Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Binding of Isaace

The Book of Genesis is a best selling comic book by Robert Crumb. His comic is based off of the first book of The Old Testament, and the stories in this text contribute to the formation and ideologies (but are not limited to) of many prominent religions around the world. One event that occurs in The Book of Genesis, and is interpreted in Crumb’s comic is when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This moment is noteworthy due to the differences of how Crumb portrays the incident versus the original text. Through his illustrations of Abraham it is telling that how he is portrayed here contrasts with the original text. This is just one moment of the entire book where the illustrations have undertones of contradicting the text bringing to light Crumb’s own rejections of religion.
Chapter twenty-two is about sacrifice and remaining faithful to god. Crumb accurately writes how Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac as it is in the Old Testament. It is chilling in the original text as it is in Crumb’s adaptation. God requests this sacrifice from Abraham and just as in the original text he does as god requests. However it is in the illustrations that reveal how troubled Abraham feels about this act. The framing begins with seeing Abraham and Isaac in the distance and as Abraham gets closer to committing the act of sacrifice the frames zoom in onto their faces. With the closer perspective one can see that Abraham always has his back to Isaac, looking in the distance physically attempting to emotionally remove himself from the situation. And Isaac never sees his face.  There are dark dramatic circles underneath Abraham’s eyes contradicting what is seen just a few frames before this. His face drooping, with expression of sorrow and numbness. Abraham is troubled because he has a duty to his son as a father to keep him safe, but is clearly conflicted feeling the need to prove his faith to god. When binding his son there is a change of sadness to uncontrollable anger in his face, angry at god. Then in the frame when god speaks to Abraham there is helplessness in his face. Looking up towards the sky, he is clutching the knife, jaw dropped open, and his eyes look as if they are about to well up to tears. Crumb reveals a number of emotions that Abraham is feeling, which is not seen nor considered in the original text. While both texts show that this was a pure test of Abraham’s fear and faith to god, Crumb shows the human emotions and traumatic effects the original text lacks.

With Crumbs personal views of religion in mind, he grew up in a catholic home but became an atheist, and questioned many things about his religion growing up. Needless to say throughout his entire version of the book of genesis, Crumb humanizes the characters. Although the text is not altered, the illustrations throughout reveal the characters not fully trusting god nor agreeing with what they are told to do. In the original text people are not given emotions, and when question god, are ultimately shown that god does things for a reason and are faithful in him. Crumbs version reflects his struggles with religion and god; specifically the binding of Isaac is one that everyone can relate to in the fact that its chilling and can create conflict and debate.  


  1. I really like your ideas on how Crumb is able to show all the various emotions Abraham feels that the text cannot. You do a good job describing the different facial expressions he makes and the corresponding emotions to them. However I struggle with this actually connecting with your thesis. I'm assuming your thesis is a combination of the last two sentences in your first paragraph which states: "how he is portrayed here contrasts with the original text." And in the second sentence you say these contradictions prove Crumb's conflicts with religion. I don't think you show contradictions at all in your paper, rather you show that Crumb manages to show more emotions than the text gives, which is good, but it doesn't really connect with your thesis. I don't think expanding on the text is a contradiction.
    I think this essay would be better if you rewrote a clearer thesis that connects to your ideas. In addition, I think you need more information/details on how this relates to Crumb. You kind of throw it in at the last paragraph, but you don't integrate it with the rest of the essay or connect it to the specific moment you analyze. I think you have some good ideas, but you should integrate them more to how it connects to Genesis/Crumb.

  2. Given the brevity of your essay, it takes you too long to state your argument: “This is just one moment of the entire book where the illustrations have undertones of contradicting the text bringing to light Crumb’s own rejections of religion.” -- that’s also a rather general claim. A 5-year, 200+ page rejection of religion in the form of literalistic illustration of Genesis is a curious project - this *has* to be more than *just* a rejection (which isn’t to say that he *accepts* religion either!).

    Although it shows some signs of haste (or at least needed proofreading) your 2nd paragraph is insightful and even beautiful. You say a lot in a little space, and your attention to detail is excellent. “And Isaac never sees his face.” -- that’s one of several really good moments, where you express Crumb’s interpretations with an almost Biblical brevity of your own. I like your focus on trauma, although I wonder if an emphasis on religious trauma leads in any obvious or necessary way to the rejection of religion. Remember that Crumb was raised in a Catholic house; trauma is actually pretty central in mainstream catholicism (ever look at medieval depictions of the passion?). What I’m getting at is, even though Crumb isn’t now a practicing Catholic, there sure is something Catholic about this idea of trauma.

    I totally agree with what Suzanne says. Here’s my final viewpoint: you write beautifully about Crumb’s depiction of Abraham & Isaac, but I don’t see why you see it as an atheistic portrayal. Trauma is a great topic - but I don’t think you’re really explored the meaning of that trauma, at least not yet.