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Rejecting the offering of Cain to Nigeria

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Cain brought some of his harvests and gave it as an offering to the Lord. Then Abel brought the first lamb born of one of his sheep, killed it and gave the best parts of it as offering. The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain […]
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Cain brought some of his harvests and gave it as an offering to the Lord. Then Abel brought the first lamb born of one of his sheep, killed it and gave the best parts of it as offering. The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain became furious and he scowled in anger, then the Lord said to Cain, why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing you would be smiling but because you have done evil sin is crouching at your door it wants to rule you, but you must overcome it’ Then Cain said to his brother Abel. Let us go out in the fields. Cain turned on his brother and killed him. The Lord asked Cain where is your brother Abel? He answered I don’t Know. Am I supposed to take care of my brother? (Genesis 4: 2-9).

This story is often taken to be an injunction against murder, but that does not get us very far, beyond a self-evident moral point. The clue to the deeper meaning of the story of Cain and Abel perhaps rests on two aspects of the narrative: the offering to God, which Cain produces, and God is displeased with; and the clues provided by the etymologies of the two brothers’ names.

Nevertheless, a clue to the origins of the Cain and Abel story may also lie in the symbolic meanings of the brothers’ two names. ‘Cain’ is from a root word meaning ‘forge’ or ‘smith’, and is cognate with the Arabic kain, which means the same thing. In Genesis 4:22 we learn that ‘Tubal-cain’ was ‘an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron’, which lends credence to this etymology (Tubal was a district in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey).

Meanwhile, ‘Abel’ is believed to be derived from Jubal or Jabal, the ancestor of nomadic shepherds. If we put these two names together, we find that Cain represents the farmer and skilled artisan, while Abel represents the herdsman or nomad. As Isaac Asimov points out in his endlessly informative Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: The Old Testament by Isaac Asimov (Sept 19, 1973). The authors of these early histories were farmers and settled city-men who would doubtless have viewed nomads as a threat to their civilization: the nomads were potential invaders and raiders. Cain is not just a farmer but also a representative of a skilled class of metalworkers, remember: as such, he symbolizes the development of more advanced technologies during the Bronze Age (as it gave way to the Iron Age).

Curiously, it has been suggested that Abel’s name might be distantly related to the Babylonian aplu, meaning ‘son’. As with the Great Flood and other origin-stories from the Book of Genesis, the tale of Cain and Abel may have emerged from earlier Sumerian myths about the clashes between the older, nomadic way of life and the new city-focused farming culture that was displacing (and replacing) it. The fact that Cain, the representative of this new culture, kills his brother, who represents the weaker nomadic culture, is a sort of allegory for this mass shift towards more advanced agriculture in the ancient Middle East.

Thousands of years after the story of Cain and Abel, the 21st century is not yet immune to the tensions and the drama of clashes between different ideologies, classes of people, and systems of both government and economics. President George W Bush on 28 June 2005 while making a speech in Fort Bragg, North Carolina said, “The terrorists fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake. They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy, prosperity and hope, the terrorists will have no space” 

The whole Iraq war with the billions of dollars involved can be described in three words clash of ideologies This three words have turned young married women into widows in their thousands. The three words have turned millions of children into orphans overnight. At every military hospital, when you see the wounded and the traumatized soldiers, one cannot afford to remain neutral to the barbarism of this clash. From the time of Cain and Able, epochs after epochs, one dominant ideology have always sought to silence the other. Very often, the weaker ones like Abel are muscled into silence.  

The ideology of hatred and extremism will continue to fester amongst us until we decide to give peace a chance and let the ideology of love and care dominate our hypothalamus. The world has over bled because of hate and ideological differences. For almost a year now, Russia and Ukraine have continued to waste human and capital resources, and there is no end in sight, despite many appeals from all those that matter in this world. Like the story of the rich man who told father Abraham to send one of the angels to talk to his brothers on earth who are still living in squalor of sin and greed to repent. Abraham said they have Moses and the prophets to talk to them, if they will not listen to them, even if someone should rise from the dead, they will not listen (Luke 12:16-21). Russia have all the Moses and the Prophets to listen to, if they will not listen to them even if angels come to right now, they might still not listen.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the story of Cain and Abel in this reflection is how we can present our worst to friends as our best. When I was in the secondary school. There was a classmate of ours whom we all knew to be very selfish. He never shared anything with anybody. One day, he began to share cabin biscuits to us his classmates, all of us were very curious to find out why this young fellow has become so generous overnight. Not too long, we discovered that the biscuits he was sharing has expired, and it is already developing maggots. Sad! That is the difficult part of the story of Cain. He was simply out to give God the worse. If he could offer God such horrible gifts, I can only imagine what he could give to men.

This is election year and we pray for the best candidate for our country; let us wish ourselves the best gifts through the leaders we intend to elect. Let us reject the gifts of Cain to nigeria. Come February 2023. 

Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow. ([email protected])

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