This National Geographic video presents the familiar story of Cain and Abel. The content seems straightforward to those who have heard the story as taught in various religious venues including Sunday school, pastoral homilies, seminary, BSF, CSF, and so forth.
The problem with this video, like so much of contemporary religious education, is not so much in the telling of the story, but in its trivialization. Because we 21st century humans read stories like that of Cain and Abel from a Western, contemporary point-of-view, we truly miss much of the meaning(s) of the biblical narratives. This particular story, at least when read in the Hebrew in the ancient biblical context, is much different if only because it is much more profound than what we’ve learned in its popular renderings. Here, for example, are just a few of the problems with the narration that accompanies the video.
- The sacrifices were not motivated by gratitude.
- The claim that Cain’s offering is rejected “for no apparent reason” is simply not true. The text of the Bible reveals clearly why Cain’s offering was spurned and Abel’s accepted.
- The narrative does not describe Cain as “angry and jealous”, as claimed by the narrator in the video.
- The question posed in the video, “How did Cain know how to kill?” assumed incorrectly that this was the first homicide.
- It is not his brother’s blood that cries out to God from the ground.
- There is no textual (or grammatical) evidence that God is angry with Cain.
- The “mark” put upon Cain is not a visible mark like a stigmata or tattoo.
By way of background I’ve begun a new project – to translate the story of Cain and Abel, paying special attention to the underlying Hebrew and the ancient Semitic context in which the story was first heard. Unlike my previous two translations you’ll be able to follow along as I complete each verse (about one per week), the first of which is now complete and can be accessed from here.
Now, go and study
In January of next year I will begin a series of articles in my As It Is Written columns dealing with biblical creation, specifically the two biblical creation stories – In the BEGINNING (Genesis 1) and the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 and 3).
The series will be much deeper than most studies you may have encountered and will center on a new translation of the texts (Genesis 1:1-4a here, and Genesis 2:4b-3:24 here) that reflect the latest advances in Bible scholarship. The first of the articles, an introduction to the series can be downloaded (or read) from here. However, even though much of the new findings arise from a better understanding of the underlying Hebrew text, a knowledge of biblical Hebrew is not expected or required.
Here are some highlights of these new findings:
- God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent as most humans understand the term
- The first creation story (“In the BEGINNING”) explicitly supports the Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe as well as evolution by natural selection.
- God did not rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath.
- In the second creation story, man was created to cultivate crops (and tend the Garden).
- Life existed outside of Eden, even before Eden was created.
- Adam committed the first sin, not Eve.
- Adam did not disobey God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge. Rather, he ignored God’s warning.
- The serpent was not evil incarnate. Man was!
- Adam and Eve engaged in sexual relations during their sojourn in Eden.
Now, go and study
I’ve written a review of Dr. Hoffman’s new book, The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible. The complete review can be found under the [Recommended Reading] Tab (above).
It’s important to note that the book is not a scholarly effort and, in fact, seems to avoid such complexity. For example, there are no footnotes nor is there an appendix. And, apart from a recommended reading list, his book is a straightforward and well-written pew-sitter’s guide to those who would know more about the Bible’s historical and/or narrative context. For this, among other reasons, I would argue that the book well-deserves 5 stars.
The book is easy to read, engaging, and will present the serious reader with more than a few “aha” moments. Your efforts will be well rewarded.