Sunday, October 12, 2014

Crumb and the Will of God

            An arm resting on Abram’s shoulders, God foretells the future as the pair look up at the myriad of stars in the universe above them. The billions of stars of the heavens, God tells him, are as numerous as Abrams descendants will be. A few frames later, Abram lies on the rocky ground, and the black sky is above him again, illuminated by stars. This time, however, these stars have taken shape. Human faces watch over Abram as he sleeps, with pained expressions as they look down from the heavens. With no direct mention of these ghostly faces in the text, Crumb was clearly making an artistic choice here to show the powerful presence of God, prophecy, and ancestry – themes repeated throughout The Book of Genesis.
Abram’s “deep slumber” is described in the text as one with “a great dark dread descending.” While his sleep does not look restful, the emotion described by this text is better represented in the sky by Crumb, whose faces are distraught and hallow with sadness – mouths open, eyes wide, they seem to cry out in pain. The idea that these faces are representing Abram’s emotions offers one possible explanation for their presence: these are the inner feelings of Abram, his anguish as he contemplates the prophecy that God has given him, and possibly has a foreboding sense of dread as the second part of the prophecy descends upon him. Just following this image we have one that brings more meaning to the sense of foreboding just before, with God’s description of the fate of Abram’s children, who will “be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.”
We can also look at these faces in the context of the preceding page, where God spoke of Abram’s seed numbering equally with the stars above them. Using this idea, the faces could show Abram’s future: his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, as numerous as the stars. They might then, in part, represent Abram’s inner feelings as well, supporting the idea in the previous paragraph that these faces are a part of Abram. If the faces represent Abram’s future, this could be Crumb’s way of confirming that God’s words are the reality, that Abram’s descendants will be plentiful. And while they look upon their forefather, these faces show the pain that will come in their future. While Abram yields a great power in his ability to father these millions of descendants, it comes with great sacrifice. He brings them into the world knowing that the oppression and slavery will come to them, and only after generations have suffered will their children and their children’s children be prosperous.
This idea ties in with other themes throughout The Book of Genesis. Prophesies of God, for instance, play a huge role in the Old Testament of the bible, especially the first book. When the world becomes corrupt by human evil, God promises to annihilate it and begin anew with Noah and his family. When Adam and Eve are thrown from Eden, God’s word is the immovable truth as well: the suffering he speaks of is brought onto them as they are forced to survive in a crueler world. The image that Crumb has created here shows the unchangeable reality of this particular prophesy – it is already written in the heavens and a part of the night sky. Bringing God’s words to a reality like this reinforce God’s word as the truth. Thus, we are shown by Crumb a display of God’s immense power in the bible. This power can bring life, as it does here to Abram, or death, as it does later when God rains fire onto Sodom for its sins. And so we see the immense power of God contrasted with the insignificance of humanity, who must bend to an unforgiving God’s will through sacrifice and humility.

While God’s will and word trump weak human power, Crumb’s addition also shows the impact that human power can have on earth. Ancestry is one of the most significant details of Genesis, with more than one occurrence of a generation to generation description to show the lineage of each man and his sons, from Shem to Arpachshad to Shelah to Eber and so forth. The long lines of men and their successive sons run across the face of the earth, populating cities and countries as humanity rises from the ground. While God has a power over humanity, the power that each man holds to build a population is immense in its own right. When we look at the sky above a sleeping Abram, Crumb reminds us of this power, while making it clear that this power comes from God, who controls the stars, the heavens, and all the men of the earth.


  1. Your main point seems to be that "Crumb was clearly making an artistic choice here to show the powerful presence of God, prophecy, and ancestry." I think this is a great point and one that I definitely agree with. Mentioning Abraham's facial expressions was a great way to show that his feelings "contemplates the prophecy that God has given him, and possibly has a foreboding sense of dread as the second part of the prophecy descends upon him," especially since Crumb seems to focus on the reality of the characters. Your examples to support this idea were great.
    I'm not sure if I'm reading your essay correctly, but it seems to me that the first three paragraphs don't transition well with the last two. Both ideas are great, however, and I wouldn't change the material at all. I just became slightly confused going into the fourth paragraph and had to reread. If you choose to revise this essay, I would suggest using a better transition point between the character's facial expressions and the power of God. I do see how they connect, but I think it would help the reader to make it clearer. Overall, I really enjoyed reading it!

  2. Your introduction is beautiful, but you stop short of having a thesis about what the stars mean. Why? I like the next two paragraphs too. Your reading of the images is excellent, and I like the focus on repeating visual elements. For my part, I wonder if Abram in some sense has second thoughts - that he cowers in terror of who his descendants will be & what they will do.

    The second to last paragraph doesn’t do as much, and could even have been cut.

    The last paragraph is ok. You are stitching ancestry + prophecy (and dread of it) + human power + divine power + stars reasonably well. But there’s not yet an argument. My point of view is that the argument would come in when you clarify what you have to say about Abram’s *dread*, which Crumb dramatizes so powerfully here.

    I agree with SunMi about the awkward transition.