Cain and Abel #4
In this part we discuss Cain ’s and Abel’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.
|ג וַיְהִי, מִקֵּץ יָמִים; וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, מִנְחָה–לַיהוָה.|
ד וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם-הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ, וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן;
|And it came to pass||וַיְהִי|
|At the end of days – in the Bible days can refer to unspecific period, and not necessarily 12 or 24 hours.||מִקֵּץ יָמִים|
|And Cain brought from the fruit of the land||וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה|
|Offering to God||מִנְחָה—לַיהוָה|
|And Abel he also brought||וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם–הוּא|
|From first born of his herd and their milk||מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ, וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן|
|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|
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 God’s rejected it (I know, story spoiler). I mostly take these words at face value. Yet, I am perplexed by the expression
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 קֵּץ is quite specific. It means the end of, as we can see in the following two examples:
|Gen 8:6||ו וַיְהִי, מִקֵּץ אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם; וַיִּפְתַּח נֹחַ, אֶת-חַלּוֹן הַתֵּבָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.||And at the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had built|
|Gen 41:1||א וַיְהִי, מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים; וּפַרְעֹה חֹלֵם, וְהִנֵּה עֹמֵד עַל-הַיְאֹר.||And at the end of two years and Pharaoh had a dream, and here he is standing by the Nile|
קֵּץ (end) of what days is the verse referring to, and why is it not mentioned like in the other examples?
- Is it simply, as many think, a substitute expression to ‘after a while’? But isn’t the word קֵּץ too extreme for the purpose?
- Is it a hint about קֵּץ יָמִים as the end of time? Can this story take place in the future?
- Is it a reference to – as some believe – to the interpretation that God build and destroys worlds (one explanation to the six days creation). According to this interpretation קֵּץ יָמִים 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 God’s response to the two offerings, and why he rejected Cain’s.
Here you can see the full text in Hebrew and English: https://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0104.htm