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Cain and Abel

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I've been doing a bit of casual research into traditions surrounding Cain and Abel, and particularly the identity of Cain's wife. Some of the information I've found is not collected neatly anywhere else on the internet that I can find, so I figured I'd write it up here.

Genesis, 500s BCE: The book of Genesis tells the Cain and Abel story in Chapter 4. Cain's murder of Abel is attributed to jealousy over God accepting Abel's sacrifice but not Cain's. The reason for this difference is not spelled out, but the text does imply that only Abel was giving God the first and best of his produce as a sacrifice. There is also an implication, in God's statement that "if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it," that rejection of Cain's sacrifice is an attempt to test him to see if he can resist committing a sin out of a desire for revenge (a test he obviously ends up failing, just as his parents failed the test of not eating the forbidden fruit). Cain's wife is not explicitly named, nor is it specified where she came from. There is widespread consensus among apologists today that Cain's wife should be understood to be one of Adam and Eve's "other sons and daughters" mentioned in Chapter 5 (after all, Seth -- the first of the other children of Adam and Eve mentioned in the Bible -- is not named until after Cain's great-great-great-great grandchildren are listed, so not everything in Genesis is given in chronological order). Cain goes on to build a city, which apologists argue was initially populated by other siblings. More vexing is the question of how the city was possible if Cain was cursed to be a wanderer and to fail at agriculture.

Jewish legends, Genesis Rabbah: Jewish legends and Midrash follow the Genesis account, but add some other ideas. Cain is sometimes said to be the son of the serpent (Satan), who had sex with Eve after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, thus explaining his evil nature. The idea that Cain gave God leftovers rather than the first and best of his produce is reinforced, as is Cain's insolence toward God and resistance toward what he sees as God's arbitrariness and tyranny. These legends also introduce the idea that Cain and Abel each had a twin sister who they were intended to marry. Cain, however, preferred Abel's twin (or wanted a second twin sister of Abel, who Abel also claimed) -- not named in the compilation of legends I linked to -- and this jealousy became an additional motivation for murdering his brother. (There is an added wrinkle here that Abel could have won the fight, but he stupidly tried to be nice to Cain.) God also is said to explicitly have pity on Cain and rescind the curse of nomadism. There is an interesting debate in the linked material about free will, with Cain accusing God of setting him up to sin by giving him an evil nature, while God insists that Cain is responsible both for the murder of Abel and for his continued sinfulness in later life. While Cain's descendants are discussed in some detail, his wife is never mentioned, and Adam and Eve do not begin to have additional children until after Cain is killed by his great-great-grandson Lamech.

Antiquities of Philo 100 CE: This text describes Cain and Abel as having had a sister, Noaba, born between them, as well as other named brothers and sisters born after Abel's death. The actual story of the murder is not told, but Cain is said to have married a woman named Themech, who is not listed as one of Adam and Eve's daughters. He then builds seven cities (Enoch, Mauli, Leeth, Teze, Iesca, Celeth, and Iebbath). Given the small number of family members accounted for, this book seems to imply the existence of other people not descended from Adam (pre-Adamites).

Book of Jubilees, 160-150 BCE: The pseudepigraphical Book of Jubliees (considered canonical by Ethiopian Christians) holds that Cain and Abel had a younger sister, Awan. After Cain murders Abel (motivated by God's rejection of his sacrifice, for which no reason is given), he marries Awan.

Conflict of Adam and Eve With Satan, 400s-500s CE: This book names Cain's twin sister Luluwa, and Abel's Aklia. Cain is portrayed as refusing to offer regular sacrifices the way obedient Abel does. Cain prefers to marry the beautiful Luluwa rather than the "ill-favored" Aklia, and so Satan convinces him to kill Abel. After Abel's funeral, Cain marries Luluwa in defiance of his parents (Luluwa's wishes are obscure, since she is stated to be distraught at Abel's death). Seth later marries Aklia, and Adam and Eve have no more children. Cain, on the other hand, has a huge family and fills up the valley below Paradise.

Book of the Cave of Treasures, 500s CE: This apocryphal book, named for the cave where Adam and Eve worhipped after being thrown out of the Garden of Eden, states that Cain had a twin sister named Lebhudha, while Abel had a twin sister named Kelimath. Adam intended each of his children to marry their opposite-sex non-twin (Cain-Kelimath and Lebhudha-Abel), but Cain preferred Lebhudha because she was beautiful. This sexual jealousy was the primary reason for killing Abel, and after Cain's expulsion from the family he did end up marrying Lebhudha. There is a great emphasis on the enmity between the virtuous Sethites living on the mountain of Paradise and the wicked Cainites living in the valley below until the two began to mix in the days of Yared (Jared). The story of Cain being killed by blind Lamech at the direction of Tubal-Cain (who mistook him for a game animal) is also told here.

Qur'an, 600s CE: The story of Cain and Abel (Qabil and Habil) is given in Surah 5 verses 27-32, though the brothers are not named. It is presented as a condemnation of murder, with Abel refusing to act in self-defense so as not to commit a sin, allowing Cain to take the sin on himself. The text moves on to discuss proper punishments for crimes, saying nothing about Cain's subsequent life.

