Who knew?

July 11, 2010

Banished from the eternal play-place that is the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did the only conceivable thing two humans in their predicament would do to entertain themselves: sex. Wow, the first thing to result from the fall of mankind is recreational copulation. I hear being the last man on Earth doesn’t guarantee any purchase in your sex life, but apparently being the first man has its perks. To be honest, I can’t say Adam and Eve just hooked up out of boredom, but it makes more sense considering the last thing I’d want after being banished to a foreign land is a kid or two. Unfortunately, the Bible isn’t even as descriptive as I am in telling of the carnal escapades of Adam and Eve.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” (Gen 4:1)

This is a potent time in the history of mankind. Apparently just knowing someone can get you pregnant. Fortunately that’s not the case now. I’ve known a lot of women in my life but I guess I never really knew them…

Adam and Eve learn a little bit about each other and the result is two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain, the oldest, is a farmer while Abel raises sheep.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock…” (Gen 4:3-4)

Several aspects of this passage drew my attention. The relationship between Cain, Abel and God seems very primitive. Offerings to a god or gods have always been portrayed by history and the media as the acts of a savage culture. Although I have never heard such a portrayal from a religious representative, I feel their sentiments would be similar in regards to offerings to deities. Also, no special mention is given to the fact that the sons of Adam and Eve are giving offerings to the God that banished their parents. If, back in the time of Genesis, kids were brought up in any way like they are now, then Cain and Abel would have heard plenty of rants and raves about God over the dinner table. Eve would try to explain for the “like millionth” time how a snake talked her into things, then Adam would start mumbling his regret at having listened to mom in the first place. Eventually, dad would go on about how they apologized and God just totally over reacted…or something like that. Regardless, coming out of their parent’s house, Cain and Abel probably wouldn’t have the highest esteem for God. Why then do they feel compelled to give God an offering? I surmise, as does Oxford, albeit subtly, that the brothers do it to gain their own acceptance from God. A logical idea if God didn’t take out his anger for Adam and Eve on their kids.

“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry,” (Gen 4:4-5)

No kidding! Of course Cain was very angry. The guy just toiled for a season to give God this offering and He doesn’t even say two words to Cain about it. Oxford pointedly remarks, “[n]o reason is given for the acceptance of Abel’s offering”. I’m glad I’m not the only one to read this passage this way. God gives no reason for his acceptance of Abel’s offering, but it also means there is no reason why God does not accept Cain’s offering. Adding insult to injury, God goes and plays dumb:

“the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?’” (Gen 4:6)

I’ll tell you why his countenance has fallen. You cut him real deep God.

After pretending like He did nothing wrong, God either plays with Cain’s mind or reveals an element of his powerlessness. If we assume God to be the ultimate judgment in the universe then He would be the one to accept or not accept offerings. So by phrasing this fact as a question to Cain, God confuses the poor guy and subtly states Cain didn’t “do well”. Either that or God doesn’t have the power to determine if Cain has done “well”. Whoever does have that power, the Bible gives me no hints.

Jealous and frustrated, Cain lures his brother out into a field where he kills him. When God comes calling after his favorite grandson, Cain doles out an awesome retort:

“’Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Gen 4:9)

I would phrase Cain’s comment as the snide, “It wasn’t my turn to look after him” remark of today’s cynical youth. My mom would call this “giving lip” or “back talking” and who knew it’s practice goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind? Now I haven’t known Cain very long, but I consider him a reasonable man despite being prone to over-reacting from time to time. Cain asks God a question they both know the answer to, just like God did to Cain earlier. The spiteful remark towards God leads me to believe Cain knows He was giving him a load of crock earlier about doing “well”.

As a punishment for Cain’s actions, God puts a curse on Cain and his ability to harvest from the Earth. Cain decides he can’t live a farm-less life and chooses exile in hopes that someone someday will end his torture via death. But God doesn’t want Cain to have the easy escape from his punishment should someone kill him, so He puts a mark on Cain to remind everyone of Cain’s actions. Should anyone kill Cain heedless of the mark, then the punishment on the killer would be “sevenfold” (Gen 4:15).  Seven? Really? Okay, seems like a random number, but I’ll go with it.

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Gen 4:16)

I didn’t mention the following in the previous posts about the creation of man and Adam and Eve, because I didn’t find it that interesting at the time. The Bible says there are four rivers that flow out of Eden, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euprhates. The latter two rivers should sound familiar as the two waterways surrounding the prehistoric Mesopotamia, a land archeologically revered for its abundant natural resources. The ancient area of Mesopotamia has since been replaced by many cities, most recognizable of which is Baghdad, Iraq. Although I don’t know anything about the Gihon and Pishon rivers mentioned in the Bible, I can’t imagine a better place to have the fabled Garden of Eden than Mesopotamia. The water that must have been far more abundant in ancient times would have made the Iraq area a haven in the middle of the desert. If Eden did exist somewhere around Iraq, then I can guess Cain settled near what is today Iran. As an aside, I wonder how deeply Catholic people feel about the potential of Eden being in the Middle East…

“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch;” (Gen 4:17)

Woah. Where did this chick come from? If this is the Bible’s way of being nonchalant, then I am not impressed. I was under the impression Adam, Eve, Cain and the late Abel were the only people on Earth. There has been no mention of extra people having been made and placed on Earth by God unless it has been done in a supremely subtle fashion uncharacteristic of anything I’ve read so far. I think it is only reasonable to expect in the beginning of mankind that the narrative would account for everyone and everything. The very literal appearance of Cain’s wife doesn’t serve to increase my faith in the text. With the woman’s arrival, a pattern begins to emerge in the book; a pattern of shoddy writing that will only lead to more unsupported and unreasonable events down the road. I don’t expect the Bible to iron out every little aspect, but when it comes to the origins of the human race, I expect the argument (if not considered outright “fact”) to be a little more foolproof.

After all, this fool can get through it.

3 Responses to “Who knew?”

  1. Alisha Says:

    Glad you pointed out the mysterious appearance of Cain’s wife. I’ve wondered that myself.

    Like Emily wrote on facebook, parts of this are reminiscent of some of the humor in the movie “Year One”. Not sure if you saw it. I saw some…but fell asleep. It pairs nicely with this post! Keep it up!

    • sacrilible Says:

      I did see Year One, and I feel like it was funnier knowing what happened in the Bible. Perhaps I will recommend the movie as supplementary material in the coming posts.

  2. Ma Says:

    Each of your posts as given me pause to think. I remember all the weekends spent in Sunday school feeling confused. I see now why this is as you have brought to like issues even I as a child wondered about.

    I find it interesting as well you are pointed to the movie “Year One”, is this the only way children know about the Bible anymore? I feel your approach is far better than watching a Hollywood version of the story.

    Good luck and good reading. I will look forward to your next entry.

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