There was an interesting discussion in our Sabbath School class recently. It was posited by one or two of the members that in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel it is logical to assume that God had instructed the brothers upon how to present offering to God. What I found interesting about this attempt to retell the Genesis story is that it conflates logical with traditional. First is it logical to assume facts not present in a story? Well yes to a certain degree, we could assume that when telling a story about human beings that the humans breathe air, they carry on the same physiological activities as any other human. That we could say is a logical assumption. Now are we still in the land of logical assumptions if in the Cain and Abel story we assume that angels came by and told them how to turn lead into gold? We would say no that is not in any way connected to the story it would not be logical.
The problem comes when we assume logical and really mean traditional. There is a long tradition of the assumption that Cain and Abel or even Adam and Eve were taught about offerings and sacrifices. The traditions of the sacrificial system are assumed to be present in these stories because the sacrifices later on played an important role in the Jewish tradition. Then when Christianity saw Jesus as the focus of the sacrificial system they redefined the stories to make Jesus included in the assumptions of sacrifice instructions which were never referred to in the Genesis stories at all.
Thus what was traditional…the long standing assumptions move into the realm of logical. The two become one even though they are very different. This becomes a real problem when we seek to understand the ancient stories and what they originally intended to convey. Traditions can so color the story as to make it practically unrecognizable. We see this more clearly when we examine how the Midrash adds to the story:
And Cain had words with Abel his brother (4:8)
About what did they quarrel? "Come," said they, "let us divide the world." Cain took the land, and Abel took other the movables (the cattle). Said Cain: "The land you stand on is mine"; retorted Abel, "The clothes you are wearing are mine." One said: "Strip!"; the other said "Fly!" Out of this quarrel, Cain rose up against his brother Abel.
Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in Rabbi Levi's name: Both took land and both took movables, but about what did they quarrel? One said: "The Holy Temple must be built in my area," while the other claimed, "It must be built in mine."
Judah ben Ami said: Their quarrel was over the first Eve. Said Rabbi Aibu: The first Eve had returned to dust. Then about what was their quarrel? Said Rabbi Huna: An additional twin was born with Abel and each claimed her. (According to the Midrash, twin sisters were born together with Cain and Abel for them to marry--one with Cain and two with Abel.) The one claimed: "I will have her, because I am the firstborn"; while the other maintained: "She is mine, because she was born with me."(Midrash Rabbah)You can move anything into the realm of tradition. But logic on the other hand has to have some contextual certainty. It requires reliable inference and that is much different from traditions and assumptions that produce traditions. With assumptions you can create a completely different story then the one that was written down. It may have good lessons or it may have absurd lessons. But if you want to know what the story was trying to say you have to limit your assumptions to the information provided and this becomes very difficult when tradition trades places with logic.