Monday, 25 January 2016

Cain and the Cavemen

Cain must have been a worried man.  In a short span of time he'd failed to please God and he'd offed his brother.  God had pronounced sentence against him, condemning him to be a wanderer on the face of the earth.  Cain complained that "I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me".  God must have accepted the justice of the complaint, because he said that
whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him (Genesis 4:14-15).
Cain, clearly, was worried about people aside from his parents Adam and Eve, and from somewhere he'd managed to acquire a wife and a sufficient labour force to build a city (Genesis 4:17).

Image from here

The reason this is sticking in my mind is because of the story in the news recently that certain common food allergies may be down to the sharing of DNA between Homo Sapiens (arising about 40,000 years ago) and Neanderthals (arising about 125,000 years ago).  The idea that modern humans simply absorbed the older Neanderthal population has been around for a long time (1).  It's now accepted that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens existed simultaneously, and that the latter were far more numerous than former (2).  One population being absorbed into the other is nothing if not plausible.

Image from here

Is it too much to suggest that Cain's story should be read as an allegory of the encounter and ultimate union between these two forms of humanity?  I can't imagine a way in which this might be proven: The last identifiable Neanderthal population seems to have died out about 26,000 years ago; the earliest known writing dates from 8,600 years ago (3), and the earliest form of the Book of Genesis seems to have been written down around 3000 years ago.

Perhaps, though, proof is not what's needed.  Even the possibility that the one reflects the other is a suggestion that its author well understood what it means to be part of a rootless, guilt-stained humanity making its way in the world.  One would have to hope that in our day leaders will follow the example of the mercy shown to Cain, and show compassion even for spillers of human blood.
(1) Kenneth F. Weaver, 'The Search for our Ancestors' (1985) 168 National Geographic 560 at 617.
(2) Marc Mennessier, 'Homo sapiens et Neandertal ont coexisté', Le Figaro, 30 October 2012; idem, 'Neandertal aurait été submergé par le nombre', Le Figaro, 28 July 2011.
(3) Marc Mennessier, 'Les néandertaliens espagnols prennent un coup de vieux', Le Figaro, 7 February 2013; Paul Rincon, '"Earliest writing" found in China', BBC News, 17 April 2003.

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