For approximately a month after its release, the underground comics legend Robert Crumb’s painstakingly drawn adaptation of the book of Genesis was unavailable due to unexpectedly high demand. With fans have come detractors, including Mike Judge of the Christian Institute, who finds the project “wholly inappropriate” and thinks “it is turning the Bible into titillation.”
It isn’t that Crumb changed the text; it’s that he didn’t. Crumb neither adds nor detracts from the stories in Genesis: Where they are crude, violent, or sexual, so is he.
The emblem on the cover saying “adult supervision recommended for minors” is funny because of the holy book’s reputation for family friendliness. But it’s holy because its creators and believers think it tells the truth about history and man’s relation to God. Genesis tells stories about human beings living by cultural and theological standards that are alien today even to those who think they follow them.
Some theologians may carp, but for any set of tales to captivate human beings throughout our cultural history, this sort of personalized reimagining is as necessary as the repetition of ancient ritual. From King James to New Revised Standard, from The Boomer Bible to The Book, from Michelangelo to Charlton Heston, so has it always been.