Monday, October 13, 2014

Abraham's Selfish Daughters

In chapter 19, Abraham is dwelling in a cave with his two daughters after the burning of the cities of the plain. The older daughter said to the younger…"Our father is old, and there is no man on earth to come to bed with us like the way of all the world!” They decide to give their father wine to get him drunk. Then, they sleep with him to keep their father’s lineage alive. The older one sleeps with him first and Abraham doesn’t know what happens or who she is. The next night, the younger daughter does the same. The two daughters end up conceiving children. The older has a son named, Moab, and the younger has a son named, Ben-Ammi. I think this is a section in which Crumb is making a significant interpretation of his source text, the Bible.
Focusing on the illustrations, I feel that they contradict the true meaning that is supposed to be taken from the text. God destroys the cities and Abraham’s daughters are in fear. They are dwelling in a cave and to them, I’m sure the world seems as if it is ending. They are worrying about the future of their family and do it for the sake of keeping the lineage alive. It should be seen as a loyal and faithful act. However, Crumb’s illustrations depict the situation as a crude and selfish one. The faces of the two daughters aren’t ones of fear, even though their cities just burned and they are forced to live in a cave. As they are feeding wine down their father’s throat, they are seen grinning widely. The younger one can also be seen lying in front of her father in a seductive position. Suggestive grins are also seen in the proceeding images. On the other hand, Abraham, although drunk, is seen as miserable looking. He is old and wary. The last image in the chapter shows the daughters shooting with bows and arrows with their sons. They are standing proudly and confidently, looking happy. On the very left side Abraham can be seen sitting in a hunched position. His clothes are battered and he looks tired. There are bones scattered around him. It can be presumed that his daughters and his grandsons are ignoring him and even eating all of the food, only leaving him scraps.
I believe Crumb is suggesting that Abraham’s daughters are parading around their father for the pure reason of wanting sons. Abraham is old, tired and living in a cave. He is being “taken advantage of” and his daughters don’t even seem to care, although during these biblical times they knew nothing about incest and all of the moral and social implication of it. They do what they do for selfish reasons rather than doing it for the sake of the lineage. Therefore, the images clearly contradict the text, “let’s lie with him so that we may keep alive seed from our father.” Although Genesis is definitely a crude depiction of the biblical story, I find this section to be especially strange. Crumb could have illustrated the sexual encounters in a way that hides the obscene gestures, but he decides to show them graphically and explicitly. It doesn’t seem to match up with the words that are shown with the images.
The contradiction has a larger meaning to Genesis. I believe it connects back to Crumb saying this illustration of the Bible is “the words of men” rather than “the words of God.” This gives reality to the story and this reality can be seen in the images between Abraham and his daughters. In the Bible world, their actions are seen as loyal and positive. In reality, if bearing a son was an extremely important aspect of life, I think that women would take extreme measures in order to do so. I feel this is why Crumb decides to depict the images in this way. He wants to show that the story is “of man” rather than the scriptural version most Bible readers have imprinted in their minds. On the previous pages, the cities of the plain are being rained by fire. Horror, death and terror in the images gave reality to the story. These destructive acts are not usually associated with God and his scriptural works.  However, by Crumb illustrating the characters in realistic detail, it shows that man rather than spiritual characters are conducting the acts.


  1. I like your interpretation of Crumb's drawings as making the acts seem selfish. I think you could expand on the idea of the how Lot is being taken advantage of (or at least how Crumb illustrates it to seem that way); does this happen anywhere else in The Book of Genesis? I think you could form a stronger thesis sentence because you have some really interesting points about the contradictions between Crumb's illustrations and the actual text. If you created a stronger argument sentence, it would set the paper up with a definitive purpose.
    I really like the idea of Crumb's illustrations emphasizing the fact that the Bible could be "the words of men". You are absolutely right in that it gives a reality to stories that may be hard to understand or comprehend otherwise. In a possible revision, you could make this into a topic on its own because I think it is interesting and you seem to have a good handle on the idea!
    I also really liked your analysis of the facial expressions and body positions of Lot's daughters. By analyzing them you brought up many points that could have been missed otherwise!

  2. You’re writing about Lot, not Abraham. The difference is really important.

    Your 2nd paragraph focuses on some good details. My reading of Lot being idle is different than yours (I see his guilt and exhaustion rather than their negligence), but I think you focus on good details here.

    Re: your third paragraph, here’s my question. Are you suggesting that the daughters are acting out of desire rather than to preserve the lineage? If so, are the two really mutually contradictory? Does that claim make sense with the visualization of the sons & mothers together? It’s not that I’m so sure you’re wrong here - I’m trying to figure out exactly how they are selfish.

    Your ending is ok, but I found this line troubling: “In the Bible world, their actions are seen as loyal and positive.” You jump sometimes to really big assumptions. Do you think that this is a pro-incest story within the biblical text? If so, that’s an argument you should be making, but certainly not many people agree with you.

    Overall: You show a good eye for detail, but I don’t quite follow the argument about selfishness.