Cain and Abel – The Offerings

Cain and Abel #4

In this part we discuss Cain โ€™s and Abelโ€™s offerings, as described in Gen 4 verses 3 and the first half of verse 4.  You may ask what gives me the right to arbitrarily split the text as I wish. This is a good question. But as the division of the text into verses is not part of the original Bible, but was added much later, I feel that other than the verses should be taken as bookmarks rather than hints to understanding the text. We should not be constrained by them.

This part of the story is written in a straightforward, non-ambiguous, fashion. It leaves little to questioning. That is, nearly all of it.

ื’ย ย ื•ึทื™ึฐื”ึดื™, ืžึดืงึตึผืฅ ื™ึธืžึดื™ื; ื•ึทื™ึธึผื‘ึตื ืงึทื™ึดืŸ ืžึดืคึฐึผืจึดื™ ื”ึธืึฒื“ึธืžึธื”, ืžึดื ึฐื—ึธื”–ืœึทื™ื”ื•ึธื”.
ื“ย ย ื•ึฐื”ึถื‘ึถืœ ื”ึตื‘ึดื™ื ื’ึทื-ื”ื•ึผื ืžึดื‘ึฐึผื›ึนืจื•ึนืช ืฆึนืื ื•ึน, ื•ึผืžึตื—ึถืœึฐื‘ึตื”ึถืŸ;
And it came to passื•ึทื™ึฐื”ึดื™
At the end of days โ€“ in the Bible days can refer to unspecific period, and not necessarily 12 or 24 hours.ืžึดืงึตึผืฅ ื™ึธืžึดื™ื
And Cain brought from the fruit of the landื•ึทื™ึธึผื‘ึตื ืงึทื™ึดืŸ ืžึดืคึฐึผืจึดื™ ื”ึธืึฒื“ึธืžึธื”
Offering to Godืžึดื ึฐื—ึธื”ืœึทื™ื”ื•ึธื”
And Abel he also broughtื•ึฐื”ึถื‘ึถืœ ื”ึตื‘ึดื™ื ื’ึทืื”ื•ึผื
From first born of his herd and their milkืžึดื‘ึฐึผื›ึนืจื•ึนืช ืฆึนืื ื•ึน, ื•ึผืžึตื—ึถืœึฐื‘ึตื”ึถืŸ
3 And it came to pass at the end of days, and Cain brought from the fruit of the land offering to God, 4 and Abel, too, brought from the first born of his herd and their milk

Discussion

Although some scholars find hints in the text to show that Cain brought the worst of his produce as offering, and that was the reason Godโ€™s rejected it (I know, story spoiler).  I mostly take these words at face value.  Yet, I am perplexed by the expression  

ืงึตึผืฅ ื™ึธืžึดื™ื

While many Bible interpreters ignored these two words and took them as an alternative (albeit irregular) way to describe the passage of time, the word ืงึตึผืฅ is quite specific. It means the end of, as we can see in the following two examples:

Gen 8:6ื•  ื•ึทื™ึฐื”ึดื™, ืžึดืงึตึผืฅ ืึทืจึฐื‘ึธึผืขึดื™ื ื™ื•ึนื; ื•ึทื™ึดึผืคึฐืชึทึผื— ื ึนื—ึท, ืึถืช-ื—ึทืœึผื•ึนืŸ ื”ึทืชึตึผื‘ึธื” ืึฒืฉึถืืจ ืขึธืฉึธื‚ื”.And at the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had built
Gen 41:1ื  ื•ึทื™ึฐื”ึดื™, ืžึดืงึตึผืฅ ืฉึฐืื ึธืชึทื™ึดื ื™ึธืžึดื™ื; ื•ึผืคึทืจึฐืขึนื” ื—ึนืœึตื, ื•ึฐื”ึดื ึตึผื” ืขึนืžึตื“ ืขึทืœ-ื”ึทื™ึฐืึนืจ.And at the end of two years and Pharaoh had a dream, and here he is standing by the Nile

ืงึตึผืฅ (end) of what days is the verse referring to, and why is it not mentioned like in the other examples?ย 

