The Bible as a Comic Book
The Book of Genesis — Illustrated by R. Crumb
I found this book to be an easy to read version of The Book of Genesis. The artist’s interpretation of the various scenes and characters were well rendered.
R. Crumb is a talented but notorious underground comic creator. He was famous for his “Keep on Truckin” imagery and Fritz the Cat. ‘Zap Comix’ and the publication ‘Weirdo’ are two comics that featured his work.
The release of this book of the Bible in comic form was initially viewed with suspicion as his work was generally seen as counter-culture and he is an agnostic.
This version of The Book of Genesis is not a satire but a straight illustration in Crumb’s signature style. He has interpreted the King James Version of the Bible in this book. The book made the New York Times graphic novel best seller list as well as the Amazon Christian books list.
Crumb depicts the characters in a realistic style but remains honest to the story instead of shocking the reader with exaggerated images. Genesis in a comic form makes it more accessible to readers who would not otherwise try to read it, although some feel that it offers only a simplistic view of the stories.
God as the Protagonist?
If you consider that God is implied in each story in Genesis, He would be considered one of the main characters, but Abraham is the main human character, so I would consider him to be the protagonist.
During the course of the story, God changes from a personal father figure who is looking for a special person to bring God to the people, to a less personal, more mysterious God.
He chooses flawed people to be His special partners but then judges the rest of the flawed people harshly, making Him seem vengeful and somewhat arbitrary.
One of the things that surprised me when rereading the Book of Genesis was that humans somehow appeared to live for hundreds of years. Analysis of archaeological evidence shows that most people lived short lives; rarely did anyone live to 50 years old.
How do we explain the difference? A study of Sumerian king lists reveals that months were sometimes used to count life spans. It doesn’t completely explain the discrepancy, but indicates that historical stories don’t translate literally sometimes.
Genesis is from the Greek word for Origin.
The book of Genesis begins with the creation of the world, and the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It continues with stories of early historical times. Most of the stories are about God striving to teach mankind to obey Him and to live in harmony according to His rules.
The main themes revolve around good and evil, the two opposing forces that are reflected in stories such as Cain and Abel. There are other opposites as well, including light and darkness, work and rest, day and night, male and female.
Throughout the book, opposite forces or conflicting duality reflects the struggle to keep your faith without knowing the outcome. Joseph and Jacob each struggle to overcome their own challenges while Rachel and Leah strive for Jacobs affections: Joseph falls into slavery and then rises within Egyptian society: the Israélites leave Egypt to follow Moses into an unknown situation in the desert.
There are three sections to Genesis: The first chapters cover the creation stories through to Abraham, the middle section is mainly Abraham’s life and all of the lessons and struggles that occur as he follows God’s directions. The third section repeats the lessons of good vs. evil and reinforces the concept that true faith is achieved through struggle against adversity.
This book was written during a time when the people (Israélites) were often semi-nomadic and pastoral, which is a lifestyle which focuses on hunting and gathering as they travelled. Their large tribes included their family members, their livestock and slaves. They often lived in tents so they could move to the best grazing with the seasons. In a semi-nomadic, pastoral people, the main focus is on family and the larger group or tribe because that larger group decided how to share food and protect one another. Each member of the group would depend on other members and work would be divided according to set rules, usually there was a gender hierarchy, with males being dominant.
The social system was patriarchal, where the male is the head of the family and the family line is traced through the male lineage. This is apparent in several sections of Genesis. In the story of Adam and Eve, Eve is created from his rib as a helper to Adam, which implies that she is secondary to him. Her actions are interpreted as a message that man should not trust women and they should not trust each other. When Lot’s daughters have sex with him, it might be interpreted that they were willing to commit incest in order to ensure that his lineage was preserved.
Genesis is mainly a story of the sons, not the daughters. The men are clearly more important, although there are several exceptions when the story is about managing the household, particularly the servants.
I enjoyed this book as I was reminded of stories I was taught as a child, stories which I left behind many years ago. It was interesting to revisit them and see how some of the lessons could apply to current times.
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