Crumb’s loyal yet stark depiction of Genesis echoes the Gnostic dislike for the OT God.
AP Photo/Hammer Museum
Underground comic artist Robert Crumb has recently joined the ranks of the perennial heretics known as the Gnostics. According to an Agence France-Presse report, Crumb admitted he was a Gnostic during a press conference for the international launch of ‘The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb’. This announcement, along with his new book, reveals for the first time the theological leanings of an important cult figure. Crumb is best known for his ‘Fritz the Cat’ and ‘American Splendor’ comics.
"The Bible is not the word of God. It’s the words of men," he said at the press conference in Paris. "I take it all as myth from start to finish." This attitude was echoed by the ancient Gnostics, who saw Holy Scripture as a tool of dominance from oppressive religious institutions and embraced mythology as a vehicle for spiritual liberation.
‘The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb’ is not the traditional Gnostic criticism or reinterpretation of the first book of the Torah. It is a loyal depiction in a comic-book genre. Yet elements of Gnosticism shine through his artwork because of a grim-toned, stylistically-exaggerated and sharply-accurate portrayal. Crumb reveals the Gnostic view of a tyrannical god, a brutal universe and a questionable cast of characters conventionally accepted as heroes or role models.
Crumb has succeeded in the same way many Gnostics have throughout history—making counterculture respectable without compromising unorthodox principles. The Gnostic Valentinus almost became Pope in the Second Century while retaining theological beliefs blasphemous to Roman Christianity. William Blake used visionary Gnostic art and poetry as a slander against Enlightenment Period rationalism. Carl Jung is considered a main founder of Depth Psychology, a once controversial but presently accepted science. Jung based many of his theories on Gnostic ideology. Philip K. Dick’s writings, originally considered pulp science fiction with Gnostic themes thirty years ago, are now published by The Library of America.
It is too soon to gauge the lasting social impact of the self-exposed Gnostic and his adaption of the Book of Genesis. But Crumb already has a long track record of entering and challenging the consciousness of mainstream society. This time he comes as a heretic, with all the risks and rewards associated with it. He is in good company.