  • Is it simply, as many think, a substitute expression to โ€˜after a whileโ€™?  But isnโ€™t the word ืงึตึผืฅ too extreme for the purpose? 
  • Is it a hint about ืงึตึผืฅ ื™ึธืžึดื™ื as the end of time? Can this story take place in the future?  
  • Is it a reference to โ€“ as some believe โ€“ to the interpretation that God build and destroys worlds (one explanation to the six days creation). According to this interpretation ืงึตึผืฅ ื™ึธืžึดื™ื is end of one of these cycles.
  • Or is it simply an irregular way to indicate that a long time has passed between the two brothers, Cain and Abel, becoming adults and the time of the offering.

All these options are consistent with the text. There are many more. When the text does not tell us, it is for us to search for clues, or better insight. Which interpretation is the one that feels true to you? Do you have a better one? When you read it again, do you discover new things or have new way to understand it?

In the next post we will discuss Godโ€™s response to the two offerings, and why he rejected Cainโ€™s.

Here you can see the full text in Hebrew and English: https://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0104.htm

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Eleonora
Eleonora
11 months ago

I did not know that the original Bible text was not divided into verses. A very crucial insight in my opinion. This might change our understanding of connections and dependencies of time and narrative flow completely.

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
11 months ago

Yes, still the Jewish Torah until today, the book that is copied a letter at a time does not have verses, nor punctuation marks

Eleonora
Eleonora
11 months ago

I find it very inspiring to contemplate about the words ‘end of days’. Why is it the first time the Bible is talking about people making offerings to God`? What was the reason for these offerings? Did Cain and Abel survive the end of a cycle? Was it because of… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
11 months ago

This is the very first time offering is made. This is a great question actually, which I somehow failed to think about myself. Why did they make the offering? How did they know they needed to make one. These are excellent questions to which I have no answer. Now I… Read more »

Eleonora
Eleonora
11 months ago

The first man in the Bible and his wife Eve were never mentioned again in the Bible, correct? Maybe they died at that time, this is meant with the `’end of days’ and Cain and Abel were preparing sort of funeral. We will never know, but it is amazing to… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
11 months ago

Actually this is not correct. At the end of this chapter, Adam and Eve are mentioned again that they had another son Shet, who Eve said came ‘to replace’ Able

Lea
Lea
10 months ago

Very interesting post with completely new insights. I know that this question is not related, but it is something that has bothered me for long time โ€ฆ. After the disobedience of the first couple in the Bible it is written in Gen 3:16: โ€žUnto the womanโ€ญ he saidโ€ญโ€ญ, I will… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Lea
10 months ago

Hi Lea, This question is extremely relevant as many use this verse in order to justify suppression of women. I should probably write a full blog about it, but at the moment lets just refer directly to your question. The verse says ื•ึฐืึถืœ-ืึดื™ืฉืึตืšึฐ, ืชึผึฐืฉืื•ึผืงึธืชึตืšึฐ, ื•ึฐื”ื•ึผื, ื™ึดืžึฐืฉืึธืœ-ื‘ึผึธืšึฐ or in simple translation… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
10 months ago

Hi Lea, This question is extremely relevant as many use this verse in order to justify suppression of women. I should probably write a full blog about it, but at the moment lets just refer directly to your question. The verse says ื•ึฐืึถืœ-ืึดื™ืฉืึตืšึฐ, ืชึผึฐืฉืื•ึผืงึธืชึตืšึฐ, ื•ึฐื”ื•ึผื, ื™ึดืžึฐืฉืึธืœ-ื‘ึผึธืšึฐ or in simple translation… Read more »

trackback
8 months ago

[…] letโ€™s keep in mind that the killing did not take place immediately after the offering, but rather some unspecified time โ€“ hours, days, maybe longer โ€“ after the discussion with God. […]

trackback
8 months ago

[…] now (Genesis 4:4-5) we already know that the two brothers are making offering to God. Cain brings from his labour in the field, and Abel, the shepherd, from is […]