Hippie Squared: Goofy old Genesis

R. Crumb's GenesisAs a sort of coda to my last two blog postings about matters spiritual and religious, I thought I’d say a few words coming off seeing the art exhibit of R. Crumb’s illustrated version of Genesis at the Armand Hammer museum. I wrote about it already, over here, in my other Fierce and Nerdy incarnation, “Three Line Lunch,” but three lines only captures a little of what I felt was noteworthy.

A close reading of Genesis reveals a lot. Crumb, in his project of illustrating it, has given it his own close reading. And since he reproduces the text nearly word for word, if you read his version, you do a sort of guided close reading of your own. There’s a lot to notice in that crazy book that doesn’t often get talked about.

I remember reading once that something like 94% of self-identified atheists had read the bible, whereas, for instance, something like 6% of Catholics had. That doesn’t surprise me. There’s so much in there that works only as myth. To take it literally, word-for-word, as fundamentalist Christians do, is simply ludicrous. Anyone who tries to do that is contorting their brain in ways that just can’t be healthy for their overall cognition.

There’s much in Genesis that seems pretty clearly to be a mash-up of different versions of the same basic stories. It’s easy to believe that when the priestly caste got together to codify this thing, they had to resolve various versions from various sub-groups of the overall tribe, to get them to mesh. And they didn’t always mesh all that comfortably. Crumb’s introduction takes up the notion that part of what’s at work in it is an assertion of patriarchy over earlier matriarchal traditions, and it’s not hard to see evidence of this.

For instance, there are the two versions of the creation of man. In the first version, Genesis 1.27, “man” takes no real precedence over “woman” except in the customary listing of man first in the sentence. Both genders are created at once, as a co-equal unit (the only way that makes any real sense biologically).

It’s only in the second version human creation that man’s dominance over woman and over the animals is asserted. In Genesis 2.4. God creates man from the earth, without a human companion. (Of course, this is clearly senseless if one wants to be literal. Male makes no biological sense without female.) In 2.19 and 2.20 man names the animals, but none turn out to be a fit companion for him. (Rude jokes about sheep come easily to mind here.) In 2.22 God takes the man’s rib to make a woman. So man comes first. Of course, again, genetically that’s goofy, because basically man is woman with a y chromosome monkey wrench thrown in. Oh well.

Much more to say, and perhaps I’ll get to it one of these days. But check out the exhibit if you’re in L.A., and check out the Crumb book if you’re not, or just read one of the translations of Genesis all the way through one of these days. Quite illuminating, particularly when considered as the foundation myth of Judeo-Christian culture.