So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb


I have tried unsuccessfully to read the bible cover-to-cover many times, often starting with a hotel room's Gideon bible. Genesis is very difficult for me to read and I have never before gotten through it. So it was with some hesitation I spent almost $30 on this edition.

Robert Crumb illustrations are excellent throughout. His approach is straightforward with "no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes." He uses the King James Version and a recent Robert Alter translation as his sources, did a lot of research and consulted scholars to make sure his illustrations and words were faithfully rendered. He does not attempt to sanctify the book either. One strength of this book is its neutrality. Another is how Crumb has captured our collective unconscious in his images for this book. Peter Poplaski and Roger Katan provide him with visual imagery from Hollywood epics, the Middle East, and other sources.

While never straying from the text, Crumb has a commentary on each chapter at the end of the book revealing his own research on the text that inspired and informed his artwork. To get background for the chapters on Sarah and Rebekah he used Savina Teubal's book Sarah The Priestess (1984). Crumb also looked at the writings of neighboring Sumer to find parallel stories to those he was illustrating.

What comes clear to me in this first successful reading of Genesis is that it is a compilation of stories that had been written by diverse hands over a long period of time. Crumb says that Genesis was put together from pre-existing documents by Israelite priests in the 6th century B.C.E. This is a very good attempt to look at this ancient text and worth a read by any open minded person interested in the story.

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