Northwestern theatre professor publishes book on biblical plays

Northwestern College theatre professor Jeff Barker has published his fourth book, “Performing the Plays of the Bible: Seven Ancient Scripts and Our Journey to Return Them to the Stage,” which is available from in both Kindle and paperback formats.

Barker wrote the book with Dr. Thomas Boogaart, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Barker met Boogaart while on sabbatical in 2002. Boogaart had recently written an essay, “Drama and the Sacred,” in which he argued that there are plays in the Old Testament.

“I was so stunned by the essay,” says Barker, reflecting on how he and Boogaart began conversing about their collaboration. After sabbatical, Barker returned to Northwestern and began working with the college’s drama team again. “If God wrote plays, we ought to be performing them,” Barker recalls telling his students.

Driven by the idea to bring the biblical plays to Northwestern’s stage, Barker compiled and directed several productions, including “And God Said,” “David and Goliath,” “Terror Texts,” “Joseph and His Brothers,” “Jonah and the Giant Fish” and dozens of shorter plays, often using translations by Boogaart.

The recently published book is a result of 18 years of Barker and Boogaart’s collaboration. “Our desire through this project is to invite other scholars—both biblical and theatre artists—to reclaim the ancient Hebrew dramas,” says Barker.

“Each chapter in the book includes a new translation of the biblical text formatted as a dramatic script, staging notes, reflections on the cultural and theological contexts, and video links of performances of each play,” notes the book’s description on Amazon.

Among the seven plays—verbatim from Scripture—explored in Barker and Boogaart’s book are “Eve’s Two Sons” from Genesis 4, “Sarah Laughs” from Genesis 18, “The Binding of Isaac” from Genesis 22 and “The Sword of Goliath” from 1 Samuel 17.

“When you see these plays performed, you become so grateful for the Bible,” says Barker, who has been a professor of theatre and worship arts at Northwestern for 32 years.