DES MOINES, Iowa – Don't expect to hear these Bible stories at church.
Cannibalism, rape, a bear that mauls children — this is the Bible?
They're among six stories from the Old Testament acted out in "Terror Texts," a musical at Northwestern College in Orange City.
Adding to the shocking nature of the stories are the theatrics, with actors decked out in Goth attire, a rock band and a mosh pit.
Theater professor Jeff Barker said the obscurity of the stories belies their value.
"We believe we have discovered something that has been lying dormant for many, many centuries," said Barker, who created and directs "Terror Texts."
The musical was first performed at the 1,200 student Christian college in northwest Iowa in February and came back for an encore this fall, with a last performance slated for this weekend.
Barker uses the King James version of the Bible, and actors speak each verse word-by-word. It is not an interpretation or adaptation, like "Godspell" or "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"There's tremendous power waiting when you simply speak and act these stories aloud with faithfulness to the text, not trying to adapt them or add a lot of bits, but just simply play what's written there," Barker said.
Barker views the Bible as a "repository of ancient plays," and when performed they can be seen in a whole new light — even the dark stories.
"I was looking for terror text, stories I can say are thematically tied together because they are frightening and mysterious and terrifying," Barker said. "That's part of what we're saying with this whole project that life and God himself are mysteries."
William Dyrness, a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., specializes in visual arts in relation to religious tradition.
He said biblical scholars have proposed that much of the Old Testament is poetry and was designed to be sung, especially in the temple as part of worship.
"It's not far from that to think of it as a play," he said. "Theologians have argued the best way to understand the Bible is in terms of it being a great dramatic performance."
He called "Terror Text" a creative variation of that idea.
"This is obviously a very Protestant approach where you're attempting to understand this story so that you can see the way the Bible applies to your life," he said. "You carry it on in your life. You become part of the story."
Student Hannah McBride has several roles in the performance, including as a virgin who gets kidnapped at the end of a story of rape, murder and war. McBride said it has shown her something about herself.
"This particular project has affected the way I view negative emotions — grief, anger, bitterness and spite and hate. We are meant to be emotional people. The Bible in a lot of ways shows us that that's OK," she said. "We need to embrace that we're going to be very, very sad and we won't know what to do with that."
In her role as a virgin, McBride wears a wedding dress that has been destroyed. She describes her look as a "corpse bride."
"It has that image of what could have been great, I ruined," she said.
In a world in which religion often is practiced privately or individually, Barker said he hopes people will understand the Bible better through his performance.
"These mysterious, dark stories of the Old Testament, they bring us face-to-face with the suffering of the world," Barker said. "It says we are capable of great evil and we must not forget these stories and we have some serious things to be accountable for in our own lives as a group and individually."