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uni'wissen 1-2013_ENG

“The distressing contradiction does not stun the priests, scholars, philosophers, and poets” Sin lies at Cain’s door: “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him,” warns God, as the first son of Adam and Eve gets angry with his brother Abel. The rest of the biblical story is well known: Cain, the farmer, attacks and kills his brother Abel, the shepherd, because God prefers the latter. Cain becomes the first murderer in human history, Abel the first victim. The roles seem clearly assigned, but is this really the case? Isn’t God the one responsible for causing the jealousy between the siblings and hence for bringing about the tragedy? And doesn’t Cain show courage by taking a stand against this arbitrary act? The question of who is good and who is evil is all a matter of perspective, finds Gabrielle Ober- hänsli­Widmer. The Freiburg Jewish studies professor has conducted research on images of evil in Judaism. The tree of knowledge, the chaos monsters Leviathan and Behemoth, the brother killer Cain, the fallen angels, the evil impulse, the rebellious Esau, the sacrifice of Isaac: On the basis of seven biblical figures, the Jewish studies professor investigated how the notion of evil has changed from century to century in the course of Jewish history. “There has been a 180­degree change in the interpretation of some of them. A figure one era rejects as the epitome of all evil is revered by the next as a tragic hero.” Cain is the best example of such a reversal. While the scholars of classical and late antiquity condemned him as a bloodthirsty murderer, he has been viewed since the early modern period with a more sympathetic eye. “In the course of the Enlightenment, religion and the role of God were increasingly called into question. Humans began to take center stage as rationally acting and self­determined individuals,” says Oberhänsli­ Widmer. The English Romantic poet Lord Byron, for example, praises Cain in a play in 1821 as a kind of Prometheus who struggles against a self­ righteous god in search of truth. In the mid­20th 33