Reading the Bible: Genesis - Cain and Abel

Author: Discipulus_Didicit ,

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  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    The previous thread read Genesis 2-3, where we learned why snakes eat dirt, among other things. This thread will read Genesis 4-5, a heart-warming story about socioeconomic inequality and temptation. As before reading along is recommended, reading the stories themselves will probably take less time than reading this OP and finding a Bible online is not difficult at all.

    In the beginning of the next story we meet the two main characters Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel both work difficult labor to survive as part of gods curse punishing Adam in the previous chapter, Cain is described as a farmer and Abel a shepherd. The stories main conflict begins when the brothers both bring sacrifices to honor god. Being a farmer, Cain has only his crops to sacrifice and Abel has only his livestock, and both make offerings out of what they have. It is never stated what portion of their labors is given, so it can be assumed to be either roughly equal or not relevant to the story. Cains offerings are not found to be to gods liking, but Abels offerings are accepted.

    Remember, the only difference between the two sacrifices is that one is of plant food and the other is of animal parts. The idea is that animal meat is simply better/more desirable than crops. Realizing this, the story starts to come together. The two brothers were born into their positions of farmer and shepherd, neither had any choice over that aspect of their lives. The two were not born equal because Abels position as shepherd is considered better. Cains natural response of anger and jealousy is something that I am sure many people that are not born rich in the modern day can relate to. God picks up on this right away and cautions Cain not to give in to his anger.

    Cain however, being an asshole, does not take these words to heart. Instead he allows his jealousy to get the better of him and lures Abel into a field to be murdered. His punishment from God is to be banished, and he leaves to form the first city, the city Enoch in the land of Nod. I do not know if the people that made these stories originally intended it, but it makes a lot of sense that the first city would be founded by the descendants of the first agricultural specialist given how important the invention of agriculture was to actual founding of permanent settlements in the real world. I personally do not think that this is a coincidence, the original story tellers probably intended for that to be considered in the reading of the story, but it plays such an insignificant part of the narrative that I can't say for sure that is the case and it doesn't seem too relevant even if it is.

    Chapter five is just a partial family tree. I did read it myself and do a little bit of research on the internet regarding it and apparently there are a lot of inconsistencies within when compared to other parts of the Bible, but as I have stated several times I am not really interested in talking about Bible contradictions because I don't think it is really fair to expect a bunch of bronze age nomads to keep their stories straight over the span of so many generations anyway. So, considering that and how boring chapter five is I am not going to cover it in detail. It just tells us how we get Noah from Adam, for any weirdo that happens to be a biblical literalist.

    That is all for this OP, next thread will cover Noahs flood. Lots to talk about there, might even be a two-parter.
  • Polytheist-Witch
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    The point of this again?

  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Polytheist-Witch
    As I said several times before, I'm just just reading and talking about the Bible. I am not trying to prove any point.

    Is that difficult for people to understand, or simply difficult for them to believe?     
  • keithprosser
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    Remember, the only difference between the two sacrifices is that one is of plant food and the other is of animal parts. The idea is that animal meat is simply better/more desirable than crops
    V 3-4
    3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.
    There is an implication that Abel offered was of the best ('fat potions of the firstborn')but Cain's offering was not necessarily of the best  ('some of').  That might be what displeased God rather than the difference between meat and veg.

    It is also mildly interesting that the names Enoch,Methusalah and Lamech appear in both the Cain and Seth lineages.

    Also Cain's worry that he might be killed is interesting - who is worried about?  And where do all the wives come from?

    It seems to me the writers tacitly acknowledge a belief that other gods and other people existed.  However as the scribes were writing a patriotic 'history' of the Hebrew they studiously and deliberately avoided mentioning them!

  • Polytheist-Witch
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    Maybe its the smart ass commentary has us confused.
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @keithprosser
    There is an implication that Abel offered was of the best ('fat potions of the firstborn')but Cain's offering was not necessarily of the best  ('some of').  That might be what displeased God rather than the difference between meat and veg.
    I think that is grasping a bit for a number of reasons. Even in that translation it seems rather thin - just based on the placement of a single word 'some' in the story - but also not all translations use that precise wording. Most do not in fact, and the YLT (Young's Literal Translation, which translates word for word without adjusting the grammar or syntax to make more sense in English) gives no indication that Cain was at all stingy with his sacrifices.(1)

    After looking around for a bit, the word 'some' seems to appear in only in about half of the English versions (2)

    Also before you mention it, yes I do realize the potential irony of my bringing up other versions after my stated stance on the subject last thread. However like I said even just saying that the use of the words 'some of' in that context indicates a stinginess in Cains offerings seems like reading into it a bit too much to me considering there is no other indication in the story that any difference existed between the offerings besides one being of meat and the other of plants. I do not think there is reason to draw that conclusion even if the word some appeared in all versions or we looked only at a version where it does.

