Cain and Abel

From her yeshivah digs in Jerusalem, Gella Solomon (of Nogah Chadash) writes to me of an aggadic commentary she’s recently composed on the story of Cain and Abel (or transliterated, Qayin and Hevel). Her midrash, narrated by Cain is deeply humanistic — Cain expresses himself and his experience of fratricide in human terms that easily resonate with our experiences of desire and disappointment. But at the same time, G. Solomon leaves Cain within the world of midrash and its poignant exegetical suggestions, within the world of myth where Cain remains fully aware that he is a character being used as a homiletical device. Within this setting, Solomon lets Cain explain himself, his actions, his set up.

Here is how Solomon has Cain describe his relationship to his brother with special attention to his eponymous name, Hevel, which has the literal meaning of “breath” connoting a sense of his “fleeting” and impermanence:

I would sometimes prod him to see if he would dissolve into vapor at my touch. You have to understand, it wouldn’t have seemed so odd. In those times, things were as they were and we, the first three, were discovering a newly created world. We were each so different from each other, would it be so odd to have a man who was flesh and a man who was not? Well he was solid enough- solid enough to bleed, solid enough to kill- but though, as it turned out, he could be killed, he did not truly live. Hevel was not Named. Hevel did not speak. I was given to Mother Chava to be Man after Father Adam. Hevel was added. Added to be My Brother.

To see what I would do.

Read more. (link, Beyond the Near)

With the essential role Cain must play in the narrative, can he actually have free will. This is a playful suggestion Solomon makes — but from Dwayne Hoover’s revelation in Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions to Nobusuke Tagomi’s epiphany in Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, the self-awareness of imaginary characters is a postmodern trope that resonates. As Authors we can give our characters a tselem elohim (an image of their creator) — and our characters in turn reflect whatever creative spirit we possess to our readers. When we write, when we dream we are in a state of communion with those that we are dreaming. Our imagination gives them life and if the myth of their life can be transmitted, it can endure long after we’ve ceased dreaming them.

Solomon’s reading of Cain also reminds me of the sympathetic reading of Judas Iscariot in the second century Gospel of Judas. In that second century work, Jesus asks Judas to turn him into the Romans, since “betrayal” is not really possible for a supposedly living god whose determination of all events must preclude the free will of betrayal. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is the most beloved since only the most trusted lover of a god could be entrusted with the most painful job of assuring his capture and execution. In this reading popular with early Christian Gnostics, Judas is written in a sense similar to Abraham ready to offer up his son Isaac.The theme of child sacrifice within biblical and post-biblical christian narratives is more fully explored in Jon D. Levenson’s excellent Death and Ressurection of the Beloved Son: Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity.

Strangely enough, the gnostic sect that appreciated and possibly authored the Gospel of Judas were Sethians – a sect the predated Christianity and traced the lineage of their spiritual authority to Adam and Eve’s third son, the one born to replace the murdered Abel — Seth. In Sethian traditions, aspects which in other common traditions are seen as failures (e.g. the transgression of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) are seen rather as necessities in an unraveling emergence of divine transformation.

Solomon doesn’t make mention of Seth in her midrash, though his absence could I think easily be remedied with a perusal of the extant midrashim on the significance of Seth, as well as the more recent discoveries of ancient lost gnostic works such as the Apocalypse of Adam.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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