Crumb’s illustration of The Book of Genesis follows its source material quite closely, turning it into a comic rather than a picture book or just a straight book with illustrated plates. Of course, given that he can’t ask the original author(s) what they wanted, the illustration is left completely up to the interpretation of Crumb. He chooses what individuals look like and how to depict the actions of those individuals. Then there are passages that are just vague enough that Crumb can take far greater liberties with what he depicts. In particular, I’d like to talk about the scenes of sinful acts or general immorality. Whenever Genesis describes a specific act, Crumb simply draws it. But when the book is less particular, Crumb gets to show what he thinks of as sinful and inserts his own personal values into the text.
One moment, in particular, where Crumb is clearly making a significant interpretation of the text to talk about sin happens near the beginning of chapter six. When God decides that man is too sinful and that he wants to wipe them out via world-flood, it says, “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of the human creature was great on earth, and that every scheme of his heart’s devising was only perpetually evil.” The exact nature of the wickedness and scheming is left up to the imagination normally, but with this illustration, Crumb gets to show exactly what he thinks it is. At the bottom of that page there is one panel that pops out as the illustration seems to be a great variation of what one might normally think of when imagining the source text.
The panel is preceded by the short passage, “And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with outrage. And God looked upon the earth and, behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.” The panel itself shows what appears to be a ritual sacrifice. A woman lays naked on a blood covered table. A man stands next to her, his back to the viewer, holding a large knife in the air as thought to strike. In the background there is a large statue and crowds of people. The entire scene looks almost exactly like an Aztec/Mayan ritual sacrifice. The man with the knife even seems dressed like a typical depiction of the natives of Mexico.
When one thinks of corruption, they probably think of sin that has to do with money or just as easily something that is generally infected with evil. Here Crumb decides to depict a scene of ritual violence as corruption. Most of the other scenes of violence seem to be set either in the area of the fertile crescent or in just a general ancient world area, but the scenery and clothing seems to place this scene in Pre-Columbian Mexico. The Book of Genesis was written halfway across the world from where the scene seems to be depicted. There is no way the writer(s) would have this imagery in mind, so it can only be assumed that Crumb chose to draw this for reasons other than being biblically accurate.
But why does Crumb choose to show this scene with this caption? It could be an attempt at showing that violence was happening world-wide, or it could be that he simply finds this specific act to be particularly deplorable.
It should be noted that peoples and cultures that did perform human sacrifice did not see it as immoral. They were not done as murders of passion or deranged serial killings. They were done for a reason. The people typically thought that it was necessary, that their god(s) wanted them to do these acts. Heck, even later on in The Book of Genesis God asks Abraham to sacrifice his own son to test his loyalty and fear of God. At that point, Abraham is seen as doing the right thing when he prepares to go through with it. Yet when these vaguely Mayan/Aztec peoples do it, Crumb draws it with the caption of corruption and evil.
This one panel is a prime example of Crumb inserting his own ideas of right and wrong into Genesis. This act is not mentioned in the text as being wrong, yet he personally thinks of it as wrong so he squeezes it in anyway. Any passage of the book that concerns right or wrong without explicitly naming actions provides an opportunity for Crumb to push his own values and morals out there, an opportunity which he gladly takes.