    Also Cain's worry that he might be killed is interesting - who is worried about?
    The same thing occurred to me as I read it. Just seems to confirm what I have always thought, the stories of the Bible were never meant to be taken as literal history even by those that wrote them - at least not the stories of the old testament. I have never read cover to cover on the new testament so can't say for sure on those. Cains stated worry about revenge being taken on him is probably just a literary excuse for god to give him the Mark of Cain.

    As for the wives, presumably Adam and Eve had a few daughters whose names were not worth recording due to them being female and all.

    It seems to me the writers tacitly acknowledge a belief that other gods and other people existed.  However as the scribes were writing a patriotic 'history' of the Hebrew they studiously and deliberately avoided mentioning them!
    That is definitely something that will come up one day if I actually do keep doing these threads for long enough. Still not sure how I feel about it personally but I have heard that from a lot of people that have put a lot more time into studying this than I have.

  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Polytheist-Witch
    The only thing I said in this OP that I could see as maybe being interpreted as somewhat smartass-like is my description of Cain as "an asshole"

    I stand by that description of Cain. He is, as portrayed in the Bible, an asshole.
  • Polytheist-Witch
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    If you think so. 
  • Polytheist-Witch
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    --> @keithprosser
    Who taught Alchemy at Hogwarts? Don't know since the author didn't feel it was important. But someone did in the story line since some of the kids talk about it in dialog. Guess not every single thing needs to be addressed in a story for the point to matter. Perhaps Cain as worried that Abel being a good little followers might kill him for not offering correctly. Perhaps Cain killed Abel in self defense but the winner writes the story. Why was Cain not killed or struck down for what  he had done but sent out to create a group in resistance to God? 

    Perhaps the story just establishes that blood and meat are good offerings but not the human kind. 
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit @Polytheist-Witch
    According to Leviticus 6, the priests ate the sacrifices so they might have been tempted to encourage sacrificing the good stuff!

    lev 6:25 "The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the Lord in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it shall eat it; it is to be eaten in the sanctuary area, in the courtyard of the tent of meeting."
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @keithprosser
    I don't think I was aware of the practice of eating the sin sacrifice and if I was I forgot at some point.

    Just out of curiosity... To my (admittedly limited) understanding the sin sacrifice spoken about in those verses was one of meat, are there any other types of sacrifice which required the priests to eat it rather than just burn it? for those rites that do require the sacrifice of crops rather than meat, do you know what was done with those crops? I always figured all sacrifices, meat and crop alike, were simply burned then disposed of.

    I probably should have done some research on the topic before asking these questions but I didn't so please correct any incorrect assumptions I may have made. Hebrew sacrificial rites are not a topic I would call myself an expert on.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    I'm not a exppert on Levitical law either!  but lev 16 describes grain sacrifice:

    14 “‘These are the regulations for the grain offering: Aaron’s sons are to bring it before the Lord, in front of the altar. 15 The priest is to take a handful of the finest flour and some olive oil, together with all the incense on the grain offering, and burn the memorial[b] portion on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 16 Aaron and his sons shall eat the rest of it, but it is to be eaten without yeast in the sanctuary area; they are to eat it in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. 17 It must not be baked with yeast; I have given it as their share of the food offerings presented to me. Like the sin offering[c] and the guilt offering, it is most holy. 18 Any male descendant of Aaron may eat it."

    A special case ('annointing day') where the grain sacrifice is completely burned and not eaten is descibed next:

    20 “This is the offering Aaron and his sons are to bring to the Lord on the day he is anointed: a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half in the evening. 21 It must be prepared with oil on a griddle; bring it well-mixed and present the grain offering broken[g] in pieces as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 22 The son who is to succeed him as anointed priest shall prepare it. It is the Lord’s perpetual share and is to be burned completely. 23 Every grain offering of a priest shall be burned completely; it must not be eaten.”

    Note that the Hebrew Levites (priests) did not have land or animals of their own.  They were supported by a tithe on the other tribes (Num 18:21) but no doubt the sacrifices were an added perk of the job!      




  • Mopac
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    What Keith is saying about why Cain's offering wasn't accepted as well is more in line with what the church teaches.


    He didn't bake his cookies with love.

  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Mopac
    You will probably avoid this question but I will ask it anyway on the off chance that you won't because I am genuinely curious and would like to know more about this subject... Is that interpretation based on oral tradition your church attaches to the story, or additional scriptures adding to it? Either way, if that message isn't written in the book that I just read then the church is teaching from a modified version of the story compared to the one I happen to be reading.

