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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

iconoclastic cain and abel

We have all heard of the biblical story of Cain and Abel and how Cain was the first person to ever commit murder.  I'd guess fewer of us have ever read it or should I say few of us have ever read it critically.  In the Bible it only encompasses the 4th chapter of Genesis and of that chapter the first 17 verses pertain to Cain and Abel directly. Here they are from the King James Version:

Genesis 4
 1And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
 2And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
 3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
 4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
 6And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
 7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
 8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
 9And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
 10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
 11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
 12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
 13And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
 14Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
 15And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
 16And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
 17And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.
The story is quite sparse and it hints at a bigger story that has been condensed.  Perhaps it was such a well known tale that it was not necessary to elaborate on it further.  Turns out Cain grew up to work the land and Abel was a shepherd tending to his flock of rams, ewes and lambs.  When it came time to make an offering to the Lord apparently the Lord was not pleased with the quality of Cain's produce preferring the taste of Abel's finest mutton.  Actually I believe the message here is it is not the offering that really counts but the quality of the person making the offering.  Jealous of his brother, Cain waited until they were alone in a field and committed mankind's first murder.  The Lord upon finding out about this banished Cain and cursed him to forever wander the earth.  Cain protested complaining that "every one that findeth me shall slay me."  The Lord put a mark on Cain to ensure him that would not happen.  Later in the story, verse 25, we learn that Eve gives birth to a third child Seth:

And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.

Seth apparently is the direct result of the death of Abel.  It's funny that in the beginning of creation Adam and Eve gave one of their children an Egyptian name.

Let's try and get some background on these two.  Cain is the english name for the Hebrew Qayin and Abel for Havel, minus the vowels as there are probably only consonants in the original Hebrew.  As well the letter 'H' in Hebrew can also indicate a vowel (This is called mater lectionis for those interested).  In the New Testament 1 John 3:12 we read that Cain was wicked and evil and his brother righteous:

Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
Wicked in this sense comes from the greek word ponéros which can mean evil, wicked, bad, malicious and slothful.

In the Testament of Abraham (a pseudepigraphic text of the Old Testament) we read this from A:13

XIII. And Abraham said, My lord chief-captain, who is this most wondrous judge? and who are the angels that write down? and who is the angel like the sun, holding the balance? and who is the fiery angel holding the fire? The chief-captain said, "Seest thou, most holy Abraham, the terrible man sitting upon the throne? This is the son of the first created Adam, who is called Abel, whom the wicked Cain killed, and he sits thus to judge all creation, and examines righteous men and sinners. For God has said, I shall not judge you, but every man born of man shall be judged. Therefore he has given to him judgment, to judge the world until his great and glorious coming, and then, O righteous Abraham, is the perfect judgment and recompense, eternal and unchangeable, which no one can alter. For every man has come from the first-created, and therefore they are first judged here by his son, and at the second coming they shall be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel, that I too may see how they are judged.
and from B:11

XI. And Abraham said to Michael, Lord, who is this judge, and who is the other, who convicts the sins? And Michael said to Abraham, Seest thou the judge? This is Abel, who first testified, and God brought him hither to judge, and he that bears witness here is the teacher of heaven and earth, and the scribe of righteousness, Enoch, for the Lord sent them hither to write down the sins and righteousnesses of each one. Abraham said, And how can Enoch bear the weight of the souls, not having seen death? or how can he give sentence to all the souls? Michael said, If he gives sentence concerning the souls, it is not permitted; but Enoch himself does not give sentence, but it is the Lord who does so, and he has no more to do than only to write. For Enoch prayed to the Lord saying, I desire not, Lord, to give sentence on the souls, lest I be grievous to anyone; and the Lord said to Enoch, I shall command thee to write down the sins of the soul that makes atonement and it shall enter every breath and every creature. But the third time they shall be judged by the Lord God of all, and then, indeed, the end of that judgment is near, and the sentence terrible, and there is none to deliver. And now by three tribunals the judgment of the world and the recompense is made, and for this reason a matter is not finally confirmed by one or two witnesses, but by three witnesses shall everything be established. The two angels on the right hand and on the left, these are they that write down the sins and the righteousness, the one on the right hand writes down the righteousness, and the one on the left the sins. The angel like the sun, holding the balance in his hand, is the archangel, Dokiel the just weigher, and he weighs the righteousnesses and sins with the righteousness of God. The fiery and pitiless angel, holding the fire in his hand, is the archangel Puruel, who has power over fire, and tries the works of men through fire, and if the fire consume the work of any man, the angel of judgment immediately seizes him, and carries him away to the place of sinners, a most bitter place of punishment. But if the fire approves the work of anyone, and does not seize upon it, that man is justified, and the angel of righteousness takes him and carries him up to be saved in the lot of the just. And thus, most righteous Abraham, all things in all men are tried by fire and the balance."
A pseudepigraphic text is non-canonical Jewish religious literature written in the timeframe of 200 BC to 200 AD.  The author of the work would attach a revered or apostolic name to it to give it "street cred."  The works themselves are based on Jewish legends and tales common to the era they were written.

