Murder is old. We can’t call it the oldest profession simply because, well, it wasn’t really a profession when it was invented, at least according to one set of accounts. There just weren’t enough people around, which became a problem later, as we’ll get into. Murder most foul, it was, brother against brother. The incident with Cain and Abel is interesting for a lot of reasons.
For one, it's happening in the first generation. Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden, and their first two sons turn out like this. It’s not really fair to call it bad parenting, either; I mean they got 50% right. Not bad for a couple of kids freshly kicked out of Paradise, especially considering there were no parenting books yet.
What we have with Cain and Abel is a simple crime of passion. Abel got recognition for what he did, Cain felt slighted. Cain kills Abel. End of story, right? Pack up, go home. Not quite. See, what we also have here is the first act of pre-meditation.
This wasn’t a quick thing where God recognized Abel, spurned Cain, and Cain promptly went nutso. Cain had time to think it through. More than that, he tried to cover it up. He hid the body. He also had an ulterior motive. He wanted Abel’s stuff. As the sole son, he was going to get the inheritance; even if Adam and Eve were going to have more kids (which they did), as the first(ish)-born, he would inherit an extra portion of what dad had.
So Cain wanted as much of the ball of wax as he could get, but the guy obviously wasn’t thinking very hard. God shows up asking about Abel. It actually goes down like a detective grilling a suspect. This crime also marks the first interrogation and the first use of forensics as God talks about Abel’s blood crying out from the ground. The blood evidence implicates Cain in the murder of his brother.
Waboom, it’s over for Cain, not like he ever had a chance. Let’s run through this like an Agatha Christie novel. We’ve got five people in this story. One is the killer. One is the victim. One is the detective. It’s not like there’s a large suspect pool to draw from. With Adam and Eve most likely able to provide alibis for one another, that only leaves the obvious choice. It helps that Cain threw his little hissy fit after Abel got praised.
What is truly interesting is that this is the third story in the Bible. The first was creation, an event so important that all others depend on it. Next came the emergence of people, an equally dependent story for all other stories. The very next story is about murder.
The ancient Hebrews felt very strongly about murder and its effect upon society. They needed to establish very early on how detrimental to family and society the crime is. This tale establishes a harsh penalty for such a crime, too. Interestingly, it’s not death. What later becomes “an eye for an eye” begins at first with life in prison—the prison is the wilderness and being cast out from society.
This particular story has one more twist. The crime is not only murder. The murder is actually the second crime in this particular tale. The first is that of pride. Cain did not put the best of his flock into the offering, which is why God had no respect for it. Cain put himself above all else, and it was this desire of the self which spurned him to further commit murder.
This particular story became a foundation of a legal system within the ancient Hebrew culture. Is it any wonder this ancient story still resonates, when so many of its concepts persist into institutions of the modern day?
P.S. The concepts, most especially pride, will serve as a foundation for historic and legendary crime stories from this point forward.
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.