Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I'm finally done with 3 out of 4 elective courses for the animation degree!
Since they're not supposed to be related to art and/or film, it's a chance to study something that might be interesting yet you never got the chance to get into.

One of those courses was Bible studies, specifically the book of Genesis. It also happened to be the heaviest elective i encountered:

A strange choice, most of my friends thought, for such a non-spiritual person. Actually i think taking this course may challenge the believer much more than the non-believer. We study the text from a literary research point of view, not a religious one. But hard as we try to treat this as any (ancient) literary text that's been put together by multiple sources over long periods of time - everybody arrives in this class with preconceptions about the "good book".
This might be true just about anywhere in the Judo-Christian world, but here in Israel we study the Old Testament for at least 11 years, as a mandatory subject we get tested on at the end of high school just like math and English. Not to mention all the religious-cultural-political (so incredibly sad) meanings you carry around regarding it, just by living here, just by osmosis (even the non-patriotic secular - even an atheist - can't turn away from those effects completely).

In any case, this class has a way of shattering a lot of ideas students have acquired through the years, by trying to analyze scripture as just what it is - a text, however heavy-laden with cultural, historical and, alas, spiritual meaning to many people. At least, I think, that's the objective of many researchers in the field. But reading many (many!) articles, we've also seen that even they tend to place too much meaning where there might be very little of it, or not any at all. The biblical editors were no doubt artful, but again this text seems to be difficult if not impossible to analyze without being biased one way or the other.
Perhaps this is the case in all academic research, but here you often get the feeling of people desperately trying to force meaning on the text - whether it's because the person analyzing it has a point of view to promote, or because the religious/cultural weight of it feels too great, or simply because it's a difficult, ancient text that inevitably leaves many questions open wide.

A lot of what we've seen researchers try in their articles is finding discrepancies in the ancient text and giving them explanations of all kinds.
But sometimes, in the name of common sense, you can't help but feel these discussions are kind of ridiculous. Take Genesis 17 for example, where Abraham gets yet more promises from his God.
I mean, here are well-educated grown men and women, PhDs at hand, arguing about how logically problematic in the chapter it is having the nighttime (stars act as a visual aid when Abe is shown how plentiful his seed will be) before the sunset (when Abe falls asleep and has a vision)... Really?? This is an OMNIPOTENT god! This is a god that can stop the sun in the middle of sky (Joshua 10)! Hell, he created the sun and moon just a few chapters ago!
I know they're trying to trace the editor's frame of mind, but they're not "problems" or even "gaps" at all as far as he and his audience are concerned! I mean, really - you take a magical dude making an entire woman out of a rib and a talking snake for granted, and you're worried about things not making sense?!

Thinking about all these things while studying obviously led me to doodle. Among the singing flying camels, sad piggies and snakes with speech bubbles, i also considered poor old Abraham. If he knew what would become of the stories of his family...

"Hmm, how did all of this happen?"

With or without all the problems, it is a beautifully written text nonetheless, and studying the storytelling techniques was a big factor for choosing the class. It's quite plainly, an awesome book of stories: human weaknesses and dilemmas propelling the plot guarantee drama and suspense. Even without the miraculous happenings you have the makings of incredibly memorable stories.
From that angle, it's not so much the god in the book that captures us, but the human characters (god manages to do that, i think, mostly when acting very human-like - ha ha).
I have always been fascinated with those, and one my portfolio pieces for the animation program, was my versions of selected female characters of the old testament (be merciful! it's from over 2.5 years ago!):

It's pretty amazing how much art these stories have inspired. One of my latest contemporary favorite adaptations is the "Awakened" photograph series by David LaChapelle: http://gayspirituality.typepad.com/blog/2010/01/awakened-by-david-lachapelle.html
and the not-so-contemporary tower of Babylon scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 "Metropolis": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlfvBgBDpm0 (which also brings me to this amazing Que Sera remix clip by Wax Tailor).
They manage to give the well-known characters and narratives new and profound meanings through their interpretations.

A really funny adaptation of biblical stories and characters can be found in the movie "Year 1" (clips of which kept me strong while studying :)).
On the face of it, it's a silly film exploding with anachronisms, but right under the surface you can find witty anti-religious messages (or even right on the surface - Spoiler Alert!! - the corrupt high priest ends up in the same furnace he had intended for sacrificing virgins..).

For example in this here clip, the sacrificing of Isaac is funny and all, but this and the subsequent scenes actually remind me a lot of things Richard Dawkins (*heart*!) has to say about religious practices (like them and the concepts behind them being perceived as legitimate and revered simply because they are "religious", but actually from any other consideration they present no real reason to be respected, and are simply F-ed in the head - though surely Richard says it better than me :)).

And not to finish on such a serious note, here is a clip from my favorite comedian at the moment, Tim Minchin:

(Keep your eyes peeled for "Storm", Minchin's animated beat poem coming out this year!)

This has been long, so thank you for reading - and i promise less eclectic posts with real drawings in them very soon!