Friday, October 21, 2011

Alter and Crumb: Overthrow vs. Annihilate

Robert Crumb's interpretation of Genesis is unique in that it differs from most interpretations.  Most importantly, it differs from Robert Alter's version of Genesis.  Throughout Crumb's illustrations he words things strangely which ultimately effects its meaning.  He is known for translating Alter's version into his own.  He makes this obvious in chapter 19 which discusses the destruction cities of Sodom  and Gomorrah.
Overall, chapter 19 revolves around the annihilation and overthrow of these cities. In this chapter, God and Abraham enter the gates of Sodom and Gomorrah destroy the cities so that they could get rid of all that is bad in the world.  Although both authors have a universal depiction of what occurred, they still interpret this chapter differently in regards to their wording.
Specifically, they describe the destruction of the cities through two different words, annihilation and overthrow.  Alter uses overthrow throughout chapter 19.  For instance, he states, "And He overthrow all those cities and all the plain and all the inhabitants of the cities and what grew in the soil."(Alter 88) Overthrow means to overcome, takeover, or defeat. In his footnote he explains his reasoning for using overthrow.  He describes overthrow as being "the physical image presented by the Hebrew verb through the obvious sense of the word throughout the story is something like "destroy by sudden cataclysm"". This means that Alter views the destruction of the city as violent uproar and as a catastrophe. His portrayal of the destruction is more positive than Crumb's.
Instead of using overthrow Crumb uses annihilate. In example, He states "And He annihilated all those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew in the soil."(Crumb Chapter 19) This means to destroy or to reduce to nonexistence. When a city is wiped out, it is reduced to nothing. This interpretation is the most accurate because it describes the story as it exactly happened.  Moreover, this interpretation is the mostly widely used and accepted.
All in all, the two different interpretations have an extreme effect on the message of the story.  Alter described the cities as being overthrown and Crumb described the cities as being annihilated.  Although these are just words they have a deeper meaning.


  1. Overall, this is an interesting interpretation of the assignment. I like the compare and contrast of the same moment in chapter 19 with the two different words to describe the events. While the idea is good, it falls flat a little in the description and ends abruptly. If the body paragraphs were developed with a little more depth and explanation along with being coupled with a more cultivated conclusion, this paper would easily cross the line from good to great.

  2. Here's the prompt: "This one is simple and obvious on one level, but may be demanding to execute. As I did, for instance, with the story of Cain, identify one moment in his comic of Genesis where Crumb is clearly making a significant interpretation of his source text. First, explain what he is altering/adding/changing. While his images are the most obvious thing to focus upon, you might also (very carefully) choose a moment where he moves to a different translation than Alter's. Then, argue that this moment of interpretation has a larger significance to the work as a whole. "

    You *do* choose a moment where Crumb is doing something different from Alter. They use a different word; you show us what the word is, and what one meaning of each word is (formal definitions might have helped, but your use of Alter's footnote was productive, too).

    You *don't* do anything to show how/why Crumb is making this choice, or to show what larger significance this might have in the work as a whole. You end by claiming that although these words are "just words" they have a "deeper meaning". What, then, *is* the deeper meaning of the difference between the two?