17 June 2022  |  Introduction by Mathilde Frey.

The story of Cain and Abel has been invoked in the wake of mass shootings numerous times. “Cain killed Abel with a rock, and God did not take away the rock.” Yes, I have seen the billboards and the memes, and I heard this message after every mass shooting since I came to this country, “Cain killed Abel with a rock. It’s a HEART problem, not a gun problem,” and then Jeremiah 17:9 gets cited, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” At which point, you are supposed to throw your hands up in defeat. People have been killing each other since the beginning of time; it’s all a byproduct of our sinful and fallen nature — so don’t blame the guns.

Bible scholars recognize in Genesis 4 an etiology of the world we all are a part of. It is a story of deceptive simplicity, but rich with ambiguity, suggestive linguistic features, and symbolism revealing naked truths that force us to meet ourselves and each other in the text. “Where is Abel your brother?” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “What have you done?” These questions are raised in the story, and also put before us. How will we answer?

Walter Brueggemann cautions that we must not offer explanations for what the biblical text leaves unsaid. On the other hand, to twist the story and make God into a gun master, to push for religion but push away the responsibility to act when human lives perish, when the bodies of children are blown apart, is a disregard for the sacredness of life.

Mathilde Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew at Walla Walla University.

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