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Cain and Abel
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Think about story A, what are the consequences of eating from the tree? So one consequence is exile, Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden but that’s only one consequence. Another consequence is difficulty farming, Adam’s told that by the sweat of his brow, he is going to make bread. The land is just not going to automatically produce food for him anymore. He is going to have to work for it. These two consequences and when you move on then there is also the fact that they hide from God, immediately after eating from the tree. Adam is hiding and God asks him, why are you hiding and Adam says I am naked and I am hiding from you and consequence number four is that God asks him where he is. Ayeh, the question ‘where are you’ which we talked about a little bit couple of videos ago. So these are the four consequences of eating from the tree and now think about, are there any analogies to these particular four consequences in the story of Cain and Abel.
Well, it turns out that there are. Look at the consequences of killing Abel. What happens to Cain after he kills Abel? Well, it turns out that Cain also experiences a kind of exile. He is not kicked out of Eden but he is told na v’nat tiheyeh baaretz , ‘you will be a wanderer throughout the land’, you will never really be able to settle down. No place in which you live, you will not be able to really call home. What about difficulty farming – well, it turns out that Cain also experiences difficulty farming. He was told that even as he works the land, it will not continue to give its strength to him, that even if he works hard it is just going to give him thorns and thistles and getting to our third consequence over here, hiding from God. So, Adam and Eve hide from God immediately after they eat from the tree. What about Cain, does he hide from God? Well, there is this phrase where Cain complains to God that he worries that he is not going to be able to bear the consequences of what’s happening to him and he says these interesting words and I am just going to quote it to you in Hebrew, u’mepanecha mesater, ‘from your face, I will hide. I will be continually hiding from you’. So there is this idea of hiding from God as well that Cain experiences and finally, remember how God had said, ayeh, ‘where are you’ to Adam. That was his first question. Well strangely there is that exact same question to Cain about Abel, eih chevel achicha, is what God says and eih is just short for ayeh. If you put that hey at the end of eih, then you get the ayeh. If you leave out that hey, it is just eih but it is just the same word and it is that word for ‘where’. Again in Hebrew there are two words for ‘where’. The most common word for where is eifoh, and as we have talked about very briefly eifoh is sort of general request for location. Ayeh is not really a request for location, it is the sort of where did he go and in this case, that is of course the question that God is asking about Abel, where did he go, what happened to Abel, how come he is not here? So, we get the same ayeh question with respect to Abel as we had in this story that Adam was asked with respect to where he is.
So, interestingly sort of all four of these elements which are consequences of eating from the tree, seem to replicate themselves in some way over here.
So now the question is why, what does it all mean? Why would the Bible do this? I mean that’s kind of interesting, it is remarkable that those same four things, they appear in this other story. It is almost like you wouldn’t have noticed it if you weren’t looking for it but why does the Bible do this? What’s the point of this? So I want to speculate on this with you and actually even before I speculate, you might want to speculate, why do you think the Bible does this? Is this just cute, is it just a literary device done for aesthetic effect? It is a literary device but I don’t think it is done for aesthetic effect. I think it is done for the effect of conveying meaning.
Let me try to explain this a little bit more. A man suddenly comes to you and says, hey, the bible was supposed to be meaningful but how could the Bible be meaningful? It is too short. You think what do you mean it is too short, it is long, it is thousands of pages long. Says then yeah but look at like the main stories in the Bible, take the tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel, there is this huge cataclysm. There is this tower and God destroys the tower and as a result he creates these 70 different languages and nations, it is the beginning of nationhood. That’s a big deal. If you would imagine, an event of this scale, taking place say 50 years ago, what would the Encyclopedia Britannica have to say about it? The encyclopedia Britannica uses a lot of words and I mean, take a look at volume 16 over here, just covers from Chicago to death and all of those hundreds and hundreds of pages, encyclopedia Britannica would at least have 50 columns of texts on the tower of Babel. How much does the Bible have? Well, turns out that the Bible has the grand total of 9 sentences, 9 verses on the tower of Babel. So he says, that’s not enough, I mean I can’t say anything profound in 9 verses, even if I was a genius I couldn’t say anything profound in 9 verses. And all of the stories are like this. Adam and Eve and the garden, Cain and Abel, The Tower of Babel or the binding of Isaac. If you just look through the great stories of the Bible, they are all really, really short. So how can you say anything really profound in a short amount of time? So what’s the answer to that?
