Cain and Abel

When the skeptic is desirous of justifying his skepticism, he turns quite commonly to the Old Testament, and from its pages he has no difficulty in producing some story so extremely unethical as, in his opinion, to justify all the animadversion he may be capable of. Of course if the skeptic is a scholar, he is much more careful than if he belongs to the family of those who still believe in verbal inspiration, even to the extent of "that blessed word Mesopotamia." The critic knows that you cannot judge an Eastern book, written centuries before the Christian era, by the standard of Christian apologetics of to-day. He knows that the Eastern writer indulged in almost breathless imagery, with the result that one metaphor tripped over the heels of another metaphor until to the consciousness of a modern Westerner an approximation had been made to the standard of Sir Boyle Roche. The writer of Isaiah, for instance, thought nothing of importing three contradictory metaphors into a single sentence, nor did it ever occur to the prophet Joel that if he talked of the moon being turned into blood, anybody would imagine that he was referring to anything but an eclipse. Therefore when the skeptic aims all his heaviest artillery at the story of Cain and Abel, and explains how God was only satisfied with the blood of a lamb, when He might have been appeased with the fruit of the earth, he is leaving out of sight one or two interesting facts. First of all, the Old Testament represents the highest religious thought of the period in which it was written, but not the highest religious thought man was capable of attaining to. There is much in the story of Jehovah which is of the earth earthy, but compared with the story of the deities of Egypt and Babylon, of Syria and of Assyria, it is exactly the advance which might have been expected from the writers of a people which had at least turned from polytheism to monotheism.

Then, again, it has to be remembered that the writers of these books did not mean all they said to be taken absolutely literally. They took the history of a nation, and used it as a means of driving home certain moral lessons. Thus it might be true that, judged by the standard of the day, Abel's sacrifice showed a greater love of Principle than that of Cain, inasmuch as it offered what was more valuable to the giver. Abraham, indeed, went even further than Abel, in this respect, when he proposed to offer the greatest of his possessions, Isaac, as a sacrifice. But the writer of the Pentateuch, intent upon turning the thoughts of men from the hideous Moloch worship of their day toward the sacrifice rather of animals, drove home his lesson by the story of the ram caught by its horns in the thicket, which was to be substituted for the boy. In just the same way, the Pentateuch writer uses the story of Cain and Abel, not merely to prove the willingness of Abel, acting in accordance with the ideals of his time, to sacrifice more for Principle than Cain, but, as a metaphor, to show, as Mrs. Eddy points out, on page 541 of Science and Health, that it is the spiritual lesson to be drawn from the story, and not the mere material facts of the story, which constitutes the value of the record. "Had God," she asks, "more respect for the homage bestowed through a gentle animal than for the worship expressed by Cain's fruit?" And she answers, "No; but the lamb was a more spiritual type of even the human concept of Love than the herbs of the ground could be."

The Health of Children
August 28, 1920

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