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Legends of the Jews

by Louis Ginzberg


Volume I: Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Volume II: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Volume III: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Volume IV: Title | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |
Volume I

III. THE TEN GENERATIONS--THE BIRTH OF CAIN--FRATRICIDE--THE PUNISHMENT OF CAIN--THE INHABITANTS OF THE SEVEN EARTHS--THE DESCENDANTS OF CAIN--THE DESCENDANTS OF ADAM AND LILITH--SETH AND HIS DESCENDANTS--ENOSH--THE FALL OF THE ANGELS--ENOCH, RULER AND TEACHER--THE ASCENSION OF ENOCH--THE TRANSLATION OF ENOCH--METHUSELAH

THE TEN GENERATIONS

THE PUNISHMENT OF CAIN

The manner of Abel's death was the most cruel conceivable. Not knowing what injury was fatal, Cain pelted all parts of his body with stones, until one struck him on the neck and inflicted death.

After committing the murder, Cain resolved to flee, saying, "My parents will demand account of me concerning Abel, for there is no other human being on earth." This thought had but passed through his mind when God appeared unto him, and addressed him in these words: "Before thy parents thou canst flee, but canst thou go out from My presence, too? 'Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?' Alas for Abel that he showed thee mercy, and refrained from killing thee, when he had thee in his power! Alas that he granted thee the opportunity of slaying him!"

Questioned by God, "Where is Abel thy brother?" Cain answered: "Am I my brother's keeper? Thou art He who holdest watch over all creatures, and yet Thou demandest account of me! True, I slew him, but Thou didst create the evil inclination in me. Thou guardest all things; why, then, didst Thou permit me to slay him? Thou didst Thyself slay him, for hadst Thou looked with a favorable countenance toward my offering as toward his, I had had no reason for envying him, and I had not slain him." But God said, "The voice of thy brother's blood issuing from his many wounds crieth out against thee, and likewise the blood of all the pious who might have sprung from the loins of Abel."

Also the soul of Abel denounced the murderer, for she could find rest nowhere. She could neither soar heavenward, nor abide in the grave with her body, for no human soul had done either before. But Cain still refused to confess his guilt. He insisted that he had never seen a man killed, and how was he to suppose that the stones which he threw at Abel would take his life? Then, on account of Cain, God cursed the ground, that it might not yield fruit unto him. With a single punishment both Cain and the earth were chastised, the earth because it retained the corpse of Abel, and did not cast it above ground.

In the obduracy of his heart, Cain spake: "O Lord of the world! Are there informers who denounce men before Thee? My parents are the only living human beings, and they know naught of my deed. Thou abidest in the heavens, and how shouldst Thou know what things happen on earth?" God said in reply: "Thou fool! I carry the whole world. I have made it, and I will bear it"--a reply that gave Cain the opportunity of feigning repentance. "Thou bearest the whole world," he said, "and my sin Thou canst not bear? Verily, mine iniquity is too great to be borne! Yet, yesterday Thou didst banish my father from Thy presence, to-day Thou dost banish me. In sooth, it will be said, it is Thy way to banish."

Although this was but dissimulation, and not true repentance, yet God granted Cain pardon, and removed the half of his chastisement from him. Originally, the decree had condemned him to be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. Now he was no longer to roam about forever, but a fugitive he was to remain. And so much was hard enough to have to suffer, for the earth quaked under Cain, and all the animals, the wild and the tame, among them the accursed serpent, gathered together and essayed to devour him in order to avenge the innocent blood of Abel. Finally Cain could bear it no longer, and, breaking out in tears, he cried: "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?" To protect him from the onslaught of the beasts, God inscribed one letter of His Holy Name upon his forehead," and furthermore He addressed the animals: "Cain's punishment shall not be like unto the punishment of future murderers. He has shed blood, but there was none to give him instruction. Henceforth, however, he who slays another shall himself be slain." Then God gave him the dog as a protection against the wild beasts, and to mark him as a sinner, He afflicted him with leprosy.

Cain's repentance, insincere though it was, bore a good result. When Adam met him, and inquired what doom had been decreed against him, Cain told how his repentance had propitiated God, and Adam exclaimed, "So potent is repentance, and I knew it not!" Thereupon he composed a hymn of praise to God, beginning with the words, "It is a good thing to confess thy sins unto the Lord!"

The crime committed by Cain had baneful consequences, not for himself alone, but for the whole of nature also. Before, the fruits which the earth bore unto him when he tilled the ground had tasted like the fruits of Paradise. Now his labor produced naught but thorns and thistles. The ground changed and deteriorated at the very moment of Abel's violent end. The trees and the plants in the part of the earth whereon the victim lived refused to yield their fruits, on account of their grief over him, and only at the birth of Seth those that grew in the portion belonging to Abel began to flourish and bear again. But never did they resume their former powers. While, before, the vine had borne nine hundred and twenty-six different varieties of fruit, it now brought forth but one kind. And so it was with all other species. They will regain their pristine powers only in the world to come.

Nature was modified also by the burial of the corpse of Abel. For a long time it lay there exposed, above ground, because Adam and Eve knew not what to do with it. They sat beside it and wept, while the faithful dog of Abel kept guard that birds and beasts did it no harm. On a sudden, the mourning parents observed how a raven scratched the earth away in one spot, and then hid a dead bird of his own kind in the ground. Adam, following the example of the raven, buried the body of Abel, and the raven was rewarded by God. His young are born with white feathers, wherefore the old birds desert them, not recognizing them as their offspring. They take them for serpents. God feeds them until their plumage turns black, and the parent birds return to them. As an additional reward, God grants their petition when the ravens pray for rain.


Volume I: Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Volume II: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Volume III: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Volume IV: Title | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |


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