19 February 2017

When a Murderer Invented Civilization

Adam and Eve gave birth to two sons. In this strange episode, the two sons of Adam and Eve bring offerings to God. Cain, a tiller of the ground, brought his produce. Abel, a keeper of sheep, brought a sacrifice from his flocks. God accepted Abel's offering (by fire out of heaven?) by not that of Cain. No explanation occurs as to why God accepted one offering and not another. Indeed, no passages provide any information about God communicating the time and place for offerings or their purpose.

God recognized Cain's disappointment. He encourages him that well doing will receive a reward, but that the sin of envy lies at the door. Everyone knows what happened next.

 "And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.  And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.  And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech." Genesis 4:8-18

Interestingly, God banished Cain rather than executing him. Perhaps this passage attempts to explain the ancient practice of exclusion through "hating out," ostracism, or religious excommunication. Because Abel's blood cried up from the ground, God pronounced a curse that the ground will not yield its strength for Cain. (A bit redundant, since God allegedly afflicted all of mankind with that curse after the fall in Eden. Is this yet another story attempting to explain the origin of natural evil, why men must engage in intensive labor to survive?) God also declared that he will live as a fugitive and vagabond. Cain left for the East.

But God's curse came to naught in any meaningful way.

Cain left for the East. Somehow, the East was peopled already. The Bible does not answer that enduring question asked by skeptics about the origins of Cain's wife. He married and had a son named Enoch. Sometime after he settled, the Bible says he built a CITY. This is, of course, the foundation of civilization. (The word civilization comes from the Latin, civilis, which pertains to citizens and cities.) Moreover, in the genealogy of Cain, the bible credits some of Cain's descendants for building on that foundation. In the biblical pattern of attributing the origin of certain skills or practices to a particular individuals, the text explains the role that Cain's tribe played in the development of civilized life. Tubal-cain became an artificer and instructor in working with brass and iron. He invented the manual arts or useful arts. Jubal was “the father of such as handle the hard and organ.” He invented fine arts, or the arts of the beautiful. But then Jabal is described by the Bible as “the father of such that dwell in tents and of such as have cattle.” But this claim is as questionable as the others. For the rest of the first family remained back in Western Mesopotamia dwelling in tents as uncivilized nomadic shepherds.

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