[This is an expanded version of a paper read to the Reading, Rhetoric, and Hebrew Bible and the Semiotics and Exegesis sections of the Society of Biblical Literature during the joined annual national convention of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature at Philadelphia, Nov. 19, 1995]
John Havea j.havea,
One's duty regarding the other who makes appeal to one's responsibility is an investing of one's own freedom. In responsibility, which is, as such, irrecusable and non-transferable, I am instituted as non-interchangeable: I am chosen as unique and incomparable. My freedom and my rights, before manifesting themselves in my opposition to the freedom and rights of the other person, will manifest themselves precisely in the form of responsibility, in human fraternity. An inexhaustible responsibility: for with the other our accounts are never settled. Emmanuel Levinas (1993:125)
[. . .] our reading of the Bible will be a militant reading. The great questions about the word of the Lord arise out of Christian practice. It is time to reclaim this militant reading of the word of God in faith. It is time to open the Bible and read it from the perspective of "those who are persecuted in the cause of right" (Matt. 5:10), from the perspective of the condemned human beings of this earth for, after all, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Gustavo Gutiérrez (1983:4)
I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write. Michel Foucault (1972:17)wh'dm yt` 't-chvh 'shtw "And/but/now/so/then/w the man knew Eve his wife . . ." So begins the Gen 4 story. Things have happened, are now happening, and/but/now/so/then/w the narrator begins telling his story from in between, inter-esse, its beginning and its end (cf. Levinas 1991:3, 1985:99f.). At w-point, the narrator seeks to tame, to place, a happening event with words. But by telling a story in which events unfold and overlap here and there, inter alia, he displaces his desires. Words cannot capture a happening event, the narrator tells his altering story "in other words,"1 in dis\placement.2 Inter alia, stuff happens, inter-esse (cf. Caputo, 30f.). As readers, we begin as the narrator begins. Whether we read from left to right, right to left, or otherwise, we are placed-readers who can only begin inter-esse: We read towards the margins, and always out of the margins, so inter-esse and inter alia signify placement not at a/the center. We may invest our freedom as obligation, or otherwise than obligation,3 still we begin reading from where Levinas's demand for responsibility (response-ability) disapproves the ignoring of other persons. We also begin from where the repressed of modern history demand to be heard, and we must respond by being/reading with them.4 The repressed of modern history still Say something with their silenced bodies, inter alia they are elusive absences. We therefore imitate the narrator, despite not being tamed by him,5 we begin reading at many places (cf. Phillips): "The place is everywhere, anywhere. The time is after the beginning, after creation, after Shabbat" (Wiesel, 38). We begin with presuppositions, elusive absences, on the nature of discourse and its implication for reading texts. We presume that words, the texture of voices and the fiber of texts, do awesome things including doing otherwise than Said. Irony. Words cannot capture happening events but they can heal, infect, alter, move, establish, oppress, encourage, even de-/re-press. We hear and are moved by words, more than words, but we cannot capture voices. Though we may reject an-other person's words we cannot deaden her voice because it still Says something in its silence, and silence cannot be silenced. We must therefore read elusive absences, and listen to silences also. We also presume that a text, like Gen 4:1-16, is a first moment of repression (cf. Levinas 1989:103-11).6 It is the stuff of language to repress, to subjectify and disAbel: Gen 4:1-16 names victims, seeking to fix their status as victims. In a second moment, readers re-press by announcing the story as Said:7 Cain is the jealous murderer, first victim of sin,8 and Abel is always innocent; Yhwh is just, absolutely;9 the narrator is always impartial and so trustworthy (see n.5). The Gen 4:1-16 story on the other hand is not as unambiguous. We are obliged to reread, with the freedom of obligation, because we are Sayers also, not just announcers. We may rewrite, inter-esse, even if otherwise than Said; we may re/de-nounce, inter alia, as responsibility.10
Jean Calloud offers an interesting and interested reading of Gen 4:1-16.11 Calloud identifies traces of the figures of Gen 4:1-16 (e.g., brother, blood) in the rest of Scripture,12 which he reads as a unity with the Jesus-event at its center. The movement is from figure to fulfillment (traces; 62).13 Calloud’s study is interesting in the way he maps the textual effects of Gen 4:1-16 in the biblical chains of signification, and interested in how he anticipates and discerns the Gen 4:1-16 figures in Scripture, with its center as the final-signified. An interested question arises: Of what figures is Gen 4:1-16 a trace? Since we do not read from the beginning of the story we propose to read in the other direction.14 Inter-esse we read other (alter), we alter-read. To make this alter turn involves risks inter alia, and we are obliged to indicate what alter-read signifies and represses. First, we do not propose to read about alter, qua being. The other of alter-read is not an object to observe, territory to capture, gap to fill, or boundary to level, but, inter-esse, the event which allows us to observe, capture, fill, level. Alter is otherwise than being, alter is w-point, the rupture, be it a lack or an excess, necessary before a daughter can say to her mother, “I would like both of us to be present. So that the one doesn’t disappear in the other, or the other in the one. So that we can taste each other, feel each other, listen to each other, see each other together” (Irigaray 1981: 61). Alter is opening, where “in” and “out” meet. In other words, only “in other words,” alter is fluid while “irrecusable and non-transferable” (Levinas). To alter-read obliges us to reread textual (in)consistencies as openings, we are always hetero-interested and always militant (Gutiérrez). Concerned with opening, alter-read traffics in dis\closure. We resist rigid closure. But we need some closure in order to make sense, so in alter-read closure “leans against” dis, exposing inter alia readerly vulnerabilities:15 We are, for instance, vulnerable to the illusion of The universal Wo\man who defines the human subject, or human Other. Such a dis\figure exists in the fantasy, not inter-esse (cf. Lacan). We are also vulnerable to the fantasized “we” that “I” have thus far been writing. My “we” is possible because there is a “you” and a “me” who exist separately (Irigaray 1980:72), “in other words,” it exists because of our disunity and because of “others” at a third positionality so it can never be a universal we.16 To alter-read then is to dis\close the paradoxes of subjectivity. Third, our desire to alter-read indicates discomfort with the illusion of sameness and two blind spots in systems of signification: the tendency to map linear chains, and the unwillingness to let-go of semiotic figures/traces.17 To alter-read is not to be overly committed to figures and traces but to the happening events (Il y a), to alter-read is to embrace alterity and dis\placement. Différance. As we alter-read in the other direction from Calloud’s fulfillments we ask, What is disfigured in Gen 4:1-16, or in its readings?18 who is disfigured by this story?19 what figures lurk behind this text? what are the text’s silences and absences? So we begin again,20 inter esse, to alter-read.
