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Genesis 4:8-9

Context

4:8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” 1  While they were in the field, Cain attacked 2  his brother 3  Abel and killed him.

4:9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 4  And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?” 5 

1 tc The MT has simply “and Cain said to Abel his brother,” omitting Cain’s words to Abel. It is possible that the elliptical text is original. Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, “a sudden silence” to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field. It is more likely that the ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac), which include Cain’s words, “Let’s go out to the field,” preserve the original reading here. After writing אָחִיו (’akhiyv, “his brother”), a scribe’s eye may have jumped to the end of the form בַּשָּׂדֶה (basadeh, “to the field”) and accidentally omitted the quotation. This would be an error of virtual homoioteleuton. In older phases of the Hebrew script the sequence יו (yod-vav) on אָחִיו is graphically similar to the final ה (he) on בַּשָּׂדֶה.

2 tn Heb “arose against” (in a hostile sense).

3 sn The word “brother” appears six times in vv. 8-11, stressing the shocking nature of Cain’s fratricide (see 1 John 3:12).

4 sn Where is Abel your brother? Again the Lord confronts a guilty sinner with a rhetorical question (see Gen 3:9-13), asking for an explanation of what has happened.

5 tn Heb “The one guarding my brother [am] I?”

sn Am I my brother’s guardian? Cain lies and then responds with a defiant rhetorical question of his own in which he repudiates any responsibility for his brother. But his question is ironic, for he is responsible for his brother’s fate, especially if he wanted to kill him. See P. A. Riemann, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Int 24 (1970): 482-91.



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