The most interesting thing in reading the Cain and Abel story this time was in the differences between the Japanese and English translations.

The first is a pun in the Japanese which I don’t know for sure whether it’s reflective of the original Hebrew or not. When Cain got “very angry, and his countenance fell” (v 5), in Japanese the phrase “his countenance fell” is kao o fuseta. But fuseru, the word that means “to turn downward” can also mean “to lay an ambush,” so when God warns him that “sin is lurking at the door” (v 7), in Japanese that’s tsumi wa toguchi ni machifuseteori.”

Speaking of God’s response to Cain’s anger, the NRSV quotes him as saying, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (v 6-7) In the Japanese, translated, it reads “Why are you angry? Why have you turned down your face? If you are right, then should you not raise your face/lift your head?” I’ve been trying to figure out whether there’s a cultural significance to raising your head in Japanese that has something to do with being accepted, but that will take some looking into.

Then Cain talks to Abel, and in the NRSV it gives him a line, “Let us go out to the field.” (v 8) The NCT completely lacks this sentence, and looking at the footnotes for the NRSV, apparently the Masoretic Hebrew text doesn’t either. The Masoretic Text is the standard for the Jewish Canon and dates back to the 10th century,and the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that it hadn’t changed much since texts dating back a millennium before that. But the NRSV adds the sentence in because it’s found in the Samarian, Greek, and Syrian versions, and I guess the idea is that it might have been dropped out in the Masoretic at some point. It doesn’t really matter in terms of the story, but it does show how translation involves a lot of decision making, not just plugging words into a dictionary.

Another thing that struck me is that this story may read somewhat differently to someone Japanese than to an English speaker. In Japanese, you can’t say brother or sister without specifying whether they’re older or younger. Thus, when Cain famously says “am I my brother’s keeper?” (9), in Japanese he says “am I my younger brother’s keeper?” And from a Confucian perspective, yes, he is! Older siblings have a lot of responsibility for the younger ones, and obviously straight-up killing your little brother would be a complete betrayal of those responsibilities.

There’s a lot of continuity errors in this story. Abel is offering up lambs in spite of the fact that thus far nobody eats meat – or isn’t supposed to, anyway. Is that a mistake, or is that the secret to why his offering his accepted, only we moderns can’t figure it out? Cain has a wife, presumably his sister, but then again, who is he afraid that he will randomly meet who will want to kill him? Is he assuming he’ll live a couple of centuries like everyone else in the family (wait until next chapter) and has to worry about great-nieces and nephews? Or is it just mom and dad? And given that his descendents apparently created civilization – herding (v 20), music (v 21), and metallurgy (v 22) – and those descendents seem to still be around, in spite of a massive flood that supposedly killed everyone…were Noah’s son’s wives presumably descended from Cain??

If you try to parse this out as a historical event, there are too many holes. I’ll talk more about this in the next chapter, but sometimes I feel as though we’re getting the abridged version of a much longer, more elaborate epic that the Biblical editors just didn’t have time to compile and collect in full.

A lot of new Japanese this time: uigo (firstborn child), fuseru (for both meanings), tsuibou (exile), sasurau (to wander), chinande (named after), and seidou (bronze).

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