The narrator makes a distinction that emphasizes the gender barrier: the man is the “knower,” his wife is the object that is known, the “knowee."21 The (female?) narrator begins from the unnamed knower’s point of view, but the named knowee is the one who is productive: “Eve conceived and bore Cain.” If name indicates placement, this knower is a nobody. He is subject-ed, simply “X-ed,” and his point of view is thereby blurred. So is our alter-reading, blurred and blurring. At w-point the narrator shows no interest in God, the creative character in the garden episode. Inter-esse, a silence: God is not involved in the mode of production (so Wiesel, 41). He reenters the story late. Inter alia, ruptures: The serene narration of the conception and birth of Cain suggests that the process was not most severe with pangs and pain as God prescribed in 3:16. And whereas 3:22-24 denies access to the tree of life, the next story event is the production and deliverance of a new life. Inter-esse and inter alia silences and ruptures resist sameness. What’s happening? God returns upon the voice of the productive knowee/bearer/mother: “I have gained a man ’t-Yhwh.” We imagine a father figure lurking behind Eve’s words because of their 4:1a frame, conception. And at the place where we expect to read the father’s name appears God’s name. The narrator’s “knower” is displaced by the “knowee’s” yhwh, who appears to be the same character who functioned earlier as Eve’s father (Fewell & Gunn, 23). Father of Eve, and of Eve’s ‘ysh. The same literary character with a different face, testifying to the many “faces” of alter. One voice rewrites another (Eve over narrator), one character displaces another (Yhwh over “the man”), one acquired character has two literary fathers, and readers are teased inter alia: Which literary father is obliged, in freedom, to ‘ysh-Cain? Who does not disfigure this “the man” of 4:1? Whose birth is announced in 4:1? Is it not curious that, east of the garden, the words of a woman, the speech of a bearer of life and the “mother of all the living” (3:20), “conceived and bore” yhwh?
According to Eve’s words, Yhwh is in-deed involved in the event of 4:1. But his involvement is deceptive because of the dis\closing nature of the ’t-particle: object marker, and as preposition. A monosyllabic word indicates a double voice, the kind of situation in which readers prefer to limit their choices by ignoring some of their options. That alternative, though, is difficult to execute here because both of our options are theologically problematic. We are vulnerable to such double voices because the possible and legitimate are not always comfortable. The LXX translates ’t as a preposition, ’t-yhwh becomes dia tou Theo: Yhwh is the agent “by means of” whom Cain is acquired. Westermann finds this linguistically legitimate option problematic because ’t “in the sense of `with the help of’ is never applied to God” (291). His judgment is interested, he denies Yhwh the chance to be helper of a woman, “helper of a helper,” and of later becoming a helper of Abel in the field. Westermann’s God cannot be a helper to this story’s repressed. Was he fantasizing that Yhwh is male and that the divine-class does not interact with the human-class directly, so God cannot be doubly subjugated by helping a woman? Why not let Yhwh help in the acquiring of a man-child, a process he earlier promised to “make most severe” (3:16)? Elusive absences, gender and class biases lurk behind Westermann’s judgment. To translate ’t on the other hand as object marker is also discomforting: Here, Eve acquires a man-who-is-Yhwh. Yhwh is therefore a man, an ‘ysh. Behind this alternative lurks the events of Gen 3, in which Eve’s deeds caught Yhwh’s attention: She saw that the fruit of the tree was “good for eating,” and a “source of wisdom,” before she even touch it (3:6). She ate from the fruit of the tree, gave some to the man who was with her, he ate, “then the eyes of both of them were opened” (3:7) as Yhwh came calling. We may imagine that in 3:9 Yhwh gazed upon Eve but called out to the man, like a lover who embraces one but utters the name of another. Prior to 4:1, Eve caught Yhwh’s attention. Did she also acquire-’t-Yhwh? How does one not acquire-’t-Yhwh-qua-otherwise-than-being? Who falls in Gen 3? Eve bears life in 4:1 so she is, at least, yhwh-like. Prior to 4:1, Yhwh is portrayed with ‘ysh-qualities: Yhwh discloses ‘ysh-like emotions when he curses his creation in 3:14f. Yhwh is quick to condemn and eager to reject what is different;22 the creator who creates by differentiation (Fewell & Gunn, 23f.) cannot now deal with differences; this literary character is not always consistent, he is threatened by ambiguities (so Gunn & Fewell, 28-9). Thus far, we assume that ‘ysh signifies “man.” What if ‘ysh signifies “husband?” Did Eve name her son “Cain” because she has acquired Yhwh as her husband? Did Yhwh displace Adam as the husband of a mother?23 If so then we have provided a father for Abel, who is born next. But to entertain this alter-reading is to transgress constraints that define Yhwh as immutable: Yhwh cannot be acquired, Yhwh is no ‘ysh (whether man, son, father, husband, or otherwise). Both translations of ’t are legitimate, and both are troublesome. Lurking behind the text are ruptures that push away our readerly “grab” (cf. Penchansky). But also, we resist the grab of the text. Nonetheless we expect Yhwh to be responsible for Cain, and the ’t-ambiguity accentuates his response-ability.
Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you keep hopping between two boughs? If Yhwh is God, go after him, w-if Baal, go after him.” The people did not answer him a word. 1 Kings 18:21
What did Eve desire? Westermann contends that Eve boasts of being a co-creator, “she has brought forth a man in a way that corresponds to the creation of the man by the creator” (290). Westermann thereby avoids the ’t-like God figure, replacing it with a God-like ‘ysh: An ‘ysh gives life to an ’t, drawing attention to the “coherence between the creation of God and the procreation of woman” (van Wolde, 28). This alter-reading opens up the gender and class barriers. Dis\closure.
Van Wolde nonetheless eclipses this disclosure by insisting that the relationship between Yhwh and Eve is a promise-fulfillment situation: “What has been indicated in Genesis 2-3 as an
ability' or capacity’ is realized in Gen. 4.1. The ability to bring forth children is transformed into actually bringing forth children. [. . .] In the construction [’t-yhwh, ’t] indicates the sociative, to be translated as
together with'" (27). Van Wolde's Yhwh shares the credit for Cain with the knowee, in an equal-but-different relationship that reflects the story-world's gender and class distinctions: the woman is not a <U>parallel</U> creator, in which case she may displace the first creator, but a <U>sociative</U> creator alongside the creator-standard who is the divine Yhwh.
We expect different characters to hear Eve's words differently. What Eve desired cannot be fixed. She disappears with Adam until 4:25.<SUP>24</SUP> Yhwh on the other hand has yet to appear "east of the garden." Elusive absence. Prior to 4:4b, Yhwh lurks behind the story but traces of his shadow are visible in the text (cf. Levinas 1989:130-43), one of which is Abel's name. By association with <U>hbl</U> ("breath"), "Abel" echoes Yhwh's act of blowing into the nostrils of the earthling in 2:7. Named <U>hbl</U>, something essential to life, Abel is doubly stabilized: He is named, and his name signifies life. The similar situations of "coming into life," of Adam in 2:7 and Abel in 4:2, binds Yhwh to Abel. More obligations for Yhwh.<SUP>25</SUP> The association of Adam with Abel begs the issue of placement: Was Abel born to displace Adam as figure of human-life? Who does not disfigure the first "the man?" The narrator did not name him in 4:1, Eve did not mention him, and now Abel signifies breath/life. So far "the man" has only been useful as knower. <I>Inter alia,</I> silences.
Abel's name may be read otherwise: Westermann suggests that "Gen 3 describes one's state as a creature or a human being as dust’; Gen 4 adds another aspect by using the name hbl. It looks to a person’s contingency and nothingness [. . .]” (292). Adam is dust, Abel is nothing; the breath of 2:7 is condemned in 3:19, so do we expect for the breath of 4:2. Missing from the narrator’s account is a father for Abel. Without father, Abel is disfigured. His mother is now a single mother, known once but labors twice. As Yhwh earlier made two humans (1:27), drawing the second from the first (2:7-23), so does Eve produce two humans from one procreation, drawing the second after the first. The narrator tells two creative acts of one creation (1:1-2:24), now two back-to-back birth moments. The narrator identifies Abel not as the son of Adam/Eve/Yhwh, but links him to his brother Cain (4:2). Cain thereby becomes the “keeper” of Abel’s identity; Abel is Cain’s figurative trace, he lurks behind the birth door after Cain. Différance.
