I learned today that there is an illustrated version of the book of Genesis. Not that I’m going to rush out and buy a copy; I’m perfectly fine with not having pictures in my books, have been since I started reading Hardy Boys books in the third grade. I rather like forming my own images in my mind, and the images from my own reading of Genesis have been with me for many years. I don’t want anyone messing with that. When The Lord of the Rings exploded in popularity in the late 70’s, I remember browsing through an illustrated LOTR calendar and seeing someone else’s vision of the characters. When I read Tolkien’s trilogy again, those images had replaced my own and it took me a couple hundred pages before my own returned to me, and I decided I didn’t want that to happen again. (Some of you are probably wondering about my mental condition right about now. Well, what took you so long?) So I’m not going to be reading The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb.
It’s interesting that Crumb would undertake this project. Crumb founded the underground comics movement in the 60’s, and was as much a influence on the anti-establishment drugs and free-love hippie culture as Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Timothy Leary. He is best-known for his one-page “Keep on Truckin’” comic that was seen on t-shirts and posters in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Spiritually he says he’s an agnostic. “I don't doubt the existence of God, I just don't quite know what God is. It's a question that will challenge me until the day I die," he says in a U.S.A. Today interview last year. The project started off as a satire on Adam and Eve, but then he got an offer to do a larger take on the Bible. He largely used Jewish scholar Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis, with an assist from the King James, and he reportedly stays faithful to the biblical text.
But anyone hoping that it might lead Crow to spiritual enlightenment will be disappointed. "I got totally sick of it by the end of it. I've come out exhausted.”
Part of that is the content of Genesis itself. "To take this as a sacred text, or the word of God or something to live by, is kind of crazy. So much of it 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.”
Well, there’s no doubt that Genesis, taken alone, doesn’t seem very spiritual. There’s fighting and killing, rape and murder, incest and lust, and a story of widespread humanticide. Jacob cheats his older brother out of his birthright and blessing—with the help of his mother. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and lie to their grieving father. Pretty rough stuff.
But Genesis shouldn’t be taken alone. It was never intended as a stand-alone book. It’s the beginning of a long story, and while it contains hints of where the story is heading and how it will reach a climax, they are just that—hints. No good writer gives away their endings in the first chapter. No, first chapters set up the problem, and Genesis does that quite well, doesn’t it? As you move through the story, into chapters two through five, the problem is complicated even as solutions are offered. The middle of the story, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, brings it all to a head. The prophets give commentary on the story and provide further hints as to the climax, but the climax doesn’t come at the end of the Old Testament. The Old Testament ends on a cliff-hanger, pointing to a sequel that is in development but with no firm release date.
And then comes Jesus. He is the climax of the story; he changes everything. He comes into a world of violence and dies a violent death, but without resorting himself to violence. And with his resurrection he shows that his way is the only way, and that changes everything. No more violence from men toward women—no more rape, no more abuse, no more “I-own-you.” No more violence toward children—baby girls in particular were often killed in Roman culture as fathers desired boys and girls were seen as a burden. He condemned violence from kings toward their subjects, even as he condemned violent insurrection from subjects toward their rulers. He truly was the Prince of Peace, and his peace comes not at the tip of a sword but at the foot of a cross.
You can’t judge a book from the first chapter. Oh, and for you New Testament Christians, you can’t understand the climax and epilogue if you haven’t read the opening chapters, so spend some time reading through the Old Testament.
If you want to understand and appreciate the story, you have to read the whole story.