Genesis 4:8–9

Loss leads to loss. Diminishment demands diminishment. Such are the physics of relationships. A struggle begins to change outcomes, and it is a very difficult task—as troublesome as time travel to go back and redo what has already begun. Without a new force, the arc of devolving pertains.

The first-born, second-place sacrificer finds the easiest way to be first in everything—to have no rival; to be alone. Here aloneness returns us to ’adam, perceived to be alone. One was made two. Now two are made one. And around we go.

Distance and death are related. Cain begins with distance, “Let us go out to the field.” [A technical note—this line is not found in the Masoretic text, but is found in the Greek, Syriac, and Aramaic persons of this verse. Without this verse, the story is going to great beyond. With its presence, we find ourselves located in one of Cain’s fields, which grew his less than winning “sacrifice.”]

What better fertilizer to grow a better crop (as if that were the key issue in Cain’s loss) than the body and blood of the one who bested him—Abel’s.

We have just heard about a generalized temptation awaiting everyone, around every corner. That temptation is located in the arena of turning a relationship into a competition based on a zero-sum game regarding acceptance or assurance.

A brother is taken into distance and then to death. No remorse. After all, there has never before been a death. There is no social model developed as to how one should feel and respond to having killed (deliberately or not). There is no second thought. The delayed outcome of getting stuck on the horns of knowing and not-knowing has finally begun arriving and has continued to this day—the doom of death.

A previous question to ’shah and ’ish—”Where are you?”—echoes back—”Where is your brother?”

These questions are still alive and being asked. Where are you? Where are your siblings? Where did earth’s integrity/health go? And there is no wiggling away—we are the keepers of self, one-another, and creation.

Genesis 4:6–7

Poems are enigmatic by nature, always carrying more than the poet knows. Whether surface-level poesy or resolutely constructed language, doors open into dimly-known, evocative space. Poems can start with observation but push through it and deep enough into a wilderness beyond to return with a more profound reflection than a rapid response.

Incense and dejection flicker across Cain’s face at being bested. [It would be intriguing to have a description of Abel’s face. How do you, as a reader, think Abel projected his reception of favor?]

These recognized responses become the start of the poem in these verses. Where do Cain’s anger and collapse come from? An impossible question for even the most introspective. It might as well be asked which place of watery chaos welling up through the soil provided the conditions for the shaping of an ’adam? There will never be a memorial built there.

Though addressed to Cain, this poem is also for Abel, Seth, and every reader to the present. Whether you offer well or not, there is a serpent built into every setting—every choice. Like it or not, to choose is risky and to not choose even riskier.

The presence of mistake and sin is as ubiquitous as this whole strange scene of unasked for sacrificial worship covering over sibling testing and rivalry.

Neither innocence nor an internalized sense of good and not-good exempts from a provocative question or dare. This is a perennial state of affairs, no matter whatever the moral system lived within.

Even so, there is a word of hope that whether one is caught by a temptation or not, there is no such trap that holds ultimate sway.

Even this declaration contains a risk because poems—in general, and especially this particular one—are notoriously difficult to understand, much less translate into a current economic model or idolatry.

Genesis 4:3–5

Bitten by a tree, ’shah and ’ish reorient their relationship and cling to one another—leaving their parental home (see Gen. 2:24). A separation took place as g()d slammed the door behind them.

Presumably ’adam tilled their new world well enough to sustain them. A birth took place and was claimed by Eve*. There is no mention made of any continued conversation with G*D.

Time passed. Dividing the labor, the boys, Cain and Abel, each had established their part with their care of the land and care of the animals.

The myth of the Wild West (not to be introjected directionally into this story as it would put us nearer a closed-down Eden) is the iconic struggle between the farmer (Cain) and herdsman (Abel). How is dominion going to look given such a battle royal?

From an unknown quarter (did a passing serpent suggest such an action?), Cain brought a grain offering to G*D. Seemingly simultaneously (like all experimental jumps claimed by two or more inventors) there is a competition set up as to whose product is better. Does tilling or animal husbandry have more prestige and honor?

Who better to have as a third-party judge than the very Creator with power to have exiled ’adam and Eve*. This one truly has no favorites so a win here will mean something that can be taken to the bank.

