My title, “The Original Murder” will be understood by many readers, if not almost all, to refer to Cain’s murder of Abel, but I have in mind the very first murder, the one which Jesus pointed to when He said that Satan was a murderer “from the beginning.”
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from himself, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
What is “the beginning” that Jesus has in mind? The immediately following reference to the serpent/Dragon as a “liar” no doubt makes it clear that Jesus is referring to the temptation of Adam and Eve as the first murder in history. How does the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 constitute a murder? What motivated it? The answer to these questions, I believe, throws definitive light on Cain and his murder of Abel, as well as the psychology underlying mimetic violence.
But before we can even begin, we have to ask how we shall read Genesis 1-3. Modern “non-literal” readings tend to be non-literary as well. The text in Genesis itself is clear. God created the world in six days and at the end of those six days pronounced all things good.
“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished” (Genesis 1:31-2:1).
At the end of the sixth day, there is no evil in all the creation — not in heaven, where the angels have served God for six days and nights — nor on earth, where man was at peace with God and the world. Then, Genesis tells us, on the seventh day, God rested. It seems like we are told nothing more about what happened on that Sabbath, though the silence at the unremarked end of the seventh day is deafening. Why is the first Sabbath not said to be good? God sanctified it and rested. Why was it not “good”? Also, for Adam and the woman, it was their first full day. What did they do?
If we read the story as it is in Genesis — if we submit to the literary demands of the text — the clear implication is that the story of the temptation in Genesis 3 is the Sabbath- day story. After the creation of the woman near the end of the sixth day, the blessed two proceed to the tree of life to have their first meal. It is evening, the beginning of the seventh day, the Sabbath. God sent an animal to instruct them to aid them in thinking about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, just as He had previously instructed Adam through animals before He created the woman. Mankind was in its infancy and instruction through animals perfectly suited his psychological and spiritual condition.
But the animal God sent to offer helpful instruction to Adam and the woman decided to lie to them. Why? What happened? I believe at least two passages in the prophets help us to consider this. First, Ezekiel 28:12-19 offers a commentary of sorts on the psychology of the “anointed cherub,” one that makes sense of the story in Genesis, as well offering insight into Cain’s murder of Abel. Ezekiel speaks of the cherub as being “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (28:12), bedecked in precious jewels (28:13). Second, Isaiah speaks of “Lucifer” (“Day Star”) and his fall (Isaiah14:12).
Though Ezekiel is speaking of the Prince of Tyre and Isaiah of the king of Babylon, the unusual language they both use seems to point to the malevolent power behind them as well. Their pride and falls seem to follow a primordial angelic pattern.
Let us speculate. Imagine an angel, “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” being commissioned as a tutor to Adam and his bride. The angel sparkles like precious stones and has knowledge far beyond his “days.” When he looks upon Adam and his bride in — what he sees as — their frail naked immaturity, he despises them.
He becomes enraged toward God. “Why have you made these pathetic fleshly ‘animals’ to be Your special image, the crown of Your creation, while reducing me to the status of their tutor? Have you made me to live only to instruct them until some day they surpass me in glory and wisdom? Why have you done this? Is this your love? Am I supposed to rejoice in this? Shall I submit to this outrageous humiliation?”
Imagine, then, that this Day Star conceives such a profound hatred against God and resentment for God’s favoring man above him, that he decides on the spot to spoil God’s party. He cannot directly attack God because of a “power” imbalance. But the murderous passion that envy of man has birthed consumes him: He cannot rest till he destroys Adam’s rest in God. Since he cannot kill God, he does what he can. He tempts Adam to certain destruction, seducing him to taste the tree that he knows will do the trick.
The serpents words “God surely knows that in the day you eat thereof, you will become like God” thrust with the sword of implication. There is no direct statement of what he means. He does not say outright, God does not really love you or seek what is best for you. He does not assert that God is not good. But that is all included in what he does say because it perfectly reflects his own thoughts about God. Adam swallowed more than a bit of fruit.
When confronted by God, Adam had an answer. “It is her fault! Take revenge against her!” Of course, the woman had an answer, too. “It is the serpent/dragon’s fault! Judge him!” But the woman is more subtle than the man, for Adam also said, “The woman you gave me . . .” Which indicates clearly that he is not primarily blaming things on the woman, but on God. The wickedly wiser woman does not express it explicitly, but the point is the same. If the serpent/dragon was sent by God, then the serpent/dragon’s temptation is God’s fault. Both Adam and his bride have been psychologically and spiritually transformed into the image of the beast. They died.
Thus, the first murder was the result of envy. The greatest angel felt slighted because God loved and favored Adam more than him. Because Satan could not attack God — his true enemy — he murdered Adam, who was both rival and scapegoat. The origin of murder, violence, scapegoating was in Satan’s ardent antipathy toward God. He was a murderer from the beginning because of his resentment toward His Creator.
Was it not the same with Cain? Cain certainly knew that sacrifice required blood. After all, God took away the fig leaves from his parents and gave them animal skins. The “scapegoat” was the animal God provided to “cover” Adam and Eve (only so named after God gave the promise of life). This is the origin of sacred violence. Adam and Eve were to have died in the day they ate, but God opened the way for them to live by killing another in their place. Ancient pagan forms of scapegoating have their roots in a model made by God. This model also connects with the story of Abraham being commanded to offer his son as a sacrifice and, read in the light of the fulfillment, already implied that when the time was ripe, God would offer His Son as the true and final scapegoat.
Cain knew the story of his parent’s animal skins, but he rebelled in offering a non- bloody offering. Of course, God favored Abel. So whom did Cain hate? Abel? No doubt. It may have been rivalry with Abel that was the origin of Cain’s rebellion: “Why should I, the older brother, have to buy a lamb from him to offer?” But more importantly, Cain, like Satan before him, was furious with God Himself. Not being able to directly assault God, Cain murdered God’s beloved, just as Satan had done.
There is mimesis and rivalry here. But since man is created in God’s image, imitation cannot always be bad. The Son sees the Father and does what He does (John 5:19). Good mimesis is simply Trinitarian love. Moreover, the perversion of loving and respectful imitation, mimetic rivalry, is not simply a psychological phenomenon, for there is always a deeper spiritual dimension. Sinful man’s deepest motive and the source of envy, resentment, and the lust for revenge is antipathy to God Himself. The essence of sin is the burning passion of mankind’s hatred toward his Lord: Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
Ralph Smith is Pastor of Mitaka Evangelical Church in Tokyo, Japan.
Author’s Note: Numerous partially digested books and essays by Rene Girard, Moshe Halbertal’s book On Sacrifice, and books and essays (without number) by James Jordan and Peter Leithart provoked the thoughts expressed in the following essay, though I am sure I have not learned from these men all that I should have or expressed adequately that which I might have learned.