Sunday, November 27, 2011

God Rages On -- Bible Study, Night Two

[My mother Millie, who died three months ago, left me her King James Study Bible, annotated in red ink and in her eccentric all-caps script. I have decided to read the the book straight through in the hope of consoling myself for my deep loss. I'll let you all know what I think of what I find. I'm attempting to do this with a wiped-clean mind, although I must admit I have my prejudices. I don't, for example, believe the scriptures to be the perfect, literal Word of God, but I'm willing -- indeed I'm eager -- to be surprised.]


If the first few chapters of Genesis were the anatomy of a drug bust (see prior post), the chapters concerning Cain and Abel appear to describe a bad spell on a plantation ruled by a capricious, ill-tempered master who reserves the right to treat his slaves with irrational favoritism -- because He feels like it. Cain, the farmer, Adam's clueless firstborn who's operating on no real knowledge at all (it's not like there's a Bible for him to read yet), presents to God an offering of produce that, for no reason that God sees fit to mention, fails to please Him as much as Abel's offering, which consists of a sacrificed live animal. I can only imagine Cain's confusion: why should his gift, whose harvest required no violence, be deemed so roundly inferior to one that necessitated the shedding of blood and the destruction of one of God's own creatures?

Cain seems to conclude from this episode, quite logically, that God prefers offerings involving carnage, and so he, quite logically, kills his little brother. God, the supremely inconsistent one, frowns. Slaughtering a lamb or a goat is good, Cain learns, but slaughtering the slaughterer of a lamb or goat is some sort of unforgivable atrocity.

God punishes Cain in the same manner that he recently rebuked his parents: by kicking the poor offender off his land. Then, in an act of punitive piling on that shows God to be not just wrathful but horrible, not merely firm but borderline sadistic, He takes away Cain's power to grow crops anywhere. Finally, in a seeming act mercy that comes off as more of a boast about His power to do anything He damn well pleases, God scars or brands Cain in a fashion that will cause anyone who sees the mark to realize he's God's private property and not hurt him.

Events grow unintelligible now and we enter the hard part of the Bible, the part that requires an atlas, a genealogy, and a notebook for writing down all the rules. Cain drifts to the land of Nod, where other people live, and takes a wife, whose existence is unaccounted for. Soon afterward, Eve has a son, replacing Abel. His name is Seth and he also has a son.

So far, in the line of Adam, there have been only sons, no daughters.



  1. Funny, but I just started reading the Bible through as well. I think because I recently finished Jon Krakauer's book on Fundamentalist Mormons and decided I better stop ignoring religion before I was killed by some fanatic.

    Anyway, I'm all the way into Leviticus. It's pretty dry. Exodus was a delight in comparison. As for why God liked the burnt offering instead of mere produce, it is repeated over and over in Exodus that God loves burnt offerings because they have a "pleasing odor." So maybe that's why Cain got screwed.


  2. I always thought Cain's offering was not as celebrated because it's specified that Abel offered the choicest firstlings of his flock and Abel didn't go out of his way. After all, God simply warns Cain about knowing when he's done his best, and doesn't punish him. And did Cain mean to murder Abel? There had never been a murder before, so maybe he didn't get the consequences of bopping him on the bean.