Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crumb's interpretation of Abraham - Ben Carlson

Interpretations of the Bible are made frequently in church settings and from perspectives outside of the church. Crumb was an atheist man who probably didn’t hear many interpretations of the text in Genesis. There is one chapter where I think his interpretation of what happens in the text is far from what was intended and he is trying to get that point across. In chapter 22 I feel that Crumb has the wrong interpretation of the text. He portrays Abraham with a very evil expression when charged with the task of sacrificing his son. He seemed very shocked that God would ask him to stop in his task and save his son only to sacrifice a ram that was caught in the nearby thicket [Crumb].

I think that it is a wrongful interpretation because of the mindset that Abraham has to go through in preparation to sacrifice his son. There are several events in Genesis that lead me to the conclusion that Abraham is willing but sad about the task at hand, not determined, angry, and evil. He is a man of old age that has been waiting for a long time to have a son, someone
to carry on his legacy, and to take his inheritance. Without any sons the inheritance that Abraham had amassed in his life up until the time of his death would have gone to one of his servants and not someone that he has a relation with.

Abraham was a man full of doubts, but he remembered what God had promised him earlier in his life. God made a covenant with Abraham that he would be made into a great nation and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky [Alter 73]. I think that having remembered this and being proven wrong before that Abraham and Sarah could have a child in their old age, Abraham began to doubt God less. No matter what happened to his son, Abraham was promised to be made to a great nation and knew that God would provide for him another son or by other means.

Abraham thinks more than this however because he knows that the covenant with God would not be made through Ishmael, he knew that somehow his son would be all right and his word lends to it on page 104 of Alter’s translation. “And Abraham said to his lads, ‘sit you here with the donkey and let me and the lad walk ahead and let us worship and return to you’” [Alter
104]. This text could be taken two different ways, Abraham is lying to his people and telling them that Isaac will come back with him so that the people will not stop him in his effort to sacrifice his son to God, or it can be taken that Abraham truly believes that God will provide and his son will come back with him to Abraham’s servants.

Abraham has no reason to lie to his people before leaving, there are other ways of saying that they were going to worship, he could have very easily said “We are going to worship, please stay here with the donkey”. The fact that he included the part about both of them coming back is completely irrelevant to the task he gave to them. This argument doesn’t make sense to me because the lying is unnecessary to what Abraham is going to do.

Abraham knows that God will provide and he even says it to Isaac on their way up the mountain. On page 105 of the text in Alter’s translation Abraham expresses this to Isaac and he accepts it. I think Crumb had the correct portrayal of Isaac in this chapter. While Isaac may have been willing to comply with his dad, he is seen crying and I cannot think of any reason why he wouldn't be. His dad is about to kill him while he is bound on an altar.

Abraham had to be willing to sacrifice his son and I believe he would have done it if it wasn’t for God stopping him. This much would make him sad, the son that he was promised for so long, the son that he waited his whole life for, and the son that he thought would be the key in having descendants as numerous as the stars, was going to die by his hands. This isn’t something that would cause him to have such an evil expression, if I was Abraham in this case I would be crying more than Isaac at the prospect and question what it was that God wants more than we are told he did. Abraham’s portrayal does not seem correct to me at all in the illustrated version that Crumb provides us with and it reads heavily between the lines that the Bible provides.

1 comment:

  1. The good: I think your reading of Alter's text is detailed and thoughtful, and I don't have any complaints on this count. You clearly recognize that to succeed when reading a difficult text, you need to think hard about the relevant details, which you do.

    The bad: What's your argument? The Crumb is making a mistake? While it's not crazy to suggest that Crumb makes a mistake, it would be better to push farther. Why does he make the mistake, or what does the mistake mean? You begin with the suggestion that Crumb is an atheist (is he? He opens the book by claiming that he doesn't believe that the Bible is the word of God - but that's not the same as saying that God doesn't exist. It's not even similar. Now, you may know more than I do about Crumb's beliefs. If so, excellent - but cite them.).

    The ugly: Your claim that Crumb is wrong is based 100% around the claim the Abraham has an evil expression on his face. I think I see why you say that - his face is set, with neither smile nor frown, and his eyes are wide. I don't agree with your reading, though. To me, the sweat on his forehead indicates stress, desperation; his unclenched left hand touches his son with love, even as he raises the cleaver with the right hand. He is a mass of contradiction.

    Is my "reading" right? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that you're making a big, important claim based on an image - but then you don't explore the image to show us what would defend your claim that A has an evil look, or what might contradict it. Your argument *hinges* around the evil look - so you absolutely need to handle these details as well as you handle the details of Alter's text.