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.”
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 that 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?