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Presented March 25, 2012, by Paul Miller
Listen to a recording of "Was Cain Framed?"
29:52 minutes - 12.0 MB - Was Cain Framed? .mp3 file.
Kabil and Habil, or Cain and Abel, with their two sisters, were the first children born to Adam and Eve. Adam, by Allah's direction, ordered Cain to marry Abel's twin sister, and that Abel should marry Cain's, for it being the common opinion that marriages ought not to take place with those very near akin, such as their own sisters, it seemed reasonable to supose that they ought to take those of the remoter degree, but this Cain refused to, because his sister was the handsomer.
Hereupon Adam told them to take their offerings to Allah, thereby referring the dispute to His determination. Cain's offering was a sheaf of the very worst of his corn, but Abel's a fat lamb of the best of his flock.
Allah having declared His acceptance of the latter in a visible manner, Cain said to his brother, "I will certainly kill you." Abel was the stronger of the two, and would easily have prevailed against his brother, but he answered, "If you stretch forth your hand against me, to slay me, I will not stretch forth my hand against you to slay you, for I fear Allah, the Lord of all creatures."
So Cain began to consider in what way he should effect the murder, and as he was doing so, the devil appeared to him in human shape, and showed him how to do it, by crushing the head of a bird between two stones.
Cain, having committed the fratricide, became exceedingly troubled in his mind, and carried the dead body on his shoulders for a considerable time, not knowing where to conceal it, till it stank horribly. And then Allah taught him to bury it by the example of a raven, who, having killed another raven in his presence, dug a pit with his claws and beak and buried him therein.
(Source: J. E. Hanauer, Folk-Lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian, and Jew (London: Duckworth and Company, 1907), pp. 69-70. Stylistically slightly revised by D. L. Ashliman.)
"It is a capital offence to theorize before one has data. One tends to twist the facts, imperceptibly at first, to fit the theory, rather than changing the theory to fit the facts."
- And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
- And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
- And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
- And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
- But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
- And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
- If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
- And 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 slew him.
- And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
- And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
- And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
- When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
- And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
- Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
- And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
- And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
- And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.
- And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.
- And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
- And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
- And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
- And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.
Was Cain framed? Actually, no. All the available evidence indicates that Cain did, indeed kill his brother, Abel, but there is more to the story than most people know. I like this story for several reasons. It's got family dysfunction, deceit, murder, mystery, and redemption. It is one of the most commonly misinterpreted bible stories. Everybody knows the story, and almost everybody gets it wrong. Today we shall set the record straight. Trust me, I'm a Pagan priest. The Bible is loaded with great stories, whether you believe them or not. There are legends to be enjoyed, and myths to teach lessons, and an occasional historical fact. The fundies might stone me for suggesting it might not all be historically factual. Let's assume for now that it is all literally true. For the next half hour, we are all fundamentalist biblical literalists. Oh, come on. It will be fun.
It was long ago. About 6000 years ago, shortly after the creation of the Earth. The world population was four. Adam, Eve, and their beautiful children, Cain and Abel. Can you imagine living in a world with only 3 other people; your parents and your snot-nosed little brother? Cain and Abel never saw the Garden of Eden, so maybe they didn't miss it, but one might think Adam and Eve would be grumpy as hell after getting thrown out of paradise for youthful curiosity. Cain had nobody to play with but his grumpy hundred year-old parents and his little brother who probably broke all his stuff. Is it any wonder he went postal? Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's stick to the facts.
Actually, there may have been more than 4 people on earth at the time. Adam and Eve may have conceived a whole litter of girls, but they weren't important enough to mention in the official record.
And then there are "the Other People", whom we shall hear more about later.
Eve bare Cain and said "I have gotten a man from the Lord". Eve's comment might seem to imply an incestuous affair with her Heavenly Father. The Gnostic scriptures tell of unseemly shenanigans between Eve and the gods. The official record (the Holy Bible) implies that Cain really is Adam's son, so let us not take a spicy story too far.
Then she bare his brother Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. Cain is translated as "smith"; an odd name for a tiller of the ground. To be a smith was a big deal back in those days. Anyone who could make stuff out of bronze and iron back then was like a rocket scientist today. Like any young up and coming Jewish couple, maybe Cain's parents had high hopes for their first son. Maybe they were disappointed when he became a dirt farmer instead of a smith or a rocket scientist.
Abel is translated sometimes as "emptiness" or as "puff of air". This may be a posthumous nickname referring to his ephemeral life, or was it, perhaps, an expression of low expectations for their younger son?
Abel the good guy was a rancher, and Cain the bad guy was a farmer. The bible is loaded with media bias in favor of the herdsman. Abraham was a herdsman, Moses was a shepherd, Jesus the carpenter was called the Good Shepherd. No wonder the farmer plays the villain in our story.
