Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogging the Bible part 4

OK, part 4. And you don't have to tell me that this is already taking a while.

Hopefully later books in the Bible won't take this long to examine - but given the central role that Genesis plays in Christian mythology I think it's worth the effort examining each chapter one at a time.

So, chapter 4, Cain and Abel. Adam lays with his wife and she becomes pregnant and gives birth to Cain. She makes the strange pronouncement:

With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man. (GEN 4:1)

So, God can also include midwifery on his resume alongside creator of the Universe. Now, taken literally what does this mean exactly? That Cain was born an adult and not a child? For that matter, how old were Adam and Eve when they were created? Were they created as children? Teenagers? Adults? Or is Eve saying that without the Lord's help she would have given birth to a woman (or girl, which is it literalists?) - and that this is not as worthy of celebration? I'm starting to get that patriarchal vibe again.

Then later on Eve gives birth to Abel. No mention of Adam laying with her this time though. Immaculate conception? Or am I being too literal in my literal reading? How does one know just how literal to be?

Abel keeps flocks. Which is impressive since he has only just been born and there is no mention of any passage of time. I was sitting in my own crap when I was just a few hours old, but not Abel. He's the original go-getter. And we know from the Ryan Report that Christians have no problem with child labour. Again I have to ask - just how literal are we supposed to be and how does one know? Cain, we are told, worked the soil. (GEN 4:2)

Cain, in the course of time (see, apparently the passage of time is important in some cases, but not others - so once again, just exactly how literal should we be?) brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to God. Abel however brought fat from the firstborn of his flock. Given that God had originally intended Adam to live off the land, and given that as punishment to man God had condemned him to work the field, and given that agriculture is harder work than catching a lamb, slitting its throat and gutting it - who do you think God favours? That's right, Cain. No wait, that's not right. Abel? What a crock... Why exactly does God favour animal fat over fruit? Does God hate vegetarians?

Why does God shun the products of back breaking labour in favour of animal fat? Is he still punishing Cain for what Adam and Eve did? Then why does he favour Abel who is defying God by working with animals instead of toiling over the land as God condemned man to? (GEN 4:3-5)

Not surprisingly, Cain is pissed. But then God has the cheek to ask him why. I guess he was still new to the omnipotence thing at this point. Although you would have thought that creating the Universe and condemning mankind for all time was good practise. God says:

Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? (GEN 4:6-7)

I'm sorry, is this God guy a fucking halfwit or something? Cain DID do what he was supposed to and Abel DIDN'T, but God favoured Abel and gave Cain the finger. And then God throws that in Cain's face? I'd have decked him by now. To top it off, God finishes with this:
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. (GEN 4:7)

What does this mean given what just happened? God just ignored Cain for doing what he was supposed to, and favoured Abel for not doing what he was supposed to. So what does Cain have to master here exactly? The feeling of being shafted? His anger at being lectured by an inconsistent hypocrite?

Unfortunately, Cain now reacts like any good hardcore religious follower does - completely and utterly disproportionately and against an innocent party - Abel. He tricks Abel into going into the field (apparently there is only one field this early on in the history of agriculture) and he kills him. So Cain kills Abel for something God did. Cain commits the first act of religiously motivated violence and we see that religion and violence have gone hand in hand from the inception of both (not to mention religion with jealousy, ignorance and lying as we've already seen). What a douche. But well within the scope of centuries of religious murder, genocide, torture, rape and oppression, and so not a surprise given that context. (GEN 4:8)

Then God, again failing to understand that he is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent (so would the latter technically not make him an accomplice in every act of human violence?) asks Cain where his brother is. Cain replies with one of the most famous lines from the Bible:

I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper? (GEN 4:9)

Of course, he doesn't really have anyone with whom he can establish an alibi for the time of the murder - so he's got to know the heat is on and he apparently gives the game away. Or God suddenly rediscovers his omnipotence in a contradictory but suddenly important plot twist as terrible as any from the pen of Dan Brown or the pages of the 'Left Behind' series, because the Lord suddenly knows what has happened. Abel's blood apparently cries out from the ground where it was spilled. Shame it didn't cry for help a bit sooner really.

Now Cain is cursed (he's a bit free with the curses this God fellow). Of course, this curse simply revokes an earlier curse given to Adam - Cain is now unable to work the fields, no crops will grow if tended by his hand, and he is further cursed to be a restless wanderer. Cain claims this is more than he can bear and anyone who he meets will kill him. Which is interesting because as yet there are only three people on the face of the Earth - Adam, Eve and Cain. So who will kill him? Has God created more people not mentioned in Genesis? Why aren't they mentioned? If we are to take this literally then Adam and Eve will kill him I suppose. (GEN 4:10-14)

