What’s a Pleasing Sacrifice?
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of the flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
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The concept of sacrifice, and the problems inherent in its practice, greet the reader of the Hebrew Bible almost immediately with the rival offerings of Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve.1 Cain prepares a vegetable offering while his brother slaughters and prepares an animal sacrifice. Both of these styles of sacrificial offerings are well known from the ancient world, and each has its appropriate place in later Israelite offerings. However, Cain’s offering is unacceptable to Yahweh (the personal name of the Israelite God) for vague reasons that surely could not have been anticipated by this sacrificing pioneer: “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4b–5a). Seemingly with justification, “Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5b). The very first instance of sacrificial offering in the Bible, then, is fraught with difficulty.

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