Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Love and the Book of Genesis (A Revision)

            Love in the book of Genesis is not merely marriage between a man and a woman.  While the text does a poor job of explaining the rare occurrences of love, Crumb does an excellent job of interpreting these scenes in order to show how love truly does influence the decisions of characters throughout the book of Genesis.  Love shapes the work as a whole as it symbolizes God’s unyielding love for all those who follow him.
                        In a literary review, Clayton Whitt says the following, “While it is shocking to see the plainly described rape, incest, genocide, and murder of Genesis vividly portrayed on the page, Crumb is also able to tease a simple human beauty out of the text, a beauty that makes the parsimonious Old Testament words vibrate” (“The Book of Genesis Illustrated”).  The simple beauty that Whitt describes here is first seen in the Garden of Eden through the amazement with the beauty of the garden, as described by Whitt later in his literary review, along with the pure love between Adam and Eve.  Crumb depicts this relationship’s importance through God himself by drawing the background in a similar fashion to the way he draws the background when an individual is getting a message from God or one of His messengers.  In the scene immediately before the one previously described, Crumb draws God with his arm around Eve, facing Adam.  This scene shows that Eve herself is a gift from God.  The love that develops between the two is shown immediately by Crumb as he draws their first activity together as sex.  The scene itself emphasizes the beauty of the garden around them and therefore emphasizes the importance of God and his support on the situation.  Without His role in setting the standard for relationships within the Old Testament through Adam and Eve, the relationships in the remainder of Genesis would not be as meaningful.
            Before Noah’s Ark and the destruction of the first population of humans, Crumb chooses not to add too much emphasis on the relationships within the first population of humans by simply drawing the families partaking in tasks rather than drawing them in loving familial home life.  Crumb does this in order to emphasize that God was not a part of these relationships, as the people were full of evil.  Without God’s support in the relationship, the viewer can tell that he does not truly love the individuals within the relationship because happiness is not part of His concern.  After this event, the first relationship that is focused on is between Abraham and Sarah.  After bearing Abraham no children, God blesses Sarah and gives her the ability to bear children even at her old age.  Crumb choses to depict this miracle of God’s work through the first scene that he draws of Sarah and her son Isaac.  Crumb includes a circle of light surrounding Sarah’s head which is symbolic of both her happiness with what God has given her and God’s presence itself. The familial love that Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac share is shown in the following frame as Crumb draws the three of them close together while he adds close detail to Sarah’s face.  Crumb draws her to appear young, despite her old age and emphasizes her grin.  Both of these things represent how Sarah feels in her relationship with Abraham and therefore how she feels in her relationship with God.
In the second half of the illustrated version of Genesis, the first example of love illustrated by Crumb is of Isaac and Rebekah frolicking despite the fact that Isaac told the people of Gerar that Rebekah was his sister, not his wife.  In the image, both Isaac and Rebekah have smiles on their faces while Isaac wraps his arms around Rebekah in a loving embrace.  This image and the background knowledge of the events that just happened show the love between the two because they refuse to suppress their love despite the possible consequences.  The love between these two acts as a symbol of God’s unyielding love because God ultimately brings these two together by acting through Abraham.  God also makes frequent promises such as, “Sojourn in this land so that I may be with you and bless you, for to you and your seed I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father, and I will multiply your seed like the stars in the heavens!”  God’s frequent proclamations of multiplying one’s seed represents how he wishes all who follow him to be happy with their wives in order to create many children through an act of love.  The love between two individuals is also frequently drawn by Crumb in a way that depicts affection between the two individuals.
In chapter 29, another loving relationship, between Jacob and Rachel, surfaces.  When the two share their first kiss, Crumb illustrates the background of the image in a similar fashion to the way he draws messages from God.  This is Crumb’s way of illustrating the instantaneous love between these two and their connection to God.  After Jacob serves his time to Laban in order to marry Rachel, he is tricked to marrying Leah first.  In their scene of love, Leah is drawn as a pleased woman as she has a smile on her face and is shown caressing Jacob’s face.  Jacob, however, has a face of disgust mixed with betrayal.  The background of the image is filled with squiggly lines that represent his unease and displeasure with the given situation as he just came to bed with a woman that he did not love.  Crumb draws the image this way in order to show Jacob’s feelings about going to bed with a woman that he does not love.  God’s love is shown through Jacob’s relationship with Rachel. He is also shown in this relationship through the pillar that Jacob uses for her tombstone.  This stone is drawn very similarly to the pillars that Jacob created for a house of God, which shows the connection Jacob feels between God and the gift that He has given him, Rachel.
            The second half of the illustrated book of Genesis shows that love is not really love when God is not involved. In chapter 34, Crumb chooses to illustrate the sex between Dinah and Shechem in an outside environment and chooses not to show either of their faces.  Crumb also decides to draw the two facing each other in the event, making the act itself a display of love rather than a rape. When Simon and Levi start murdering the people of the land, Jacob is angry with them because of the possibility of attack from surrounding cities.  This violent action displayed by Simon and Levi in order to seek range for their sister’s defilement does not result in consequences, showing that God believed the consequence of death for Shechem was an appropriate punishment for the love that he did not approve.  God also punishes Dinah and Crumb depicts this by drawing her with tears as Simon and Levi drag her out of the city.  The tears show her regret about losing her purity to a man that she was not supposed to love.  It also shows her inner turmoil over the fact that no other man will ever love her.
            One of the most famous quotes from the Bible comes from the New Testament and says the following, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This act of giving a son is similar to God’s command to Abraham to give his only son Isaac as an offering.  Even though God only does this in order to demonstrate that he should be feared, Crumb takes the opportunity to draw Abraham’s love for Isaac.  The moment that Abraham learns that he no longer has to kill his only son, Crumb chooses to draw him collapsed on the ground.  This shows how overcome with emotion he is.  Initially when he hears the messenger’s voice, Crumb draws sweat running down Abraham’s face to show his indecision about the moment.  The indecision that Crumb includes shows Abraham’s love for his son and for God, as he truly does not know which path to follow. 

