by Karen Strand Winslow and Vondria Bergen
One of the happiest developments on the publishing scene in the last decade is the great flourishing of audio books. This is a boon to lovers of the Bible in particular, coming at a time when scholars are increasingly emphasizing the oral dimensions of Scripture. Inspired By … The Bible Experience, produced by Inspired Media and published by Zondervan, is a fully dramatized audio recording of the Bible by 400 readers, including 200 celebrities. One of the fastest selling new Bibles on the market, it was named the 2007 Audio Book of the Year by the Audio Publishers Association.
A live performance based on this audio book— The Bible Experience Live: A Celebration of the Human Spirit (BEL)—was brought to Azusa Pacific University, 35 miles east of Los Angeles, on Mar 5th, 2008 to inspire the APU community and friends, while raising scholarship funds for future students. The performance was the culmination of the university's annual Common Day of Learning (CDL), a day all classes were cancelled to permit the community to focus together on this year's theme, Walk in Wisdom. Reinforcing CDL's wisdom theme, BEL highlighted the wise women of Proverbs, the beloved woman of Song of Songs, the quarrelling mothers and the Queen of Sheba whose stories are told in the context of the early reign of Solomon, as well as including dramatic reenactments of the story of Hannah, the birth and death of Christ, the woman at the well, and Paul's letter to Philemon.
The narrator for the evening was Matt Gibson. Paulette Washington was the very live, much beloved maiden of the Song of Songs. Denzel, her husband, had been taped reading the part of her lover. Phil Morris (who played Kramer's attorney on Seinfeld) was a bedecked—and believable—Solomon and an imprisoned—and inspiring—apostle Paul. Video presentations included the Acts 2 sermon by Peter, read with fire by Kirk Franklin, and Jesus on the cross, re–enacted with passion by Blair Underwood.
Not all of the outstanding performances of the evening were given by the professionals. Sheer joy exuded from the APU choir as they sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to accompany the trek of a live donkey with a dark–skinned Mary and Joseph, punctuated only by the wails of a newborn baby. They followed a flurry of white–clad and silver–winged dancing angels and a scruffy shepherd—a tenor—singing "I wonder as I wander." Another robust delight was an APU diva's rendition of "Good News Bad," again with the university's spirited backup choir, directed by Rod Cathey. University football players from the Pacific Islands announced the arrival the Queen of Sheba with howls and shrieks as they carried her to Solomon's court on their massive shoulders.
The live performance—which may be coming to a site near you—and the audio book both provide an experience of biblical traditions resembling that of the earliest faith communities, for whom family performance, public readings, and songs in the Temple were the primary vehicles for Scripture. Narratives, laws, and oracles were transmitted by word of mouth before, during, and after writing became another way to preserve the Bible's texts through the ages. Their purpose was to build faith in the God of Israel, a living God for living people, and to create a people of God who knew the salvation and holiness of the LORD. The orality of the BEL production allows us to hear the mothers of Israel, the fathers, the prophets, the kings, the peasant women, like the woman who came to the well in Samaria, the apostles, and letter–writers, who people the Bible. Most of all, it helps us hear the voice of God who uses the voices, hands, and feet of many cooperative human partners to incarnate the word of hope and life to his children throughout the ages and across every land.
Karen Strand Winslow is professor of biblical studies and director of the Free Methodist Center in the Haggard Graduate School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University. Vondria Bergen is an actress whose credits include a one–woman show, "Women of the Bible," featured during APU's 2008 Common Day of Learning.
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