Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cain's Offering

As I've mentioned already I'm currently preaching on the early chapters of Genesis, it has been really good getting into these theologically rich narratives and I have been wishing I had made it a longer series, there is so much that comes out of these chapters once you start digging. And note to other pastors who avoid this book, I have had heaps of good feedback from diverse sections of the congregation on this one, stop being scared and preach Genesis! This week I am preparing to preach on the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-16) and I was surprised to find that my "friends" all think the text is ambiguous as to why Cain's offering is not appreciated by God, Bruggemann just thinks God is being capricious (p56), Walton exhorts us to being noncommittal on the issue while Hamilton describes all the interpretive reasons he has come across as being "fanciful"! (p224) Which is a little embarrassing because I have always thought the was text quite clear.

וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַֽיהוָֽה׃
Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground

וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹרֹ֥ות צֹאנֹ֖ו וּמֵֽחֶלְבֵהֶ֑ן
And Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions

וַיִּ֣שַׁע יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֹֽו׃
And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering

וְאֶל־קַ֥יִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֹ֖ו לֹ֣א שָׁעָ֑ה
But for Cain and his offering he had no regard. (NRSV)

In a narrative as sparse as Genesis it seems greedy to demand more evidence than the double emphasis on standard of Abel's offering, being both the firstborn from his flock and the fatty bits. By contrast Cain's offering, which until v4 was looking perfectly unremarkable, seems rather stingy and half-hearted.


What do you think?

2 comments:

  1. Jonathan,

    I confess that I too think that the text is both ambiguous and makes God appear capricious. Indeed, the LXX must have thought this as well since it alters God's words to Cain to clarify that it was a problem with the way Cain offered rather than what he offered. If you are interested I have an article on the topic which looks at the various ways Jewish and Christian exegetes have approached the problem of Cain's offering. I could send you a copy. It was published in JSP 2008.

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  2. Hi John, thanks for stopping by to disagree with me! :-) I look forward to reading the article and to see if I can be convinced.

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