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When God speaks.

The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible by Allen Dwight Callahan Yale University Press, October 2006 $30, ISBN 0-300-10936-9

"And the Word was God." The oft-quoted scripture from John 1:1 is the entry point to Callahan's lengthy but engaging illustration of the fluid, transcendental and eternal power of the Bible. According to Callahan's research, it was the word, literally, that entered the hearts of enslaved Africans, aurally, long before literacy of the new language in the new world was acquired.

Borrowing the trope of The Talking Book from literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., and naming four enduring biblical images--Exile, Exodus, Ethiopia and Emmanuel--Callahan assembles an impressive collection of just how the "talking book" has, indeed, talked to revolutionaries, activists, scholars, artists, preachers and everyday people to ignite entire movements from slave insurrections to the Million Man March.

The book has--in this reviewer's opinion--three weaknesses: One: At times, Callahan diverges from the crux of the topic through considerable efforts to contextualize his major points. Two: A scholarly knowledge of biblical scholarship, African American history and literature seems essential to follow the points that Callahan doesn't fully explain. And three: Hip-hop receives cursory treatment for which there are probably many reasons, such as the author's limited research in the area.

An academic audience would be most appreciative of the book. Yet it is a worthy song of Zion in a strange land.

--Reviewed by Alvelyn J. Sanders Alvelyn J. Sanders is a frequent contributor to Black Issues Book Review.
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Author:Sanders, Alvelyn J.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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