The Book of Genesis - Robert Crumb How to review The Book of Genesis, the first book of the holiest scriptures of two of the world’s great monotheist religions, and honored by its third?

Well, I’m not. Not directly, at any rate. For believers the text is so weighted with allegory and prefigurations of future events that to look at it as a piece of literature or art is very nearly blasphemy. At the least, it’s of decidedly secondary importance to the book’s theological significance. And to nonbelievers, they just shake their heads at the absurdities or hold it in the same respect they might the Greek or Indian myths.

As an apostate Catholic, I’ve always enjoyed Genesis as a source for those fringe movements (like Theosophy or Zecharia Sitchin) that see Atlantis and ETs manipulating humans for their own ends. That and for the historical/anthropological insights the stories give on the ancient Middle East.

So does R. Crumb’s illustrated version add anything to the long tradition of biblical interpretation? I would say “yes.”

In a period where people are increasingly reliant on visual and aural cues as opposed to the straight texts my generation and earlier ones were raised on, Crumb brings these tired, old scriptures to life. Even the notorious “begats” come off the page vividly. For example, in Chapter 5 (which recounts the descendants of Seth) each generation is illustrated with a picture of family life – Enosh sitting on Seth’s lap as the family enjoys a meal; Enosh walking with Kenan and a wife or daughter; Kenan teaching his sons about plant lore; Mahalalel and his wives and daughters bathing Jared; Jared toiling in the fields with Enoch; Enoch stargazing with Methuselah; and Methusaleh nearly leaping for joy at the birth of Lamech. There are similar, subtle touches throughout the book – In Chapter 38, there’s a panel showing Judah playing the old finger-pulling game with the infant Er, one of his sons. And a bit later, when Judah sees Tamar sitting by the side of the road dressed as a harlot, he and one of his shepherds nudge elbows and leer, “heh, heh, heh.”

Crumb also lets the text speak for itself – there are no moralizing subheads only chapter divisions, and only a minimum of footnoting, most of which explains the meanings of Hebrew names (e.g., “Succoth” = “sheds”). At the back there is an idiosyncratic commentary where Crumb offers his opinions about passages that particularly intrigued him but they’re not required reading and take up only 8 pages.

For me, what comes across is a marvelously illustrated version of the Hebrew origin myth. Stripped of its religious baggage, there’s little here to interest anyone but the historian/archaeologist/anthropologist/mythologist. Certainly there’re no moral guidelines offered, nor any social ones that I’d care to emulate - do I want to worship a god of such volatile humors and ill temper (e.g., the Flood) or live in a world where women are burned for extramarital sex (e.g., Tamar)? But it does make Genesis readable to a whole new generation.