A midrash (rabbinical study) from Judaism's classical period called the Genesis Rabba claims that Cain and Abel had twin sisters and the pseudepigraphic Christian text called the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan makes the same claim:

74:6
Then Adam rejoiced at Eve's deliverance, and also over the children she had borne him. And Adam ministered to Eve in the cave, until the end of eight days; when they named the son Cain, and the daughter Luluwa. 

75:11
When the children were weaned, Eve again conceived, and when her pregnancy came to term, she gave birth to another son and daughter. They named the son Abel and the daughter Aklia. 

In the next chapter a motive for the killing is alluded to:

76:10-11
10 But as to the hard-hearted Cain, Satan came to him by night, showed himself and said to him, "Since Adam and Eve love your brother Abel so much more than they love you, they wish to join him in marriage to your beautiful sister because they love him. However, they wish to join you in marriage to his ugly sister, because they hate you. 
11 Now before they do that, I am telling you that you should kill your brother. That way your sister will be left for you, and his sister will be cast away." 
Apparently Cain had designs on the beautiful sister who had already been promised to Abel.

Okay so there's some background on those two and now on to the reason behind writing this blog entry.  I'm going to give you some background on a couple characters from ancient Egyptian myths - Set and Osiris.

Set and Osiris were part of the great ennead of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt.  Atum was the head and from him emerged his two children Shu and Tefnut.  From these two were born Geb and Nut.  Geb is the earth and Nut is the sky.  Shu eternally separates these two allowing creation to take place in the natural world.  Nut gives birth to Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys.  I'll concentrate on these latter four of the ennead for now.  Osiris I have mentioned many times previous in this blog space so I'll just recap.  Osiris is murdered by his brother Set, dismembered and then reconstituted by his sister-wife Isis.  Osiris later becomes judge of the dead souls in the great hall of the two truths.  Set is the outcast brother, lord of chaos and confusion and great of strength.  Set is depicted as a fantastical animal creature.



His wife is Nephthys, Nebet-Het in the ancient Egyptian script.  She is the twin sister of Isis and her name means 'Mistress of the House'.

Quite the coincidences here in the stories of Cain and Abel and Set and Osiris.  Set and Osiris married twins sisters Isis and Nephthys while Cain and Abel are purported to have married twin sisters as well.  Set murdered Osiris and Cain murdered Abel.  Set was cast out to the fringe of the ancient Egyptian world and became lord of the desert and lord of the foreigners.  Cain was asked to leave polite society as well and wander the foreign lands far from the east of Eden.  In the text of the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, Cain had the hots for for the beautiful sister-wife of Abel while Set lusts after the beautiful Isis.  In the book Seth, God of Confusion we read that:

He (Set) experiences heterosexual desire towards the goddess Isis.  His feelings are not returned.  He is so badly deceived by Isis, that he complains in tears to Re.  (Author cites Beatty papyrus 1, 6, 2 sqq. for this claim)
Seth, God of Confusion, by H. Te Velde, page 55.

Then we have these curious coincidences from the Testament of Abraham:

who is this most wondrous judge? and who are the angels that write down? and who is the angel like the sun, holding the balance? and who is the fiery angel holding the fire? The chief-captain said, "Seest thou, most holy Abraham, the terrible man sitting upon the throne? This is the son of the first created Adam, who is called Abel, whom the wicked Cain killed, and he sits thus to judge all creation, and examines righteous men and sinners.
And Michael said to Abraham, Seest thou the judge? This is Abel, who first testified, and God brought him hither to judge, and he that bears witness here is the teacher of heaven and earth, and the scribe of righteousness, Enoch, for the Lord sent them hither to write down the sins and righteousnesses of each one.
The angel like the sun, holding the balance in his hand, is the archangel, Dokiel the just weigher, and he weighs the righteousnesses and sins with the righteousness of God. 
The fiery and pitiless angel, holding the fire in his hand, is the archangel Puruel, who has power over fire, and tries the works of men through fire, and if the fire consume the work of any man, the angel of judgment immediately seizes him, and carries him away to the place of sinners, a most bitter place of punishment.

