Things Unmentioned (Gen. 4)

The first inhabitants of Earth seem to be getting by just fine after their expulsion from Eden. In Genesis 4 we learn that Adam and Eve finally make good on God’s suggestion that they be fruitful and multiply. Their progeny, Cain and Abel, seem to get along just fine domesticating crops and livestock. They try to please their god by bringing some of their respective work as offerings. For some reason (or maybe no reason), God scoffs at Cain’s sacrifice.

It appears that God has expectations of his creation, but the reader is never told what these expectations are, or at the very least if the people of the time were told what God demands of them. Why should we expect Cain to know that God prefers animal fat of the first born to fruit? As far as we know, the only commandment God has given his creation is to never eat from the Tree of Knowledge. This hardly seems fair to Cain. Another uncertainty is Cain’s motive for murdering his brother. All that we know is that Cain is “very angry” (Gen. 4:5) before he kills Abel. It could have been an envious anger directed at his brother; or possibly an anger of frustration directed at God for his preference, and poor Abel is just a means to prove his point. Considering how seemingly arbitrary God’s favor is, the latter seems more likely. Of course, since the Genesis is not terribly specific Cain’s anger could have come from anywhere. Maybe he stubbed his toe walking away from his offering?

God instructs Cain to do what is right, though he doesn’t elaborate on what “right” is exactly (Gen. 4:6). There is clearly an expectation that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was plenty potent and that at this point a list of rules or commandments is unnecessary. I’ll return to this theme in a future post, but for now my point is that God expects humans to not only differentiate good from evil, but to also favor the good. We’re to assume that having the knowledge of good and evil is accompanied by the knowledge that God commands that you do no evil.

The rest of the unsaid in this chapter is mostly for practical purposes. There are apparently other living people whose ancestry is unknown and themselves are not named in Genesis: Cain’s potential murders (Gen. 4:14), Cain’s wife (Gen. 4:17), (presumably) the people that helped Cain build a city (Gen. 4:17), and the wives of Cain’s offspring (Gen. 4:18-23). There’s nothing wrong with this. I think it’s unfair to expect Genesis to provide a complete history of every person living at the time and still be useful or even readable.

There isn’t much, short of disproving the existence of God, we can point to specifically in this chapter that can demonstrate these events never occurred . The omissions above don’t do much, if any, harm to the integrity or credibility of Genesis. Chapters 1, 2, and 3, however, have already seen to it.

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