Singing Moses' Song: A Performance-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy’s Song of Moses

Stone, Keith A

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016

Find the review by Don C. Benjamin in the RBL 12/2017 that reads in part:

“Stone explains how his work with performance criticism contrasts with previous scholarship on the genre of the Song of Moses (Deut 32:1–43). … he argues that the intention of performances in Mediterranean cultures is not simply to remind actors and audiences of something that happened in the past but to allow actors and their audiences to participate in the experiences they recount—creating and re-creating their cultural identity…”


“Stone’s creative use of theater studies to better understand Deuteronomy prompted me to think of some unexplored aspects of performance criticism as well as research in other disciplines…”

“In Singing Moses’s Song: A Performance-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy’s Song of Moses, Stone offers a refreshingly [sic.] look at aspects of just how storytelling functions in ancient Mediterranean cultures. Performance criticism places a clear emphasis on biblical traditions as oral, rather than written…”

Description: How does performing affect those who perform? Starting from observation of the intergenerational tradition of performing the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32.1–43), Keith Stone explores ways in which the Song contributes to Deuteronomy’s educational program through the dynamics of reenactment that operate in traditions of performance. Performers of the Song are transformed as they reenact not only characters within the Song but also those who came before them in the history of the Song’s performance―particularly YHWH and Moses, whom Deuteronomy depicts as that tradition’s founders. In support of this thesis, Stone provides a close reading of the text of the Song as preserved in Deuteronomy and as informed by the account of its origins and subsequent history. He examines how the persona of the performer interacts with these reenacted personas in the moment of performance. He also argues that the various composers of Deuteronomy themselves participated in the tradition of performing the Song, citing examples throughout the book in which certain elements originally found in the Song have been adopted, elaborated, acted out, or simply mimicked.