The 'Good Book' gets up to speed
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:53 p.m.
It's called the "Good Book." But is the Bible a good book as in a riveting, can't-put-down page-turner? Many - with eyes nervously scanning the sky - might argue no.
To most people, the perennial bestseller is a moral must-read. It's just not a gut-stirring one. Recently, however, some innovative minds have challenged the view that the Bible is a stuffy, dispassionate tome.
A wide range of presentations of the Bible have emerged as technology, multimedia and dry wit have been used to revamp one of the most influential and widely quoted texts in the world. The results range from the dramatic to the astute to the downright wacky.
"We are going back to the future," said Dr. Robert Hodgson, dean of the Nida Institute for biblical scholarship at the American Bible Society in Manhattan. "The Bible has always been a multimedia product or a product that is adapted to meet the different needs of many people."
Hodgson said passages from the Bible were illustrated in the catacombs of ancient Rome, performed in the passion plays depicting the death and Resurrection of Christ in medieval Europe and displayed in stone cathedrals around the world.
"Now," he adds. "It's on movie screens, iPods and audio CDs."
A celebrity-studded, 18-disk audio CD Bible, "The Bible Experience: New Testament," was released in October and, according to its publisher, it has outsold every audio CD Bible that the company ever produced.
A series, "Blogging the Bible," by David Plotz, a deputy editor of the Web magazine Slate, has prompted nearly 7,000 e-mails from readers, according to the author.
A pocket-sized MP3 player, called the GoBible, that contains the King James and New King James versions of the Bible and is searchable by verse, was created and is being sold by Manhattan entrepreneur Andrew Block.
A new movie, "The Nativity Story," from New Line Cinema, tells the story about the birth of Christ; it was released in time for the holiday season.
A Web site and book series, called the Brick Testament, illustrates biblical stories by using LEGO bricks.
Comic books, novels, and you bet, PC computer games, are also on the market. Can a sitcom be far behind?
The numerous interpretations are not surprising. The text remains one of the most popular books in America.
More than 90 percent of American households have at least one Bible, according to Zondervan, a publishing company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., that estimates many families are looking to buy more.
Despite those sales, statistics show a wide gap between owning and reading the Bible. About 20 percent of respondents read the Bible daily, according to a 2005 survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for Newsweek.
At the same time, sales of the "Good Book" easily clear $1 billion annually.
Written versions of the Bible have always abounded - the two most popular being the near 400-year-old King James version and the more contemporary New International version.
Four years ago, Kyle Bowser, a former television executive and attorney, said his goal was to listen to the entire Bible.
"I bought an audio one," he said. "And came away disappointed. It was very boring."
So Bowser teamed up with new media executive Ron Belk, music producer Louis Brown and casting director Robi Reed to create their own production company. That company, Inspired by Media Group of Beverly Hills, Calif., then hooked up with Zondervan to create an audio CD, "The Bible Experience: New Testament," featuring an star-studded, all-black cast, that was released in October.
The 21-hour, multimillion-dollar production, featuring music and state-of-the-art sound effects, includes the voices of Denzel Washington as King Solomon, Blair Underwood as Jesus, and Samuel L. Jackson as God. Other cast members include Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr. and more than 250 singers, clergy and actors and athletes.
"Every ear shall hear," said Belk, quoting the Bible itself. "This generation is focused on sight and sound; it is bombarded with imagery. And we felt we had to make a product relevant to them." "The Bible Experience: New Testament" sold more than 100,000 copies within six weeks after its release, said Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher for Bibles at Zondervan.
The company's previous bestselling audio Bible -- a New International version -- sold 60,000 copies last year.
"Experience" has ranked consistently high on the Amazon.com and Wal-Mart Web sites and is the fastest-selling audio Bible, according to Family Christian Stores, a Michigan-based retail chain.
"Sales have just been mind-boggling," Caminiti said.
An Old Testament version of "Experience" is due out next spring.
Slate.com's Plotz describes a similar experience for his project. He began his "Blogging the Bible" effort in May, offering wry insights into the Bible. His postings - hilarious, and maybe blasphemous depending on how humorless you are - have attracted a rapt and loyal audience.
"You'd think God would know exactly what he's doing, but he doesn't," Plotz posted about God in Genesis, Chapter I. "He's a tinkerer."
And in Exodus, Chapter I, he noted: This book "begins with a population crisis. Jacob's descendants have multiplied and prospered in Egypt, and the land was filled with them."
Plotz, who said he grew up reading the Bible, realized that he didn't know it all when as a teen he came across the rape of Dinah after skimming through a Bible during a bar mitzvah.
His interest in the Bible continued as an adult, so much so that he pitched the project to his boss.
The popularity of his blog has led to a recent book deal with HarperCollins.
"When I first started the project, I expected to be damned to hell by a lot of people," said Plotz, who estimates that his blog is about 100,000 words.
"But that hasn't happened. Americans are very open-minded about religions, and they want to be engaged. They want to be able to joke and ask dumb questions. They want to look at it in a fresh way."
Bringing Biblical stories to life
The Bible and its many stories are taking on many new looks. A sampling:
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