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    1. Cain and Abel

      Cain and Abel The Story you Might know: Cain was Adam and Eve’s first son, Abel was No. 2. “in the course of time,” Cain, a farmer, brought an offering of his harvest. Abel, a “keeper of flocks,”...

      Cain and Abel

      The Story you Might know:

      Cain was Adam and Eve’s first son, Abel was No. 2. “in the course of time,” Cain, a farmer, brought an offering of his harvest. Abel, a “keeper of flocks,” also brought “the fattest part of the firstborn of his flocks.” Cain got a God Thumbs Down, Abel, a God Thumbs Up.” Cain was pissed, killed Abel. God exiled Cain and put a “mark” on him so no-one would kill him.

      You Might not Know:

      Cain goes on to found a city and have progeny, one of whom is the father “of those who play stringed and wind instruments,” another becomes the father of “all those who keep flocks,” another the father of those who make tools. So like, everything you could do in the ancient world except farming.

      The father of these three is a guy named Lamech. Perhaps merely coincidentally, Lamech is the name of the father of Noah, the next story in the Genesis. Bible Purists obviously distinguish these two, but we’re talking about the Law Books of Moses here, seems like they would have chosen these sorts of things pretty carefully. I am not a Bible purist (or scholar, for that matter).

      Something in this story dings a low-pitched gong deep down in my psyche. Granted, I was raised in a certain christian religious tradition where lots of time were spent on certain bible stories, of which this was one. But it was always presented as a simple morality tale: God wants animal sacrifices, and it’s wrong to kill your brother. Also don’t read anything past where God, who is clearly so merciful, put a mark on cain to save his life.

      I turned to the internet, and most of the Christian exposition points to a few New Testament passages that clarify Abel was more righteous and had better faith. I found that wholly unsatisfactory. So I looked for Jewish exposition. One, an academic at a (presumably reformed) Jewish university, basically was like, God, wtf? (totally my summary). Others had various moral expositions, albeit far more eloquently reasoned and rhetoricized than the christians, but still unsatisfactory.

      Questions based on the English text alone:

      What was really wrong with Cain’s offering, and how would Cain know in advance? Sure, all the whole rest of the bible is about animal (and human) sacrifice, but at this stage? After all, God requires Adam to be a farmer, so Cain is just being a dutiful son, and offering what he has to offer. The implication from the text is not that it was wrong in kind, but that it wasn’t “nice” enough, suggested by the text’s additional detail about Abel’s offering being fat and firstborn.

      Also, how can Cain’s descendant, born well after this incident, be the of father those “who keep flocks,” when that’s what Abel did?

      How did Cain ditch his curse?

      What other people were there to kill Cain? At this point, technically, there’s only Adam, Eve, Cain (and dead Abel). Also, where’d he get a wife? And don’t say Adam and Eve were busy. The text says their next child after Cain and Abel was Seth, born after all this mess.

      Other than the nature of the offering and the curse, these questions are really only important to Ken Hamm and his pals.

      Based on preliminary research:

      The questions don’t easily resolve, as some scholars believe that what Cain offered was flax, which would have been the best of his crops. Also, what Abel offered was goats, when the best offering would have been cows. Conclusion: god doesn’t care what kind, so long as it’s the best of that kind. Or, God prefers a Chevy with full options over a base model BMW (better get that heated seat subscription now!).

      Cain’s name might mean “blacksmith.” The father of tools is Tubal-Cain. “Abel” might be a transmogrifation of “Jabel,” the father of those who keep flocks.

      Lamech is the same Lamech in both stories, what we are seeing is an attempt to include and combine two traditional sources into one text. Assuming that is true, would keeping the name the same be an effort to signal the reader needs to understand we are bridging two stories? I mean, if I were trying subterfuge, I’d change one of their names. If I were trying to be real, I’d add a footnote explaining it. But then again, I don’t have to write on papryus by hand.

      Later interpretations:

      In the late middle ages/early post middle ages, depictions of this story show Abel as clean shaven, smaller, with soft features, and wearing fine, aristocratic clothing. Cain is bigger, bearded, aggressively countenanced with sharp, angular features. He’s wearing the clothes of a field-hand.

      Why I am writing this:

      Like I said, it bangs a ceremonial gong. I feel like there is an important truth embedded here. It’s more spiritual, and important, than merely accepting it as an artifact of changing and competing cultures. There’s some talk of two traditions merging here, one priestly, the other “YHWH-ist,” especially when you consider the preceeding and succeeding texts (Adam <> Noah). The competing cultures are nomadic, pastoral (these two are not exclusive), and agricultural, and also urban “industrial.” Everything comes from Cain—nomadicism, agriculture, technology, music, animal husbandry. Some jewish scholars say Architecture is included in there, too.

      My interpretation:

      I deign to practice midrash. When Cain lets his displeasure at God’s judgment be known, God says something like, don’t you know if you do right, I will lift you up? I think what is being said here is that what Cain did was not good enough—for Cain. That is, Cain could do better. Abel did the best he could, he gave some juicy meat. But God had bigger plans for Cain. No offering of mere crops, or money, or even cows would have satisfied coming from Cain. No, Cain needed to literally found civilization. And following that path is when the blessings started to flow.

      Side-note, In old Egypt, Osiris was the first-born brother of Set, and created culture for humans.

      Abel the first capitalist.

      I believe that medieval interpretations were attempting to perpetuate feudalism. The depictions of poor, innocent Abel, righteous and faithful servant of God, as aristocratic, against aggressive, crude, farmer Cain as a peasant, is meant to keep the judgmental finger of God pointed firmly and clearly at the heart of the serfs. God’s (through his faithful feudal Lord) is going to expel you if you act like Cain. Keep offering your crops to God (through your faithful feudal Lord) plus some phat veal.

      It’s also possible that the story was holding up an early form of capitalism. I’m getting speculative (and casual) here. But whereas farming is a very labor intensive endeavor, flocking is very capital intensive (and also, like modern big capitalists, is very good at externalizing costs). Farming does require land-capital, a few tools, and seed, but mostly crops are grown through effort. Pastoral endeavors, otoh, require capital, namely, the flock. The inputs are externalized-water and pasture not owned by the shepherd. The flock largely persists, producing milk, wool, and babies (ROI!!), requiring much less effort to maintain than dirt. Don’t believe me? How do you think David had all that time to sing those psalms?

      Thanks for reading.

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