Sunday, July 03, 2011

The sanitized Bible

My visiting granddaughters, both Catholic schoolgirls, got a big kick out of Bible Firsts, a book from my collection of esoteric books. They knew some of the stories, and as young as they are, noticed how this version of the Bible is glamorized. The cover shows a smiling family, mommy, daddy and baby--purporting to be Adam and Eve and one of their children, Cain, looking very American.

The artist, Clyde Provonsha, used models for the paintings. He did a fine job, even down to Adam's razor-cut hair. Our girls also noticed that Eve appears to be wearing make-up.

When this book, written by Charles L. Paddock, was published by Pacific Press in 1956 (my copy is a 1963 reprint), the standard Hollywood bible epic had people who looked a lot like the people in these pictures. I see something of a resemblance to Tom Cruise in Adam, but Cruise wasn't born until 1962. It seems prophetic, since the Hollywood in this picture jumps out at the reader.

The Bible is a book with a lot of killing, vengeance and fury, and the author has sanitized it. Instead of original sin, Paddock calls Adam and Eve's transgression against God's orders, "a wrong deed." Huh. Sin sounds so much better, since the wrong deed was sex, but not for 1950's American children. My wife said, "She's wearing rouge." Well, no wonder sex was involved. Eve was a painted hussy!

After the wrong deed, Adam and Eve experience a "great sadness." Their sadness is to leave a wonderful home, with swans swimming in the local pond, and critters, lions, squirrels and deer, standing around looking bewildered. Our Hollywood couple got to keep Lassie, their collie.

Lassie shows up again, this time with a chagrined expression as Cain and Abel shake their fists at one another. The book calls this "the first quarrel."

"Cain was angry, and he hit his brother. Abel fell to the ground and lay still." The boys, with carefully combed pompadours, look more like they're playing paper-scissors-rock than having a quarrel, but once again, we're given the G-rated version of the event of the first murder.

I don't need to go on to the other parts of the book, Noah, the Ten Commandments, Jesus walking on water (but not crucified), to give you the point that not only is this book Hollywoodized and sanitized, it's bowdlerized, with the juicier parts of Genesis cut out.

For that I recommend R. Crumb's tremendous graphic novel, The Book of Genesis, which interprets every scripture and all fifty chapters of Genesis as they are written, including murders, incest, the "begats" and the inconsistencies throughout. It's all done with no editorial comment, just Crumb's vibrant drawing style, which reminds me of a cartoony Gustave DorĂ©. One reviewer says of this book, "I’ve read Genesis before. But never have I found it so compelling. By placing it squarely in the Middle East—and populating it with distinctively Semitic-looking people—Crumb makes it come alive brilliantly." (Susan Jane Gilman - Morning Edition, NPR )

In the middle part of the century someone decided that for children it was better to present an American, Caucasian world, where there are no ethnic types anywhere to be seen. Some of this was pragmatic: showing ethnic characters, in the way they were usually presented in that era, would have engendered complaints, so popular media, publishers, TV, movies, decided it was easier to pretend whole groups of humans didn't exist. The Semitic people were represented as looking like their ancestry wasn't in the Middle East, but from Northern Europe. The pictures of Jesus in the book follow the modern look, American with long hair and beard.

In the movies Charlton Heston played Moses in The Ten Commandments, and Jeffrey Hunter was Jesus in King of Kings. You can hardly get more American than those guys.

It gives an impression, just like Dick and Jane readers were indoctrinated with, that the only people who count are white, that "the rest of you are 'others' who don't fit into our view of religion or the society around us." The world has changed, and even to my grandchildren, ages 6 and 5, the portrayals of biblical characters in Bible Firsts seem phony. They were also phony when the book was originally published. It was just the backward way things were done in those days.



DEMiller said...

Instead of a fig, it looks like Eve is reaching for a man's srcotum.

El Postino said...

Great catch on that picture. I totally missed this "hidden porn."

Unknown said...


Here's a site you might like,

The Brick Testament.

Pretty funny

Dave Teal

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Crazy stuff!

I remember back in 1966 thinking that most TV or movie or "storybook" depictions of the past had a clean look about them... and then my Mom took me to see THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING. Now this was something else!! This did not look like anything I'd seen on TV, or in any Catholic School Catechism book. This was as if someone had found a working time machine, and actually gone back to the dim, distant, SAVAGE, BRUTAL past, and filmed the thing on location, as it really happened!

When I looked back on it decades later, I remember comparing it to CONAN THE BARBARIAN. If I'm not mistaken, Dino DeLaurentis was involved with that film, too!

One of the most interesting parts of the film is the brief, 10-minute "Sodom And Gomorrah" sequence, right smack in the middle of the long, painful-to-watch, bordering-on-boring "Abraham" sequence (honestly, the movie with Richard Harris was so much better done than the episode with George C. Scott). The way it's shot, you don't actually see anything... you have to fill in with your imagination. But the ending, you'd swear it looks like an atom bomb went off.

Starting in February, I've been downloading, cleaning up and re-posting the entire run of STORIES FROM THE BIBLE from BOYS' LIFE magazine at my blog. Artists include Creig Flessel, Irv Novick, Frank Bolle, and others. Here's "The Beginning"...