I’m continuing with my project, begun on 1st January, of reading the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem, using mainly the translation by John Darby which transliterates the Hebrew name of God as “Jehovah”. Modern scholars prefer “Yahwe.”
Genesis 4 Darby Translation (DARBY)
1 And Adam lay with Eve his wife; and she conceived, and gave birth to Cain, and said, I have created a man with help from Jehovah.
2 And she further gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel was a shepherd, but Cain farmed the ground.
3 And in process of time Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat. And Jehovah looked favourably upon Abel, and on his offering;
5 but upon Cain, and on his offering, he did not look. And Cain was very angry, and his face fell.
6 And Jehovah said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why have you lost face?
7 If you do well, will not your honour be restored? and if you do not do well, sin lies at the door; it shall try to master you, but you must rule over it.
8 And Cain spoke to Abel his brother, then as it happened, when they were in the field, Cain attacked Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And Jehovah said to Cain, Where is Abel your brother? And he said, I do not know: am I my brother’s keeper?
10 And he said, What have you done? the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
11 And now may you be cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12 When you till the ground, it shall not any more yield you its strength; you shall be a wanderer and fugitive on the earth.
13 And Cain said to Jehovah, My punishment is too great to be borne.
14 Behold, you have driven me this day from the face of the ground, and from your face shall I be hidden; and I shall be a wanderer and fugitive on the earth; and it will come about that every one who finds me will want to slay me.
15 And Jehovah said to him, Therefore, whoever slays Cain, it shall be revenged sevenfold. And Jehovah set a mark on Cain, lest any finding him should attack him.
16 And Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod, toward the east of Eden.
This is a somber narraitive as befits the story of the first murder. It s simply but cunningly told. The storyteller plays with words which speak of how people do or not pay attention to each other. Jehovah does not look at Cain’s offering, with the result that Cain’s face falls. Jehovah asks him why he has lost face and tells him that if he does well, honour (literally “face“) will be restored. The power of sin lies at the door wanting to master Cain who must attend to its danger. Instead he attends to his brother by attacking and killing him. After which he denies all knowledge of him, but God attends to the voice of his blood, and curses Cain by making him a homeles man. Cain protests that he is being expelled from the attention (face) of God and that whoever pays attention to him will try to kill him. Finally God pays attention to Cain’s protest and marks him so that those who see him will know he is protected by God.
As in the story of the forbidden fruit, the reader cannot simply absolve Jehovah God from all blame; he shows a preference for Abel’s offering. No justification is given for this preference either to the reader or to Cain who is simply told that his honour will be restored if he does well. The reader wonders if the beast crouched at Cain’s door hasn’t been put there by God. Cain cannot see his favoured brother without rage, so he gets rid of him.
The implication is that life is unfair and that we must learn to deal with it well.
There is a wicked story about the mad mullah of Arab legend, Nasruddin. One day two boys approached the mullah and told him they had found twelve glass marbles in the street and were wonderng how to divide them fairly between them.
“How do you want me to divide them?” Nasruddin asked, “According to my justice or to Allah’s”
“According to Allah’s of course,” they answered.
So Nasruddin gave 11 to one boy and 1 to the other.
Life is unfair and those who are more fortunate than us are not necessarily complicit in this injustice. We can oppose the injustice without rage and murder. If we feel murderous rage we must attend to it and control it rather than letting it loose on someone else.
God pays attention to the one whom the killer imagines he has removed from consideration. The victim still speaks to God, who steps in as the “revenger of blood”, imposing his penalty so that revenge does not carry the boodshed into the future. God reacts imediately to limit harm; and even listens to Cain’s plea that if he is cast out from the sphere of human and divine attention, he wil be attacked by everybody. The “mark of Cain” is a protective sign. Still verse 16 notes a terrible punishment; “Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah”- he no longer lives within the sphere of God’s attention.
This story deals with the powerful forces unleashed by the fact that we live with others and ought to be able to see them as they are, but often see them as distorted by our own perspective. God sees all and cares for all, but the reader may still ask if He sees his own responsibility for making creatures who can be blinded with rage, by the unfairness of the world God has created.
18 And the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting; and they come and say to him, Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?
19 And Jesus said to them, Can the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
20 But days will come when the bridegroom shall have been taken away from them, and then shall they fast in that day.
21 No one sews a patch of new cloth on an old garment: otherwise its new patch pulls away from the old, and there is a worse tear.
22 And no one puts new wine into old skins; otherwise the new wine bursts the skins, the wine is poured out, and the skins will be destroyed; but new wine must go into new skins.
The reply of Jesus to the criticism about not fasting, which hints that his Way is undisciplined, is to compare himself to the bridegroom at a wedding. This is a dangerous comparison as in Jewish faith God was sometimes pictured as the bridegroom of Israel, as was the expected Messiah. He is saying that in him God has come to claim his bride and that at such a joyful time his friends will not refuse food and drink. But he also hints darkly that when the bridegroom has been “taken away” there will be time enough for fasting. This goes beyond his picture of a wedding as in a Jewish wedding the groom was “taken away” from the groomsmen only to be with the bride. Fasting Jesus says, is appropriate to the absence of God, not his presence.
He goes on more generally to defend the style of his ministry aganst the claim that it’s not in accordance with religious tradition. He compares his ministry to a patch of new unshrunk cloth which cannot be used to patch older, shrunk, material. That wouldn’t improve anything. He hints that his Way cannot simply be used to patch up a threadbare Judaism. Then he compares his Way to the coarse, fizzy new wine. No-one would make the mistake of putting it in old, hardered wineskins which would break apart. Old customs cannot contain the effervescence of Jesus’ gospel; it requires new customs.
In Mark’s view the gospel of Jesus in word and practice is not a religion, nor does it require any of the trappings of religion such as taboos, dietary laws, purifications, rituals, temples or priesthood. It will always be inappropariate to try patching it on to a religious tradition or containing it within religious custom. Christian faith in essence is communal but not religous although you might not guess it in many contemporary churches.