Monday, October 13, 2014

Mothers in the Bible

In the Book of Genesis, God makes a clear statement that men are to rule over all the other creatures of the earth, yet the man and woman were both created in his likeness (therefore many people see them as being equal). Later, after Eve eats the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God says “And for your man shall be your longing, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). The next chapters in the Book of Genesis seem to support the idea that men will rule over the women, because focus is placed on them as secondary characters, or supporting characters to the men. Additionally, many of the women portrayed in the Book of Genesis seem rather unsavory. To name a few, it was Eve who “coerced” Adam into eating the apple, Lot’s wife was turned to salt for looking back at her burning village after being instructed not to, and Sarah was cruel towards Hagar for bearing her husband’s child at her request. I am drawn towards Isaac’s wife Rebekah because she seems to fulfill a different role than some of the other women.
            In chapter 24 of the Book of Genesis, Abraham asks his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. He is very specific about how to go about doing this when he says, “…you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanite in whose midst I dwell, but to my land and to my birthplace you shall go, and you shall take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:3). It is very clear that where his wife comes from is very important. “…women in Genesis determine who receives the promise from the Israelite Deity. The designated heir is always male, yet the right mother is critical in that choice. The role of women as wives is significant, but their role as mothers is even more important” (Schneider). How does the role of being a mother compare to the roles that the men in the Bible have? How could being a mother be equally or more important than Noah’s role of saving all living creatures? Also, how does the Virgin Mary fit in here? She is one of the most important Bible figures because she was a mother. 
            Rebekah is wife of Isaac and mother to Jacob and Esau. “Rebekah is often considered a trickster because of her later actions and the role her later son, Jacob, plays…other treatments suggest…she is an obedient vessel or a scheming wife” (Schneider). Overall, many of the women in the Book of Genesis seem rather heartless. In this case, Rebekah is no exception. However, “more recently scholars focus on [Rebekah’s] role in carrying out the Deity’s prophetic statement to her about her children (25:23)” (Schneider). She plays an important part in Biblical history not only as Isaac’s wife, but as a woman chosen by God to carry out his plans. “Frymer-Kensky notes that Rebekah is the only female with a birth story in the Hebrew Bible” (Schneider), indicating some importance. Her lineage is mentioned repeatedly throughout chapter 24 where as some of the other women are only mentioned by first name. The fact that she is given a bit of a back story indicates that she will serve a bigger purpose.  
            An alternate view of women in the Bible would be that they are submissive while others have a different idea. According to The Bible Now by Richard Elliot Friedman, “some people say that the Bible was enlightened for its time, a crucial step in an evolution (some would say a revolution) of women’s status. Others say that males composed the Bible, that it was the product of patriarchal society, that it was the justification of such patriarchal society, and that it has been one of the best-known contributors to maintaining an inferior status of women” (Friedman). In Genesis, the man was created first and the woman was created after the man to keep him company but could the reason for creating the woman second mean something other than the fact that they should be regarded as “helpers”? Friedman says, “More relevant to the question of woman’s significance in the Bible is the fact that woman is created, according to the Hebrew, as an ‘e ¯zer ke ˘ nege ˘ dô. 23 Interpreters have long taken this phrase to mean a suitable helper, or a help appropriate for him… In that case, the meaning of ‘e ¯zer ke ˘ nege ˘ dô in Genesis is “a strength corresponding to him.” That is rather different from a helper” (Friedman). In a way, each male character married his specific wife (or wives) because God arranged it to be so. Each biblical pairing was made by God, not necessarily by the man; whom he chose to be his wife was predetermined by God, and I believe this makes the woman even more significant because she acts as a bigger part of God’s plan.
            Women in Crumbs illustrated version of the Book of Genesis are all portrayed very similarly. While the Bible claims the women are usually very beautiful, Crumb draws their faces in an almost manly way. Alternatively, he also sexualizes them. When the women are not wearing clothes, their bodies are drawn as being full figured with large breasts. When the women are clothed, he often includes their cleavage or nipples showing through their dresses. One interpretation of this could be the idea that he is just drawing crude images to sexualize the women in the stories because that is his style of drawing. However it is also possible that Crumb draws the women as he does to emphasize their fertility. Large breasts and wide hips are both signs of fertility and maternity, and both qualities are exhibited in the types of women Crumb draws. If the importance of the women of the Bible is the fact that they fulfill God’s plan by bearing children, it would make sense to draw them as figures that look as though they were built to do so.
            According to the article “Illustrator R. Crumb is Drawn to God”, Crumb himself states ‘"If people of faith say what I've done is blasphemous or profane, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, 'I just illustrated what is there,' " Crumb says, "I'm not ridiculing it, just illustrating the exact words that are there. I restrained myself. I really didn't want to make visual jokes about it. I hope people see it for what it is"’ (Colton). The article then says, “Many are surprised that Crumb, who in the 1960s infused comics with sex- and drug-addled characters like Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, and catchphrases such as "Keep on truckin', " would this time play it so straight. But the long-lapsed American Catholic depicts the shared roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam without comment or his usual ironic judgment” (Colton). Crumb is usually known for rather crude comics but according to people who are familiar with his work, The Book of Genesis is not typical for him. It is not intended to be an overtly sexual piece, but rather an interpretation of how Crumb reads Genesis.
            When discussing the topic of women’s roles in the Bible, it can become rather complicated. Many people argue that based on the text, women in Genesis strictly exist to serve their husbands, and modern women should act submissively because of this. There are many interpretations of Women in the Bible, but it seems to me that they play a very important role in fulfilling Gods plan through maternity and strength. By illustrating women the way Crumb does he may also be making a similar statement about the role women play.

Works Cited
Colton, David. "Illustrator R. Crumb is drawn to God." USA Today 19 Oct. 2009: 01D. General OneFile. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Crumb, R., and Robert Alter. The Book of Genesis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2009.
Friedman, Richard Elliott, and Dolansky, Shawna. Bible Now. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 11 October 2014.
Copyright © 2011. Oxford University Press, USA. All rights reserved.

Schneider, Tammi J. Mothers of promise: women in the book of Genesis. Baker Academic, 2008. 


  1. I like your introductory paragraph and would have to agree that women are portrayed as “unsavory” characters by the book of Genesis. The part written about Rebekah and how see was the only woman with a birth story in the Hebrew bible is an interesting fact that I had never heard before. Your use of research was integrated very well, and helped make the point you were working towards. I thought Crumb may have drawn the women the way he did just because of his personal preference from how he liked women, but your point about the child bearing qualities makes sense and could also show how they were designed to be the ultimate helper of man. I do think women served a higher purpose throughout the bible, but I also think you could mention how the women do not have a choice most of the time when they are to be married. They choose wisely when they decide to use the power instilled in them. Overall I enjoyed reading this essay and think it would be a great revision if you decided to use it.

  2. Just as an aside, it’s interesting to notice that male dominance is part of Eve’s punishment.

    What do you think of the idea of Rebekah as trickster? If she is a trickster, do we need to reinterpret the early part of her story in the light of the later parts?

    Similarly, I’m happy to see you engaging with the question of whether Genesis is really patriarchal or not. What what do you think? Is the contemporary desire to find a feminist dimension to it legitimate, or just a sign of our own historical moment and our own desires?

    Overall: You certainly did substantive research. The weakest part was the material about Crumb - it seems out of place (at least the part you presented) in your discussion of the women in Genesis. This amount of research was fine, although less would have been fine too. I would have liked a hint at a possible position or idea on your part. With the brief discussion of fertility you might come closest to that, but even though you’re under no obligation to articulate some kind of polished views here, I’d like to see *something*.