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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Book Shelf

Audio

April 12, 1998|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN FLYNN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No surprise if the Bible is on your mind this week, with Passover and Easter occurring almost simultaneously. What may be a surprise, however, are the stories in "The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible," by Jonathan Kirsch (Audio Literature, abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, three hours, $17.95, read by Candace Barrett and Raye Birk).

These are tales of sex, incest, violence, scandal, seduction and rape--explicit material you probably won't want to play during family Bible study. It is extremely lively. According to the author, these are stories that have been suppressed or misinterpreted. They are translated into an earthy vernacular, though the language is never bawdy or profane.

In the title tale about Tamar and Judah, a wronged daughter-in-law uses her wiles and her body to secure her rightful place in society. In another story, we visit Sodom and Gomorrah, which is not nearly as fascinating as the fate of Lot's family after they escape their damned hometown.

The stories were left fairly intact, but only a small portion of the printed book made it to audio. More of this unadorned and fascinating social history of biblical times would have been welcomed. The listener is also left without the notes and references from the original book.

The material is presented enthusiastically by the readers. One performs the tale, followed by the other, who provides a more sedate interpretation.

*

More food for thought is found in "Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography," by Roger Shattuck (Audio Renaissance, abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, three hours, $16.95, read by Geoffrey Howard).

Shattuck's introduction tosses out the notion that some knowledge may be too powerful for our good. This covers much ground, from Adam and Eve and Milton to the Marquis de Sade and more modern examples, such as the atomic bomb and genetic science. There is nothing dry about the subject or the research backing up Shattuck's analysis. So intriguing and intelligently presented is the subject matter, the listener may be surprised at how quickly this unwinds.

But while the material is listener-friendly, it takes a few minutes to warm up to the narrator. He reminds one of the actor Tim Curry--well-rounded, well-trained tones, refined British accent and somewhat over the top. Not that Howard is incapable; he is simply a bit much. He does, however, grow on you.

*

More scholarly but still mainstream enough to intrigue is "The Devil," by Peter Stanford (Audio Renaissance, abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, three hours, $16.95, read by Geoffrey Howard). Definitive and unauthorized, as far as we can know, this follows Satan's appearance and career from several ancient cultures--Roman, Greek, Persian and Jewish.

The Bible, as well as other holy and ancient texts, figures greatly, as this is as much a social history as a bio of Beelzebub. The abridgment, which was done with great care, is more than acceptable. Howard's narration differs little from that in "Forbidden Knowledge." The production values are quite wonderful. Both of these Audio Renaissance recorded books begin and end with rich musical interludes, but the choices for this audio especially helped to set the tone.

*

Audio Scholar is a small company that specializes in reducing and recording scholarly material, such as "A History of Heaven," by Jeffrey Burton Russell (abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, three hours, $17.95, read by Simon Vance. Available in stores or by calling [800] 282-1225).

This is for serious scholars and those who wish to expand their knowledge of biblical studies. It is presented without embellishment.

The material is well-researched by Russell, author of 15 books and professor of history and religious studies at UC Santa Barbara. It is also ably abridged, leaving the core of the material preserved. However, anyone not extremely interested in this historical account of the idea of heaven will probably find it extremely dull.

*

Rochelle O'Gorman Flynn reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Margo Kaufman on mysteries.

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