I recently received a lot of really great spiritual questions from my readers. Remember, you can always send me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to my Facebook page I can’t address them all in one post, but I want to cover several here.
The following questions will be addressed in this post:
Cain and Abel: Cain’s wife.
The question asked was about the banishment of Cain and his offspring, and why the Bible doesn’t mention where they came from. The scripture concerned in this discussion is Genesis Chapter 4.
In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel are born, grow up, make sacrifices, Cain kills Abel, Cain is banished, and Cain’s descendants are given. It also covers a little bit on Adam’s other son, Seth. It ends with an interesting note that it was around the time of Seth’s son Enosh that people began to call upon the Name of Yahweh (Baruch HaShem.) Your translation will likely say, “Name of the Lord,” but that’s another blog post.
While there are several intricacies within this chapter which I would love to address, there’s enough within just the passages about Cain and Abel to address that story alone. So, I’ll remain focused on Cain and Abel, and primarily on the character of Cain and his descendants.
The first thing to note is that there are two ways to take this story; literally or literarily. This means you can take it as being a literal historical event, or as an allegory. Even those who take it as a historical event usually see the allegory within the story as well, and how people write their histories to reflect their values at the time it’s written.
The story of Cain and Abel could have played out in the Old West in the Unites States, during the homesteading days. It’s a classic, “ranchers versus farmers.” In this case, the rancher is a nomadic rancher and a good guy, and the farmer is portrayed as the bad guy.
God looks in favor upon the sacrifice of the rancher, Abel, and not on the sacrifice of the farmer, Cain. There’s much speculation and discussion about, maybe Cain didn’t offer the finest of his crop, or Cain being born of the serpent, or other theories about this event. However, for the purpose of this question, we’ll keep it at God didn’t like Cain’s offering, and we don’t entirely know why.
Cain kills Abel, then is banished, then gets his wife pregnant. Wait, wife? Adam and Even only had two kids at that point. Where did his wife come from?
Theory 1: Incest is best; the family that lays together stays together
Disclaimer: I do not in any way promote incest, nor have any comments about its moral questions. I am only speaking in context of Genesis, wherein there is an awful lot of incest.
The most common rabbinical and Christian clerical answer to the question of Cain’s wife is that he took an unnamed sister with him. In those days, men were dominant, and women weren’t often mentioned. Even though later on it talks about Adam and Eve having both sons and daughters, and doesn’t mention anyone else born between Cain, Abel, and Seth, they assume there was an unnamed sister, who wasn’t important enough to be mentioned.
Incest is not uncommon in Genesis. Even all the way down to Abraham who married his half-sister, and his sons who married first cousins of already inbred relatives. The explanation of literallists is that genetic diversity wasn’t important back then because genes hadn’t mutated enough to cause diseases (never mind the countless cultures which had existed for thousands of years before the time of Abraham.)
To people who don’t take the story literally who assume it meant he took a sister with him, it’s as simple as it being necessary to their interpretation of the allegory.
Support for the incest theory is that it very much goes with the theme. Eve came from Adam’s rib, so that means everyone’s genes came from the one man; which was kind of one of the points of the story to begin with. At the same time, it wasn’t concerned with Cain’s genes, because that wasn’t the line of the Hebrew people. In a way, Genesis is the ultimate, “we’re genetically pure and only marry our own kind” story.
The two creations, children of Lilith, and other similar stories
Some fringe theorists, scholars ranging from amateur to professional, have proposed that there were two creation stories (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) because there were two creations. One where God created all of humanity, and one where he specifically created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
One version of this theory is that Adam’s first wife was Lilith, but that character has been much mythologized. Originally, she was a demon from Hebrew folklore, and she passed into some midrashic texts about the story of Adam and Eve. Even in those texts, she was portrayed as a demon who killed the children of Eve (human infants,) and was used as an explanation for SIDS and infant illnesses which were unknown at the time. She was portrayed as jealous that Eve got to have children, and she didn’t. So, the thought of her mothering an entire race of humans outside of Eve’s children just doesn’t match with any historical texts on the character.
However, others have said that it’s not the demon named Lilith, but they use that name as a holding place for a mysterious first wife of Adam. This woman and Adam had children before Eve was created to replace her, because she was too dominant. Again, this is just a modern rewriting of the demon Lilith, and conjecture.
