Friday, July 21, 2006

Cain and Abel and Corn-Mother

While working on my cycle of poems about Adam and Eve, I returned to Genesis 4:1-8. In thinking about the difference between Cain, the first born, and Abel, the second, it is obvious that the struggle arises between the agriculturist and the shepherd. One sacrifices produce and the other blood. As I was thinking about this difference, it struck me that what is really occurring here is a struggle between an older polytheistic matriarchal society and a newer monotheistic patriarchal one.

Vegetation or agriculture was traditionally controlled by female gods, such as Isis and Demeter, something that would have been abhorrent to the early Hebrews. Consequently, Cain is aligned with the corn-mother or the corn-goddess, while Abel is associated with the very male Hebrew "Lord." The offering of grain and corn is no longer sufficient; instead, the male "Lord" requires blood to be spilt and a life sacrificed.

This interpretation seems plausible when we discover that an ur-text is the Sumerian tale The Wooing of Inanna. This story tells of the ancient conflict between nomadic herders and settled agrarian farmers. Dumuzi, the god of shepherds, and Enkimdu, the god of farmers, compete for Ianna, the chief goddess. Because Dumuzi is brash and aggressive, he wins the favor of Inanna and Enkimdu relents and tells Inanna to marry Dumuzi. Later he wanders away like Cain.

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