The Story of Cain and Abel

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

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1 Response to The Story of Cain and Abel

  1. Chupacabra says:

    In the Jewish tradition Cain is a bad character and Abel a virtuous one, but occasionally there is to be found, if not a justification of Cain s act, at least an attempt to understand it on the grounds that Cain had had no experience of killing or death and must have been unaware of the seriousness of what he was doing. Cain also features as one of the biblical characters who admitted their fault and hence is a prototype of the penitent, although his repentance is sometimes described as less than totally sincere.

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