The Brothers Karamazov

"Actually, people sometimes talk about man's 'bestial' cruelty, but that is being terribly unjust and offensive to the beasts..."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cain v. Abel: A Chronicle of the First Holocaust?

Racial memory can be vague and often skewed to reflect current attitudes or premises but ultimately its essence will not be denied. Many versions of this ancient saga of the brothers have appeared in the past and continue to this day. Most of the better known early versions such as in Genesis and the Koran agree on a few salient points. Cain was an agronomist and Abel an animal herder. They had sisters and the same mother and father. Cain slew Abel, married his sister and became an outcast. Considering the size of the remaining family we must also assume Cain becoming the father of a sizable portion of mankind.

The dominant archetype has been long been fratricide but a close follower is the conflict between agriculturists and herdsmen. A dispute over women also presents in several of the myths. This tale and its often repeated versions make it second only to the Adam and Eve myth among the revealed religions' earliest memories. The symbolism is clear enough regardless of the particular back stories. Evil has been done and good is the victim.

Assuming Cain, victorious, and the progenitor of most (all?) of mankind, does that not narrow human history unduly if these few archetypes are taken as the entire story? This devotes a lot of psychic or mystical energy in what is in effect an historical bottleneck. Usually when the mythology constricts the reality this severely, the real story has been fudged; the underlying reality too awesome to examine closer. After all, if one of only two brothers known to exist, has slain the other, this is most assuredly symbolic memory of some monstrous past event.

What may be hidden behind this small told tale of a truly dysfunctional family (and the first family, at that!) is what may have been the first Holocaust...genocide of epic proportions. The ancient recorders of this sad tale perhaps tapped into racial memories that did indeed include fratricide, male rivalry for females and conflict over territory but of a scope and duration occurring over an unimaginable span of time and resulting in an entire population having been totally annihilated.

At the onset, our own ancestors moved into the middle east from earlier homelands and encountered another group who had been established there for ages. There is no way of being certain where the two groups first met, perhaps in the Sinai, probably in the area of present day Israel. Also unknown are the results of these early meetings. Much can be deduced from the ultimate outcome of this intrusion by our group into the domain of these first inhabitants. The outcome was very likely omnicide that led in time to the total extinction of those inhabitants.

We weren't there and the evidence doesn't exist which would prove this theory conclusively. But knowledge of our violent history makes a fairly convincing case that the mythology prompting the tale of Cain and Abel reflects a tribal memory of a great wrong done an entire 'people' of which Abel is but symbolic. The term, people, is advised even though we are referring to an extinct species whose presence is known to us only through paleontology. But exist they did, and for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of our kind.

Evidence establishes their suzerainty over all of Europe from Germany to Gibralter and as far East as Afganistan and south to Israel as noted. They had occupied this vast territory for 150 thousand years before the newcomers began to intrude. When the newcomers appeared on the scene the inhabitants began to retreat. This was a slow process by modern standards but it happened so relentlessly that in thirty thousand years the inhabitants were pushed to the brink of/and over into, extinction.

They might have been our cousins although this is not necessarily the case. But they, Homo neanderthalensis , the Neanderthals, did share 99.5% of DNA with us, Cro-Magnon, A.K.A. modern man. How different were we? More to the point, how alike?
They; big brained, tool users, hunters of big game, and judging from grave sites, aware of human mortality.

A recurring theme in the Cain and Abel myth found in the Koran and in Armenian, Polish and Turkish tales, is the presence of a black bird. After the slaying a raven, symbol of darkness, sinister but wise in folklore, demonstrates how to dig a grave for Abel. A metaphor for Neanderthal practices observed by our ancestors, scorned at the time but later adopted. Perhaps? Included in the legend often enough to have credence is the Palestinian fable in which the raven also instructs Cain how to kill using a stone to crush Abel's skull.
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" The little bird was still very young and could not fly. The fall killed it. Adam and Eve looked at the dead bird and saw that it was a raven. Soon the old raven flew by, and when he saw that his young one was dead, he scratched a hole in the ground with his feet, and laid it inside. Then he scratched the hole full and flew away. Adam and Eve observed all this and followed the raven's example. They made a hole in the earth, laid Abel's corpse in it, and covered it with earth. This was the first human grave."
The First Grave
Source: Otto Knoop, "Das erste Grab," Ostmärkische Sagen, Märchen und Erzählungen (Lissa: Oskar Eulitz' Verlag, 1909), no. 73, p. 149. Translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2000.

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Neanderthal: Often regarded as an historical footnote when hagiographers recite the ascent of mankind. Much has been learned about these early inhabitants of the Eurasian invirons that would have not been known to the early scribes. What they did portray in the Cain and Abel tale may have been a racial memory of Neanderthal and what was done to him by our ancestors. Perhaps early man could not abide the competition Neanderthal represented as another aware creature who would be entitled to share the planet's treasures. Our tribe has great difficulty in tolerating competition. This propensity may have caused the total demise of an equally aware species that became the nagging specter of the first mass murder of innocents-the genocide- that inspired the story of Cain and Abel.

1 comment:

Yamin said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://toddlergirls.net

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