Of course, a question needs to be asked about how G*D came to be present. Was G*D seen lurking in the underbrush spying on how things were going? Was an invitation sent to G*D via the cherubim? Did an inherent sense of g()d still live in Exile through stories told around a fire by ’adam and Eve* and was it strong enough to manifest?

At any rate, the story of an elder child being discounted in favor of a younger begins beyond Eden. [It would be worth a look at Eve* (a second ’adam) supplanting ’adam before younger sons followed Eve*’s lead and took over from older sons.]

As you consider the mystery of why Cain and Abel came up with their same activity of sacrifice, the presence of G*D to play the role of judge, and the fairness or unfairness of the result, imagine at least 3 plot lines of where the story will lead.

Genesis 4:1–2

’Adam now “knows” Eve*. The previous nude/naked distinction is clarified as a stage prior to sexual intercourse. This is where physical multiplication begins.

This concept of knowing has clear connections to a legitimate, paid-for, transaction—as distinguished from consensual happenstance or rape. This sets us on a continuing trail of distinguishing legitimate and non-legitimate (clean and unclean) sexuality. Such clarifications can assist individuals and their cultural context in finding a more whole and even holy experience of sexuality as a blessing beyond a gift. At the same time it can bedevil individuals and societies with false dichotomies and choices such as accepting one sexual orientation as legitimate and clean, excelling all others. It can also confuse categories of sex and love which can mix as chaotically as any other attempt at unifying that which cannot ultimately be joined together.

So it is two become both two, “’Adam and Eve*,” and one, “Cain.” And three become four with the multiplication continuing with “Abel.”

Remembering that Eve* was rib-constructed rather than clay-shaped, the naming of Cain continues the constructed imagery with Eve*’s announcement of having “made” a next maker (“smith”) who will make even more. Eve* claims she is partnering with G*D in making more, multiplying. We may even remember a distinction between name sources and the questionable value of etymology.

There is no such drawn out naming for a second child and this would be a good place to review your notes on family systems and where birth rank enters the conversation. Inquiring minds still want to know and so scholars have noted the similarity of Abel to another Hebrew word meaning “vapor” or “puff of air”—here today, gone tomorrow. This works as foreshadowing a short life but doesn’t address the connection with sheep (as distinct from Cain’s following the way of a tiller-of-the-soil and the valuing of connections with g()d—both intrinsic and extrinsic.

A Pause

We began at a beginning, a very good place to start. Of course there are questions of what other story this beginning rose in the midst of. There is a Jewish way of thinking that what are known as miracles (the breaking of an established order) were already in place before a formal beginning and readied for later use. This suggests a miracle is not a miracle pulled from somewhere outside the system or magiced into being by access to a secret password.

In fact, we began with two polar beginnings. From the second we hear a sentence of death upon any transgressors of G*D’s right to good and no-good. We have just witnessed such a boundary crossing and were surprised that the sentence of death did not fall from the sky and collapse Heaven’s vault.

This is more than a delay or having bail posted or be paroled. It is an exile with a formidable foe should one attempt to sneak back in to rest in the cool of the evening.

Death delayed is not death avoided.

Exile (with or without a presence of an active G*D or a g()d just as absent) will be a recurring theme that echoes down to the current day.

At the end of Chapter 3 there is a booming, “You’re out of here!” from the home plate umpire. We are banned from the field, dugout, stadium, parking lot, and environs.

There is relief in exile. We live for another day!

There is anxiety in exile. How will we scratch out a living?

There is fear in exile. The sentence was only postponed.

There is hope in exile. A second thought may yet lead to a third thought of a retrial and acquittal (this is different than a pardon or reconciliation).

It is time to pause and regroup. How’s the story going for you? Worth continuing or time to put it down for more pressing matters?

Genesis 3:21–24

After the renaming of ’ishah to Eve*, furthering a divide begun in loneliness, we hear a continuation of judgment upon the not overtly cursed ’ishah and ’ish.

Stronger clothing is now provided—leather instead of leaves. This is an affirmation in the midst of a punishment. If they are going to continue their body shame, they might as well do it in style. Fashion is a first occupation?

