Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why not Cain's?

Have you ever wondered why Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God but not that of Cain? You might have heard these answers that I've heard: (1) Cain's attitude was wrong, or (2) Cain did not offer his very best. As I see it, I don't think the text actually says any of that explicitly (though I guess you could argue that the explicit mention of Abel bringing the "fatty" portion or "firstlings" of his flock is an implicit criticism of Cain doing otherwise...) Anyway, I'm currently reading through this book on the Septuagint, and I must say, this is a very fascinating subject! I never knew that there were so many text-critical issues surrounding the LXX and with my interests in intertextuality, I think getting to know the LXX a bit better will do me some good. For instance, see how bringing the LXX into our discussion sheds (or darkens?) light on the issue:

Genesis 4:6-7
6The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

This is a pretty straightforward passage of the narrative, and I never thought much about it, but its meaning is actually much more difficult to figure out than evidenced in our translations. For example, here is verse 7:

הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ׃

οὐκ ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκῃς ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς ἥμαρτες ἡσύχασον πρὸς σὲ ἡ ἀποστροφὴ αὐτοῦ καὶ σὺ ἄρξεις αὐτοῦ

The English translation above follows the MT, but the Hebrew in verse 7 is awkward and difficult, so they often rely on the Greek text, which also show evidence that the translator himself had a difficult time with his Hebrew text:

"If you offer correctly but do not divide correctly, have you not sinned? Be still, his recourse is to you, and you will rule over him."

Very different from our regular English translations, no? As Jobes states, "Part of the translator's motivation, undoubtedly, was a desire to understand why God should be upset with Cain for bringing an offering that is approved in the Mosaic legislation. His rendering may be evidence of an ancient interpretation to the effect that the reason Cain's offering was defective was that he failed to follow the proper cultic rituals." So why not Cain's? Maybe he did it wrong afterall.


bogoizbrania said...

Hi, question for me is substantial. And I decided to post a comment on your statement. In my blog in Bulgarian've written in more detail.
Around the sacrifice of Cain has taken several wrong assumptions and conditions distort the symbolism of the sacrifice . It is the symbolism of these two sacrifice is most important to clarify the meaning as a whole.
Cain symbolizes Matter, Abel - Space and God the Father - Time, this comparison is from BT. 1:1.

Gen 1:1 In the beginning H7225 God H430 created H1254 H853 the heaven H8064 and H853 the earth H776.

Cain has not committed a sin, its sacrifice are plants symbolize life on Earth or Matter. The sacrifice of Abel is the life of the Spirit symbolized by the lamb, it eats plants and the Spirit is represented as existing over Matter. Cain just did not understand the meaning of sacrifice, like all known theological interpretations and translations. As matter exists in space. Spirit is living in a material body, but both were created by God or Time and this was the meaning of sacrifice. Cain decided that it could "sacrifice" the very Spirit and he killed Abel.
All explanations that I know do exactly like Cain, they kill the spirit to give more power and attention to the matter or their own ideas and careers.
Thanks for the research and attention

Paul In Lee said...


Mike S. said...

Paul: Jobes is getting at how easily we overlook certain difficult passages when we only read the MT and not the LXX. Plus with the possibility that the LXX translator of this passage might have been looking at another Hebrew parent-text, it brings up some interesting questions...

Craig said...

It is an interesting question: Why Abel and not Cain? Perhaps it goes back to the curse in Genesis 3:

"And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field." (Genesis 3:17-18, emphasis mine)

Mike S. said...

Craig: That is an interesting take on things though I still think the OT is basically silent on this issue. I want to quote here Hamilton's comments from his NICOT commentary, "Here God makes a selection. Gen. 4 does not supply a reason for or an explanation of this divine choice. The NT will indeed address itself to this issue, but the OT itself is silent. Commentators have not been reluctant to fill up this silence with a number of interesting and imaginary possibilities... Perhaps the silence is the message itself" (223-4).

And regarding verse 7, he writes, "It is fair to say that this is one of the hardest verses in Genesis to translate and to understand. Skinner speaks for many commentators when he says that 'every attempt to extract a meaning from the verse is more or less of a tour de force'" (225).