August 6, 2007

The time has come today... Part one.

The good Earth.

There is a theory concerning the biblical story of Cain and Abel I’ve always believed contained a certain amount of veracity. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Cain and Abel it is a tale of two brothers who bring offerings to God. Abel brings a slaughtered animal which is found worthy and thereafter he is looked upon quite favorably in the eyes of God. Cain on the other hand brings an offering of agricultural harvesting from the land and not only is his offering rejected but so too is he looked upon unfavorably by God. My question of course has always been why? What exactly was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice? What was so right about Abel’s sacrifice? Does God not like vegans? Is God a steak and potatoes kind of conservative republican after all? It vexes me.

Whenever I’ve asked a clergyman about this tale I’ve always been given the same answer, “It’s the blood, boy, it prefigures the eventual sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as propitiation to God for the sins of mankind.” Of course, that is usually the official church answer to any and every question I ever ask about the scriptures. It is a stock response I believe simply serves to obfuscate the obscure and make an ignorant man appear wise when in reality a question has been asked for which he has no good answer at all.

The story of Cain and Abel appears arbitrary in nature. There is no reason or explanation for why one sacrifice is more acceptable than the other. It reeks of the, “because I said so” attitude so often attributed to God by those who claim to speak in the omnipotent one’s name. You know the process as, “do not question the man behind the curtain!” God says it is so and so surely it must be so because he says so. What? Why is God so afraid of being questioned about just what exactly he is doing and why he is doing it in the particular way he is doing it?

Sorry, I digress...

So, we have a tale about two brothers who bring sacrifices before God. One sacrifice is acceptable and one is not. However, the story gets even more perplexing. The vegan brother, after having his offering rejected and labeled as unworthy is so enraged that he kills his brother, Abel. Cain is then cursed, given a special mark and promptly sent out into the world to live as an outcast.

Now, if one adheres to the idea that every single word in the bible is literal and true, representing actual events in the course of human history the story of Cain and Abel can only be accepted at face value. Two brothers work equally hard at their chosen occupation, each willingly take the best fruits of their labors to the house of God to offer as sacrifices and one is rejected by the omnipotent one and the other is embraced. The brother who has been rejected murders the brother who has been accepted. Cain is exiled and Abel is dead. There is an important lesson to be learned here. Really?

Exactly what is that lesson? Does God hate vegetables? I thought God created them and saw that they were good. Was Cain blind to an evil within himself that only God could see? Why did Cain kill Abel? This story has always left me with more questions than answers and it just ticks me off. Perhaps as certain theories suggest, the only real way to arrive at an understanding of the story is to step out of the literal interpretation of the tale and look at it from a different perspective. What if we look at the two brothers as representing archetypes of some sort? What if the archetypes represented two different philosophies of living with the environment? What if the two differing philosophies had indeed reached a pivotal point of conflict where one way of life was indeed threatening the continued existence of the other? What would the lesson of the story be if looked at from this perspective?

To be continued...


Blogger Pythia3 said...

Great post! I love religious contemplations and debates. Here goes . . .

(Though, I will have to go back and re-read this chapter in order to fully remember the story.)

But for what it's worth and what I know at this time; A sacrifice has to be that - A SACRIFICE. Maybe Abel gave more than he was able (ok, pun - my bad) like his best or his one and only fatted calf and maybe Cain offered only a small portion of the cornucopia he harvested - not his prize winning tomatos.

I think it's all about intention and giving until or from where it hurts. A billionaire donating a million to a charity is great, but a boy giving all of his 2.00 allowance to a homeless man means so much more (in God's eyes).

But to address your question of the two brothers as representing archetypes . . . what if Cain represented a farmer who (although appears 'green' and conscientious about the planet and its inhabitants) is secretly supporting the clearing of trees in the rain forest so that crops of soy can be grown? And what if Abel represented a family farmer who actually treats his animals humanely and with dignity rather than the cruel, inhumane treatment animals receive in factory farms.

Kind of puts on spin on our own stereo types and prejudges.

Thanks! I'll be back for more :)


August 06, 2007 5:05 PM  
Blogger Dirk_Star said...

pythia3 - Oh I think you are in for a real surprise at just where this post is going to wind up...

The sacrifice is not a key story element at all...

August 06, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger DNR said...

Hey Dirk - Thaks for stopping by. I'm catching up, heading for part 2.

If you get a minute, check this out ---> http://dnr-photog.blogspot.com/

August 09, 2007 12:47 PM  
Blogger Arcturus said...

There are some other interpretations ... the Midrash commentaries to the Jewish Bible (the Tanakh) says that the struggle really was over their twin sisters (yes, that is pretty gross incest but remember in this religious cosmology, they were the first humans. Long story short, in this view, Cain was jealous of Abel's prettier bride-to-be.

Leaving that aside, I think you hit on the point when you say that there really is no reason to God's attitude -- and behavior, since He rejects Cain's offerings with a kind of blast from Heaven, as I recall, that burns it up.

It is precisely the arbitrary quality to God's decision, as well as His admonishment to "get over it, and do better next time" that makes the story so vexing.

Don't read too much into the vegan thing -- that's a really modern interpretation that isn't necessarily very helpful.

August 09, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I would have never thought that you would have me fetch my bible, but fetch I did.

The story of Cain and Abel is very symbolic and literal simultaneously.

If we look at the literal words:
But He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

So the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well sin lies at the door. And it's desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Countenance just means facial expression by the way.

Cain offered first. Seemily got jealous after being scorned, and let that jealousy overtake him causing him to kill his brother.

The beginnings of Christianity we all know was Hebrew. At that time in history there were two main groups, the agricultural nomads just beginning to settle down and the rancher and herder nomads just beginning to settle down. The ranchers followed tribal gods and family gods and the farmers followed nature gods.

You see a lot of this seperation in the Odyssey as well. The ranchers against the nature and the dilemma of the hunters and gatherers.

Economics mixed up with religion.

The Hebrews descended from ranchers and herders and followed the at first family or tribal God, Yahweh.

Once they settled down, Yahweh became the omnipotent. So Abel was a rancher and it pleased God. Cain was a farmer and more attached to the natural perhaps too being the first son and representative of the outside or "backward" group of agriculturalists.

The killing of Abel is a story about jealousy.

The offering about economics and establishing the religion in a settled area.

Now I know I'm to prepare myself for a wide turn on part two but had to share the socio-economic history of the story a bit.

August 09, 2007 5:17 PM  

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