            Overall, all of the serious, loving relationships in the book of Genesis show some connection to God Himself.  At first, this connection does not seem too important, as Genesis is a religious text.  However, at a deeper understanding, Crumb’s illustrations enhance both the relationship itself and the connection of the relationship to God.  His approval and aid in these relationships display his love for all of those who follow him.  Crumb’s drawings also highlight the relationships within the book of Genesis in order to emphasize their importance.  Without any connections physically, mentally, or spiritually God’s greatest invention, the human race, would be doomed from the beginning.  The connections between the individuals in the relationship are included by Crumb’s drawings of eye contact.  The consistency of this interaction shows how the relationships are more than just the marriage between a man and a woman.  As stated by Shakespeare, “The Eyes are the window to your soul.”  A connection between two souls is a rare occurrence, even within marriage today.  By choosing to accentuate the love, eye contact, and connection to God present in various relationships within the Illustrated Version of Genesis, Crumb educates viewers about what love truly is.

Works Cited
John. Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. < 3:16&version=NIV>.

Whitt, Clayton. "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." Rev. of The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Humanist Mar.-Apr. 2010: 40. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <>.

1 comment:

  1. I like your introduction.

    Your second paragraph is nice too. I especially like your connection between religious and sexual love here - I think this helps explain why Crumb was interested in Genesis in the first place, which is a nice bonus.

    The 3rd paragraph discussion of familial love is interested but hasty. It could be compelling if you were able to explain *where* exactly Crumb explored human evil as existing in tension with familial love. I think you’re on to something, but you’re rushing the actual argument.

    I’m skipping paragraph-by-paragraph responses now for some more general thoughts. I feel that your overall insight is great: Crumb is interested in sex, he’s interested in love, and you are totally right that he depicts human love using the visual language he’s constructed around God. So I endorse your insight and the general approach. The problematic part is that you seem to be in a rush to cover everything. Rather than dealing *in detail* with particular instances of divine and human love (for instance - could you have focused in detail on God’s love for Abraham and Abraham’s love for Sarah? Are there a full range of visual details to support it? Etc), you run though many, and your interpretation of Crumb’s interpretation of Genesis, while not bad, often seems hasty.

    Again: I like the idea, and the approach, and even the romanticism of it (it’s a problematic but interesting way of approaching Crumb in general). I just think less would have been more - dealing at length with fewer characters, fewer scenes, and a more focused interpretation of images would have helped a lot here.