Taking Testament Seriously

So you wanna know what a comic book like Testament looks like through the eyes of a genuine Torah scholar? Check out this paper by Boston University PhD candidate and author A. David Lewis.

This guy not only gets pretty much everything I was thinking about when making the choices I did for how to adapt the Torah – but he helps justify some of those choices with Midrash I hadn’t considered. Lewis also went as far back as my Nothing Sacred and even earlier books and interviews to cobble together some of my rationale and intentions. Reading his essay, I began to remember some of what got me interested in this line of inquiry to begin with.

From Lewis’s essay:

Tellingly, Rushkoff’s original storyarc for Testament, “Abraham of Ur,” was retitled for the collected trade paperback as Akedah, the Hebrew word for being bound, specifically the Binding of Isaac. It works as a cute pun on the repackaging of the original six issues, but that should not be the only meaning we take from it.

Rather, it is the biblical scene first presented by the series and the name Rushkoff gave to the first issue’s script. (We will return to the significance of the former reshuffling shortly.) Considering its early placement and Testament’s narrative trope – that biblical stories from the past are recurring in the near-future, determined by divine being existing just outside panels – being bound takes on even greater significance. That is, the title, coupled with the sequential art medium, suggests, as Rushkoff did in Nothing Sacred, the idea of being bound, of being closed off, of being boxed in – enpanelized, to coin a phrase. And, just as the humans of the story are caught between the gutters, the gods are themselves trapped within them while also tied to the characters and stories. The polytheists beings (Moloch, Astarte, and Atum-Ra) require human worship as fuel, while the monotheist agents (Melchizedek, Elijah, and Krishna) thrive literally on the mortal narrative. Like Prometheus, these gods, too, are bound.

With this subtle shift of nomenclature, Rushkoff hints both at his agenda and at the power of comic books: to break boundaries. As he says in Media Virus:

With surprising and almost frightening consistency, comic-book writers fill their stories with a unilaterally progressive countercultural agenda. Like most alternative and underground media, these comics promote psychedelic consciousness, environmental awareness, sexual permissiveness, racial equality, feminist values, distrust of authority, and conspiratorial paranoia. (188)

We can see, when viewed this way, the allure that writing a comic book series would have for this media critic. If we have a holy text Biblical that, as New York Times reviewer Lore Dickstein says, is “full of lacunae and empty spaces” which, over time, have been filled in Iserian or Auerbachian fashion, then comics may be the best medium by which to reopen it. “[C]omic books exploit those gaps in order to communicate (Rushkoff Playing 57), perfect for when your purpose is specifically to reopen them – to de-delineate the boundaries.

…the whole essay is here.

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