"And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain 'Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.'"
Why didn't the Lord like Cain's offering? The Bible gives no explanation. One interpretation is the spirit in which it was given. It's not the offering, but the thought that counts. One can imagine the lonely frustrated teenage Cain grudgingly dumping his hard-earned fruits of the ground on the altar. "Here's your damned offering, oh Lord! Do you know how long it took me to grow this stuff in this cursed ground? You drove my Mom and Dad forth from the Garden, to eat in sorrow the herb of the field. Thorns and thistles it bringeth forth. In the sweat of my face do I eat bread, and it's all because you and your Cherubims with their stupid flaming swords won't let me into the Garden of Eden where the good dirt is. And my little idiot brother lets his stupid sheep into my garden, and they eat the tops off my turnips and trample my tomatoes. Is that my fault? Here, take my first fruits. Thanks for ruining my life!"
God, who was unaccustomed to teenage grandchildren, was not amused. He had made Adam full-grown from the dust of the earth, and then He cloned Adam to make Eve, also a young adult, thus bypassing diapers, puberty, teenage angst, and all that. God was on the steep end of the learning curve with regard to family relations, and had no patience with ungrateful children.
Maybe that's how it went down, but there is a more plausible theory. Throughout the Old Testament, God gets animal sacrifices, not baskets of veggies. Not once in the whole Bible does God accept a botanical offering. We are dealing with a war god here, and He wants blood sacrifices. Perhaps someday an unabridged text of Genesis will be found, and perhaps Cain said unto the Lord, "Oh great giver of life, I offer unto you the best that I have, first fruits of the ground, humbly given. Here, Lord, have a turnip!" And perhaps God replied "What's up with the cattle feed? Boy, can't you do better than that? You can't get a blood offering out of a turnip. Now see your good brother Abel, he brings of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. Why can't you be like Abel? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"
We can see why Cain's countenance might fall under the circumstances. Surely Cain would be thinking "So you want a blood sacrifice? I got no sheep. Where is a tiller of the earth to get a blood sacrifice?" He could sacrifice his annoying little brother, solving both problems at once.
"And 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 slew him." Bad move! When God asks about Abel's whereabouts, Cain plays dumb. God is not fooled. He says "the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand."
Now Cain is really in trouble, and he knows it. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. God curses Cain: "When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength." Well big deal! Adam got the same curse a generation earlier just for sneaking a bit of fruit with his help-meet. Farming wasn't working out for Cain anyway, and his mom always wanted him to get his master's in metallurgy and become a smith. Maybe it's time for a career change.
It's time to relocate, too. God says "a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth."
Cain appeals for a commuted sentence, claiming cruel and unusual punishment: "My punishment is greater than I can bear . . . and it shall come to pass that everyone that findeth me shall slay me." Cain's point is that God is essentially condemning Cain to death for his lapse of judgment. Thus God commutes Cain's death sentence to a life sentence of hard labor. "The Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." We are not told what the mark looked like. Was it a scar, a tattoo, a big red M stamped on his forehead? Was he made black? Was he made white? Nobody knows. The point most people miss is that the mark of Cain is a mark of protection, not a curse.
The Bible does not tell us whom Cain is afraid of. Who would slay him? There must be other people than Cain and his parents.
"And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden." How does one go out from the presence of the Lord? I learned in Sunday School that God is everywhere, knows everything and can do anything. Evidently, the land of Nod is outside God's jurisdiction. The God in this story would appear to be a local deity, probably not the same god who made heaven and Earth.
Perhaps a brief review of the creation story is in order. Genesis 1 tells us "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." After ensuring that the universe was ticking along properly, God said "Let us make man in our image, after our own likeness." The original Hebrew uses "Elohim" the plural word for gods. So Genesis 1 tells us the earth and mankind were created by a pantheon. Oops, there goes monotheism!
Genesis 2, apparently written by a different author, tells us how the Lord God, Yaveh by name, planted a garden in Eden, and made Adam and Eve to dress it and keep it. Perhaps Yaveh was a member of the Elohim pantheon, and Eden was his own horticultural experiment, tended by the two people He made. Yaveh's two pet humans proved to be troublesome, eating from the tree of knowledge after He told them not to. This was the original sin for which He swatted them on their noses with a newspaper and threw them outside. Thus, all descendants of Adam and Eve are tainted with original sin. But not all humans are descended from Adam and Eve. Most of us are descended from the other people.
So Cain set off for the land of Nod, which is somewhere east of Eden, probably Elam in southwestern Persia, which is now called Iran. "And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived and bare Enoch." . . . Wife? Where did this wife come from? When asked where Cain got his wife, fundies often assume he married one of his sisters and took her with him to live happily ever after in the wonderful land of Nod. There was no rule forbidding incest at the time, so it was OK to "know" one's sister, if you know what I mean. I think it is more likely she was one of the Other People, probably an awesome Persian babe-erriffic. I imagine she was swept off her feet by the handsome tattooed stud-muffin farmer-smith rocket scientist from the exotic western land of Eden.
