Thursday, 30 August 2007
The Mark of Cain
I want to acknowledge the kindness of Samuel Martin in sending me a copy of his small book What Was the Mark of Cain? These comments follow from reading it.
The first thing to say is that Mark of Cain can be read in a single sitting, and that's a refreshing change from the weighty tomes that afflict most people studying biblical issues. The second is to assure prospective readers that the material is eminently readable. In many ways Mark of Cain is comparable to the style of literature once produced by the church: it doesn't assume a familiarity with theological verbiage or send you off to check a dictionary with every second page.
Martin's proposal is an interesting one. The murder of Abel was a crime committed in the passion of youth. Cain had not yet reached his majority, and Abel was even younger. This explains, according to the author, why the death penalty was not exacted. Cain's exile to the land of Nod is a reference to a state of mourning: Cain became the first Nazarite, letting his hair grow. This was the mark of Cain.
Exactly how Samuel Martin arrives at these conclusions is beyond the scope of this short review, but I enjoyed his line of argument immensely. If your curiosity is aroused, you can discover how to order a copy of What Was the Mark of Cain? from the author's website.
Is Martin's case convincing? I'm not so sure. Mark of Cain makes assumptions about the authorship of the Pentateuch/Torah that I find problematic. Martin writes:
"It is essential (in the view of the author) to believe that Moses was the author, compiler or first editor of almost all sections of the first five books of the Bible."
Here I differ from Martin, though traditional COG brethren will be less skeptical. Even more basic is the assumption that Genesis relates real history. Was there truly a garden called Eden in prehistory, a place which we might find if we had H. G. Wells' Time Machine at our disposal, or are we dealing with another genre altogether? Is the reason why temple symbolism exists in Genesis a wonderful prefiguring of what was yet far in the future, or an indication that the real authors wrote at a time when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and that they retrojected that symbolism back on the mythical past? To suggest that some kind of Nazarite vow was operative in Adam's lifetime seems to me to risk making a case based on an obvious anachronism. That said, Martin's presentation is engaging.
Mark of Cain is the first in a projected series by Samuel Martin called "Studies in Genesis". If future installments are as stimulating as this one, then fans of the late Ernest Martin will be well pleased.