Kenneth Koltun-Fromm

Haverford College

Imagining the Jewish God in Comics

How do graphic images shape a viewer’s notion of the Jewish God? I want to engage this question by focusing on one particular activity: the power of comic graphic images to inform readings of the Hebrew Bible, and thereby to shape our imaginings of the Jewish God. Two works that theoretically inform my encounter with comic narratives are especially relevant to this study: the edited volumes The Jewish Graphic Novel (2008) and Comics & Media (2014). Both texts mix scholarly essays with interviews/conversations with comic artists, and so expand academic discourse into the art world even as they draw art into academia. Comics are powerful image-texts, for they weave text and image together to visually depict stories in imaginative and creative ways. And they do so, as Comics & Media makes clear, by drawing the reader into the story, soliciting not merely reader response but a reader’s active imagination.

This paper addresses two comic depictions of the Jewish God: Stan Mack’s The Story of the Jews (2001), and Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis (2009). I want to analyze visions of the Jewish God as imagined in artists who strongly identify as Jewish (Stan Mack), and for those who do not (Robert Crumb). Furthermore, I want to contrast these renditions with overly Christian evangelical comic traditions, most notably Basil Wolverton’s The Wolverton Bible (2009), and Michael Pearl’s Good and Evil (2008). The Jewish God appears in all these texts within selected scenes of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. These comics ask us to imagine God in visual space as moral authority, as guiding hand, as a wise elder, but also as a vindictive, terrible force. In these texts, readers acquire a form of theological knowledge as experiential vision.

KENNETH KOLTUN-FROMM, Department of Religion, Haverford College, teaches a wide range of courses in modern Jewish thoughts and culture, together with material studies in religion. His research focuses on Jewish conceptions of identity, authority, authenticity, and material conceptions of self. He has published three books, Moses Hess and Modern Jewish Identity (2001), Abraham Geiger’s Liberal Judaism: Personal Meaning and Religious Authority (2006), and Material Culture and Jewish Thought in America (2010), and one edited volume, Thinking Jewish Culture in America (2014). My new book, Imagining Jewish Authenticity: Vision and Text in American Jewish Thought, to be published in January 2015, explores how American Jewish thinkers deploy visual discourse to make claims about religious authenticity.