Book of the Bee, 1200s CE: Here Kelimath is Cain's twin and Lebhudha is Abel's, but the intended marriages still involve swapping twins. Cain's desire to marry his own twin is presented as the reason for holding the sacrifices, during which Cain gives God blighted corn or just straw. The identity of Cain's eventual wife is not stated.

Book of Jasher, 1613 CE: The book of Jasher mostly follows the Genesis account, with the added story that the murder of Abel was directly precipitated by Abel's flocks wandering into Cain's fields, and Abel's retort that if Cain wished to keep the flocks out he could refuse to partake of the meat and clothing he had been obtaining from the sheep. (Contrast the Genesis account in which Cain led Abel out to the fields in order to kill him.)

Pearl of Great Price, 1800s CE: The Mormon Pearl of Great Price tells the Cain and Abel story in the book of Moses, chapter 5. Before naming Cain and Abel, the text emphasizes that Adam and Eve's large family was divided over following God's commandment to worship him through the Son and to sacrifice the first and best of their produce to him. Cain is said to have failed at this, and to have loved Satan more than God and made a pact with him to kill Abel. As to motives, in addition to his anger at his sacrifice being rejected, Cain is described as trying to take Abel's flocks. Cain's wife is not named, but is described as one of Abel's daughters, who Cain married before killing Abel. The story also implies that the inhabitants of Cain's city were siblings, nieces and nephews who left the family along with Cain after the murder.


Why Was I Born This Way?

I quite agree with Chally's concerns about the recent popularity of the "born this way" argument about sexual orientation and trans-ness.

Chally sasy "Nobody's trying to find the cause of straightness or cisness, because they're normalised." This is very true as a social generalization. But I'll put my hand up as someone who would be really interested to know the cause of straightness.


Atheist Ethics

I think this summary of Penn Jilette's atheist version of the Ten Commandments is a good list, which can easily be adjusted to incorporate other sentient beings (despite the fact that Jillette has prominently criticized the animal rights movement*). In fact, many of Jillette's commandments are much better than those of the Bible even apart from losing their reference to God. For example, he expands the Biblical prohibition on adultery to a general prohibition on breaking promises and violating commitments you have made, with monogamy just one important promise that many people have entered into. Moreover, the list is one that theistic people should also be able to concur with, since it does not actively deny the existence of god. Theist belief simply puts a different metaphysical foundation behind things. As a pragmatist, I'm inclined to hold to a way of thinking somewhat like Deep Ecology's "Apron Diagram" on this point: a worldview, whether theistic or atheistic, that leads you to adhere to a platform of basic decency similar to Jillette's ten commandments is a valuable one.

After linking to this article on Facebook, I was challenged to explain how an atheist could justify the respect for life that Jillette calls for, if life is just "meaningless, animated matter." This gets at the heart of the perennial question of how atheists can justify their ethical code.

I can't speak for Jillette, not knowing much more of his particular worldview than what was in the article linked above. Certainly there are people whose atheism leads them to see life as "meaningless, animated matter" -- and those people can very well end up either cynical nihilists or in deep denial. (Then again, there are plenty of theistic cynical nihilists -- after all, what is more cynical or nihilistic than Pascal's Wager?) I, however, do not take such a dim view of life. I think that life creates its own meaning -- indeed, the capacity to do so is one of the criteria for sentience. And the ability to create one's own meaning is pretty awesome, amazing, and respect-worthy thing. My own life, for example, is meaningful to me because I have worked out for myself what purpose(s) I want it to serve, and taken responsibility for that. A view that makes meaning entirely dependent on God is one in which we respect life because an outside party is telling us "do this or else," or "don't break my stuff." We might go through the motions of respect, but that respect is not really premised on the intrinsic value of the things we're respecting.

That being said, I think "respect" is a pretty fuzzy concept. What exactly does it mean to "respect" something? The best definition I can come up with right now is that respect involves fully recognizing -- not just giving intellectual assent, but really grokking -- the facts about the thing being respected. We respect the dangerousness of a fire, for example, when our actions show that we really understand how fires burn and what kind of pain we'd be in if we touched it. (This is not to say you can't touch it, any more than respecting nature would mean walling it off as a pristine wilderness -- you just have to make that decision with full awareness of the consequences.)

One of the facts about life is that living things (or at least sentient ones, which are what I'd apply Jillette's "respect for life" principles to) care about what happens to them and their world. If you truly respect someone, then you have to fully take into account that fact. To count someone else's desires as mattering less than yours simply shows that you don't really recognize the existence of their desires. It would be like if I said Ginger Hill (1440 feet above sea level) is taller than Mt. Everest (29,000 feet above sea level) because Ginger Hill's feet count more -- you'd say I didn't understand the whole concept of feet as a measuring unit. We have, then, a perfectly good (broadly utilitarian) foundation for ethics without needing to invoke God (albeit also without needing to deny her existence, either).

*Bad philosophy collapses in on its own internal contradictions. Good philosophy allows you to see beyond its author's own assumptions and prejudices.