May 27, 2005


The World’s First Murder: A Closer Look at Cain and Abel: Combining a careful reading of the text with ancient rabbinic analysis, the author takes us behind the scenes in Scripture, revealing a startling tapestry of meaning in stories that many have written-off as fiction. As before, he has designed the series to be interactive. You are encouraged to pose questions and offer comments. Try to stump the rabbi — he'll respond! (Rabbi David Fohrman, 5/27/05, Jewish World Review)

Here's a thirty-second snapshot of the narrative — followed by my best, devil's-advocate-style rendition of a question I don't really believe in:

Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve, each bring offerings to the Lord. The Almighty expresses pleasure with the offering brought by Abel, but not with that brought by his older brother Cain. Cain becomes very upset. Shortly afterwards, he kills his brother Abel.

Well, class, there's more to the story than that, but why don't we stop here for the time being. Let's go around the room: Is everyone here happy with this story? [...]

Imagine you were Bobby and Debbie's mother, and when your two children had each presented their respective gifts to you, you had inexplicably disregarded that basic rule of parenting, and had favored Debbie's gift over Bobbie's. Now, a half hour later, you walk by Bobby's room and find him weeping softly into his pillow. You ask him what's the matter and he turns to you and whimpers, "You told me you didn't like my present..." and then comes the kicker, something my child has tried on me one or two times. He says: "Mommies aren't supposed to say things like that to their kids ...". How would you react to Bobby's plaintive cries?

Instinctively, most parents — even those who had initially favored Debby's gift — would be unable to resist the sight of a weeping Bobby. Most of us would recognize the error of our ways, would scoop Bobby into their arms and apologize for having turned our back on his gift. You're right, we'd tell him, Mommy loves you and I'm so sorry for not accepting your gift the way I should have. We'd apologize; we'd tell Bobby we'd had a hard day at work, we weren't paying enough attention; we'd tell him it won't happen again; we'd tell him just about anything in our desperate attempt to make things right.

But that's not how it happens in the Cain and Abel story.

Just after G-d rejects Cain's offering, and immediately before Cain murders his brother, the Almighty speaks to Cain. But G-d does not soothingly tell Cain that everything will be just fine, that his offering really was pretty good after all. Instead, G-d challenges Cain, asking him whether he really has a right to be angry:

Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? Is it not the case that if you do well, then lift up! And if you don't do well, then, sin lies crouching at the door....

What's going on here? What if the parent who had accepted Debbie's gift but not Bobby's had told the weeping Bobby that if he had done better everything would be just fine; that he should just get over it. Most of us would be ready to pick up the phone and call Social Services. But, how then, are we supposed to come to grips with the Almighty's words to Cain?

And now, dear reader, the ball is in your court. I mentioned before that I felt that the questions I am asking here are not really legitimate. Its my view that the analogy to Bobby and Debbie is faulty and misleading. If you re-read the story of Cain and Abel carefully, I think you should be able to spot the flaw; you should be able to see why Bobby and Debby's sorry plight actually has little indeed to do with the story of Cain and Abel.

You've got a week to think about it.

I'll see you then.

Cain and Abel is best read as a reiteration of the Fall, with Cain as postlapsarian Man and Abel as pre-, which explains God's choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 27, 2005 10:54 AM

You know, ever since I was a little kid I though Cain got screwed in that deal. Let me see if I remember correctly: God calls for a sacrifice. Abel being some sort of rancher brings God his biggest, juciest cow. Cain is a farmer and brings God a ton of his best vegetables or whatever. I thnk it may have been grapes. God loves the meat and scorns the vegetables. Well, hey, God both men brought you the fruits of their respective labors! It's not like Cain brough a couple of scraggly plants. Shoot, Cain probably had to work a lot hard to get those damned plants growing (as I'm learning this spring) than Abel had to work to kill a cow.

Posted by: Governor Breck at May 27, 2005 11:36 AM

It is all about the blood.

Posted by: TIGPresto at May 27, 2005 12:03 PM

oj, the esay (of your own) that you linked to was extremely thought provoking -- stimulating actually. sorry to gush, but after reading it i felt like i do when i solve a problem at work -- that aha! feeling.

its interesting to think of man attempting to be godlike, without being a god -- like trying to fly without being a bird. in a way, having children, and they in turn having children, does simulate a kind of immortality.

the essence of leftism is an incompetent elite existing in a parasitical manner on the efforts of others. they hate competition, they hate merit, they hate genuine accomplishment. no wonder a leftist like brody would look favorably on a primitive existence where everyone shared and no one owned anything. except that's not how primitive societies work. they work like a dog pack; the most violent and dominant get first dibs on everything and everyone else gets scraps.
which if you think about it, is exactly how leftist societies function.

Posted by: cjm at May 27, 2005 12:25 PM


No, that's the point, Abel doesn't labor, just brings the fat of the land.

Cain labors as Man was sentenced to before tossed from Eden.

Cain is a bitter reminder of God's failure and so is rejected. But then God recognizes He's asked too much and so relents in the punishment phase.

The story is replayed frequently -- Noah, etc.-- until God gives being human a shot and on the Cross has his own epiphany --Lord, Oh Lord, Why hast Thou forsaken me?. If even God despairs of as a human then what hope do we have? "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do."

Posted by: oj at May 27, 2005 12:38 PM

God loves the meat and scorns the vegetables.

Of course He does. After all, vegetables are what food eats.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 27, 2005 1:15 PM

God knows the importance of roughage.

Posted by: Governor Breck at May 27, 2005 1:24 PM

I've heard a different commentary. It says that Cain knew the type of sacrifice God expected. Since he didn't have it, he should have gone to Abel and obtained the needed sacrifice. Instead, he was too proud and decided he'd rather give God an unworthy sacrifice. Thus the reprimand. I guess this makes more sense to people who had lived back in Antiquity.

I've never heard OJ's explanation before. It seems to have certain merits except that God seems to be a senile schmuck.

In any case, I think the answer to the Rabbi's question is obvious. This isn't about a gift to God. It's God explaining to people what their duties are. If Dad tells you and your brother to clean the house, and one does it and the other half-asses it, then Dad is likely to tell the screw-up he did it wrong.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at May 27, 2005 3:10 PM

This god is like the tax collectors in Hagar the Horrible.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 27, 2005 4:04 PM


Exactly. Render unto.

Posted by: oj at May 27, 2005 5:03 PM


Posted by: cjm at May 27, 2005 5:43 PM

Where did all the people in the land of Nod come from?

Posted by: carter at May 27, 2005 7:48 PM


Posted by: oj at May 27, 2005 7:56 PM

TIG is right. This story should be viewed backwards through Christ. No blood, no adequate sacrifice. The old "big mean demanding bloodthirsty daddy" stumbling block.

Posted by: Judd at May 27, 2005 8:00 PM