In the these passages from the Testament of Abraham I've bolded some sections as sort of a match game; see if you can find them in the judgment scene picture from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead:


In the above picture we see the heart being weighed in the balance by Anubis the jackal. We see Thoth as an ibis bird, the divine scribe, recording the goodness and betrayals of the heart.  We see Ammit the lion, hippopotamus, crocodile composite ready to seize and devour the heart of the failed aspirant.  Further along in the scene we see the successful aspirant being led to the divine judge Osiris who is sitting on his throne surrounded by his twin sisters Isis and Nephthys.  
It's tempting to stop here because the parallels are uncanny but I'd like to investigate further by examining the names and occupations given to these Old Testament characters.

Abel comes from the Hebrew Havel with recent scholarship on the etymology of the name linking it to a reconstructed Arabic cognate word ibil which is a term used to describe a herdsman.  There is a faint connection it seems to the ancient Egyptian word for the heart, the ab and el is of course a name for the lord.  Osiris' heart is wakened when your good deeds rouse him from the sleep of death:

I am Thoth, Lord of Justice, who vindicates him whose voice is hushed; protector of the poor man who has suffered loss of his property; who dispels darkness and clears away the storm.  I have (given) breath to Wennefer, even the fair breeze of the north wind, as when he came forth from his mother's womb.  I have caused him to enter into the secret cavern in order to revive the heart of the Inert One, Wennefer the son of Nut, the vindicated Horus.
from Spell 183 of The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, R.O. Faulkner, pg184

Wennefer in this passage being an epithet of the heart god Osiris.  Furthermore Abel's occupation is given to us as a shepherd and from this we have the unmistakable connection to the ram.  Osiris is the Ba that comes to incarnate into matter; the Ba being the onomatopoeia sound that comes from a ram's bleat.  As well throughout the monuments in Egypt Osiris is found wearing the Atef or Hemhemet crown which is the ram's horn crown.



Now Cain is a man of the earth and he works the fields.  Qayin is the Hebrew version of the name and broken down into two parts we get ca-in.  As I've detailed before Set is the personification of the Ka which is the ancient Egyptian term for the life force that allows all life on earth to flourish.  This life force is great of strength and its desires must be tamed or it will lead you to a life of fulfilling only your carnal desires and animal instincts.  This Ka destroys the Ba when the Ba first incarnates into matter but it also carries the inert Ba.  The symbol for the Ka is the Bull and in this highlighted picture you see just that:



Once revived the Ba can be re-membered and engender new life; in the mythos that new life is called Horus.  Highlighted here is a dismembered ram deity:



Continuing along this papyrus from right to left, Horus then battles his uncle Set until finally subduing him:



Horus does not kill or destroy him but lives amicably with this Set, Set's strength being now used in a subservient way as a force for goodness, and Horus is crowned king of Upper and Lower Egypt or more to the point king of the spiritual and the material.  Remember in Genesis 4:15 the Lord had placed a mark on Cain to ensure he would not be slain.  The name Cain is a name for the Ka spirit, the 'Ca' of for Ka and the 'in' for 'an' which is an ancient word for spirit. 

The Aryan root "an" also signifies "wind" and "spirit", and survives in words like "animal", "animate". 
Egyptian Myth and Legend, Donald Mackenzie, page 194 (part of the footnotes)

At this point there are a few ways to interpret the significant similarities in this story.  One can choose to ignore them and go on believing it's just a coincidence.  You could concede the resemblance is due in part to the story being one of antiquity and the Hebrew story happened to borrow elements from this well known myth as it would not be out of the question since the Hebrews did sojourn in Egypt for a period of 400 years or four generations (the bible gives conflicting data on this point).  Or you could be thinking that many of the stories in the Old Testament, especially in the first five books,  are rehashed versions of the great myths of the greatest civilization of antiquity; a civilization who left its myths carved in stone for all the world to see.  One other thing I'd like to point out are the hidden, faint echoes and inversions of stories throughout the Old Testament that point back to the myths of ancient Egypt.  The names of Cain and Abel hint at this connection but also the choice of the Egyptian name Seth for the child born due to the death of Abel.  In the ancient Egyptian fable Osiris must die in order for Horus to be born.  Seth (or Set) is Horus' nemesis however in the bible Seth is the result of Abel's death at the hands of Cain.

It's been said Moses wrote the first five books of the bible and Saint Paul wrote this in Acts 7:22 (King James Version):

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

I'm pretty sure the wisdom being referred to here is not a manual on how to build a pyramid.  In any event my next blog post will show the parallels between an iconic ancient Egyptian symbol and Cain.