Immediately a second thought comes that if ’ishah and ’ish did not die immediately upon eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge, but received fashion-forward clothing, they may not be content with accessorizing and go for The Tree of Life.

Creation may not have had an initial sense of eternity as it was built Day-by-Day. To deal with a questioner forever may not be what g()d bargained for.

Thus was ’adam sent East of Eden. They move directly from the naming of Mother Eve* to tilling Mother Earth. Such tilling will be a constant reminder of human origins—the dust of the earth. The uncertainty of water and weather is reminiscent of chaos beyond a vault of Heavens and below the surface of sea and land—something always having to be dealt with.

The ambivalence of relationship between creator and creation is captured here with the solicitous care of clothes and the expulsion of the humans and their new wardrobe.

Lest ’adam think that tilling outside of Eden is much more difficult than inside and Eve* not feel up to going through a second labor and they attempt to reenter Eden, a barrier is set up.

Are the cherubic and whirling sword actually dangerous or Wizard of Oz flim-flam? Is this a more authentic threat of death than a prior command threatening the same? Is this the end of a G*D/human partnership (G*D and ’adam, Inc.)? An end of story with no happy ever after?

Genesis 3:20

There is a naming that makes a direct connection between a name and that which is named. This suggests a potential of control. If you can name, you have dominion. For such a reason people guard their “true” name and share only their “use” name.

There is also a naming that disconnects by way of inventing an etymology or public, easy, explanation of a name—putting a layer of reason between the name and the named. This distraction allows a false sense of knowing the named.

Alter quotes Herbert Marks regarding these two naming processes:

In a verisimilar narrative, naming establishes and fixes identity as something tautologically itself; etymology, by returning it to the trials of language, compromises it, complicates it, renders it potentially mobile.

Adding to the misdirection of an etymological sufficiency here are additional ways in which the Hebrew root word for “Eve” sounds like more than “to live.” In the related language of Aramaic, “Eve” can sound like the word for or evocation of a “serpent.”

Readers might begin to wonder about such a connection and suspect an on-going conversation or questioning of what we think we know and how it is we know it. “Eve” not only connects us with basic animal life—multiplying—of post-Edenic biology, but with knowledge of good and not-good—questioning—of post-Edenic philosophy and psychology.

Readers might also travel farther down that path and begin connecting the question-asking serpent with the beginning of life or being its mother. Current abortion legalist use a fetal heartbeat as a measure of the beginning of life while those more oriented toward honoring multi-valent choices come closer to the arrival of a question as a marker of the beginning of life.

It is not until we get to the point of multiplying, post-Eden, that a “mother” is a possibility. Unless the “shame of nakedness” is code for bodies mature enough for procreation, there is nothing to suggest there was ever going to be children born within Eden. G*D seemed satisfied with the two. ’Ishah and ’ish, to talk with at evening time. The grafting, budding, process of rooting a rib or cloning it that has been used up to this point has carried no suggestion of birthing, much less mothering.

Like G*D or g()d, Eve needs demythologizing. Might that be notated with the orthography of Eve* ?

Genesis 3:16—19

Isn’t it the way of the world that the one who gets the blame in first wins—at least doesn’t come in last and can make it to a subsequent heat. ’Ishah has found cunning within the polarity of good and not-good and uses it by getting the first blame in—Serpent did it!

The serpent received a full-on curse with no reason given or consideration acknowledged of the value of a previous relationship. For ’ishah and ’ish, there are consequences, but they are not labeled as curses of these two. As close as a curse comes is to the soil ’ish will be tilling. These consequences might better fall in a category of rued disappointment.

“If they want knowledge so badly, here’s a dose!”

In the absence of knowing about death, good, and not-good, humans also don’t know about birth and the cost of multiplying—labor. A foreshadowing of labor pains and their repeat is not a change in potential like the loss of limbs. It is a change in relationship—’ishah and ’ish have not been under the dictate of multiply and increase. It has been enough to walk in the cool of a Garden, forever and ever.

