Shannon's Reviews > The Book of Genesis

The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb
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Mar 15, 10

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in March, 2010

I heard about this book via an NPR interview with the illustrator. In the interview, Crumb talked about how he followed the original Hebrew text as closely as possible. I was intrigued to read an illustrated version of Genesis that was a respectful treatment, but well done.

One of the things I liked most about this version of Genesis was that Crumb left in many of the ambiguities of the original Hebrew. There are many places where it's unclear exactly who the pronoun "He" refers to - in most versions of the Bible that I am familiar with, the translators try to clarify the ambiguities. While that's great for some readers, I actually like knowing that the original text was ambiguous instead of reading one person's interpretation of what the author meant.

Crumb's introduction and commentary were fascinating. He makes a great point that the five books of Torah (the first books of the Old Testament) "are the oldest texts in continuous use in Western civilization." Unlike many ancient texts, these writings have never been lost and recovered. While Crumb says in the introduction that he does not believe the Bible to be the word of God, his treatment throughout was respectful and comments like this one reflect his acknowledgment of the power of the text.

In the commentary Crumb addresses some of the most disturbing - and confusing - parts of Genesis, such as when Abraham (not once, but twice) claims that Sarah is his sister, not his wife. Crumb's investigation into and explanation of the practices of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria and how they relate to the narratives in Genesis make sense to me and address the heavy emphasis on patriarchy in the Old Testament. I liked hearing what a non-Christian had to say about these passages. While we all bring our own biases to anything we write or read, Crumb pretty clearly laid out his own position, while some Christian writers claim to have no bias when they are actually trying to lead you to agree with their own interpretation.

So... who should read this book? That's a bit of a tough question for me. I hesitate to recommend this to many evangelical Christians, for fear that they will be offended by Crumb's treatment, even though I wasn't. If, like me, you want to see another view of Genesis, then read this. If you like the idea of having a visual representation to go along with some of the most famous stories in the Bible, this book is a good option. Just like The Red Tent gave me a mental image of what life was like living in tents in the desert, this illustrated version of Genesis gave me clear images of many of the characters who populate Genesis. It also highlighted for me the non-linear narrative format and made more starkly clear the disturbing components of these stories that I've yet to fully reconcile with my own beliefs.
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message 1: by Allison (new)

Allison Excellent review. Makes me want to read it, and when I tried to read Genesis a few months ago, I could feel my faith in the bible slipping away, so I put it down. To look too closely is to question, and lots of people (myself included) are not strong enough to do that.
Maybe it would be good for a secular person who wants to learn about Genesis as a cultural or historical document without the Sunday school component?


Shannon Interesting question. I do think this would probably be a good edition of Genesis for someone who is interested in Genesis as an historical document. Because it's illustrated, it would help them learn and remember the Genesis stories that are so well known in our culture. I would be interested to hear what you think if you read it. I would say it did challenge my faith, but in some ways it also affirmed it.


message 3: by Mcgyver5 (new) - added it

Mcgyver5 liked this review. I'm not saying you have to rate everything you didn't hate 5 stars, but what is reason for 3 stars ?


Shannon That's a great question. I normally rate books 4 stars only if I find them compelling reads and while I enjoyed this book, it wasn't one that I couldn't put down. For me, 3 stars means I enjoyed it and thought it was worth my time. 4 stars is above average and very few books merit 5 stars. Not sure whether that means I end up skewing books to a lower rating than average, but that's how I rate them.


message 5: by Mcgyver5 (new) - added it

Mcgyver5 I wish more people on here would follow your rating system.


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