I took my time going through the Biblical creation and the Garden of Eden, and now it’s time to tackle life outside of Eden. We come at last to Cain and Able. As a story, it’s surprisingly short. They both make sacrifices, Able gives the best he has, and his sacrifice is accepted. The implication is that Cain did not, and his sacrifice is not accepted. Cain murders Able. God asks Cain about Able, and throws out the line about brother’s keeper. God curses Cain and casts him out.
Now, there are a number of things that can be discussed from even this short a story. The first of which that always comes to mind is, where did Cain’s wife come from? Well, we don’t know for sure. There are two possibilities that I’ve been able to come up with.
First is that this is one of Cain’s own sisters. We’re not given any genealogical lists of Adam and Eve’s daughters, but Seth had to have married one as there was no one else around in the immediate area. Yes, this would be incest, but that’s another discussion.
Second, and far more interesting, is that Cain found his wife outside of the Garden. This would appear to fly in the face of standard interpretations that Adam and Eve were the only people on earth. Many would take this as way to attack the Bible and completely invalidate. However, the Bible, in its purest sense, is the story and history of Israel. The genealogy it presents is only about the origin of the Jewish tribes, from Abraham, all the way back. There is, therefore, some ambiguity as to whether or not there were any other people on the planet, or that God did not seed other people on the planet. This is the one we have the most complete record for.
Another point of interest in this story is the profound statement about free will. Fresh out of the Garden, brimming with the knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve have their first children. And though Adam and Eve have tried to raise their sons according to God’s ideals (even having conversations with God), nothing can prevent Cain from exercising his free will to horrible, horrible purposes. And when given the chance to come clean about the event (much as God gave Adam and Eve a chance in the Garden) Cain chooses to gloss over the truth. He chooses not only to murder his brother, but to lie about the deed.
It’s unclear as to which is the worst crime at this point. If we revisit the creation, the power God uses to make the universe is that of spoken language. This theme of language recurs throughout the Bible, and even has taken place often in the short narrative span covered so far. Language will continue to be a very powerful influence throughout the Bible. And here is the first proof of that language perverted. Adam and Eve didn’t do this. When confronted, they spoke the truth to God, and we get a glimpse here of what would have happened if they had lied. Cain’s punishment is severe, to be sure, and the implication is that he will truly be out of God’s presence for these crimes. And in one fell swoop, this story tells the seriousness of the crime of perverting language.
Now, there is also speculation that Cain is immortal. That he cannot die. However, most of the translations I’ve looked at say nothing to this effect, only that the mark is a warning to other not to kill him. There’s nothing about Cain’s life extending beyond the mortal limits. After all, the Tree of Life has been denied to mankind and is safely enshrined in the Garden behind angels. This interpretation, while popular, just doesn’t have enough to substantiate it.
Is it theoretically possible? Yes. Is it likely? No. Mostly because it would confirm the tragedy that God hoped to avoid in the Garden. The fear was that mankind would know good and evil and live forever. Why would God make Cain, a person who clearly showed that he would choose to do evil, immortal? Regardless of the punishment of the earth not yielding up crops to him, this would still be a recipe for disaster.
It’s also unclear if the earth yielding up crops is a direct punishment from God or a natural consequence to what Cain did. The sense is that the earth has some kind of force or presence, with its own qualities to cry out and feel pain (whether or not entirely sentient is unknown), but the consequences to Cain’s actions could be the reaction of the Earth, and not God’s overt action. This would be in line with how God has kept a hands-off approach to many of the punishments, instead letting natural laws and phenomenon dictate what happens, instead.
Whew, okay, that was Cain and Able. I wrote more words about the story than were actually in the story, which is always a sign that I think waaaaay too much about this stuff.