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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919


SNYMAN, Gerrie F.. Figuring out Cain: Darwin, Spangenberg, and Cormon. Old testam. essays [online]. 2017, vol.30, n.2, pp.421-442. ISSN 2312-3621.

This essay responds to a question Prof. I. J. J. (Sakkie) Spangenberg asked the author at the 2015 meeting of the OTSSA with regard to the use of the OT in current South African discourse. It pertained to the use of an OT text in a context that is historically and culturally removed from the story: why is the figure of Cain used to illustrate perpetrator discourse in postapartheid society? The author argues that the figure of Cain draws, on the one hand, attention to the responsibility of South African whiteness towards apartheid and its after effects, and explores, on the other hand, the respons(e)-ability of ordinary (white) Bible readers in this regard. There are good reasons or warrants for focusing on Cain as perpetrator by accepting or adhering to the advice fostered by post-Holocaust hermeneutics in Germany as well as by criticism of archetypal myths in the cultural archive. In framing this responsibility and respons(e)-ability, a brief discussion of the German socio-political and religious discourse after the Holocaust and its relevance for thinking about Cain is provided, followed by an exploration of the value of Cain as an archetype in the cultural archive. Lastly, the essay will analyze Fernand Cormon's painting, Cain (1880) as part of the cultural archive in order to function as a heuristic key to interrogate evil and understand the figure of Cain.

Keywords : Cain; evil; Hannah Arendt; Holocaust; apartheid; Cormon; Spangenberg.

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