Now, the two creations theory without invoking Lilith is what I think is more fascinating. In that version of the theory, Adam and Eve are a separate creation, and humans in general were created first. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden long after human civilizations had been on the Earth. Thus, Cain’s wife would have come from another group of people, not the descendants of Adam and Eve.
Whoever you believe she was, if you’re taking Genesis literally, all of these people and their descendants were wiped out in the Flood 2 chapters later.
The egalitarian agrarian allegory
The final theory is that all of this is allegory. The authors of the book (and most scholars believe it was at least three different people) or of the stories which were copied for the book were nomadic herders, and the first thing Cain did after having kids was build a city.
Many of the stories of Genesis are about the evils of those who live in cities. The cities on the plain (Sodom and Gomorrah, along with sister cities) are destroyed because of their greed and their treatment of the poor (Ezekiel 16:49,50) Cities and their dwellers are repeatedly painted as wicked and greedy, because cities always have the poor and those who are overlooked.
The early Hebrews were more egalitarian, making sure none of their people went without. The life of city dwellers was seen as purely wicked. Further evidence goes all the way down to when they asked the Prophet Samuel to ask God for a king for them. It was during that time that the Hebrew people settled into what we would recognize as cities. At least, that’s the theory.
I am not a Biblical archaeologist, but I do know the question of the history of the Hebrew people is more complicated than what I stated above. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume that this theory is as valid as any of the others.
In this theory, the story of Cain and Abel is completely allegory, and is more about how city dwellers came from evil; the first city was built by the first murderer. The list of Cains descendants are all the people the Israelites, at the time the story was written, didn’t care for. Of course, this is despite the fact that all of Cain’s descendants would have been wiped out in the flood of chapter 6 and after.
So, we don’t know who Cain’s wife was. If you take the story literally, she’s either a daughter of Adam and Eve, Cain’s sister (we won’t discuss the serpent parentage theory of Cain at this time, and I don’t agree with that theory anyway) or was someone from the first creation of humans in Genesis 1. If you take the story as allegory, she was just a plot device in the story and wasn’t given a backstory.
These were actually a question and a follow-up question by the same person. The first question regarded whether there are gods on other planets, and the second one mentioned that God implies that there are other gods. Thus, the question is: Are there other gods, either on Earth or on other planets?
God of the Universe
When Jewish people put on their tallit, prayer shawl, they begin their prayer with, “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melech Ha’Olam.” Which means, “Blessed are you Lord God King of the Universe.” Now, there are different translations of “olam” as “everything” or “the world,” but I think the sense of it is more understood modernly as, “the universe.” Remember, the early Hebrews who wrote the prayer had little to no concept of a universe beyond Earth; so it was intended as “king of everything which is.”
If we take this supremacy of God view, then we can say that it doesn’t rule out demi-gods, or other powerful spirits, but that there is only one over-arching God. In that case, no matter what name they know him as, they would be worshiping the same God as us on other planets.
Some, influenced by Hindu teachings, see God as the embodiment of all the Divine on the Earth. Thus, when the Lakota pray to Wakan Tanka, they are praying to the same God as everyone. God can take on different identities, and be seen as many different things, but ultimately all gods are the same God.
Rumi, the 13th century Sufi Muslim philosopher, taught about an elephant. He said that different people describing different parts of the elephant would describe it very differently. We can view God as the same way. Each of us experiences part of God, and together we can experience all of God.
Religions fear this answer, because it means none of them are absolutely right, and the truth has to be somewhere in our commonalities; the pure act of doing good.
The modern Jewish and Christian answer to this question is often that the Bible is talking about false gods when it mentions “other gods.” They’ll say that God was talking about lifeless idols of stone with no actual god or God behind them. In some places the Bible seems to support this theory, and in other places (like talking about God conquering the gods of Egypt) it seems to imply that there are other gods, just none as powerful as Yahweh (Baruch HaShem.)
Of course, even if other real gods exist, the Bible is definitely talking about not worshiping any gods other than God; whether they’re real beings or just stone statues. People rightly say that anything can be a false god to a person, especially money and wealth.
