From Adam to Joseph: R. Crumb’s ‘Genesis’ imagines all 50 chapters

Over at, Jeet Heer has thoughtfully engaged The Book of Genesis Illustrated, due in mid-October, from illustrator/satirist/critic R. Crumb.

Though commonly pegged an underground comic-book artist, Crumb has proven wide-ranging, durable, and influential. Genesis, Heer writes, is

far more ambitious than Crumb’s previous adaptations, which tended to be only a few pages long. This time, he has tackled a sizable text, all fifty chapters of Genesis, omitting very little (such as “and Bethuel,” on the scholarly grounds that these two words were added by a scribal interloper). The completeness of this version is important, because, as Crumb rightly complains, every other comics adaptation seems to have been streamlined and modernized, often to make the shocking old stories palatable to readers, especially kids….

Crumb describes his adaptation as being “literal,” a rather loaded word in biblical circles. The idea takes many forms: There is the literalism of the fundamentalist, convinced that the Bible is the inerrant and inspired word of God, but there is also the literalism of modern scholars and translators, who use archaeology and philology to uncover what the words in this ancient text meant. In striving to be literal, Crumb has leaned heavily on Robert Alter’s 2004 translation, which hews to the Hebrew text. Yet in his attempt to mimic the syntax and formal diction of biblical Hebrew, Alter occasionally sounds stilted. Crumb has in some instances wisely rewritten him or reverted to earlier translations in the interest of fluency. Alter’s Jacob rhetorically asks his wife, Rachel, “Am I instead of God, Who has denied you fruit of the womb?” Crumb’s Jacob talks more plainly: “So, then, it’s me, not God, who has denied you fruit of the womb!?” The exclamation mark is a nice touch, in keeping with Crumb’s tendency to use the exaggerated effects of the cartooning tradition (such as the sweat drops that issue profusely from his characters whenever they exert themselves).

As usual, Crumb’s open sexual- and body-politics are on display here, as is an awareness of the emotional subtext of the Book of Genesis.

When God tells Noah that divine justice demands the destruction of almost all life on earth, the poor farmer is aghast. In chapter 35, Jacob calls on the members of his household to cleanse themselves and destroy their idols. The text is silent about their reactions, but Crumb shows the women of the family quietly crying as they hand over their beloved objects.

Complete review at (registration required).

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