Cain was Adam and Eve’s first-born child. Abel was the second child recorded by the texts. At the beginning of the book of Genesis only the births of men are mentioned and except Eve women aren’t referred to at all, not even generically. For the first time, after Eve, women were mentioned when the sons of God married with the daughters of man. After the Flood, the situation changes and the women from Noah’s family are at least mentioned. Eve is the only notable woman in the stories of creation before the Flood.
Because she isn’t regarded with contempt by the text of the book of Genesis, quite the opposite, the modern reader will hardly understand why the same attitude toward other women, Adam and Eve’s daughters, granddaughters, and so on, wasn’t also adopted. Probably that can be explained by the fact that the lines of heredity were constituted through males and the religious legacy was transmitted through them. Consequently, through them, genealogies were established.
“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced* a man with the help of the LORD.’ 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ (Genesis 4; 1-7 NRSV)
I doubt very much the veracity of this story for many reasons. In the first place, why would Abel have been the keeper of sheep? In one generation of only one man and one woman and of their two sons, a new independent occupation was established – sheep keeper. This affirmation is hazardous and lacks any relation to reality. In the real world, at the beginning of history, human beings had been gatherers and hunters and raising animals was only a late occupation. If Adam was a tiller of the ground his sons were expected to work with him and to inherit his occupation which was seen by the book of Genesis also as a punishment for Adam. If Adam’s sin had been transmitted to all his offspring the punishment would have been conveyed also to the entirety of humankind. Notwithstanding, Abel didn’t suffer the same punishment as Adam even if he inherited the effects of Adam’s sin. Abel became a sheep keeper and didn’t need to till the ground. After Abel, many other men didn’t suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin, therefore the curse of the ground wasn’t really efficient.
All human beings have to suffer the punishment for sin, even until today, but that “punishment” wasn’t really retribution for Adam and Eve’s sins because it was established before the Fall of the first two human beings, according to the book of Genesis.
“15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2; 15 NRSV)
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Work, of course, is not at all a punishment in real terms, it is the way in which mankind defines itself. Nevertheless, the book of Genesis brings confusion about this so-called punishment:
“17 And to the man* he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it”, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.’ (Genesis 3; 17- 19 NRSV)
It is true that Adam’s punishment is a bit strange. It wasn’t Adam directly punished, but the ground. The ground being cursed indirectly, Adam had to suffer the consequences. How could the ground be cursed if it only matters, a much lesser entity than the tree cursed by Jesus? How does this curse function in our days? There are areas of the earth with fertile ground and other areas are infertile, but in general, the earth is generous with human beings, not hostile, and would have been that way even when the humankind had appeared on Earth.
Did the curse lose its power over time and we cannot see its effects in our days? Could human beings with their technologies change God’s curse on Earth? The curse of the ground is a part of the fable about Adam and Eve with no connection to a real situation. The climate changes in time on Earth, therefore different geographical areas would have been more or less fertile and more or less suitable for crop cultivation over millennia. The quality of the land on Earth is a natural issue, not a supernatural one. If we conclude that the agricultural value of the land is a supernatural matter that would mean humankind through their technologies can change what would have been decided by God.
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