Monday, October 20, 2014

Crumb and the Promise of God

                In the writing of The Book of Genesis, the author Crumb offers a certain opinion about religion and what he feels about it.  He shows that he sees it with a cynicism and disbelief that affects the validity of everything presented in the Bible.  He does not seem to agree with what Genesis presents and that God made a covenant with Abraham, to raise him up and bless him and his descendants with great lands and holdings.  It is possible that Crumb thinks that God does not have the power to make such a promise to Abraham, or that Crumb doubts that any promise was made at all.  He shows this skepticism through the images going along with the text of God appearing to many men in succession to make the same promise of blessing without really delivering on it.  He appears to Abraham and promises to make him the father of nations, and while Abraham’s fortunes do rise he is not delivered to any such utopia as God tells him he will.  Then God appears to Isaac, and then to Jacob, and continues to make these promises that do not really seem to come to fruition.
                One perfect example is the sequence where Isaac encounters Abimelech.  Abimelech, upon hearing that Rebekah is Isaac’s wife and how Isaac was afraid to say so for fear of losing his life, says that none shall harm Isaac or his possessions.  This is good for Isaac and it seems that he is blessed, but Crumb illustrates these few images in a way that makes Abimelech look enrages and ready to kill Isaac on the spot.  Instead of making him seem understanding of Isaac’s plight as what might befit someone who is blessed, Crumb chooses to make Isaac look put upon and constantly digging for favors from those above him.  Even after Isaac and his people have grown wealthy and powerful, as per God’s promise, he is then shunned by Abimelech and the Philistines and made to leave.  This does not seem fair at all in the light of God’s promise and Crumb’s pictures show the Philistines as looking down on Isaac’s people when they were promised to be exalted.  The way that Crumb adds speech bubbles to the text as summations of what is written in Genesis shows how he interprets the moments of Isaac being forced to move from what was supposed to be his land in the first place.  Genesis said that Isaac and the Philistines “quarreled”, which is unspecific, but Crumb adds the phrase, “This water is ours,” to prove that Isaac’s covenant with God is not being truly fulfilled.
                Another point in Crumb’s book that shows this same point is when God appears to Jacob during his journey to Paddan-Aram.  God comes down to Jacob on a ramp made of light and is escorted by messengers who by the work of Crumb all look similar to God.  This vision occurs to Jacob while he is sleeping, and so Crumb uses this as permission to make the illustration more fantastic than usual.  The ramp of light is more monumental a gesture than what God has done before, and Crumb could be using this in two ways.  First, since it happens in Jacob’s sleep, Crumb is saying that this whole thing was just a product of Jacob’s mind and he didn’t really see God at all.  He just invented this as inspiration to keep believing in the “promise” that God gave to his people, even though there has been little proof.  Second, Crumb is saying that God appears in this fantastic way because he has too still do something to make Jacob believe since the promise is becoming repetitive, and if he does not do something this impressive then Jacob might not be swayed into believing the promise.  Both of these interpretations point to the same thing.  Crumb sees the covenant as being empty and that God has no power to raise up the descendants of Abraham.  Whether or not the later visions were real or just concoctions of imagination, Crumb thinks it is a farce to just ensure people will believe in God.

                This practice of illustrating the repetitive promise of God goes along with the concept that God is steadily distancing himself from men.  His contact goes from the almost frequent with Abraham to the few meetings with Isaac to the one dream vision with Jacob.  Crumb could be also using this as way to show the emptiness of God’s promise, that if we eventually stop seeing him then who is to say that the promise is real at all.  Overall, Crumb interprets these promises of blessing as little more than gestures from a God that he does not think has the power to fulfill them.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your essay. I think it’s a valid point that you say Crumb sees religion with cynicism and disbelief, which affects the validity of the Bible. This leads me the think about Crumb and his personal interaction with religion. What are his true religious beliefs? Does he actually believe in God? And if he didn’t believe in religion or like God, why did he choose to illustrate a whole book on him? This then leads me to think that maybe Crumb did so for the sole purpose of contradicting the Bible and shining light on “a God that he does not think has the power to fulfill them,” as you mentioned. These questions could be something you could further explore for a revision. I would be interested to read about it!

    This idea correlates to your examples, such as when you mention God letting Abraham down and creating broken promises. You did a great job of showcasing the mismatch and contradictions Crumb created, such as the one between Abimelech and Isaac. I also like that you brought in an alteration that Crumb made to the actual story of Genesis. He added the phrase, “This water is ours,” which further proves the lack of fulfillment from God.

    Overall, I think you do a great job of providing useful and relevant examples, but I would like to see more. Why did Crumb choose to depict God as distancing himself from men? Analyzing the reasoning behind Crumb’s artistic choices and his views on religion would be a great way to do so.

  2. Is this an essay about Crumb’s interpretation of Abraham’s convenant? It’s hard for me to tell exactly what you’re arguing, although it seems that this is the general topic.

    Your 2nd paragraph is rushed. I follow the general line of argument - that Crumb portrays Isaac’s history in a way that undercuts the seriousness of the covenant - but you needed to really focus on the relevant details if you want to convince us that this is a matter of Crumb’s interpretations rather than a feature of the text itself. Good idea, hurried and messy execution.

    I’m not sure about the 3rd paragraph. Again, Crumb has a problem here: the text does make it seem like a fantastic vision, and it has been traditionally interpreted as such. By way of comparison, here’s how Blake imagines Jacob’s ladder: That doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, just that I don’t follow what it is about Crumb’s choices that make it seem like a satire (or even skeptical depiction) of the image. A more detailed analysis was in order. I think the obvious solution would have been to do either Jacob’s ladder *or* Abimelech’s encounter with Isaac in one essay, but not both.

    I think this essay was certainly workable, but it was a mistake to both keep it short and cover multiple subtopics at once - it’s much better to have one detailed, convincing analysis than two tentative sketches of what a detailed analysis might look like.