Another trace of Yhwh’s absence can be seen in the tasks performed by the brothers. The narrator reverses the order of presentation, introducing the task performed by the second son first. Abel was “shepherding sheep,” a task not cursed in 3:14-19 and an animal not named prior to 4:2. He introduces something new to the story, he acts differently. Creation-by-differentiation? Class differentiation? Was Abel safe since his task steers clear of Yhwh’s curses? By “keeping an eye on sheep” Abel brings to mind the animals that were named but not accepted as helper in 2:19-20.26 The narrator again sets Abel against his father, the one who failed to “keep an eye” on his helpers. Abel’s task dis\closes Adam’s failure, and consequently “leans against” Abel the burdens for that failure. The narrator teases our imagination because he who “keeps an eye” will later become the one on whom Yhwh gazes (4:4). Abel’s task discloses the events lurking behind it, and anticipates the introduction of Cain’s task. By acting differently, Abel acts against sameness.
Cain is “tiller of the soil,” recalling not only what was lacking from the creation in 2:5, but also, the curse of that very task in 3:17 (cf. Jobling 1986:17f.). Cain is caught between fulfilling God’s creation, which is an unavoidable obligation (cf. the condition of the expulsion in 3:23), and doing the same task as a curse. Like Moses who was called to a journey that he will not finish, Cain is caught between “thorns and thistles.” When Cain produces “fruit of the soil” (4:3b), he undermines Yhwh’s curse (3:18). Cain is already a transgressor, before the offering of gifts. We anticipate that he will be ejected as were the Gen 3 transgressors, raising troubling questions about God’s creation: If creation is the act of bringing order to chaos, doesn’t God show that the world he created is a chaos by continuing to control it? Are we dealing with a creation gone awry, or a messy creation (pace Hauser)?27 Elusive absences. Silences. Dis/closure.
Yhwh’s elusive absence discloses another silence in the story, a silence that the narrator can no longer silence: The parents who are absent, inter-esse, until 4:25. “There are gaps in the text. From the purely human point of view, we cannot but be disturbed about . . . the parents” (Wiesel, 43). What’s happening? Whether ignored by the narrator, displaced by Yhwh, or by their sons, the parents’ absence is still very disturbing.28 The story is gloomier when they reappear in 4:25 as if 4:3-16 is not a problem. Inter-esse, stuff happens, and to the parents we pose Wiesel’s judgment of Abel’s aloofness toward Cain’s sorrow when God did not gaze at him and at his offering: “In the face of suffering one has no right to turn away, not to see. In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way” (57). Like the people’s answer to Elijah, Adam and Eve answer us not a word. They have responded, otherwise than they are obliged, so in the case of their repressed children their accounts are not settled.
Inter-esse, Yhwh is inter alia. Cain and Abel came to him as if he was a parent (cf. Rosenblatt & Horwitz, 55-6). The brothers create a dilemma: if Yhwh accepts Cain’s offering he concedes thereupon that his curse failed (unless Cain’s “fruits of the soil” were only “thorns and thistles”), but for Yhwh to uphold his curse is to reverse his mandate in 2:5.29 To save-face (cf. Williams for “scapegoat”) Yhwh needs to reject Cain and so affirm divine immutability and free will (von Rad, 104f.). The text resists such a constraining reading. This story remains an opening. Dis\closure.
The one in whose birth was Yhwh named is in a no-win situation, the one named “futility” is placed, and Yhwh curiously lurks behind the story-event. Elusive absence. When Yhwh finally appears we assume that something may be wrong because, thus far, he has only appeared to bring order, to create or to judge. Why doesn’t Yhwh just stay away, imagine that things east of the garden are in good hands (cf. 1:29-31), and observe his creatures do good-w-bad (2:15f.)? Why not give freedom, for obligation? Why not see how the divine nature of these humans (cf. 3:22) help them survive? Did Yhwh appear because the existence of a man who “has become like one of us” (3:22) irritated him? because sameness tormented him? Did he show up to show who the real god is? to show who is in charge? to show off? Différance. Vulnerability.
The prelude to Yhwh’s entry is the presentation of offerings (see Kugel, Waltke, for traditional readings). There is no demand, and no justification (cf. Hendel).30 Stuff happens. Events slowly evolve, as if things are normal. With Yhwh’s entry, things rush to a close as if something needs to be covered up.31 Another reversal takes place, the firstborn who was mentioned second in the previous story-moment is now mentioned first. The narrator is not consistent as the order of one moment is reversed in the next. Cain appears as initiator and director of the moment’s business, an event that takes place “from end of days” (or “days from the end”). Does this mean that days have passed since the last offering? that it has been days since Yhwh cursed the land, so we may expect the curse to have worn off? that after days of tilling Cain produced fruits from the soil, indicating that he controls the land? Who is in control? We marvel at the courage of Cain in presenting “fruits from the soil” to Yhwh, the one who cursed the soil and told it to yield “thorns and thistles.” Was Cain aware of Yhwh’s curse? Dis\closure.
