CONSIDERING that barely a word has been changed from the original, the warning on the cover of a new, illustrated version of the Book of Genesis — “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors” — might seem surprising. Until, that is, one reads the name of the illustrator: R. Crumb.
Mr. Crumb is known almost as much for his bawdy underground comix featuring characters like Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural as he is for “Crumb,” the 1994 documentary about him. But he has been driven less by his sexual impulses in recent years and more by the 45 minutes he spends in seated meditation every morning in the medieval town house he shares with his wife, Aline (they became grandparents this month), in the south of France.
One day 15 years ago, for no reason he can remember, Mr. Crumb decided he wanted to read the myths of ancient Sumer. Eventually he found a scholarly work that said some of the myths were similar to the stories in Genesis. He read Genesis closely, and the idea of illustrating it clicked. He told a literary agent friend that if he could fetch a big enough advance, he’d do it. W. W. Norton & Company came through with $200,000, which seemed enough; Mr. Crumb thought he could bang out the project in a year or two. It took four.
As unlikely as it may seem, Mr. Crumb has become something of a Bible scholar. In a telephone interview from France, he bristled at a description of his book by his British publisher as “scandalous satire.” “I had no intention to scandalize the Bible,” he said. “I was intrigued by the challenge of exposing everything in there by illustrating it. The text is so significant in our culture, to bring everything out was a significant enough purpose for doing it.”
During the interview he described his thinking while working on certain sections. His answers have been condensed and are in the slide show on the left.