The Bible’s had a rough time of it these past forty years. In 1967 came Lynn White Jr.’s famous essay “The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” denouncing God’s OK to Adam on planetary pillage in Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion…over all the earth…. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”
Late ’60s feminists found much to deplore in the Bible too, starting with God’s tough talk to Eve in the Garden of Eden– “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
Nor did the Six-Day War help the Bible’s standing as God’s revealed truth and as Zionism’s anchor. As Israeli archaeologists fanned out across the newly conquered West Bank and the heart of biblical Judea, they searched for evidence of the historical homeland. The quest had its roots, as brilliantly excavated by Shlomo Sand in his recent The Invention of the Jewish People, in nineteenth-century Zionist historiography.
As Sand relates, the post-1967 digs “failed to find any traces of an important tenth-century kingdom, the presumed time of David and Solomon…. The inescapable and troublesome conclusion was that if there was a political entity in tenth-century Judaea, it was a small tribal kingdom, and that Jerusalem was a fortified stronghold.” Sand approvingly cites the view of certain biblical scholars that “the Bible is not a book, but a grand library that was written, revised and adapted in the course of three centuries, from the late sixth to the early second BCE.”
Degraded in its historical standing, the Old Testament meanwhile swelled in unpleasing outline as a prefiguring of and a mandate for Israel’s savage persecution of Palestinians. In 1969 Golda Meir famously declared, “There were no such thing as Palestinians…. They did not exist.” Four decades later the Israeli journalist Tom Segev is quoted on the dust jacket of Sand’s book as saying, “There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened–hence there was no return.”
If a conclusive disrespecting of Genesis was required, wouldn’t you think R. Crumb was the man for the job? It would be as seditious as hiring Sade to write the history of the British royal family, a coup de grâce, the final revenge of the antinomian ’60s on decency and faith and the bloodthirsty Creator. The patriarchs of the second half of Genesis would be crushed beneath the vast breasts and bottoms, hairy thighs and savage élan of Eve and her daughters. Crumb encourages such hopes in the bit of his Book of Genesis Illustrated, published late last year, that I happened to read first: the notes in which he pays homage to Savina Teubal’s Sarah the Priestess (1984), which argued that Genesis is in part a sequence of clues about the suppression of a powerful matriarchal order in Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Genesis, Crumb writes, “the struggles and assertions of the female characters are all about this.”