His un-named wife from Nod was a good influence. Cain the wanderer settled down "and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch." There is no other record of any city named Enoch, but it could be the city now called Susa. Susa dates back to the Stone Age, and became the chief city of Elam. Cain did alright for a convicted murderer, dirt farmer, and vagabond. Cain had ceased to be a wanderer in the earth. Did God's curse expire? Maybe God's judgment stops at the Eden/ Nod border. The bible doesn't say. Archaeological evidence confirms that civilization started in Sumeria (the land of Eden), followed by Elam (the land of Nod?), so we have no doubt that the story is true . . . mostly . . . sort of . . . in a manner of speaking.
Cain's son Enoch begat Irad, who begat Mehujael, who begat Methusael, who begat Lamech, the first documented polygamist. Lamech's first wife was Adah, "And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of such as handle the harp and organ." Thanks to Cain's descendants, we have musicians, and the associated jubilation. Lamech's second wife was Zillah, "And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron."
"Tubal-Cain" means "smith of Tubal". Tubal is a district in Asia Minor, that is western Turkey. It's a long walk from Elam to Tubal. The Cain family was spreading far and wide. Eve would be proud to know her great great great great grandson became a world renowned professor of metallurgy.
Meanwhile, back in Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a romantic anniversary celebration, and thus was born Seth, the only one of their 3 sons so far to stay home and live. Now, Seth lived nine hundred and twelve years and begat sons and daughters. Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he begat sons and daughters. Rock on, Adam! I don't know if they were mostly ne'er-do-wells, but Seth is his only son after Abel who's name is mentioned, or who gets a genealogy. The bible doesn't say for sure whom Adam begat sons and daughters with. Not that he might have been doing anything wrong, of course. There were no rules against incest or polygamy back then. Maybe Lilith came calling once in a while. The Bible doesn't say.
Seth's descendants include Noah, who you will recall rode out the great flood of B.C. 2349 in his home-made megaboat with his extended family and a menagerie of cats and rats and elephants, green alligators and long necked geese, humpy-backed camels, and chimpanzees. Everybody else drownded and died, much to their sorrow, oh wailie wailie woe, for they were wicked. Well, maybe not everybody. The flood wiped out the known world from Noah's perspective, which was southern Iraq. The descendants of Cain and The Other People were high and dry in the wonderful land of Nod. So were the Indians, the Chinese, the Americans and the Africans. Most of us are descended from them. The Jews are descended from Noah, and thus from Adam and Eve, the people created by Yaveh in Eden. Thus we can see why the Jews are Yaveh's favorite people. We Other People were created by the Elohim; the pantheon who created the earth and mankind before Adam and Eve.
Is there a lesson in this story? Is it that cowboys are good and sodbusters are bad? No. One lesson is a biblical justification for polytheism. The god of Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses is one of many gods who formed the Elohim creation committee. The gods of the Other People did not get the equal billing they deserve in the Bible because it was compiled by Yaveh's people.
Maybe the lesson is that most people on earth are not Javeh's people, descended from Adam and Eve, and not tainted by the so-called "original sin". Most of us are the "Other People".
Maybe the lesson is about redemption. A bad boy saw the light and turned out good. Wrongdoers can turn out alright if they repent and are given a second chance. Thankfully, Yaveh was smart enough to see Cain's potential and to give him a break. The point is not that Cain was the archetypal evil-doer, as he is often portrayed in monotheist folklore. To be sure, he messed up big time, and he paid his dues. Then he started over and did great things, as did his descendants Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain. Perhaps we should be proud to be descended from Cain and the Other People. Maybe the lesson is that we shouldn't take these stories too seriously, or should I say, not too literally. The bible is full of great stories. There are legends to be enjoyed, and myths to teach lessons, and an occasional historical fact. Whatever lesson you find in them, they are great stories.
"The solution to all this literalism is simple. It never happened. All human beings did not really arise from two people called "red clay" and "mother of all living." There was no real Cain who grew great veggies who killed his brother Abel, who bred great sheep. The reason for this killing was not that God literally hated veggies and loved meat! It was a system of worship that was changing and this story is the illustrative tale that makes that point clear to a large population of Israelites, just as the previous chapters had made the point that "our God is greater than your god," and women have the role of having babies painfully and servitude to men, who now will be gods on earth in the form of Kings and Priests. Later they will be the male ministers of the New Covenant. Now isn't that special? Think about it :)"
Dennis Diehl is a former Church Pastor and currently has a Therapeutic Massage practice in Greenville, SC.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.