Prinsloo
Department of Ancient and Modern Languages and Cultures
University of Pretoria
By viewing the Megillot through the lens of performance, Mathews builds a bridge for scholars and ordinary readers, clergy and lay people, performers and audiences to meet and explore these rich texts in both old and new ways. She synthesizes the best of scholarship on the ancient situation of the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; leads us to see how each is used in Jewish festivals; connects each to major life events of every human; proposes fresh ways to bring them to life for modern audiences; and draws us into the struggle for justice and peace in our world. A creative and engaging book worthy of close study. I’m going to try out her proposals for performing them!
—Peter S. Perry
Associate Affiliate Professor of New Testament
In this study of the five Megillot, Jeanette Mathews has reinvented the genre of biblical commentary. Her interpretation of the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther applies multiple hermeneutical perspectives, connects the texts with Jewish festivals and other cultic practices, and offers performance-sensitive translations that invite readers to become involved in the texts. Immensely informative and based on deep knowledge of a wide range of historical, religious, and literary issues, this volume equally speaks to graduate students, biblical scholars, and a general readership.
—Werner H. Kelber
Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner
Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies
Working with her own translations, Jeanette Mathews engages the oral world of biblical Hebrew and the performative nature of the Megillot. Her work is fresh, insightful, creative—and most importantly, accessible. Cast as performances, the five scrolls come alive under Mathews’s direction and readers will wonder at their own role in the story.
Professor Emerita of Religious Studies