To read Cain’s “fruits of the soil” with an eye for 3:17-19 identifies absences lurking behind the text. Though 3:17 allows that man may “eat from the soil” if he works (so 3:19), Yhwh prescribes in 3:18 that the fruit of man’s labor will only be “thorns and thistles” and his food be the “grasses of the field” (undermining 1:29). What’s happening? Why labor if he will only labor in vain? Why journey if he won’t arrive? The soil nonetheless yields to Cain’s toil, not to Yhwh’s words.32 Yhwh seems ticked at Cain, dis\closed in his later curse of Cain, “If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you” (4:12). It is not good that the soil yields to a man, even though (especially if?) he is God’s image and heir to the God-like knowledge of good-w-bad.33
The event is complicated when Abel for his part offers a gift that does not meet nor transgress any constraints: he “brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock” (4:4). It may seem that Abel satisfies God’s direction for humans to “rule [. . .] all the living things that creep on earth” (1:28). But the narrator does not indicate a capacity-realization relation here, nor does he consider the point of view of Abel’s victim. Thanks to Abel, the ground tastes blood. Irony. If the offerings were simultaneous, Abel again shadows Cain. At birth and now as offerers, Abel lurks behind Cain. Cain’s action was desirable so Abel captures a firstling thereby reminding us of Cain, a first-born.
When the story turns eastward we assume that Yhwh remains in the garden, where the tree that defines the difference between gods and humans was guarded. When he leaves the garden, maybe because he saw that it is not good for gods to be alone, Yhwh enters Cain’s space. The guards of the garden cannot confine Yhwh because they guard against humans, not gods who wish to exit. Assume that Cain expected Yhwh to remain in the garden. He must have been very surprised when Yhwh appears.34 Time stops while Yhwh’s (in)action is described: “Yhwh gazed on Abel and on his offering. But on Cain and on his offering he did not gaze.” The text syntactically distinguishes between each offerer and his offering, so a person is gazed upon not because of what he offered (Waltke, 365). In 1:31 God saw that the creation was “very good;” in 3:7 the eyes of the man and the woman were opened and they perceived their nakedness; in 4:4-5 Yhwh simply gazed (sh`h) on Abel, but not on Cain. No word is spoken, nor a judgment, only a gaze, an (in)action.
And Yhwh said to Ha-Satan, “Have you put your heart against/to my servant Job, because there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, he fears God and shuns evil?” Job 1:8
A silent gaze does not indicate valuation; but choosing to gaze on one and not on the other indicates desire, if only as a “delight to the eyes.” Thus far, Yhwh has been awfully silent. Elusive silence. He has done no wrong, so he needs no justification. Or otherwise? His gaze is so penetrating, and readers are again poked with divine comedy: Cain felt not being gazed upon, his face fell. Recall that this was not the first time that a gift was not accepted. Earlier, the man looked at the animals, God’s gift, but did not find a fitting helper (2:20) and instead of declaring them “good” he called them names (!). Only to Yhwh’s second gift did he say, “At last . . . .” As this other father accepted the second but rejected the first gift, so Yhwh gazed at the second but not at the first. No reason is given for Adam’s preference, nor for Yhwh’s gaze (cf. Hendel, Wiesel). We imagine that Yhwh’s refusal to gaze upon Cain’s offering is his counter-constraining move, a do-unto-others lesson from an offerer not accepted earlier. If Yhwh was intimidated by Cain’s offering, we cannot agree that his “flawed character led to his feigned worship” (Waltke, 371; so Josephus). We also refuse the claim that Abel was righteous but Cain was wicked from the very beginning (cf. Krasovec, 12f.). Such claims presume that the difference between good and not good is clear. This story on the other hand does not surrender to simple resolutions. Van Wolde for her part surrenders to the narrator’s desires: she explains that it is “more likely that Cain is envious not because Abel is more successful, but because YHWH looks at a blunderer like Abel while ignoring Cain” (29). We on the other hand cannot determine Cain’s opinion toward Abel before and after Yhwh’s gaze. We expect sibling rivalries (Williams, 25-30, 33-8; Rosenblatt & Horwitz, 53-4), and envy may be a big factor (so Wiesel, Williams), but there is no reason to assume that Cain and Abel were not also each other’s good companion. This story has room for inconsistencies! The narrator suggests in 4:5 that Cain was distressed not because of who and what Yhwh did not gaze upon, but because of what Yhwh did not do. The problem lies not with Cain, or Abel, but with Yhwh because he did not gaze upon Cain: Yhwh’s inaction distressed Cain. We cannot determine Abel’s assessment of Yhwh’s gaze, so we cannot confirm that being gazed upon was good. If we read ahead to 4:8 and the events in the field, Abel’s murder, we may conclude that being gazed upon by Yhwh is really not good (from a teleological viewpoint). Job would agree! Yhwh’s gaze (a deed) made Abel the “keeper” of Cain’s identity: Abel is identified first, as one gazed upon, and Cain is contrasted from him. The placement of the brothers’ identity shifts. Prior to their arrival in the field, Cain is usurped as the keeper of their identity. The narrator’s alternating cycle of presenting the brothers since their birth reaches a climax with Cain’s displacement under the divine gaze.35 Was Cain distressed also because of this displacement?
