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In the Beginning: The Book of Genesis - Walter Wangerin Jr (Audio CD)

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Author: Walter Wangerin Jr / Genre: Children's Books / Religion / Narrator: Walter Wangerin Jr

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      23.09.2007 14:50
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      Released by Zondervan (2002).

      This release from American Christian media group Zondervan is a complete unabridged reading of the Book of Genesis, taken from the larger collection of the complete NIV audio Bible (New International Version). Performed by a fairly small cast of American voice actors and narrators accompanied by some very limited sound effects and a constant stream of background music, this isn’t as extravagant or high-budget as the more recent ‘Inspired by the Bible Experience’ selection starring Samuel L. Jackson amongst others, but serves a similar function; a complete and authentic reading of Genesis that misses out none of the boring stuff whatsoever. This Genesis extract is accompanied by very selective releases of other books from the Bible such as a couple of the Gospels, while the rest can only be experienced from buying the full set – presumably, these are the Bible’s ‘greatest hits’ and it was appropriate to release them as three-hour singles.

      Genesis spans a considerable span of time, from the creation of the universe through to following the individual domestic happenings of Abraham and his descendants, and the common New International Version released in the mid-twentieth century seeks to eliminate some of the discrepancies and archaisms of the famous King James translation that had been in perplexingly common use since the early seventeenth century. Thus, oft-quoted passages are replaced with more easily understandable (if less impressive) modern sentences, and there is a commendable and allegedly well-researched approach to the definitive pronunciation of names. Genesis purports to be factual to the extent that precise numbers and names are thrown at the listener with tedious regularity, the audio format making it difficult to keep track or make any real sense of these figures without the printed page, and these intermission sections between the events are clearly the low point from an entertainment point of view. The main noticeable trend is for the declining lifespan of humans from impressive numbers approaching one thousand in the early years to a more modest (but frequently broken) one hundred and twenty year limit imposed by God after rebooting the human race from the sons and daughters of Noah.

      God is the only real protagonist of the story, as the only character to span the whole time frame. It’s quite interesting to see his change and learning curve over the course of this book, particularly as the figure has always been presented as infallible in Christian education; here, the Bible’s writers (whoever they may be) present him as quite human, learning from his actions and prone to frustration, resentment and forgetfulness. There are some obvious inconsistencies with his character in regards to a lack of foreknowledge and the ability for disappointment (the argument being, ‘surely he would already know everything that’s going to happen, ever?’) that readers and scholars have attempted to explain through conceits like the ‘paradox of the fortunate fall,’ but this doesn’t really work, and it should just be forgiven as a sign of simpler times before science fiction introduced these predestination paradoxes and such to the regular lexicon. It wouldn’t really make any sense for God to be planting all these cunning traps and watching gleefully as gullible humans fall for them with no freedom of choice, and it’s much more satisfying to read/hear the character’s real disappointment when it happens.

      The perception of a vengeful Old Testament God is seen throughout this early book as God cares for a very small and local group of followers while paying little attention to the other races of the world, and delivers threatening messages to them whenever his people are passing through potentially hostile territory. God’s anger is clearly best displayed in his eradication of the entire world’s population of humans and animals (save one ark) with the devastating flood as he admits to himself, “I am grieved that I have made them.” After the crisis is over and Noah’s children are ready to re-populate the land, God admits that his actions were a little rash and he promises to never again do such a thing to humans, “even though their every inclination is evil.” His attention thereafter is rather more focused, and unlike his modest son from much later on in the Bible stories, he demands a fair amount of recognition in the form of sacrifices and loyalty, though the old trickster is still present when he witnesses the grandiose Tower of Babel and decides “come, let us confuse their language.” There’s also quite a nice, if repetitive scene in which God explains his intention to kill the entire population of Sodom unless Abraham is able to find fifty good people there, and Abraham haggles him down as far as ten, demonstrating the value of a human life and giving his Lord something to think about.

      The stories are all very well-known, though some more than others, and their popularity is roughly proportional to their level of interest. The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, and Joseph in Egypt form the bulk of the narrative in that order, but for anyone who went through a mostly Christian school education (or failing that, watched Tony Robinson’s early 90s Bible stories TV series ‘Blood and Honey’) it’s nice to fit these familiar stories into their proper context. Of course, despite its apparent immortality, this book really does show its age in terms of attitudes, particularly towards women who are frequently treated as objects of barter between men for the birth of children, and who are commonly portrayed as liars in contrast to their more noble husbands. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah also very plainly demonstrates God’s attitude towards homosexuality, while modern readers will probably need some time to adjust to the general values and economy of the time period to properly understand what’s going on.

      Walter Wangerin Jr. narrates this story with the required authoritarian and slightly deep voice, but his lack of variation fails to make the intermediary lineage sections any more interesting than they would be on the page. The voice actors used for all instances of speech are fairly typical and as expected, all being American and of rather mediocre talent, and there’s a very plain difference between the wizened, kindly old man playing Abraham and the nasal, snivelly weed playing Joseph’s murderous brother. God himself is performed in an echoed film trailer voice-over style that caused me no end of amusement. There are, as stated, a couple of instances of sound effects, but these are kept to a minimum and pushed heavily to the background to avoid encroaching on the story: notable instances include the creaking and storm effects of the Noah story, the blazing destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the farmyard noises of Pharaoh’s dream, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that these are mainly found towards the beginning and end of the recording rather than the less notable centre, where the whole thing tends to slump somewhat. The ever-present music follows a similar path, beginning with numerous variations appropriate to each shifting trend of the Eden story, before seeming to settle on a basic piano or violin melody for the remaining two and a half hours. It provides quite a pleasant background, but there are a number of times that it accidentally jars with what’s being said.

      The Bible is much less widely read today than it used to be, and experiencing this considerable ‘extract’ of the entire first book makes it fairly clear why. The stories themselves are all entertaining, and mostly suitable for modern standards, but their precise chronological arrangement doesn’t add an awful lot to the briefer and more enjoyable alternative of reading narrative versions in a children’s book of Bible stories, and even the narrator Wangerin seems to concur, having published a novelisation of the Book of Paul. I enjoy the laziness of lying down and listening to an audio book, but the unabridged Bible doesn’t provide the most suitable audio material, though I’m sure religious readers will clearly gain a lot more from it. The acting, music and sound effects will probably prove too distracting for those interested in a pure reading, and not exciting enough for those used to the higher standards of the ‘Inspired by the Bible’ series, making this dramatisation of Genesis slightly weak when taken on its own merits. As the first part of the larger NIV audio Bible series it would probably be more impressive, but I couldn’t sit through that.

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    • Product Details

      Award-winning author and storyteller Walter Wangerin, Jr., introduces you to this dramatized audio edition of the book of Genesis. Beautifully orchestrated and engineered using the most advanced recording technology, In the Beginning is more than a book of the Bible you listen to.