The sin theology of the Cain and Abel story: An analysis of narrative themes within the context of Genesis 1-11

Harold Shank, Marquette University

Abstract

Two developments in recent scholarly study of Genesis 1-11 converge in this dissertation. On one hand, Gerhard von Rad has identified the movement in the text from sin to punishment to mitigation; while Claus Westermann has analyzed the narrative pattern of sin, speech, and punishment within the Yahwistic Primeval History. On the other hand, David J. A. Clines represents those who seek, in a technical sense, the literary themes in this text of Scripture. The Cain and Abel story plays a key role in both areas. In line with the first development, this study investigates the theology of sin in the Cain and Abel episode, and, in keeping with the second achievement, this study demonstrates that sin theology within the theme of Genesis 1-11. This dissertation seeks to analyze the sin theology of the Cain and Abel story in the context of the theme of Genesis 1-11. This study defines a theme as the point or thesis of a narrative work. The issues or topics on which the theme comments are called objects. Based on previous scholarly study in Genesis 1-11 this study proposes that the theme of the material concerns the self-limitation of God. This theme is verified by comparing it to the central objects in each of the eleven pericopes in Primeval History. The proposed theme stands in contrast to the alternative view of sin/grace as the theme of Genesis 1-11 and offers a new context from which to view the sin theology of the material. This research reveals that the central focus of the Cain and Abel story is the relationship between Cain and the LORD and not the expansion of sin. As one of the factors in this rivalry, sin is personified. God permits sin to exist as an independent entity. Sin has a desire for Cain which Cain can master. Furthermore, within the context of the God-Cain relationship, sin emerges as a human responsibility. Thus the Cain and Abel story does not contribute to the notion about the spread of sin and grace. The theme of the self-limitation of God reflects a substantially different intent on the part of the final author of Genesis 1-11 than previously thought. The theme of God's self-limitation provides a new context within which to study some of the issues in the Primeval History and points to further research in those areas.

Recommended Citation

Harold Shank, "The sin theology of the Cain and Abel story: An analysis of narrative themes within the context of Genesis 1-11" (January 1, 1988). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8925440.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8925440

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