But that's not the end of it because God says that whoever kills Cain he will suffer vengeance seven times over. (GEN 4:15) Given the severity of vengeance God has already handed out this would be a Bad Thing™. Then the infamous mark of Cain is given to our erstwhile wandering murderer so that everyone would know who he was. So Cain leaves wherever he was and goes to the land of Nod (he fell asleep?) Which of course is east of Eden, because apparently the authors of Genesis think everything happens east of Eden. Apparently, God is afflicted with the same problem as Derek Zoolander. (GEN 4:16)

Now, Cain lies with his wife. Which is confusing since according to Genesis there are so far only Cain, Adam and Eve on the face of the planet. So who is this wife? Does God create her? If so why doesn't Genesis mention it? If not, where does she come from? Is she the daughter of Adam and Eve? And here we have some of the important questions for literalists. After Adam and Eve, where do other humans come from? Are they all descendants of Adam and Eve? So Cain is married to his sister? And has children with his sister? So we are all the products of incest? So why the biblical prohibitions on incest? Where are all the problems inherent to inbreeding then? (GEN 4:17)

Cain's wife gives birth to a son, Enoch (interesting - even though there are women around to marry the only offspring so far are male). To Enoch was born Irad (again, who did Enoch marry and lay with?). To Irad was born Mehujael (who did Irad lay with?). Mehujael was the father of Methushael (who did Mehujael lay with?). And Methushael was the father of Lamech (who did Methushael lay with?). And if all these offspring are male, where the hell are the women to lay with anyway? (GEN 4:18) Lamech now marries two women (Adah and Zillah) who either popped into existence out of nowhere, are related to Lamech or were created by God (but this isn't mentioned in Genesis). Inquiring minds want to know literalists - where do these women come from? Adah gives birth to Jabal and he is the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock (what, all of them? Busy guy.) He has a brother called Jubal (inspiration apparently lacking by now in the name department) and he was the father of everyone who played the harp and flute (which let's face it, can't be that many people). Zillah has a son called Tubal-Cain (OK, this is starting to read like bad Conan fiction now) who forged tools out of iron and bronze. Then we have mention of the first female offspring, Naamah. So, when female offspring are born they do get a mention. So once again I ask the literalist - where do the other women come from? (GEN 4:19-22)

Lamech says to his wives:

Adah and Zillah listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me; a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times then Lamech seventy-seven times. GEN (4:23)

What a weird thing to say. Before I get to the footnotes that go with this little passage let's examine it a little more closely. First, why does he repeat himself? He tells them to listen, then tells them to hear his words - which looks a lot like two different versions of the same thing just strung together by one editor. Then he does it again, he says he killed a man for wounding him, then repeats it with different phrasing (injuring) - just as if two different versions were stuck together by an outside editor faced with two different texts. Then he has the temerity to one up God by saying his vengeance should be 11 times greater than that God promised Cain. Self-absorbed doesn't even cover it!

But what of the footnotes? Well, they change the saying dramatically. The footnote for verse 23 says that instead of 'I have killed' it could be 'I will kill'. That's a big chuffing difference. How do you take that literally?

Adam then gets back in the saddle and lays with Eve, which results in the birth of Seth. What an Emmerdale Farm character has to do with this I don't know, but there's been some weird shit already so let's run with it. Eve quite callously admits that Seth only came about as a replacement for Abel. (GEN 4:25) Seth has a son called Enosh (with who?). At this time, men begin to call on the Lord - and it's all downhill from here. (GEN 4:26)

There are problems a plenty in this chapter for your literalist. God shows once again he is happy to blame other people for his mistakes and petulance. We have people being born seemingly as adults. We have incest or women appearing from nowhere at random. We have what seem to be different versions of the text being strung together. We find out who to blame for James Galway. We find out that the authors of Genesis struggled to come up with names for their characters. We find out that God doesn't like vegetables or fruit.

It's all a bit weird really.

Especially when you think that in 4004 BC (according to creationist timelines) there were only Adam and Eve around in the Garden of Eden, yet someone was making postholes about 4000 years earlier at Stonehenge. Oh, and the agricultural revolution. That started about 10,000 years ago. But we'll get on to creationist population estimates and timelines later, trust me.

1 comment:

  1. One interpretation insists that Cain wasn't offering the best fruit and veg to the Lord, whereas Abel offered Him the choicest cuts. Of course, there's nothing in the text to support that inference. It just sounds better.

    Others insist that "sacrifice" is supposed to symbolise the modern meaning of sacrificing ones freetime for study, or ones work for ones children etc, and that it's not about sacrificing animals. But still, the motives of all characters appear shallow, bizarre and arbitrary.

    We have what seem to be different versions of the text being strung together.

    Interestingly, the Koran says that Cain and Abel each had twin sisters, and each was to marry the other's twin. Cain didn't like this idea, so he killed his brother (for some reason). The Mithraic tradition however, has it that Cain's twin sister was hotter than Abel's, so he thought by killing Abel he get it on with her instead.

    But as we know, those stories are not the word of God, because they are not included in the Bible, and should not be taken literally.

    We find out who to blame for James Galway.
    And Acker Bilk, according to my interpretation.