Underpinned by extensive research and deep understanding of the material, Hugh Lupton gave us a powerful, unsanitised telling of stories from The Old Testament, all of them interwoven with song lyrics from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. From a folktale explaining how the swallow’s tail came to be, why snakes eat frogs and why mosquitoes make a buzzing sound to a wondertale of one of King Solomon’s adventures and the myths of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, Job, these stories were brought to life by Hugh’s succinct, poetic storytelling.
Stories are a way of understanding and making sense of the world or life and Hugh’s treatment of this material restored these stories to us as a prism through which to reflect on current times.
The contexts in which we usually experience these stories, often mean we’re being told not only how to interpret the stories, but also told them as an absolute. The experience Hugh gave us, set these stories free and released us to hear them afresh and make our own interpretations.
Many themes including trespass, fear, repentance, penance and forgiveness, transformation and healing threaded through the tales and left the listeners with much to ponder. The lyrics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen blended seamlessly with these tales drawn from the three Abrahamic traditions.
The evening brought to mind folktales and myths from other traditions including Hindu, Greek and Roman.
Relevant to our times, the conflict created between the brothers Esau and Jacob in the story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel was entirely avoidable, it would only have taken their parents to have chosen a different path and shared the inheritance equally between them, instead of sticking to divisive traditions. It feels as if societies nationally and internationally have the same choices to make – are we going to continue with our old habits or find some different, and hopefully better, ways to live?
The inversions in the story were also noticeable for example the story followed the brother who had “stolen” the birthright of his twin, and it was his transformation that was witnessed. In most stories like this, it would usually be the wronged sibling’s journey that we would follow.
The story of Job was about a dialogue between God and the Devil where they were both equally happy to experiment on Job to prove their point, equally uncaring of him, which reminded me of a number of stories and myths. The strength of Job was in his knowledge that he hadn’t done anything to invite the calamities visited on him, despite his friends’ insistence to the contrary. Job is able to search his heart and know that he has no wrongs to atone for and by steadfastly standing by the truth, eventually, he is restored, though he must be a different man after all he has experienced.
Hugh mentioned, that in the Islamic version of the story, Job is told to strike his heel on the ground and when he does so, a fountain of water springs up and as Job steps out of the water, he is healed.