24. CAIN AND ABEL. The crime against the brother

Created: Thursday, 12 September 2013 Last Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014

The crime against the brother

1. In the Bible, the world coming out from God´s hands is good (Gn 1 – 2), but between God´s original project and our own experience a breakdown is evident: the presence of evil. It is a constant of human history, which is evocated in the first chapter of Genesis (from 3 to 11): the pretension of being “like gods”, the crime against the brother, the corruption of those contemporary of Noe, the tower of Babel. To begin with, these chapters are independent narrations, diverse oral and written traditions. Among them there is the story of Cain and Abel (4, 1 – 16). Drafted in its present form about de tenth century b. C. , the passage presents some problems: which are these?, is it a forgotten passage?, is it convenient to recall it?, what do we listen?

2. “Adam had intercourse with Eve his wife; she became pregnant and gave birth to a child. She named him Cain, for she said, “I have got a man with help from Yahweh. She later gave birth to Abel, his brother.” Cain means “spear”, missile, projectile. Abel means “exhale”, breath; it also recalls how brief is life (Ps 103). Their occupation was different: “Abel was a shepherd and kept flocks, and Cain tilled the soil”. It is not said that there were any conflict between them, for instance, due to the water

3. “It happened after a time that Cain brought fruits of the soil as an offering to Yahweh. Abel for his part brought the firstborn of his flock, and some fat as well. Now Yahweh was well pleased with Abel and his offering, but towards Cain and his offering he showed no pleasure. This made Cain very angry and downcast.” Two sacrifices, two worships, two reactions on the part of God. It is said in psalm 24: “Who will ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who will stand in his holy place? Those with clean hands and pure heart, who desire not what is vain, and never swear to a lie.”

4. The problem is to behave well or not. It is noticed in the face. That who behaves well, can go with the face very high. That who does not behave well, can be dominated by the evil. It is like a beast watching. The Lord asks Cain: “Why are you angry and downcast? 7 If you do right, why do you not look up? But if you are not doing what is right, sin is lurking at the door. It is striving to get you, but you must control it”. John Steinbeck’s work, To the East of the Eden (1952), has this crucial message, resumed in the Hebrew word with which it ends, Timshel, “you can dominate” the evil.

5. Cain says to his brother Abel: “Let us go to the field”. And when they were in the field, Cain pounces on his brother and kills him. It is not said how it is made. The Lord comes out to his encounter, and asks him: “Where is your brother Abel?”. He answers: “I don’t know. Am I perhaps my brother’s keeper?”. The Lord questions him: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”. Cain tries to deceive to God himself, but the blood of Abel claims to heaven. Human life is sacred. It belongs to God. Jesus says that “account shall be requested to this generation” of the blood of the prophets, “ from Abel’s blood to Zachariah´ blood” (Lk 11, 51)

6. It is the Lord’s judgement: “Now be cursed and driven from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood that your hand has shed. 12 When you till the soil, it will no longer yield you its produce. You will be a fugitive wandering on the earth.” The relationship of the criminal with the land changes deeply. The land will be inhospitable for him. He will live wandering and vagabond. The land is a God´s blessing. To be expulsed from it is a curse. Like it is usually said, “he went through Cain sufferings”

7. Then Cain told the Lord: “My punishment is greater than I can bear. See! Today you drive me from this land. I must hide from you and be a wanderer and a fugitive on the earth, and it will so happen that whoever meets me will kill me.” The Lord answered him: “Well then, whoever kills Cain, will suffer vengeance seven times”. And Yahweh put a mark on Cain to prevent anyone who met him from killing him. Cain’s life also belongs to God. That who kills hi will pay it seven times. Here it appears the law of the dessert, the vengeance of the blood. Well then, the question is obvious: if it is soused that Adam and Eva have only two sons and Abel is dead, ¡who can kill Cain? To begin with, the narration in independent and, to follow on, it is placed (with a degree of incoherence) in the frame of the first chapters of the Genesis. The universal declaration of human rights (1948) is a signal recognized by the Church like an action of God´s spirit in our time. However, when in many nations the death penalty is being suppressed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church admits it, “if it were the only possible way to efficacy defend human lives from the unjust aggressor” (num. 2226). The death penalty is a “definitive, cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, that violates the right to life” (Amnesty International, 1977). The Church must correct her position.

8. “Cain then went from Yahweh’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, to the east of Eden”. That country is not known, but its name means “fugitive”. Cain can be the remote ancestor of the Kainite (Nm 24, 21), a nomad people who lives in the borders of the fertile land about the time of the Judges (centuries XI – XII b. C). The Kainite were a mysterious enigma for the Israelites: they had the same God, but they did not belong to the people of the Alliance; they joined the Israelites in the journey through the dessert (Nm 10, 29 foll.), but they did not reached a sedentary type of life. They were nomad, they wandered through the regions near the cultivated lands, resorting to the mugging. They had a tribal distinctive, a kind of tattoo (1 R 20, 41). On the other side, Eden means “garden”. It is not easy to locate it: it can refer to the fertile land, irrigated by large rivers (Gn 2, 10 – 14)

9. “Cain had intercourse with his wife; she conceived and gave birth to Enoch. As he was building a town, he called it by the name of his son, Enoch.” (Gn 4, 17). In its present form, the narration talks about Cain’s wife, but the question arises: if it is supposed that Adam and Eve only have two sons, from where does Cain’s wife come from? It is another incoherence. The narration presents a genealogy of eight generations, Cain’s descendants. There is a cultural progress: cities are built (see 1 Sm 30, 29) and, together with those who grow cattle, appear those who play musical instruments, and the iron and copper blacksmith. More than 2.000 years before Christ, bronze metallurgy and the urbanisation are developed (in the map, previous settlements, Atlas of the Bible)

10. Among Cain’s descendants violence grows. Protection signal given to Cain is not enough for Lamech. On his own risk, the brutal vengeance is launched and, besides, he boasts of it: “I killed a man for wounding me and a boy for striking me. If Cain will be avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times”. (Gn 4, 23 – 24). In this context, the Talion law means a progress (Ex 21, 24), However, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you this: do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other”. (Mt 5, 38 – 39). And also: Not only you shall not kill but you shall love your enemy (5, 21 y 43). You shall forgive the brother “seventy times seven” (18, 22), “that who hates his brother is an assassin” (1 Jn 3, 15)

11. “Adam again had intercourse with his wife and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth; for she said, “Yahweh has given me another child in place of Abel since Cain killed him. To Seth also a son was born and he called him Enoch. He was the first to call on the name of Yahweh.” (Gn 4, 25 – 26). In Seth’s descendants a new human type appears, who invokes the name of the Lord and who results in the figure of Noah (6, 9). Further on, Abraham appears (12, 1 – 3), father of all the believers, “he is our father in the eyes of Him who gives life to the dead, and calls into existence what does not yet exist, for this is the God in whom he believed”. (Rm 4, 17).

12. Due to diverse motives, every 20th –N the Civil War is recalled, a fratricide war. This year, as it is usual, a franquist group has attended to the Valley of the Fallen to pray for the dictator. Another group, the Federation of Forum for the Memory, has also attended to claim for the demolition of the large cross of the mausoleum , like an amend to the victims of the franquism. “These want to gain now the Civil War. We may be obliged to take out again the shotguns to the street”, says one of the first group. On his part, the president of the Federation tries to restrain his supporters: “Don’t provoke them, that is what they want. We have come to ask for justice, truth and reparation for the victims of the franquism”. In the transition to the democracy, the official withdrawal to the vengeance was essential condition for the political change.
- Is it a forgotten passage? Which problems does it present? What do we listen?