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Cain and Abel
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So I have my own little version of ‘All I really needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten’ and I think it is true in a sense for biblical text as well which is that some of the most powerful and sophisticated ways that we can read biblical text are very, very commonsensical, almost sesame street like and the kinds of things you really did learn in kindergarten. One of those tools has a very fancy, academic name but it really just boils down to something very basic that you would have learned when you were a kid. I call it ‘Where have I heard these words before?’
In academic circles there is a fancier name for all of these, it is intertextuality and don’t get put off by the amount of syllables in that word, it really just is a combination of two different words, which is inter and textuality. ‘Inter’ means between and ‘textuality’ means texts, right? So it is a way of reading between texts and let me explain what I mean by that. ‘Intertextuality’ really is just ‘where have I heard these words before’ and basically the way this works is like this, let’s imagine you are reading story A, let’s call that story A the story that we have just read, ‘Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden of Eden’ and then you come to some other story in the Bible. The story could be anywhere, it could be books later, it could be chapters later and in this case, I am going to actually take a story right nearby, the next major story in the bible. Let’s talk about the story of the world’s first murder, the story of Cain and Abel. So you are just reading story A, you have finished story A and now you are reading story B. and as you are reading story B, something funny happens and that something funny is, you come across an idea. We are going to call that idea A and idea A is just kind of tickling in your mind and it is reminding you of something. It is reminding you of something that you have read over here. And you think well, maybe that’s kind of a coincidence but then, lo and behold, you get to another idea, we are going to call that idea B and idea B is reminding you again, of something that you have read over here, right back in the story and you see, that’s kind of strange. Not only idea A is reminding me of something I read over there but idea B is reminding me of something that I read back in that first story also. But then, it keeps happening, it is not always, not certainly ideas. Sometimes it is a word or phrase. You come across this very unusual phrase and we are going to call it phrase Q and phrase Q just happens to show up when you know it right back here in this other story and this keeps on happening, you know over and over and over again like a dozen times and what does this seem to mean? The Torah seems to be saying you know, if you want to understand what’s happening over here in story B, the Torah seems to be saying you got to understand what’s happening over here in story A. It is almost like story A is serving kind of commentary on story B. This is intertextuality. It is between these texts, it is where have I heard these words before, I am hearing all these stuff and I heard it before over there. Somehow story A is commenting on story B.
I want you actually to take a minute and try to practice this. You know you have just read through story A, the story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden. Well, you now turn to story B, the story of Cain and Abel. Read through the story, it is not very long. You will find it right after the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and ask yourself, can you play this game, can you play ‘where have I heard these words before’? As it happens, you can. It is uncanny and the story of Cain and Able, there are whole bunch of elements that happen in the story that remind you of story A, the Garden of Eden. I will give you a hint, it is actually the consequences.
Look at the consequences of Cain killing Abel. When you look at the consequences of Adam and Eve, eating from tree, there are something about each of those consequences that just kind of rings a bell. See if you can look at it and see if you can find a, see if you can make a list of what you think those things are, how are these stories intertextually connected, how many things can you find in that story B that reminds you of story A?
Let’s come back and compare notes.
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