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Tuesday, 17 November 2009 04:22

"The Book of Genesis" Illustrated by R. Crumb -- Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker Review

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Each month, BuzzFlash is privileged to have top-ranked talk show host Thom Hartmann review a progressive book or DVD exclusively for BuzzFlash. See other DVDs and progressive premiums at the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.

The Book of Genesis is arguably the most important of our cultural foundations today. And R. Crumb’s illustration of it – and his postscripted commentary – is astonishing. Jewish and Christian “believers” as well as anthropologists and atheists will find a gold-mine in the stories which most inform our modern culture’s interpretation of who we are as humans relative to the world, its other life forms, and the “god” of the Bible.

In the Introduction, he says, “I, R. Crumb, the illustrator of this book, have, to the best of my ability, faithfully reproduced every work of the original text…” It’s true. For the first time, even the boring or confusing parts of Genesis are readable. Crumb took five painstaking years to produce this masterpiece, and it truly deserves that word when being described.

But it’s in the commentary at the end of the work that R. Crumb reveals a thoughtful brilliance that almost transcends the artistic brilliance he brought to the text. Simple, straightforward, and almost buried with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever at the end of the book, Crumb lays out an understanding and vision of the early Hebrew tribes that is startling, revolutionary, and ultimately totally credible.

According to one of the two different creation stories in Genesis, Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, but after Cain killed Abel, he went to a nearby city and found a wife. Another city? Apparently Jehovah didn’t create all human beings; he only created the Hebrew tribe. (Virtually every aboriginal tribe in the world, in fact, has its own creation story which is unique to its own people and doesn’t include or often even explain other tribes.)

Crumb explains this in his commentary on Chapter Six of Genesis:

“The divine beings”: In the ancient world everyone, including the Hebrews, believed in the existence of multiple gods and demigods. Nowhere in Genesis does it say that the god of the chosen people is the only god. He is their god. In the Hebrew his is called “Yhwh” (Jehovah) by one of the original writers, and “Elohim” by another. Other times he is called “El-Shaddai,” which may mean “god-of-the-mountain.” In Chapter 14, Abraham swears an oath to “El Elyon,” the “god most high” of the Canaanites. Every tribe, every city-state, had its “god most high” in its pantheon of gods, demigods, demons and spirits.

Referencing Savina Teubal’s 1984 book “Sarah the Priestess,” Crumb begins in Chapter 12 with the stories of Abraham and Sarah, to lay out his vision of how most of the Book of Genesis is actually the story of a matriarchal, matrilineal, often goddess-worshipping tribe that, as it moved from hunting/gathering to pastoralism to urban living was eventually overtaken by a military-industrial complex of sorts that empowered the men to take over.

He notes how “the historical record shows that in the earlier millennia of this development in Mesopotamia and Egypt, there existed a powerful matriarchal order alongside the patriarchy. They coexisted in relative harmony until the size and power of these organized city-states became so great, probably due in part to this male-female balance, that the military elites finally became supreme. The matriarchy was then gradually suppressed, armies of slaves were brought in, kings were declared divine, and property became more important than people.… But back in the days of Abraham, around 2000 B.C.E., matriarchy was just in the beginning stages of being suppressed, and the struggles and assertions of the female characters [in Genesis] are all about this, as Savina Teubal so clearly explains.”

He goes on to suggest that Sarah was actually a High Priestess, and this explains all the bizarre stories of Abraham getting various kings to sleep with her. It wasn’t Abraham’s choice, Crumb asserts, and really was a way of solidifying political relationships with neighboring tribes. Crumb describes the hieros gamos or “’sacred marriage’ in which any powerful man who wanted to be given a position of leadership had to be ‘invited’ into the bedchamber of the high priestess, ‘guardian of the grains stores,’ and he had to meet with her approval. If somehow he failed the text, it went bad for him. The high priestess ‘chose’ him. In this ritual, she represented the ‘most high’ goddess.”

And, as Genesis 12 tells, “…the ‘sacred marriage did not go well for the Pharaoh. ... He must make peace with this powerful woman and her husband. They receive valuable animals and human slaves in compensation for his embarrassment.”

And that’s just the beginning: Genesis has 50 chapters.

If you want to understand the founding pillar of the world’s three most powerful religions, read Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb. But first, flip to the back and read his “Commentary.” It’s worth the price of the book, and makes the illustrated text not only illuminated but illuminating.

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling Project Censored Award winning author and host of a nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his Web site and find out what stations broadcast his program. You can also listen to Thom over the Internet.


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