With a credible challenge to a magisterial G*D, head of all gods, and creator of Dusty (a play toy shaped from clay)—the actual entrance of good and not-good (G*D’s privileged domain) brings a chorus from Greek tragedy announcing a resultant future that comes from challenging a G*D or g()d or gods.

Likewise, productivity has not been known. All that has been needed is to look at a tree’s fruit, and it floats into the mouth, delicious—peel me another grape! Now to till with a purpose! The serpent loses limbs and ’ish develops sweat glands.

If a game of revelation is going to be played, it is time to have an image of a creator become more real. From the outside, it appears all that is needed is a name and it is automatically filled with substance and will obey. Not so. Making, shaping, and relating are hands-on processes.

“Go, return to the dust of the ground and wrench from it your sustenance yourself. See how it will disappoint and exhaust you as you have disappointed and exhausted me”

 

Genesis 3:14–15

This account is a fiat, not an experience to learn from. The distinction of privileged human over the rest of creation is clear in a comparison between this declaration and the subsequent ones directed toward ’ishah and ’ish. This command reveals what is behind the traditional translation of “having dominion”. It is non-relational.

What “serpent” means here remains unclear. What is clear is that any connection between a serpent and a retrojected understanding of a satan is a false equivalency.

Humans and animals, alike, need a cunning compatriot able to goad or trick. Without a coyote-like character, there is no continuation of a story that begins before us and includes us.

Initially, it is unclear whether an evolutionary forebear of today’s serpents once walked as well as talked, before parseltongue, a universal language. DNA evidence suggests a physical transformation different than other reptilian skitterings.

Culturally, it is unclear  if this serpent is a remainder from Canaanite myths of a primordial sea-serpent whose cunning may be nothing more than its connection with the roiling water pre-Day One and all the possibility that lies beyond the boundaries of a children’s book of literal creatures (unless naming shape-shifted their first form).

It is unlikely this story is simply a folktale account of why snakes crawl. To go just a little deeper, we are invited to look again at the dual categories of good and not-good. One recurrent reality is the cunning ways we have manipulated both good and not-good to advantage particular persons and programs.

Politics at every level from personal to familial to clan and tribe to city- and nation-state slightly shift the conversation until “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength” and an opponent is a repeatedly sequential treasured friend and implacable enemy. One little word separated Easter and Western Christianities and became a Shibboleth projected into every aspect of everyday life—damning all differences.

A variance does not need a good/not-good differential applied to it such as the same verb here used to distinguish a mere “hiss” (a cunning echo of a big-bang’s background radiation) from an involuntary reaction to “trample” the hisser. This one verb traps us into enmity that also separates us from all the good still available beyond a Day One boundary of light/good and dark/not-good beyond a physical sun, moon, and stars.

Genesis 3:8–13

And they saw. And they ate. And they heard. And they hid.

Many have commented on the difference between seeing and hearing. At the moment I am remembering Jacques Ellul and the limits of apprehension. Our eyes face forward. We can focus near and far but peripheral vision, at best, takes in half our current context and the further to the side we strain, the less detail is available. Our ears have their frequency limits but we can gather sound information from all around, a part of teachers’ having eyes in the back of their head.

These senses can work well together, and they can also be so consuming that the other sense is blocked out. To be captivated by a lovely tree makes hazy what we have heard and is still echoing if it weren’t overridden by what we are seeing. The music of the spheres asks us to close our eyes and drop our jaw to best attend to its presence.

The differences between sight and sound energize and relax us, put us on high alert and settle us down. Each can sharpen or dull our attention. Window shopping can trigger our desire, and a snatch of song can transport us miles and years away.

Any tree can be seen to be central, just like a tamed fox or a tended-to flower we have come to know. In this knowing we know good and it won’t be long before we also know what is not-good about this good. Declarations of “It is good!” are always provisional and come back to bite us. Eventually, we will need to see past this duality.

The story we come into the middle of has G*D present in a garden and knowable through hearing. How do you imagine G*D sounds like ahead of our seeing? Humming a catchy tune? Singing “Some of My Favorite Things?” Shuffling clumsily after a long day and yearning for a mini-Sabbath?

If none of these trigger you to alert, why hide? Why respond with fear when you are missed and asked after? Now for more questions.