Weekend Reading: Worship and Violence

Continuing my journey through the book of Genesis, I notice several things.

The first section had introduced a Creator, His acts of Creation, and the first humans. They had lived a childlike state in a garden, before a combination of temptations and actions lead to a shocking, and painful introduction to a harsher world.

Most coming-of-age stories end in a satisfying way. This one doesn't seem to.

But as I said before, the point of the story appears to be the relationship between Creator and His Creation. The characters of Adam and Eve are necessary, but aren't the central focus.*

The story continues in a simple way. The couple left the Garden, and took up a life in the wide world. Children are born, named Cain and Abel.

Both children bring offerings to God as part of an act of worship. Each brings an offering from his way of life: the elder is a tiller of soil, the younger is a keeper of flocks. The offering of the younger brother is favored over the other.**

This awareness leads to a warning. The warning is not heeded, and the older brother (who feels slighted) decides to assault his younger brother. The assault is deadly.

The narrative returns to a place of a sinner being questioned by God. Somewhat like his parents, the guilty brother tries to shift discussion away from what he did. But he doesn't have anyone to point fingers at.

He is cursed, and this curse leads to his becoming an outcast. Among the things he laments: he will not be able to commune with God.

It seems yet another coming-of-age story, with a darker ending.

Twice now, the story mentions the relation between Creator and Created. And it mentions actions which separate humans from relationship with their Creator.

From this point, the story changes tone slightly. Several more generations are mentioned. A city is credited to Cain, and his family is mentioned as having several who develop special skills related to music and metal-working. Then there's a tale of a man who becomes famous, because he promises deadly vengeance for slight injury.***

After the special focus on the relations between God and humanity, this seems an afterthought. Maybe it's a way to mention names that were considered famous in the context of the original culture, but aren't considered important to the developing story.

Or maybe it's a commentary on the kind of culture that was built in separation from God. There's development and improvement in many things, but there's loss of connection with the Creator.

Instead of fear that murder will make a man into an outcast, there is evidence of a man bragging about vengeance-by-killing.

This set of stories builds a picture of the world. While the picture is not a pretty one, it is also not hopeless.

* A linguistic oddity: the name Adam is a proper form of the Hebrew word for "man" or "humanity". However, it may have roots in the word for "red", and be related to the words for "clay", or "earth".
Sometimes I wonder if Adam was thus the first redneck...
He names his wife Eve when the narrative first mentions childbirth. This word has connections to the words for "source of life".

** The narrative assumes that bringing an offering is the natural thing to do. It also assumes that the hearer knows something about the process of bringing offerings as an act of worship. There's no description of the process at all.
There's also no reference to where Cain and Abel learned about sacrifice.

*** I'd say this reminds me of rednecks. Or at least, a culture in which vengeance by violence is standard operating procedure.
This also reminds me of the vast cultural gulf between North American and Western European cultures and the Ancient Middle East.

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