Saul said to Samuel, “But I did obey Yhwh! I walked in the way on which Yhwh sent me: I captured King Agag of Amalek, and I proscribed Amalek. The people took from the spoil some sheep and oxen, the first of what had been proscribed, to sacrifice to Yhwh your God at Gilgal.” 1 Samuel 15:20-21
The story continues with reversals: Like Isaac thinking that he was holding Esau when he was blessing Jacob, Yhwh gazed at Abel and caught a glimpse of Cain. Cain felt not being gazed upon, was “kindled with anger,” and “his face fell” (nphl). Yhwh rebukes Cain: “Surely, if you do good, there is uplift (ns
</U>). But if you do not do good sin lurks at the opening; Its urge is toward you but you can rule it" (4:7). The tension between <U>ns and nphl discloses that the problem is not with the element of Cain’s offering, but his action because it did not cause what Yhwh takes to be good.
What Yhwh meant by good, though, is ambiguous.36 To “till the soil” is good (2:5, 3:23), but to succeed in it seems not good (3:17b-18). Is Cain’s ability to produce fruits from the soil his sin, the indication that he did not cause good? Yhwh looks very deontological. And by saying that Cain can rule sin (4:7b), Yhwh shifts our attention away from the action that did not cause good to the urging of Cain to react. Like the waving of a rattle before a crying child to distract her from her hunger, Yhwh seeks to control our reading and to silence textual silences. This character grabs.
Yhwh names, he subjectifies, “sin:” that which lurks behind the door, its desire is toward Cain (4:7).37 The relation between “desire” (tshwqh) and Yhwh’s command “to dominate” (mshl) sin deserves a closer look. To assume that tshwqh is the only precondition for mshl (Bledstein) is to overlook that a sense of insecurity breeds the desire to mshl. mshl is necessary for creation, it is a trace of tshwqh and of the feeling of insecurity. Yhwh’s command is therefore thorny: While seeking to dominate may or may not eliminate sin, it will surely confirm on the other hand that one is attracted to, and insecure because of, sin. Cain is thus vulnerable to something that objectifies himself, and he can not simply ignore it because of what Yhwh had just explained (threatened?). He is in double jeopardy, a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation, in which the opposing choices lead to the same effect. This situation undermines Yhwh’s deontological concern: When one chooses a “lesser evil,” how does one cause good? “To dominate” or “not to dominate” is therefore not the question. Rather, it has to do with existing between “thorns and thistles.”
We digress to alter-read tshwqh as a quality, rather than synonym, of cht’t (sin). There is more to cht’t than tshwqh, but in 4:7 and 3:16 cht’t may be identified through tshwqh. The “sin at the door” is signified by having desire for Cain. Sin is separate from Cain, otherwise it cannot objectively lurk and have desire for Cain.38 We suggested above that at birth and in their offerings Abel discloses desires toward Cain, he lurks behind Cain “at the door.” Further, Abel’s offering provided the difference between “being gazed upon” and “not being gazed upon,” which defined “doing good.” If Abel is the sin lurking at the door, Cain carries out Yhwh’s command in 4:8b: To “dominate sin” is to kill Abel. Murder signifies obedience.39 So Saul argues! Was Cain establishing order, on behalf of Abel’s firstling victim? For the narrator, rather, Cain is disorderly. Constraints break: A brother does not care for, but kills another; a protector of sheep cannot protect himself. Then, Yhwh breaks his silence. Was he, all along, present in the field? Elusive presence?
Assume that Yhwh was in the field, even if otherwise-than-being. Assume also that Cain felt that Yhwh was aware of what goes on in the field. Why would he still kill Abel?
Perhaps he wanted to remain alone: an only child and, after his parents’ death, the only man. Alone like God and perhaps alone in place of God. Like God, he thought to offer himself a human sacrifice in holocaust. He wanted to be cruel like Him, a stranger like Him, an avenger like Him. And like Him, present and absent at the same time, absent by his presence, present in his absence. Cain killed to become God. To kill God. (Wiesel, 58).
Notwithstanding, though Cain’s motivation is eclipsed by the ellipsis in 4:8, a “murder is never justified, even when committed to ensure a better future” (Wiesel, 63).
Violence builds up from the transgression of Yhwh’s words to two brothers exiting to the open field. Dead-men walking, displacements inter alia. In 4:4 Abel captures a first-born but in 4:8 a first-born disAbels a character on whom Yhwh gazed. The divine gaze does not protect. Job would agree! Does this event signify that “Cain has not ruled but has been ruled, overcome by the lust that lies in ambush” (Brueggemann, 60). Who rules whom? Who is in (out of) control? Dis\closure.
Instances of dis\placement occur at the structural sequence of this altering story, one such moment occurs just before the two brothers arrive at the field: Cain speaks, but what he said is not heard (4:8). Readers fill this gap, to smoothen a troubling story, by surrendering to the narrator’s desire to condemn Cain: “This `empty’ speaking would then suggest, or testify to, the negation of the existence of the other as an equal, as a brother, and it can be seen as pointing ahead to the actual elimination of the other” (van Wolde, 35). Like a dental filling over a cavity, her attempt highlights the gap that is under erasure. In 4:8, a silence problematizes attempts to name the victim. Yhwh had just spoken to Cain (4:6-7), and we expect to hear Cain’s response next. We do hear Cain. But he was speaking to Abel. We assume that Cain is hereby performing his response to Yhwh.