One final theory I want to discuss is rather plausible; the theory that the Israelites and Judeans were polytheists until their captivity in Babylon; though, some put the time of the rise of monotheism at the time of the Kings.
In this theory, and there’s much evidence even in the Bible for it, the Israelites, and later Judeans, were originally polytheists. God had a wife, Asherah, and there were lesser gods. In their pantheon, Yahweh (Baruch HaShem) is the Supreme God (equated with El Elyon: God Most High.)
The theory states that the kings tried to stamp out polytheism in favor of the state God, the Most High God. After the fall of Israel and Judea, and the captivity in Babylon, the monotheists blamed it on the people not being monotheistic enough. Of course, they were influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism (the Persians rescued them from Babylon, and they lived in exile in Persia for a period before returning to Israel) which is a purely monotheistic religion. In fact, in Zoroastrianism, God and the Devil (Ahura Mazda and Angra Maniyu) are two sides of the same being.
So, if we believe that the people of Israel were originally polytheists, then we take the “king of the universe” as a hierarchical title with Yahweh (Baruch HaShem) being the head of a pantheon of gods. We then interpret the verse, “have no other gods before me,” not as, “don’t have any other gods,” but rather as, “you can have other gods, but I’m first and primary!”
So, the answer to the question isn’t simple. Is there one God or are there many gods? Does everyone in the Universe worship the same God? We really don’t know. What we can know is that the universal attribute of God is love, and caring for the less fortunate. Live by that, and love God in whatever way you understand God.
Why is the Bible full of cruelty and judgment?
There’s actually a really simple answer to this question: Because it is written by humans, for humans, about humans.
People make a problem when they deify the collection of books. One of the reasons I’m Catholic, is that they don’t believe in the Protestant doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” Bible alone. The Bible can be as much a false idol as anything else, and too often replaces the Spirit of God. Yeshua warned us about making exactly that mistake when he chastised the Pharisees of his day for making the law more important than the people for whom the law was written.
The Bible is a perfectly imperfect book. If you understand it through the lens of who was actually writing each story, you understand why they might have interpreted things the way they did. It is up to us to see it through a more enlightened, more modern view.
Modern Christians, even Catholics, often balk at even the suggestion of understanding the Bible in historical context, or taking a modern view of the lessons we can learn through their interactions with God and their thoughts about God. They can’t accept that we don’t always have to agree with the Biblical authors in order to learn from them.
So, the Bible is full of cruelty because humans are cruel. Yeshua came and corrected a lot of that thinking, and showed God as a loving God who helps us deal with the trials of this world. A God whose primary wish is for us to love one another, thereby showing love to God.
The Limits of Religion
The questions, from the same person, came from someone about whom I care a lot. The exact questions were along the lines of asking why people can’t see through structured religion to see the universe as it truly is, and why do ten different contradictory answers to the same question all seem correct.
I’ll first refer you back to the second question
Now that you’ve read, or re-read, the second question, we can begin to discuss contradictory answers. Remember the elephant? Yeah, we all see different things, but it doesn’t mean any of us are wrong. Ultimately, we have to find the commonality.
Now, as to why people don’t see through the limits of religion to see the Universe as it really is? Because “seeing it as it really is” is in and of itself, a religion. Basically, what is being said, is that no religion seems quite right, they all claim to be the only way, and there’s gotta be something beyond all the current religions.
Many people throughout history have attempted to do exactly what is being suggested by this question. The whole idea behind Yeshua’s teaching was to see through the limits of dogma, and to practice love. Since him, hundreds of other teachers, gurus, and ministers have popped up trying to do exactly the same thing; simplifying the message to connectedness and love.
Unfortunately, humanity is still a child race, and many people need the structure which religion provides. It’s unfortunate, because as necessary as it is, it is also so often used by corrupt individuals to keep their thumbs on the populace. Religion should be handled with care.
As to the mysteries of the universe; that’s what this whole blog is about, not just this post. There is no one right answer to a lot of these mysteries, but exploring them is worthwhile. Just like scientists, we get many wrong answers along the way, but the exploration is fun and it’s amazing when things start to fall into place.
Thank you all for your questions. Again, new questions can be submitted to email@example.com or to my Facebook page