Onslaught against Innocence: Cain, Abel and the Yahwist

By André LaCocque

An analytical study of the biblical myth of Cain and Abel, revealing the narrative intricacies and the profound insights of the story.

ISBN: 9780227173190


This is a literary-critical analysis of the myth of Cain and Abel, masterfully related in Genesis 4 by the Yahwist, probably the greatest storyteller in the Hebrew Bible. The Yahwist (commonly refered to as J, responsible for much of the Chapters 2-11 of Genesis) narrates the initial slaughter of one human being by another, and strikingly, it is described as fratricidal.

Onslaught Against Innocence explores the anthropological, theological, and psychological dimensions of this universal myth. LaCocque provides a close reading of J’s story by using literary and psychological criticism, revealing that the biblical author has more than an “archaeological” design. Rather, his characters – including God, Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel, plus minor figures – are paradigmatic, and as such they allow J to proceed with a fine analytical feel for the nature of evil. LaCocque shows that this well known story is much more than it seems at first sight; it is a portrait of a humanity that is always torn between the innocence of Eden and its denial; between what J calls “doing well” and “not doing well”.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

Dr André LaCocque is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Chicago Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Trial of Innocence, The Feminine Unconventional, and Romance, She Wrote, and the co-author (with Paul Ricoeur) of Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies.



1. Introduction
The Object of This Book. The Yahwist as Author. Date of Composition. Authorial Omniscience. A Matter of Temporality

2. The Anthropological Dimension
Cain Is an Agriculturist and Abel Is a Shepherd. The Brothers’ Sacrifices from a Phenomenological Viewpoint. The Introduction of Sin into the World. A Crux Interpretum – Verse 7. The First Crime. A Woman’s Glory and Her Sons’ Competition. The Oedipal Cain. In the Field. Alienation.

3. The Theological Dimension
Kinship Relations Belong to the Sacred. Soul Murder. God’s Favoritism? Sacrifice Revisited. The Divine and Human in Reciprocity. God’s Power – To Be Interpreted

4. The Psychological Dimension
Violence and the Sign upon Cain. Two in One. No Rehabilitation of Cain. Cain – A Tragic Figure? The Psychology of Abel, the Kin of Cain. Paranoia. Cain Builds the First City

5. Genealogy and Culture
Cain’s Genealogy in Genesis 4 (and 5). The Yahwist and the Origin of Culture and Civilization. The Song of Lamech. Hope Has the Last Word.

Index of Ancient Sources
Author Index


Endorsements and Reviews

Among Scripture interpreters, André LaCocque is a singular force because of his generative and restless mind that always seeks a new angle on the text. … The outcome of his interpretation is a vigorous, fresh reading of Genesis 4 as a primal statement of failure and possibility in Western culture. This book is an offer of his rich, suggestive interpretation and an example of how to connect what is ancient and thick to contemporary life.
Walter Brueggemann, author of A Pathway of Interpretation

André LaCocque is able to extract deep theological, psychological, and moral meanings out of a deceptively simple and often under-interpreted chapter of the Bible. This sophisticated yet accessible book will repay the attention of many types of readers – Jewish or Christian, religious or secular, with training in Biblical Studies or without.
Jon D. Levenson, author of Creation and the Persistence of Evil

This is a first-rate, highly original, contribution to biblical theology.
John J. Collins, author of Does the Bible Justify Violence?

This is a fine series of reflections, at home in exegesis and moral philosophy, and not afraid to ponder such difficulties as the absence of forgiveness in Genesis.
Richard Briggs, in Theological Book Review

In considering the comments of other scholars, [LaCocque] reiterates that the YHWH of J [the Yahwist] is not capricious, although unfathomable. What is particularly enthralling are the wide-ranging links that L. brings to his work from authors such as Dostoievsky, Kafka, Freud and Jung, to name but a few.
G.W. Ashby, in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol 35.5