Discover more from Beginning: a Verse Translation of Genesis
Draft of Genesis 4:4-15
"Today You exile me from my father's namesake. An unbearable punishment! Hidden from You, a wastrel wandering the world, whoever finds me will kill me"
Greetings from the snowbound Pacific Northwest! Our house is warm, and we only had one pipe freeze. In your charity please pray for the two young men who’ve been sleeping in the entrance of the old bridal store in downtown Bellingham this week.
After many delays, I continue with the fourth chapter of Genesis. Cain kills Hevel. In this draft I translate האדמה as your father’s namesake. This is a clunky translation that probably won’t make the cut in the next round of revisions, but I’m trying to capture the shared name of Adam (אָדָם) and soil/ground (האדמה).
The ground drinking Hevel’s blood brings to mind many similar scenes from old Greek poetry.Rashi points out that the ground itself was already cursed: “More than the ground has already been cursed on account of its sin: in this, too, it has again sinned.”
The punishment of Cain is interesting because the Lord simultaneously punishes and protects him. St. John Chrysostom sees it as an example of God’s solicitude: “The punishment of which God spoke seems to be excessively harsh, but rightly understood it gives us a glimpse of his great solicitude. God wanted men of later times to exercise self-control. Therefore, he designed the kind of punishment that was capable of setting Cain free from his sin. If God had immediately destroyed him, Cain would have disappeared, his sin would have stayed concealed, and he would have remained unknown to men of later times. But as it is, God let him live a long time with that bodily tremor of his. The sight of Cain’s palsied limbs was a lesson for all he met. It served to teach all men and exhort them never to dare do what he had done, so that they might not suffer the same punishment. And Cain himself became a better man again. His trembling, his fear, the mental torment that never left him, his physical paralysis kept him, as it were, shackled. They kept him from leaping again to any other like deed of bold folly. They constantly reminded him of his former crime. Through them he achieved greater self-control in his soul.”In his initial questioning of Cain, the Lord gives him an opportunity to repent—St. Ephrem the Syrian says, “God appeared to Cain with kindness, so that if he repented, the sin of murder that his fingers had committed might be effaced by the compunction on his lips”—and the punishment of wandering the earth also makes repentance possible. (Compare Cain’s punishment with the punishment of Israel described in Deuteronomy 4:27-31.)
Now, the translation:
The Lord took in Hevel his offering To Cain and his nothing Cain looked down cheeks burning The Lord said to Cain "Why do you lower your face in anger? If you do well will you not be uplifted? If not sin will trip you at the gate will desire you you will be like it" Cain spoke to his brother stood by him in the field murdered him The Lord said to Cain "Where is Hevel your brother?" Cain said "I don't know Am I his guardian?" The Lord said "What have you done? your brother's blood calls to Me from the soil You are detested by your father's namesake which drinks your brother's blood from your hand If you work the land it will offer no strength to you a wastrel wandering the world" Cain replied "Today You exile me from my father's namesake an unbearable punishment! hidden from You a wastrel wandering the world whoever finds me will kill me" And the Lord to Cain, "To whoever kills you vengeance sevenfold" Thus the Lord marked him lest his finders kill him
The poet Kevin LaTorre is recording an audio version of the first two chapters of my translation. I will post a link when he finishes it.
חג אורים שמח and merry Christmas to all.
E.g., Odyssey book XI: “ I had made supplication to the tribes of the dead, I took the sheep and cut their throats over the pit, and the dark blood ran forth. Then there gathered from out of Erebus the spirits of those that are dead, brides, and unwedded youths, and toil-worn old men, and tender maidens with hearts yet new to sorrow,  and many, too, that had been wounded with bronze-tipped spears, men slain in fight, wearing their blood-stained armour. These came thronging in crowds about the pit from every side, with a wondrous cry; and pale fear seized me. Then I called to my comrades and bade them flay and burn  the sheep that lay there slain with the pitiless bronze, and to make prayer to the gods, to mighty Hades and dread Persephone. And I myself drew my sharp sword from beside my thigh and sat there, and would not suffer the powerless heads of the dead  to draw near to the blood until I had enquired of Teiresias.”
Cf. Rashi on Genesis 1:11: “…when Adam was cursed on account of his sin, it (the earth) was also visited (because of its sin) and was cursed also.”
Louth, A. – Conti, M. (ed.), Genesis 1–11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL 2001) 108.