Cain’s speech is forgotten as the narrator tells his deed. A character is silenced, his character is to be judged according to his action. The narrator grabs our reading, but textual silences Say from behind the text. Thus far Abel has yet to speak: he was born, spoken of, he acted, was gazed at, and now spoken with. During Abel’s narrative life, only Cain related to him as a subject worthy of speech. A good deed? The narrator on the other hand will not allow Abel to hear anything because the silencing of Cain makes Abel deaf. He denies Abel the ability to respond, i.e., response-ability. Abel was dead before Cain killed him, doubly murdered, by the narrator and by Cain. And inter alia, by readers. Eve replaces Abel with Seth (4:25), and the Gen 5 recorder dehistorizes Cain and Abel both by leaving them out from Adam’s genealogy.40 When Abel gets to Say anything, when he was finally heard, he was already dead and it was his “blood” that cried to Yhwh (4:10). Abel finally had a place, in displacement. He once had a right to speak, in response to Cain (4:8), but he was not allowed. His words are delayed, and they come to haunt Yhwh and Cain. The replacement of speech with deed, disruption of dialogue, and shuffling of addressee and speaker, destabilize attempts to firmly fill the gap. Few characters speak, fewer are heard: Who is disfigured in/by this story? Abel? Cain? Yhwh? narrator? readers? To whom did the blood of Abel’s offering cry? The silences make this story difficult to nip in the bud. At this juncture, Cain and Abel appear different.
Not all dialogues are disrupted though, nor are all silences unheard. After the silenced speech comes a dialogue, and we anticipate resolutions. In 4:9 Yhwh suddenly becomes talkative, as if he was guilty of something. He responds to Cain’s deed with a question (“Where is your brother Abel?”) which presumes that Cain knew of Abel’s whereabouts.41 Cain responds with his own question (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”), shifting our attention to Yhwh and his response-ability. These questions remind us of two points of signification identified earlier: at birth, Cain was the “keeper” of Abel’s identity while Yhwh was the “keeper” of Cain’s identity. To link these two identification marks make Yhwh the keeper of Abel’s identity. Cain’s question therefore shifts the blame to Yhwh, their narrative (grand)father and identity-keeper.
If a brother’s keeper is “one who faithfully cares for his brother in his need [. . .]” (Riemann, 482), then Yhwh’s gaze, which stabilized this “futile breath,” discloses Yhwh as a good keeper(!). Yhwh continues to be Abel’s keeper by showing concern for the voice of his blood, and when he later punishes Cain for what he did to Abel. Before and after Abel’s murder, Yhwh acts as Abel’s keeper. As such, Cain’s question is taunting: Why ask me Lord?
But who is Abel’s brother? Van Wolde insists that “Cain is not a brother and does not behave as a brother. In his speaking, YHWH urges Cain to accept Abel as his brother and to behave as a brother himself” (33). Abel was a brother, but he did not have a brother because Cain did not look upon him as one.42 What about Yhwh? Could Yhwh be Abel’s brother? Recall his ambiguous role according to Eve’s ’t, in which he qualifies as helper, father, husband, man, and child of Eve. This last possibility makes Yhwh Abel’s brother. And since he looked at Abel, if we follow van Wolde’s line of argument, Yhwh is a better brother than Cain. To where then was Yhwh “looking” when “Cain set upon his (Yhwh’s? Cain’s?) brother Abel and killed him” (4:8)? If one who does not look is not a brother, how responsible, in terms of Levinas’ human fraternity (1993:125), was Yhwh in the field? Cain did not act as Abel’s brother, nor did Yhwh. Freedom. Obligation.
Cain is on the other hand Abel’s keeper if by shmr we understand a “watcher,” someone who “imprisons,” who “rules over.” In that sense Cain’s question has a submissive tone, “Oh no. Have I become my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Wiesel, 59). Yhwh could have affirmed Cain, “In-deed, you are his keeper!” But Yhwh appears threatened, so he shifts the blame to Cain by means of a harsh sentence. Assuming that the judgment is on behalf of the victim and an indication of the punisher’s jurisdiction, Yhwh brings blame upon himself by judging Cain: To accuse and punish is to assume responsibility for the victim and victimizer both. Yhwh cares, though late. He reacts. Good deed?
Yhwh’s reaction testifies that Abel’s blood cried to him and is his responsibility.43 But why wait until it is too late? Why wait to re-act, rather than prevent? Who is in charge? Who is Abel’s keeper? Cain? Yhwh? narrator? readers? Is this story not alter enough so that we may account for Abel? Cain? Yhwh? narrator? How may we account for a silenced character? for a dead literary character? for grabbing characters? How is a literary character murdered? How do we account for a literary character whose subjectivity is denied in this story? Is not the rewriting of a murder-event a critique of the injustice performed? The characters who can speak may shift the blame, and the narrator fixes their desires. Or the narrator may unfix, if she desires. Readers may dis\close and resist these desires, we may read otherwise. Obligation. Freedom. Opening. Dis\closure.
