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January 30, 2010 | By More

R. Crumb has recently released his illustrated “The Book of Genesis.”?? Caveat for parents of small children: No visual detail is left out.?? As Crumb indicates on the book cover, “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.”img_1972

Crumb used the actual words from commonly used translations of the Bible, and simply interpreted what was going on, illustrating each passage with a cartoon-like drawing–the book is filled with many hundreds of drawings, quite a few of them explicit in their sexuality and in their violence.? Crumb worked hard to show the expressions you might expect on Bible characters facing the situations they allegedly faced.? Notice, for example, the expression on Noah’s face (in the thumbnail at right), when hearing God disclose His genocidal intentions.

Crumb is a well-known artist and illustrator, “critical, satirical, subversive view of the American mainstream.”

Reading Crumb’s book makes me wonder whether Crumb is being sincere or coy in his claim that it was not his intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.??There’s a hint in Crumb’s Introduction:? “If my visual, literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis offends or outrages some readers, which seems? inevitable considering img_1971that the text is revered by many people, all I can say in my defense is that I approached this as a straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.? That said, I know that you can’t please everybody.”

In an interview published by USA Today, he gives more hints, but nothing definitive.? Consider this:? “So much of [the Bible] makes no sense. To think of all the fighting and killing that’s gone on over this book, it just became to me a colossal absurdity. That’s probably the most profound moment I’ve had — the absurdity of it all.”? But also consider another Crumb quote from the same article:? “[The Bible] seems indeed to be an inspired work.” My suspicion is that Crumb is at his subversive best in writing drawing The Book of Genesis, and that the commentary he offers in his book is his attempt at plausible deniability. Just my suspicion, based upon my belief that the best counter-argument to “inerrancy” is to encourage people to actually read the Biblical text, combined with the fact that illustrating Genesis will make it more likely to be read by many people, especially teen-agers and young adults.

Crumb’s book fascinates me. I read/viewed a big chunk of it today, and wondered whether any folks who believed that the Bible is inerrant would dare have their young kids read this version, even though its text matches commonly used translations and even though the drawings fairly match the text. There’s an awful lot of senseless sex and violence in the Bible, which is even harder to ignore in Crumb’s edition than in the versions of the Bible that lack drawings. But ignore these parts many religious folks do. Most Believers with whom I’ve spoken freely admit that they cherry pick when they read the Bible. Statistics bear out that great numbers of Believers fail to read the Bible carefully.

At bottom, Crumb’s work seems accurate, perhaps too accurate, to be recommended to members of most congregations, but it’s a fascinating thought experiment to imagine a preacher conveying such graphic details of the Book that irritates me mostly to the extent that it is considered inerrant. After all, if the Bible is really inerrant (or even if it is only somewhat inspired), and if it’s authored by the Creator of the Universe, why would anyone skimp on any of the the inconvenient details?


Category: Art, Cartoons, Culture, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Shelby Sherman says:

    Erich, I'm glad that you are enjoying the book. I think that you can see that the enthusiasm I exhibited over the book was justified. Crumb makes it unnecessary for the reader to rely on his or her mind's eye, with graphic but totally representative and accurate illustrations of the horrors that are in the first book of the Bible. I wonder how the apologists are going to handle this hot potato?

  2. Ebonmuse says:

    I've read most of this book now, and I think that it's a superb piece of work. A huge amount of effort clearly went into creating this – and if it seems to ridicule the Bible, well, that's just because the Bible so often ridicules itself through the absurdity, bad morals, and senseless violence of its text.

    I really do think that a straight-up visual depiction of all the events in the Bible, even without critical editorial commentary, would be more than enough to make most people realize just how bloody and bizarre a text it truly is. I'd love to see it if R. Crumb plans to do Exodus next.

  3. A believer friend of mine made a very good point about this comic. He thinks it is inappropriate for children in the same way that hard-core X-rated videos would not be appropriate as sex education.

    You might allow a pre-teen to read about how to use a condom, but would you use an explicit illustration as demonstration?

  4. What he is saying is that a verbal description of something is a very different animal from a visual depiction and is perceived differently.

    Even though I have no love for that book, I think he has a point. The way words and images work on our brain are very different from each other. Words can be abstract in way that drawing and photos can not.

    Am I defending the violence and sex of the bible? Far from it. But I think that Crumb is being disingenuous when he says this is an accurate, straightforward depiction because, even though it technically is, he knows that his drawings will emphasize things that believers feel to be secondary to the ultimate point of the stories.

  5. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Of course its true that words and pictures can be interpreted differently, but I'm not sure that Crumb was being disingenuous here.

    Mike says "he [Crumb] knows that his drawings will emphasize things that believers feel to be secondary to the ultimate point of the stories."

    But that's exactly the point! Believers tend to gloss over the brutality, sexuality, and violence that is in the Bible. Graphic depictions of this sort force the contradictions into one's consciousness, which is the whole goal. How can a god of peace and love be so callous? The "ultimate point" may be one of redemption or whatever, but the means don't justify the ends, right?

    In the same manner, if your teen was not grasping the concept of condom usage by reading about it, might it not be useful to demonstrate its usage in some other manner? Even the inserts that come in boxes of condoms usually have a diagram of usage instructions. The goal is to promote a full understanding of how to use them safely and effectively. A illustrated bible has a similar goal: promoting a full understanding of the absurdity, contradictions, and violence in the "good book". Crumb's whole goal is to awaken believers to those contradictions, and he highlights those contradictions by being faithful to the written word.

  6. Erika Price says:

    I think it's a great project, particularly because it raises issues about the bible, standards of public decency, and believers themselves. I see no clear-cut answer as to what is 'right' or 'wrong' about this adaptation, because so many factors play into it. On all this I think we can agree:

    -The bible contains gore, rape, and abuse of the worst order.

    -Many people hold the bible as the most sacred and important of texts.

    -Many of those people have no familiarity with the bible.

    -Many of those people (and others) would find the content of the bible deplorable, were it contained elsewhere.

    I'd like to posit an additional point or two:

    -The bible, albeit vile in content, describes many common human practices of which all adults (and many children) should be aware. The world (and esp. the Biblical World) is a violent, desperate, twisted place.

    -Literature (which the bible strains to be) should have free license to describe real-world happenings, and not be assumed to be endorsing such happenings.

    Of course, when God explicitly does these wicked things it presents a whole separate kettle of fish.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    It makes a hell of a lot of difference in communicating the message to use readily accessible imagery. /bc5/2010/02/03/using

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    "'Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible,' Jenkins says. Jenkins is a professor at Penn State University and author of two books dealing with the issue."