Cain and Abel

Dan and I saw this massive painting–the kind you have to stand yards away from to take it all in–at the Musée d’Orsay in 2007.  I had finished Eve by that time, so I was interested in the cavemen-like representation of the characters, more along the lines of what you would expect the first people of the world to be like, rather than the Sumerian-like people (circa 4000 BC) I’ve portrayed in Eve.

To work backwards like that–taking the generation records of the Bible and the Torah, and matching the ancient literature references to the Creation–to come up with an approximate date of Adam and Eve, worked out to about the same time period as the Sumerians.  But certainly, no one knows for sure.  No one was there.

Rachel, one of my sixth-grade friends, called me up yesterday, asking me to speak to her class, since they’d just learned about Cain and Abel in their religion class.  It got me to thinking that even kids might be flummoxed by how God favored Cain over Abel, in such a glaring and arbitrary way.  I mean, really, what do you think happens when you honor and praise one child over the other?  “Yes, Johnny, your picture pleases me.  Mark, yours doesn’t.  Try again, buddy.”  Do you think they’ll be best friends?  I think not.  So, as I was preparing the story, I had to dig a little deeper to determine what was really going on, what had occurred before the sacrifices to make God’s rejection of Cain’s sacrifices so glibly accepted by readers of the Bible and the Torah through the centuries.

For those of you who don’t know the Biblical story, I’ll recap.  Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel.  Cain is a man of the fields, a horticulturist, you might say.  Abel raises animals.  And here I continue, quoting from Genesis (NIV version): “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.  The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”  In the subsequent verse, Cain attacks Abel and kills him.

It happens that quickly.  No explanations.  Nada.

Aren’t you curious why one son was rejected and the other accepted?  I was.  Eve was a stab in the dark, to try to explain how something so seemingly capricious could perhaps be illuminated with more explanation.  Granted, fictional explanation.

So, why do you think that God would favor one over the other, given that you aren’t given any more information than the above text?  And let me remind you that although Christians everywhere will think Eve is a Christian book, it can’t be, because there’s been no fulfillment of prophecy yet.  You’ll have to do without the New Testament to prove this one.

[Post image: “Cain” by Fernand Cormon, Musée d’Orsay, Paris]

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