Skip to comments.How far do we take this brother stuff? (More from the loony tune pastor) (OPEN)
Posted on 01/30/2009 1:43:48 PM PST by AlaskaErik
The story is quite simple. Adam and Eve had two sons. The first born son, Cain, became a farmer. The second son, Abel, became a herder of sheep. Abel offered a sacrifice of a lamb to the Lord. The Lord accepted his offering. Cain brought an offering of grain. The Lord had no regard for the offering. Cain was furious. He invited his brother to go out into a field. Cain killed Abel.
The Lord came along and asked the whereabouts of his brother. Cain answered, I do not know. Am I my brothers keeper? This is our introduction to the greatest of all moral questions. Does my moral responsibility extend only to me and mine? Or does our moral responsibility reach out to others? If moral responsibility reaches out to others, how far do we take the responsibility?
To set the record straight, when we read this story, we are not reading history. We are reading an ancient myth. In every myth God, or a god, is the great actor. Trying to read the Cain and Abel story as history presents so many problems, wisdom in haste sends us in a different direction.
To understand the story, we need to look at its roots. The story as we now read it was written by an unknown writer in the middle of the 10th century B.C.E. during the reign of King Solomon. Solomon had built the great temple in Jerusalem and developed a priestly class who cared for the temple operation. Priests wrote the rules for the operation of the temple and put into written form the rules by which children of Israel were to live. The writer or writers are identified by scholars as the J writers because they used Jehovah as the name of God in all of their writings. While they were original writers of some material, they were primarily collectors of stories that persisted in the tribes of Israel for hundreds of years.
The Cain and Abel story was at least 200 to 300 years old before the J writers put it in writing. Until then the stories had been preserved by storytelling. It was unwritten material and very few Israelites at that time were literate. They were unlettered ex-slaves who had escaped oppression in Egypt. In their history, both before and after slavery, they were wandering herdsmen without land.
After Egyptian slavery, the children of Israel returned to a Palestine that was in transition. Nomadic clans, whose wealth was measured in size of herds, were on the way out, and the land was being transformed into farms. A classic conflict developed between herders and farmers. They became two different classes. The farmers were high-classed and the herders were low-classed. They came to despise one another.
In our myth, Cain became a farmer and Abel became a herder of sheep. The story emphasizes the superiority of Cain by making him the older brother. In the post Egyptian slavery era, everyone knew who had the upper hand. It was the farmer, who was also the older brother.
In the area at that time, animal sacrifice and even child sacrifice were common. The tradition called for blood sacrifice. Abel offered a blood sacrifice. Cain offered grain. Cain was absolutely offended to think that God would accept a blood sacrifice from a low-classed wanderer and not respect a more genteel offering from an older brother who just happened to be a farmer. Further, he felt no guilt for doing in the low-class wandering herdsman.
With a simple question the Lord God directs the story. Where is your brother? Cain, in Gods eyes, had a responsibility to be his brothers protector and keeper, not his murderer.
The priests eventually translated this simple story into the second great command. You shall love your neighbor as if he were a member of your own household.
That this message is first presented to Israelites in the form of myth is very important. Mythology as a literary form has the power to present a truth that is timeless and without limit in its application. I am my brothers keeper, applies not only to individuals, but also to families, churches, communities and clans within communities. If we follow the message of the myth to its final conclusion, it covers every race, every political party, every city and every nation. It covers even our own worst enemies.
I was introduced to the dynamics of class as I was growing up in a small Illinois farm town. I do not remember what first triggered my awareness, but by the time I reached 10, I was aware of what divided our town. I became aware of who was landed (those who owned farm land). They did not farm. They controlled the tenant farmers as well as the land. I knew where they lived. Many of them lived in big houses on 5th Street, the street that led to the golf course. Others were scattered around town, but all lived in big houses. Almost all belonged to either the Methodist or the Presbyterian church. I was a lowly Baptist. I knew which of my classmates were from landed families. I was confident that I was smarter than any of them. I studied hard to prove the point.
I have unconverted parts. I have not recovered from my childhood and teenage awareness. I cannot be impressed by fine cars, fine clothes or big houses. I lived in Santa Barbara, Calif., for 18 years and could never submit to the arrogance of wealth that dominated the area. Among my closest friends are people who are black, Mexican American, Native Alaskan, poor, mentally ill, gay and felons.
It is a real struggle to accept the landed of my home town as brothers and sisters to whom I am asked to show love. As I said, I am still struggling with my unconverted parts. The Cain and Abel story is a tough read.
The Rev. Howard Bess is pastor emeritus of Church of the Covenant, an American Baptist church in Palmer. His email address is email@example.com.
This guy is no Christian. First off we do not pick and choose what we want to believe is real or not. The Bible is THE word of God. I have never ever been taught that the story of Cain and Able was a “myth”. It happened, and we need to learn from it, point blank. If you believe otherwise you have cut yourself off from the body of believers.
He makes a good point, and he almost gets all the way there.
Yes, the point is that God expects those who have to see those who don’t as a brother. Are you your brother’s keeper? Yes. Of course. That one’s not too hard for us.
And what about you who have not? Is the rich man your brother? Are you also his keeper? That one the writer struggles with thanks to old childhood hurts and humiliations. But he comes to the conclusion that yes, the guy in the big house is my brother, and I am his keeper too.
He almost gets to the underlying point which has nothing to do with race or class or big houses or small. Landed or landless, retired businessman living in Santa Barbara or Mexican lady working at the Seven Eleven, we are brothers and we are one another’s keepers. We stand equal before God in that respect. There is no reason to feel less or more but rather a genuine concern for one another. The writer makes it plain that he’s not quite there, but he knows he needs to get there.
Sounds like the kind of pastor that Obama would like... LOL...
This guy is “full of it”... and the only “myth” that is going on is his “JEPD theory” — which is baloney...
The JEPD Theory of the Torah
Yeah, that did it for me too.
“He isn’t a Christian. He is a Baptist. congregations have been falling away from the Baptist church because of it’s non Christian teaching for a long time. very similar to the Episcopalians and Presbyterians in the US.”
Interesting. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, and I have no idea what you are talking about. I am the descendent of Baptist pastors and missionaries, and I am related to several current Baptist missionaries.
My church, and the churches of all of my family are very Bible-based churches. The Baptist denomination is one of the most conservative in this country.
He is also ignorant about the Book of Leviticus.
No point reading any further! This author loses all credibility with me in just those two statements.
Then the fool creates his own myth of farmers being higher class than herders out of whole cloth.
PS: I am aware of some Baptist churches that have remained true to the word, but much of the leadership and many congregations have fallen away
“Maybe I am mistaken, but I thought there was a distinct difference between the Baptist Church, which has become liberal as with this yahoo, and the Southern Baptist Church, which is still bible based.”
The term Baptist covers a whole lot of churches. I am sure that there are plenty of Baptist churches that are not true to the Word, just like there are lots of other churches. In my neck of the woods, most Baptist churches are Southern Baptist, which is the largest protestant denomination in the country, with 16 million members, and is a very conservative denomination. Other Baptists are the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC); National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; (NBCA); American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABC); and Baptist Bible Fellowship International.
Many churches call themselves Baptist, but have no true denominational affiliation. The SBC has voted a few churches out of the convention for being too liberal.
Just wanted to clarify. Didn’t mean to jump down your throat.
“Just wanted to clarify. Didnt mean to jump down your throat.”
Thank you for the clarification and no offense taken. I stated some things pretty definitive without all of the facts.
The church that we belong to is about as personal as something gets and should be defended. I did not mean any harm either.
Yours in fellowship.
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