By Frank E. Lockwood (religion writer)
Denzel Washington made headlines when he starred in a Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar. Now, he's appearing in a classic that's even older than William Shakespeare -- the Bible.
Washington is one of dozens of African-American stars who have teamed up to record The Bible Experience -- all 66 books stretching from Genesis to Revelations.
The Oscar-winning star of Glory and his wife, Pauletta Washington, recite the Song of Solomon.
Samuel L. Jackson (The Matrix, Star Wars, Snakes on a Plane) appears in the Gospels -- as God.
Forest Whitaker (Bird) plays Moses.
Blair Underwood (Sex and the City, Full Frontal) is Jesus.
Bishop T.D. Jakes (pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas) impersonates Abraham and the Holy Ghost.
Zondervan released the New Testament this month. The 19-CD recording, which features Today's New International Version of the Bible, retails for $49.99. The Old Testament is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2007.
The Bible Experience is one of two major projects coming out this month that targets the African-American Christian market.
The other is Color of the Cross -- a movie featuring a black Jesus -- which opens nationwide on Oct. 27. Twentieth Century Fox plans to release the film on video.
Color of the Cross, directed by Jean-Claude LaMarre, can't match The Bible Experience's star power.
The scriptural recording features Angela Bassett (as Esther) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (as Judas).
Eartha Kitt, Judge Greg Mathis and a Who's Who of gospel-music singers also add their voices.
Rev. Jacqueline White, pastor of Powerhouse Church of God in Lexington, says she's glad to see Hollywood stars using their cultural cachet to spread the gospel.
"I think it's a great idea," White said. "They reach a clientele that a lot of pastors would never reach."
Rev. T.H. Peoples Jr., pastor of Lexington's Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, says it's good to portray Jesus without fair skin and fine cheek bones.
"The error we've made in the Christian community is portraying Jesus as a white Caucasian," Peoples said. "These people were not white. They were not black. They were brown."
A picture of a brown-skinned Jesus "can be just as holy," Peoples said, noting that Christ's true image is a mystery. "No picture you paint of him is accurate because there were no cameras. There were no artists painting pictures."
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