The first episode of the Vacation Bible School Podcast is up, depending on your app. It’s on RSS, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket, Soundcloud, and Facebook lol. I’ve applied for an Apple page. Others like Overcast pull from Apple. Google will add it when it adds it. By the end of the week, it should be available everywhere. Lemme know if not.
Episode one begins in medias res, at the point Genesis’ forgotten stack of 2,500+-year-old authors chose to call “the beginning.” But so much happened before the beginning. A God is already here. He might be One of Several. There’s a void, and there’s reason to suspect the void’s infestation remains. And before someone wrote this beginning, someone else wrote it in Babylon. You can’t go three words into the 800,000-word book before tumbling into mystery.
My wife Emily joined as co-pastor, her first full podcast appearance. She once jumped on the Shutdown Fullcast for like one minute to tell the story of the time she burned down an apartment complex as a small child while trying to reheat a bag of McDonald’s. Fortunately, the story of Eden was familiar, also about innocent children ruining things in the name of snacks.
Also I now know the barest basics of podcast recording and editing. Pardon our progress.
For the time being, gonna aim for one or two eps per month. Don’t wanna overcommit. Also considering bonus eps, but one thing at a time.
As always, heap feedback on me, definitely including the constructive kind. If you have guests you’d like on our radar or any other suggestions, let ‘em fly.
Now, let’s talk Cain.
One thing Emily and I kept running into: there are so few details in the Genesis 1-5 mythology (not a bad word), you could talk about any single verse for hours.
Who was the snake? How’d it get there? Why’d it go rogue? What was the light of the universe before stars appeared? What is a “day?” Why did God think Adam might want to mate with a rhinoceros (implied, but I consider it canon)?
So few details, yet these are the most influential stories ever written. You can read anything into the stories of Creation and the story of the Fall. And BOY, people have done so!
Lots of traditions and fanfics and other religions have their own answers to these and dozens of other questions, and not one is completely satisfactory. That’s pretty fun! I’m using the word “fun” to breeze past the harms some people have done in the name of some stories. Let’s keep breezing!
Why did Cain kill Abel?
The simplest explanation is that God liked Abel more than He liked Cain, though this raises more questions. There was no way for Cain to know God would prefer Abel’s offering to Cain’s offering, unless Cain had access to theories on our whole Fallen World turning evil specifically because Eve got some fiber in her diet instead of protein.
In our podcast, I think we arrived at the idea that the most fruitful (Eden term) reading of Genesis 1-5 is less as a FLAWLESS CORNERSTONE OF ETERNAL RELIGION (but yet, it’s that too, if you want) or as a CHALLENGE TO SCIENCE (you don’t have to read it this way, no matter what people tell you), but as a family drama.
A creation story — as in, the literary subgenre populated by stories from every nation across thousands of years — explains how things became the way they are.
Genesis 1 is a decent guess at how the natural world came to be. With the benefit of scientific hindsight, we can note its authors/editors followed a logical progression, and did so via pleasing poetry.
Genesis 2 is a whole other, likely older story, presented as if we’re zooming back in on the creation of humanity. Now we’re explaining people. God gives Adam a whole planet, but it’s not enough. Genesis 2 tells us, above all else, that people need people.
Genesis 3-5 can be read as HEAVY THEOLOGICAL BEDROCK THAT MUST SYNC WITH EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS FOR THE NEXT ?,000 YEARS, but also as … family drama.
So why did Cain kill Abel?
Theories have abounded for thousands of years. Emily proposed one you’ll probably find believable, if you’ve ever interacted with humans.
The more I think about Cain, the more I think about …
… 2007’s Hot Rod, though this movie is the end result of all my thoughts anyway.
Rod, a terrible stuntman and the son of an inflated legend, will never earn his taunting stepdad’s approval, not via his body-ruining stuntwork, and not via direct violence.
Cain’s biological father, Adam, falls well short of legend, given the world and ending up as the guy who blames his wife instead of challenging a weird law in court. As the firstborn, Cain’s burden is to redeem a failed bloodline.
There’s going to be an offering to God. The first ever. The chance for our humans to show God they get it. Cain knows he has to not just impress Stepdad God, but also show his failed parents and little brother how it’s done.