    I will grant you that the modification is slight and that the two versions are equally valuable, but if it doesn't say that in the book then it is a modification nonetheless. Your particular church may have additional scripture I am not aware of that adds official information onto the story, of course.

    The Quran, for example, explicitly states that Cains sacrifice was not accepted because he lacked piety, adding also some other details such as how a raven was sent by Allah to show Cain how to bury his brothers body after the murder was done as well as perhaps a few other details.

    As it is in the versions I am going off of, however, no such conclusion can be reasonably drawn if one uses just the words on the page.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    My take is that the priestly scribes who wrote Gen 4 - and the laymen it was written for - would have grown up in a culture where animal and vegetable sacrifices were both routine and low-quality sacrifices - of either sort - were not acceptable as offerings.   We can get all that from leviticus. 

    Without its social context the passage can appear as ambiguous, but in its wider context it is not at all ambiguous.   A Hebrew reading the story would know it wasn't about why the priests reject vegetable sacrifices (because they don't reject them!) but about why lower-quality offerings are rejected.  

  • Polytheist-Witch
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    So what we determined is the story is not necessarily fact but conveying the message those who hold back the best of their offerings are "killing" their relationship with God. Good job. 
  • Mopac
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    You will probably avoid this question but I will ask it anyway on the off chance that you won't because I am genuinely curious and would like to know more about this subject... Is that interpretation based on oral tradition your church attaches to the story, or additional scriptures adding to it? Either way, if that message isn't written in the book that I just read then the church is teaching from a modified version of the story compared to the one I happen to be reading

    The story you are reading was never intended to be read apart from the church. In fact, none of the bible is. Despite what the sola scriptura crowd believes, it is very recent development that didn't occur until nearly 500 or so years ago with Martin Luther.

    Without the church one can read the bible front to back 10 times and not get it. Worst case scenario, even use the bible to justify false doctrines andevil actions. The bible is inseparable from church tradition.

    But we do have commentaries of scripture from the church fathers who make it clear that Cain's offering was considered less because he did not sacrifice with faith, he did not offer the best of what he had.

    In the epistle to Hebrews, it is written...

    "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh."


    The moral of the story is parallelled in later stories, parables of Jesus, and even the law of Moses! Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. No idol before God. There is nothing in this world that is worth putting before God.

  • Mopac
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    --> @Polytheist-Witch
    Loving God half heartedly is not really loving God. The opposite of Love is not hate, but selfishness.


    And Cain's sacrifice did not kill his relationship with God. His heart was filled with envy, and his brother WAS killed. Murdered.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Mopac
    Yet Cain was only exiled for killing his brother.   One possible rationale is that way he serves the story as the source of the wickedness that prompted Noah's flood, but the writers of Genesis don't seem all that bothered with plot-holes!  But it seems a bit strange Cain got off lightly.

    We're going to come across other examples of un-brotherly behaviour between Esau and Jacob in chapters 26 and 27... in about 3 months time at this rate!

  • Polytheist-Witch
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    Yes it did kill his relationship with God. 
  • Mopac
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    Says you and not the church.

  • Polytheist-Witch
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    --> @Mopac
    Then the church is using a different text then the Bible. 
  • Mopac
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    --> @keithprosser
    You of course, are interpreting the text in a way that is not actually conducive to how the text is used. 

    It also isn't really useful at all. The only thing you are doing is sowing doubt while mocking. That isn't really the proper way to go about scripture.


    The bible is full of people doing wicked things. Many of the figures who are used by God are guilty of some terrible sins. Something can be learned from this alone.



  • Mopac
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    --> @Polytheist-Witch
    It is haughty of you to declare that your interpretation is what is written into the text. It certainly is not written in the text that Cain's raggedy sacrifice killed his relationship with God.

    That said, it is also not what the church teaches, and the church has greater authority over these matters than you.





  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @keithprosser
    I will agree and I think it goes without saying that a holy book advocating for sacrifices would not want people to give a lesser sacrifice than what they should give, whether the reasoning is because God wants it to be so or the priests want it to be so doesn't enter into it, I don't think.

    It is clear that Cains sacrifice was insufficient. The question I think is whether that was due to any factor within his control.

    Maybe Cain didn't to take out the yeast (we all now know God hates that yeast shit) or held back the ripest fruit, maybe he didn't give as much as he should have... but the (logical and probably correct) assumption that he was expected to give as good a sacrifice as he was able does not seem to account in the story for why Cains sacrifice was looked upon poorly.