Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:1-26

Cain and Abel, the classic story of sibling rivalry. Cain was the first-born son of Adam and Eve, and Abel the second. Each brother played a different role in the new domesticated lifestyle of the family now cast out of Eden; Cain was a farmer and Abel kept flocks. The two brothers both decided to bring an offering to the Lord. Christianity, like many religions, has a constant theme of sacrificial offerings to God in both the new and old testaments. Cain brings crops from his field, but God is not impressed. Abel on the other hand brings fat portions from the first-born of his flock, and this pleases God. Throughout the Bible, God has a fascination with first-born and the flesh of living creatures that is very disturbing. God’s dismissal of Cain’s offerings angers him. Cain is upset that God chose favor of his younger brother over him.

“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’” Genesis 4:6-7

This is the first mention of sin in the Bible, and why wouldn’t Cain be angry? I thought God was omniscient. God should know why Cain is upset. It is difficult to see any fault with what Cain has done so far. All Cain had done was seek God’s approval of his crops, and God rejected him. God disapproved of his work and his labor. Cain’s anger is justified. Haven’t you ever put a lot of work into a gift for someone? If you have, how would you feel if they just brushed it off? If God were as benevolent as Christian’s say he is, he would have been gracious enough to say to both of them, “Thank you both for your bounty. I see you both put a lot of work into this. I really appreciate it.” Instead, God was the ungrateful guest at a dinner party, “ I loved the meat, but the vegetables . . . eh. I’ve had better.” If God didn’t like the vegetables maybe he should have taken a more nurturing approach, “Hey Cain, I really appreciate the crops you gave me, but they could still use a little work. I know you have been trying real hard and I can see it. I just have a few suggestions to make them better. Have you heard of selective breeding?” God instead ridiculed him.

Cain, in his jealous rage, lures his brother into the field. There he attacks his brother and murders him. The Lord then asks Cain where his bother is. Cain then replies with one of the most famous quotes in the Bible, “I don’t know . . . Am I my brothers’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9. This is a great moral question.  Do we have an obligation to help our fellow-man at any cost? This is my not so literal view of the quote.

For the murder of his brother, Cain was banished to wander the world and cursed. The ground that Cain worked would no longer yield crops. Cain then says that God’s “punishment is more than [he] can bear.”  Cain says that he “will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds [him] will kill [him]”. This implies that there are other humans who live but were not created by the Christian God. God assures Cain that he won’t be murdered, because God will mark him so that all will know that if they were to slay him they too would be cursed. Cain then leaves and has a son with his wife, whose name we are not told, and they name their son Enoch. Cain founds a city and names it after his son. Then the rest of the paragraph is a description of the lineage to follow Cain. Many of these early societies emphasized the importance of lineage. Lineage showed to whom land was inherited and justified one’s claim to the land. The important person in this lineage is Lamech, who is the great-great-great grandson of Cain.

Lamech marries two women, wait two? Yes, polygamy. So much for the sanctity of marriage. This is one of those things I wonder how Christian justify. As an Atheist and someone who believes in evolution I can easily justify such action. In early societies it would have been necessary for a man to take on more than one mate. Since men can always impregnate women, but women can only carry one child at a time, to increase your numbers it would just be economical. There was a high infant mortality rate, so to better your odds at having an offspring survive it makes sense to have multiple children with multiple women. Also, this could help prevent deformities from incest. It would be better to have half-brothers and half-sisters mate then full brothers and sisters, though it would be better to just go outside of the gene pool entirely, but many early civilizations did not have that luxury.  Children were important for labor on the farms. Also, a civilization with a large population can field a larger army. While I can explain it, I find it hard for a Christian today to explain it based solely off their doctrine. Now, Lamech has a son with each of his wives, Adah and Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; “the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock” or pastoralist. These were semi-sedentary people who followed herds, and, because of this, wouldn’t have permanent living structures. Adah had another son, Jubal, who was “the father of all who play the harp and flute”. Zillah’s son was name Tubal-Cain, he was a smith and made weapons out of bronze and iron. He had a sister, Naamah, and we don’t know what she did. If Tubal-Cain was making tools out of Iron, then this would place this society somewhere around 1300 BCE. This listing of people who were the father of some idea or profession seems very similar to the polytheistic mythologies of the world. Like in Greek mythology, each God was the creator or protector of an idea or profession. While these people aren’t worshiped, this importance of acknowledging them seems reminiscent.

This chapter ends with Adam having another son named Seth. Seth later has a son named Enosh. The last line is, “At that time men began to call [or proclaim] the name of the Lord”. So it was at this time that people were starting to spread the word.

Next time I look at the lineage of Noah in the story, “From Adam to Noah”.

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