So let me give you an analogy. You know, let’s imagine you are a really rich guy. So imagine you said, well I am a really rich guy and I want to live in Manhattan, right around midtown and I want 5 thousand square feet of space, I would like a beautiful ranch home, you say to your realtor, something like this. And you show this example, this wonderful ranch home. Are you able to get me this? Well, you can pay millions and millions of dollars but you are not going to be able to get that in the middle of Manhattan and that’s just not the place for ranch homes. So should I come back and say, look, I can give you 5000 square feet of space but it is not going to be a ranch home. Where would it be? Well, the answer is, you got to build up, it is going to be in something like this, some sort of high rise building and I can give you floor after floor after floor as much as you want to pay for and you are going to have all the space you want but it is going to be in layers. So you might think of Bible almost kind of like Manhattan. The Bible is what academics would call ‘A Minimalist Document’ and by minimalist means that it uses a minimal amount of words, it doesn’t say very much. The words that are used are very simple and there is not a lot of adjectives and it is very, very compact sort of pros. So if you are a minimalist document, what are you going to use to convey meaning and the answer maybe that you build up and maybe there are layers in meaning. If you can layer text upon text upon text, kind of like a high rise building, well and you can create relationships kind of staircases between these different layers, well you can have a tremendous amount of space in a very, very short book. The footprint of the book, the footprint of the text, the footprint of the building is not very big, right? This is just you know, I have only got 30 feet over here right but if I can build up, I can have a tremendous amount of space, layered on top of that.
So it turns out that intertextuality maybe one of the ways in which Bible layers texts cause if you remembered these two stories, Story A and Story B, story A is not very long. It has just a few points over here but if you want to understand the meaning of those points, there is a second layer and maybe even a third layer and these layers relate back here. So this kind of thing is a kind of commentary. In other words, when you think about commentary on the Bible, it is not that you just go to the encyclopedia or go to one of the medieval commentators and open up, that’s interesting but it may well be that the Bible itself has layered commentary within itself which is helping you understand the story. If you want to understand story A, the Bible is tipping you off, there are keys in story B and it is almost you might say, kind of like your eyes. It creates a sense of depth, almost the same way eyes do, the idea of stereo-sight or even the idea of stereo-sound.
We all know that listening to stereos is lot more fun than listening to things in mono. That’s why FM kind of triumphs AM when it comes to music stations and the same of course is true for sight. How is it that we get a sensation of seeing in 3 dimensions? There is actually an interesting book about a woman, she talks about how she wasn’t able to see in 3 dimensions for many, many years and she trained her eyes to be able to work together and until finally she saw in 3 dimensions and just walking outside and seeing leaves was like this ecstatic experience for her because to walk around and seeing the world in mono and suddenly be able to see it in stereo was an amazing, amazing thing. So how is it that we see in 3D? So two eyes is kind of the way that we do it. How is it that two eyes help us see in 3D? Well, why do you have two eyes, why is it just not enough to have one eye? Well, turns out that because your two eyes are in separate locations in your body, they actually see two different things, they see slightly different images because you are looking out of two perspectives. Now, if your eyes are working right, what does your brain do? What your brain does is, it takes those images and it merges them. The way we work as human beings is when we take two slightly different images, input from over here and input from over here and we merge it together, it actually creates a sensation of depth. Well that’s sort of intertextuality. When I take text A and I am able to merge it together with text B, somehow bring those two together, well then wow! I am seeing in 3 dimensions.
You might want to try giving this a whirl on your own. Maybe if you have a second go back in Cain and Abel story, what we are calling story B and go back to the Garden of Eden story, story A and again looking at the consequences, we listed four of them, ask yourself what does it telling us about the meaning of Cain’s killing of Abel? By phrasing the consequences, for this, as iterations of consequences of eating from the tree, what does that mean to you? What does it seem like that the Bible is kind of whispering in your ear by way of commentary here?
So I have some thoughts on that. I will share that with you on our next video but let me know what you think.
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