Yhwh for his part chose to place a curse, a constraint, upon Cain. Cain is more cursed than all the others. His curse is total: More cursed than the ground, which will no longer yield to him; he will wander ceaselessly, unable to settle. Ha’adamah and ha’adam are placed at odds, the one is condemned not to submit to the other; but neither may be conceived without the other, so they are linked. Différance. The boundaries of ha’adamah and ha’adam cross, resulting in dis\placement of boundaries. Cain is condemned to wander, an activity for which Abram was called (Gen 12) and Israel freed (Exod). A curse later signifies election and liberation: to wander is to be free (until God comes looking), to be free is to be displaced (exodus generation was an exile generation), and to be displaced is discomforting (unless suffering is normalized, “in other words,” good, cf. Williams).
In 3:19 Yhwh determines that human destiny is ha’adamah, from which humans were formed, but in 4:14 Cain laments that Yhwh has banished him “from upon the face of ha’adamah.” Was Cain banished from the task of tilling ha’adamah? or from human destiny, death? If Cain’s lament is heeded, it will reverse the curse of 3:19 but endorse the condition of 3:23 by providing what was lacking in 2:15. Was Cain trying to be accountable for ha’adamah? Was he seeking to show Yhwh what it means to be obliged to the creation? how to act between thorns and thistles? how to tolerate ambiguities? how displacement is placement? how closure is disclosure? how freedom is obligation? how obligation is freedom? how response-ability is absent?
When Yhwh marks Cain (4:16) we assume that he is protected. Or was Yhwh saving Cain for himself? We should not read-over textual absences.44 The mark (‘wt) dis\closes: in a linguistic event, if we insert the narrator’s w in Eve’s ’t we name Yhwh’s ‘wt. Inter-esse, double voices. The mark does not eliminate the initial curse, nor provide protection for Cain. Rather, it traces what Yhwh will do if (i.e., after) anyone kills Cain. The mark allows Yhwh to be late later. Cain departs from Yhwh’s presence, but he did not become a ceaseless wanderer. Cain transgresses the divine constraints by settling in a land. But he fulfills the curse by settling at Nod, a land named Wander. Cain is free, yet bound. Obligation. Freedom. Fulfillment and transgression overlap. Dis\closure. At the end of Gen 4, which is not the end of the story, Cain escapes the story-world to settle in w(a/o)nder; he is dis\placed, to lurk behind this reading where liberation and exile overlap. Our alter-reading blurs the story’s distinctions, out of our love for Cain. Confusionism (Bal).
We retraced the disfiguring process back to the garden, we heard silences and read absences, selectively, and discovered that the difference between the order in the garden and the alienation outside of it is very slight. Separating inside from outside is an opening, an altering story, that invites alter-reading without closing a Nod-y text. At w-point two characters live in displacement, and at Yhwh’s ‘wt a character is displaced because he murdered his brother (displacement par excellence). The one who enters the story in 4:1 is pushed out in 4:16, and he leaves behind the presence of he who was “conceived and born” by the words of a knowee, a mother.
Hannah answered, she Said, “No, my lord! I am a woman sorely troubled. I have drunk no wine or strong drink, but I have been pouring out my life to the face of Yhwh. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman because I have thus far only been speaking out of my great anxiety and distress.” 1 Samuel 1:15-16
What about the repressed people at communities of struggle and cultures of silence, the Cains and Abels at the underside of history? What do we Say? Our alter-reading muddies the subjectification game: victim and victimizer exist not in isolation from one another. Our Abel is not fully innocent, and our Cain has a chance to interact, to mess, with the lord of the story-world. We do not deny Arturo Graf: “No matter what you say, you Cain have killed your brother” (in Quinones, 8). That factual statement though cannot silence the silences of this story. If our alter-reading encourages the Cains and Abels of modern history to confront the lords of history, of texts, and of faith, with the voice of blood, presence of silence, or only with taunting questions, then we have taken a step toward rewriting a repressing story (cf. West 1995:186). In other words, in alter-reading, may we rewrite the wrongs of our various stories even if it involves loving Cain more than God.45
To love Cain demands more loving, and faith, than is needed for the love of God, and it is not in the place of loving God. Nor in the place of loving Abel. Love to Cain is good love. It involves Hannah-like-courage to alter-read for lost figures, and for disfigures, in such alter places like the stories of non-Israelite “firstborns” not passed over at Egypt, of the exodus generation who died in “wandering,"46 of the “dwellers of the land” lurked (Num 13) and displaced in Joshua\Judges, of Ezra-Nehemiah’s “people of the land,” and even in the cries in/of the stories of the Cains and Abels of modern history. Our alter-reading therefore ends not at fulfillment but inter-esse: “At no time can one say: I have done all my duty. Except the hypocrite . . .” (Levinas 1985:105-6).
We hope to have given the Cains and Abels of the Bible and of modern history, and the lords, the courage to rewrite their, and our, misrecognitions. We have rewritten an old story, in other words. In our version, according to our desires, voices do not always rule, figures drift and slip, silences and absences dis\figure, and texts interfere with other texts. We have woven an alter story.
Through this alter-reading we discover that to constrain is to set free, to set free is to constrain: freedom and obligation, story and text, Saying and Said, voices and deeds, silences and absences, are so Nod-y: they settle at wander. Inter-esse, stuff happens, dis\placement, inter alia, dis\closure, obligation, freedom, différance, and so as an alternative reading we Say that alter is always already native. An-other task of alter-read remains, necessary for dis\closure: we let our reading go.47