The Book of Genesis presents the text of Genesis in graphic novel form. It’s an interesting – but dangerous – project. The Bible is so important to such a large number of people (on all sides of the Great Theological Divide) that it’s pretty much impossible not to offended someone. I think the comments on Amazon.com illustrate this. Here’s two quotes from one-stare reviews:

I have not purchased this book, but have read the first chapter online. As a Jew, I am personally affronted by picturing God as an old man with the flowing beard and robes. God is noncorporeal and God’s name ineffable, and the Ten Commandments warns us against any kind of god-imagery, which can lead to idolatry.

Crumb’s illustrated Genesis is quite an amazing illustration accomplishment, but I’m afraid it’s NOT quite a success. The artistry certainly is eyeball-boggling, but Crumb is so overly respectful of the source material that he doesn’t add anything to it. There’s no breath of life to it at all. My honest opinion is that it lacks in personality, just as the Bible itself does (for me).

Between these and all the people who thought that it must be a book for children because it involved pictures and we can see where the issues lie.

Crumb, R - Book of GenesisThat being said, however, I found that Crumb handled his subject with great fairness. There’s no dearth of commentaries/illustrations that poke fun at the Bible, or that use paraphrasing or illustrations to make the stories seem more ridiculous than they are. I mentioned in my discussion on the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible that there seems to be too great of a focus on that site to find “gotcha” moments, even to the point of ignoring context. But Crumb’s illustrations remain pretty straightforward and literal. Where interpretation is required, I found him to be rather uncontroversial.

The format is quite interesting. Rather than paraphrase the text, Crumb has essentially just stuffed it into a graphic novel format, so that speech is presented in speech bubbles and narrative text gets text boxes. The result is that the text of Genesis is presented nearly in its entirety in what appears to be a pretty solid translation (he primarily uses Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses, though the breadth of his research shows and he mentions consulting with Hebrew-speaking friends as well).

The art style is quite gorgeous. It’s very detailed, but also stylized in a way that accentuates musculature even in the female characters. The use of lines reminded me of the woodcuts used to illustrate old King James editions, which really worked in this context. And, though I’m far from being an expert, I was quite impressed with the presentations of culturally-specific details such as clothing, hair styles, and buildings. There is quite a bit of nudity, but it isn’t too gratuitous (although all the nipples showing through shirts might be a bit much).

Crumb also includes commentaries at the back of the book that I found quite interesting. He presents a theory – which he found in the book Sarah the Priestess by Savina Teubal – that many of the tales in Genesis are actually remnants of the battle between the matriarchal/matrilineal and the patriarchal/patrilineal cultural influences in early Hebrew culture. He doesn’t delve into too much detail, but I found his arguments interesting and I’d love to get my hands on Teubal’s book!

If you’re thinking of reading through Genesis for yourself but are feeling a bit daunted by the writing style, I don’t hesitate to recommend that you give Crumb’s book a try.