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Audio Bibles and famous voices

It’s still making use of the Bible. Only, this time around, it’s studying the Bible in an audio format. You can pick your favorite all-star cast and translation and listen in by CD or MP3.

In today’s marketplace, there are literally hundreds of recognized actors whose vocal talents are featured in CD-packaged sets of dramatic audio performances of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.

It’s a matter of choice for the consumer in selecting his or her preferred Bible translation, including Today’s New International Version, the New King James Version, and even the International Children’s Bible.

Personal choice

“Selecting an audio bible depends on the individual,” says Gil Rock, who works in the Bible Department of Hackman’s Bible Book Store in Whitehall Township.

Rock says the variety ranges from full-drama productions with sound effects, to straightforward, single-voice readings minus any effects.

“Some people prefer not to be distracted in their listening, especially if they’re following along with the Bible,” Rock says.

Youth Pastor Steve Liebsack of Washington Assembly of God says if his youth group is involved in the study of a particular passage from the Bible, very often some members will make their own recording of Scripture using a computer.

“An audio bible is a good tool as long as it’s used as a tool,” Liebsack says. “It takes more concentration to read the Bible, which should be your main source.”

Rock says a steady seller among the audio bibles sold at Hackman’s is “The Bible Experience,” which was released by Zondervan Publishers about three years ago. It’s a 70-hour, full-drama production with an all-African-American cast of 80 reading, singing and performing background music for both the Old and New Testaments.

All-star voices

“The Bible Experience” is contemporary in its use of Today’s New International Version of the Bible with such recognizable voices as Blair Underwood, Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington.

It’s a fine line between drama and the Bible, says Carl Amari, producer of “The Word of Promise Next Generation New Testament Audio Bible” released by Thomas Nelson Publishing in November.

The 24 hours of audio drama on 20 CDs features an all-star cast of young actors directed by John Kirby. Actors include Cody Linley, Sean Astin, Jordin Sparks, Corbin Bleu and Alyson Stoner.

“You have to be careful in dramatizing the Bible,” Amari says.

“For our project, we hired script writers who were two priests, and theologians at Thomas Nelson. It was long and tedious making it like a movie script for the actors but it’s word-to-word from the Bible, using the International Children’s Bible version.”

Amari says more and more kids are turning away from the Bible. That’s why he was passionate about doing a youth version and trying to reach out to the next generation.

Actress Alyson Stoner, 15, who stars as the Disney Channel’s Caitlyn Geller on “Camp Rock” and as the voice of Isabella Garcia-Shapiro in the animated series, “Phineas and Ferb,” portrays Martha on the audio project.

Stoner is among Hollywood’s promising young stars who want to serve as positive role models for their peers. She calls the “Word of Promise” project “one of absolute truth” and hopes it will translate the Bible into ‘tween speak’ for her young fans.

“Once they’ve heard it, I hope they would choose to obey it,” she says.

Amari also is the producer of the adult version of “The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible” in the New King James Version, which was released first and features a cast led by actors Jim Caviezel, Marisa Tomei and Louis Gossett Jr.

Amari says he was a “TV junkie growing up with ‘Batman’ and the ‘Wild, Wild West.’” At 12, he says he heard his first radio drama — an episode of “Suspense” with Cary Grant — and was “enamored” with the format.

As the father of three children ages 13, 10 and 6, Amari says it was his desire to help his own children understand God’s word. Since radio shows of the past impacted him as a youth, he considered the impact that the stories and messages of Scripture could have on young lives when presented in the format of those old-time shows.

“I grew up loving the Bible,” Amari says. “I always dreamed of doing what Orson Welles did with ‘War of the Worlds.’ When the subject of kids came up with Thomas Nelson, I wanted to apply that same principle and try to reach out to young people.”

Amari says he’s now involved in the “Word of Promise Old Testament” project planned for an October release. It will include actors Richard Dreyfus, Gary Sinese, Jon Voight, Max von Snydow, Malcolm MacDowell and Joan Allen.

That comes from a man who carries the whole New Testament on his iPod.

Susan Kalan is arts & entertainment editor for The Express-Times. She can be reached at 610-25… or by e-mail at skalan@express-times.com

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The New Testament in CD and MP3 formats will be in retail outlets — secular and Christian, storefront and online — by Fall. The Old Testament follows in 2007. Price: $29.99
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