The story of Cain and Abel has always fascinated me. It didn't take man long to commit his first murder. I can't even imagine killing a brother. It would be even less fathomable if we were 2 of just 4 people in existence. It does reveal the dark side of human nature. And I am convinced that this dark side is in our nature. Which means that God made us that way, and I cannot imagine why.
The story begins in verse 3.
3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." 8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
I wish this passage explained a few things to me. First, why does God need an offering? And what was wrong with Cain's offering? There is not a word on this. That makes the story rather incomplete. I understand that not every detail must be included in every story, but Genesis is painstaking in places, especially when everyone begins begetting everyone else. Yet, here, we learn nothing of the original cause of the motive for the first horrible sin in the Old Testament. [Fn: Even worse, I see Cain appear to offer a better sacrificial offering than anything I ever put on an alter. Am I to be cursed because of this? I thought it was by faith that a man is saved.
This story clearly takes place outside the garden, after the fall of Adam. Yet, God still dwells among his family of humans. When the Lord speaks to Cain, he reacts as if seeing and talking to a physical God is a normal, everyday occurrence. I've never murdered anyone, nor will I, but the Lord has never appeared to me in this manner. I've never even had so much as a sign or a dream in response to my prayers. Sigh.
13 And Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me." 15 And the LORD said to him, "Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him. 16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son--Enoch.
Once again, God places a curse on his creation. Surely Cain deserved a punishment for his horrible crime, but the curse placed upon him is extremely peculiar. Being cast out, he fears that anyone who finds him will kill him. But, the world contains only Adam, Eve, and Cain (and maybe some younger siblings). Why is the mark necessary. Far more effective would be to have the Lord talk to the family. After all, they were surely talking about Cain if Abel turned up missing or dead. And how would the "sevenfold" punishment be conveyed. In fact, what is that? Do you get killed seven times (after reincarnation)? Does God kill you and six family members?
Even stranger (and I remember wondering about this before) after Cain is cast out, we learn that he has a wife. Where does this wife come from? It doesn't say he took his sister for a bride. It doesn't say "Cain knew his sister," it says he knew his wife. I can't help but think that, if Cain knew his sister, this detail would have been mentioned. It is not omitted just because the author was reluctant to name names. We are about to get into a series of begetting and begetting, and Lot's daughters having sex with Lot and all sorts of torrid details. You don't hear of Lot getting drunk and knowing his new wives. Where stuff like this happens, the Bible calls it out. But there is not a word on where Cain's wife came from.
My pastor, when questioned on this point, told me that the wife was "obviously" Cain's sister, and that when Genesis was written, women were without value, so they didn't even bother to mention that Eve might have had daughters. And because Moses law (I think that is what he said) was not yet handed down, it was not wrong to sleep with his sister.
This rings false to me. First, I can't help but think that divine law should be never changing. Truth is truth. Good is good. Evil is evil. If it is wrong today, it should have been wrong then, too. Second, if women were worthless, this should have been mentioned from the beginning, too. I mean, we are still talking about a time when God walks among the people and talks to them in person. Today, it is widely agreed that God values women and men both. Why should we believe that He valued women less near the beginning. Moreover, Genesis is filled with mention of women. Lamech's wives [the first proud mention of bigamy] were identified by name in verse 19. In chapter 5, there are many references to men begetting "sons and daughters."
I think the answer comes in verse 25.
25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, "For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed." 26 And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.
This part of the story comes after
Cain leaves. This is significant, because it provides a context which reliably rules out the potential for other siblings to have existed before Abel's passing and Cain's banishment. Abel was dead, and Cain, as the seed of Adam, was an unsuitable heir due to his banishment. Thus, Seth is God's appointed seed of Adam to replace Abel. Were there already lots of grown children of Adam and Eve, the need for this replacement seed would have been non-existent.
So this, I think, answers the question. Cain's wife came from another family, or another tribe. And that is how Cain built a city. Adam and Eve were not the first people on Earth. They were just the first people who were part of the story of the chosen people.
Lamech, it appears, is extremely wicked. In addition to taking two wives, he murdered repeatedly.
23Then Lamech said to his wives:
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
24If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."
Where does this come from? You kill someone for wounding you? You kill a young man for hurting you? And your punishment is ... nothing? In fact, the result of your murder is that you should be even better protected from vengeane than your ancestor Cain? And who would have told Lamech this? Not God, because Cain was sent out of the presence of the Lord, and there is no talk of his descendants ever finding favor with the Lord.
As a literal, historical story, this is making less and less sense. I'm seriously thinking about skipping forward to Leviticus. Or maybe I should have just started with the Gospels, because I'm almost fully convinced that Genesis is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, unless you free me to read it in a very broad, literary sense. It looks like fireside story, not intended to be believed, but merely to convey a theme.
My church thinks that people who believe that are heretics.
But what am I to think? If you take this all at face value, it cannot be reconciled without adding some bizarre and improbable fact that is not in the text, and which, if true, you would expect to find in the text. These holes in the story are what cause people to come up with a sorts of crazy beliefs.
I've actually heard people say that they believe that God is an alien, and that God's race of people had sex with monkeys or Neanderthals or some other near-human creature, and created homos sapiens in the process. Other people say that Adam and Eve were the first humans infused with souls
. Thus, the others were just animals, cavemen, without the soul that makes them exist "in God's image." [FN: But God is not a soul. He walks in the garden, talks to Adam, and is physical, not just spiritual.
] People make these theories fit into these holes in the story of Genesis, like Cain going off with a bride. If the story was better told, this would not happen. A story inspired by God should be told perfectly, and this was not.
P.S. I know this was a long post, but I didn't want to spend a whole week doing daily posts about one chapter again. I don't have a counter, so I have no idea how many people are reading this. I suspect it is not many. A few Christians have been posting comments. I appreciate that. The atheists, on the other hand, have been sending me emails. In particular, the Christians are commenting on the stuff I've read and discussed, while several atheists are telling me what to "watch out for" in the next chapters. I'm trying to do this going forward on my own. If you want to point out the pro-Bible or con-Bible (like the mention of the two rivers, the Pishon and Gihon that do not exist near or cross paths with the Tigris or Euphrates) points after I've read it, I'm thrilled to think about it. But I want to keep pressing forward as if I'm reading the next chapter for the first time. Join me in my journey, if you wish, but don't take it for me.