Monday, October 20, 2014

Crumb's Rocks

Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated requires numerous judgment calls as to exactly how the stories and events are depicted, especially considering the text’s canonical nature. One point of particular interest occurs near the beginning of chapter 26 in which Isaac looks over his land and in the foreground is Isaac and his flock and slaves, but in the middle ground there are 3 rocks present, two prominent, and one more subtly presented. These large, boulder-like rocks, as well as the wells that they often cover reappear throughout the book, making the choice to include them a critical one.

 As mentioned previously, in the scene Isaac overlooks his great success brought forth by God’s support including a multitude of sheep and slaves, but also a great field with 3 relatively large rocks. These rocks appear without any real textual support. There is no mention of these rocks in the immediate text, however when considered in conjunction with later events, the inclusion of the boulders’ is quite clever.

Rocks are a reoccurring motif. They appear most prominently in chapters 28 and 29. In 28, Jacob uses a rock as a pillow, and then God visits in his dreams. Jacob then uses a rock to mark the place as a house of God. Furthermore, in chapter 29 Jacob journeys to the land of the Easterners where he eventually meets his wives. Its well and the large boulder that covers it, which Jacob eventually moves to water the sheep, define this land. Thus, it becomes apparent from the text that boulders, large rocks, and wells represent divine lands, lands provided by God for the sake of Abraham.

With this in mind, it makes Crumb’s inclusion of the Rocks in Isaac’s land a touchstone. By placing the three rocks there, Crumb takes the textual representation of Isaac’s God given land, and marks that land with those rocks. Given this development, this has a massive implication on the rest of the book. Boulders, something that seems ordinary and commonplace, are now glaring signposts designating the land of Abraham’s heirs as given by God. In addition, the use of rocks as a symbol of divinity or holiness raises a number of questions. How else do rocks appear in the Abrahamic religions? How do they appear in other religions, and how does that translate to this interpretation? These are questions that I look forward to exploring in a more research-based piece.


  1. I think this essay may benefit from a reshaping of the first paragraph to include a statement or argument regarding the nature and meaning of the rock motif in Crumb's work. Although you get to the specific meaning later on in your essay, its probably good to touch on these points early on in the essay in order to set up and frame the rest of the work around that point.

    You may also benefit from flushing out your second paragraph to include more about the visual representation of how the rocks are found in the text, as well as making an estimation about Crumb's reasoning for this inclusion.

  2. n such a short essay, you really want to avoid a situation where the 2nd paragraph is really just a variation on the 1st paragraph! That being said, I’m eager to see what you do with the rocks.

    The questions you ask are good and productive. I would have liked to see at least a little effort toward a tentative answer, at least one rooted in the text if not in research. Clearly rocks *are* important in the story of Jacob. So Crumb is basically trying to include an important motif from Jacob’s story in his father’s story, as a way of visually binding everything together. Fine - I think we’re in agreement there. But what does it mean? Does it say something about the nature of God (note that one interpretation of “El Shaddai” is that it might mean something like God of the Mountain). Is this Crumb’s attempt to portray a rooted, almost animistic religion? What does it mean to you.

    Overall: Short and rushed, again. Interesting, again. Even in a rough draft you want to get beyond pointing out an interesting motif and asking a couple questions about it - try to make some of those connections & answer some of those questions.