After a day in the hot field, Cain spends all night assembling a shrine of a salad. A fifteen-foot monument of the best vegetables and fruits ever cultivated. For the first time in his cursed life, Cain stands back and feels proud of what his hands have done. At last, he deserves to be alive.
He’s surpassed his father as a farmer, but he did this for his father’s own benefit. If God shines on Cain, God shines on Adam as well.
Cain presents his offering with the confidence of an artisan, pointing out his chosen colors and textures, feeling his mother’s smile, and looking back up for God’s verdict.
And he sees Stepdad God wearing a bib covered in BBQ sauce, halfway into a meat coma, hand reaching into the back of Abel’s pickup truck for another hundred pounds of smoked mutton.
That’s it? That’s all you have to do? Slaughter something and dump the carcass somewhere?
“Why are you angry?” taunts Stepdad God, noticing Cain pouting in a corner. “Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Twice now, being a herbivore has been a sin.
Then God responded to Eve eating that fruit by killing animals and turning their flesh into clothes for His ashamed humans.
Then God responded to Cain’s zucchini ziggurat by guzzling blood.
Twice now, slaughter brought redemption. The wheels in Cain’s head are cranking toward carnage.
If Stepdad God only respects violence, then violence it is. Can’t exactly fight Stepdad God Himself, though somebody will pull it off later in Genesis. Next best thing.
The more perfect the pelt, the more approval Cain can win for himself and his parents (in Hot Rod terms: risking everything for the benefit of authority figures you were never, ever going to impress anyway). Time for Cain’s greatest stunt: killing the world’s greatest killer.
But it turns out Stepdad God hates the murder of His BBQ connect even more than He hates broccoli.
Cain tried to be the man he thought God wanted him to be, and he even tried taking that to the very extreme. It’s easy for us to say he should’ve known killing his brother would ruin him, but that’s because we’ve since seen it tried many times, and we are certain it’s a bad idea.
Cursed by God on top of Adam’s curse, Cain skateboards east with some conjured “wife” character and is, according to Extended Universe lore, either killed by another descendant of Adam or crushed by his own house, at the age of something like 900.
Jubilees 4:31: Cain was killed after [Adam] in the same year; for his house fell upon him and he died in the midst of his house, and he was killed by its stones; for with a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone was he killed in righteous judgment.
In the end, Hot Rod lands the stunt, saves his stepdad’s life, and earns a measure of approval.
But Cain spends 900 years haunted by that time he bet his brother’s life and his own soul on winning his Stepdad’s respect, and in this end, he looks up to confirm Stepdad God has held that stone over his head this entire time.
That’s 900 years of:
Rod: Here I am, Frank. Get ready to meet your maker.
[Stepdad Frank hits him in the face with crutches]
Rod: Oh, God! We hadn't even started yet!
Stepdad Frank: Never underestimate your opponent.
That’s a lot to read into some really vague text.
We can spin interpretations as best we can and try to find the human takeaways in all this stuff.
Or we can just do what we were taught to do in church as kids: say “Cain had the devil in him, so try not to get the devil in you,” and leave it at that.
I know which approach sounds more fun!
If you’ve read this far, thanks!
Let me know what you might like this newsletter to be and/or not be. Pretty wide open!
By the way, I’m writing a college football sci-fi/Western ebook with my friends Spencer Hall, Richard Johnson, and Alex Kirshner, and our pal Tyson Whiting is doing cool illustrations. The Sinful Seven is available for preorder here for $0.99 or whatever you want to pay, with 20% of profits going to Feeding America.
So far so awesome. I'm a lifelong atheist who had no real religious upbringing aside from going to church for a few years as a young child. I took a few religion classes in college just for fun and I now have a father-in-law who is a Lutheran minister. I've always had an interest in religions in general and how they were influenced by the times and cultures of their creators, and then how the religions came to influence the times and cultures of their followers. For years I've wanted to write a page-by-page modern translation of the Bible, as a culturally interested but decidedly non-Christian non-believer, inspired by the story of the KJV's commission/translation. So two months ago in the first days of the pandemic I had my chance and it's been a fun and fascinating journey. I stumbled upon this via Tom Ziller's basketball newsletter and it's almost like serendipity. Can't wait for more.
I’m a United Methodist Minister and mourning Shutdown Fullcast listener. In fact, my brother’s name was once made fun of on the show (Zach Tribble). This is hysterical. Happy to help in any way. I have far too much knowledge of various Bible stories.