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FROM CAIN AND ABEL TO ESAU AND JACOB Angel Barahona UniversidadComplutense, Madrid The theme of twins or of enemy brothers is one which fascinates anthropologists owing to its frequency, the beauty of its mythopoetic settings, and its social significance. The theme always appears in relation to fratricidal violence, and is always linked to myths offoundation or origin. Clyde Kluckhohn in his book about brothers "born in immediate sequence" reminds us that the death of one of them brings with it a momentary peace, the foundation ofa new social order. Thus it is not the fact ofbeing twins, or antagonistic brotherhood per se which is the key to the stories, but violence: Twins are impure in the same way that a warrior steeped in carnage is impure, or an incestuous couple, or a menstruating woman. All forms of violence lead back to violence. We overlook this fact because the primitive concept of a link between the loss ofdistinctions and violence is strange to us; butwe need only consider the calamities primitive people associate with twins to perceive the logic of this concept. Deadly epidemics can result from contact with twins, as can mysterious illnesses mat cause sterility in women and animals. Even more significant to us is the role oftwins in provoking discord among neighbors, a fatal collapse of ritual, the transgression of interdictions—in sort, their part in instigating asacrificial crisis....Behindthe image oftwins lurks the baleful aspectofthesacred, perceived as a disparate but formidableunified force. (Girard 1977, 58) All the mythological, literaryand historical accounts oftwinswhichwe have involve bloody conflict: Eteocles and Polyneices, Romulus and Remus, Richard the Lion Heart and John Lackland, and so on. To a 2 Angel Barahona surprising extent even the development of the different stories is similar. When Polynices departs from Thebes leaving his sister there, hoping to reign through her, he takes with him his fraternal conflict as if it were an attribute of his being. Wherever he goes his brother appears to him, and will oppose him to the death. When an oracle announced to Adrastrus that his two daughters would marry, respectively, a lion and a wild boar, animals which are different in their appearance but identical in their violence, it was presaging fraternal conflict. In Euripides' The Suppliant Women, the king tells how he came upon his sons-in-law. At his door, one night, Polynices and Tideus, both reduced to poverty, were quarreling furiously over possession ofa camp bed. Their brotherhood by virtue ofmarriage with two sisters brings them within the fraternalcategory, likeOedipus and Creon, orDionysus and Pentheus, rival cousins. A plot of land or a kingdom, a woman or an object, the status of firstborn or an unjust inheritance, all give pretexts for conflict. We cannot avoid conflict when desires converge on the same object. It is difficult for the brothers to be aware of their symmetry, their reciprocity, the intense violence which is hidden behind their brotherhood,—an awareness which might spare them their confrontations—because they never occupy the same positions atthe same time. The reciprocity is real, but it is the sum of non-reciprocal moments. The antagonists occupy the same positions in time, but successively, not simultaneously. The same acts and the same sentiments appear in cyclical alternation, but the brothers cannot directly observe their own reciprocity, and thus their identical nature, because they seem to be differentiated by the role which each one plays. Cain and Abel There are many stories ofconfrontations between brothers in Scripture, including those related to the rights of the first born. From Genesis 4,5 onwards we see how these are an interminable source ofconflicts. The first example, Cain and Abel: "And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell" anticipates the themes ofthe blessing and the looking at the face. And we can observe the games of symmetry with the language: "the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but forCain and his offering he had no regard." Cain and Abel are presented as an agriculturalist and as a shepherd respectively, two forms ofsocial life. In this quarrel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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