Jose Saramago’s (1922-2010) last book Cain is a delightful, frequently funny, heretical, mocking, feverishly anti-God, retelling of the early books of the Hebrew Bible. He is the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
According to Saramago’s book, no snake spoke to Eve in Eden and persuaded her to eat the forbidden apple; snakes can’t talk. It was a dream, and she followed her dream, and enticed Adam to do so as well. Adam felt guilty soon after he bit the apple and couldn’t swallow or regurgitate the apple; so it remained in his and his male descendant’s neck and is called Adam’s apple.
Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his bother Abel after God accepted the latter’s sacrifice and ignored Cain’s, despite Cain’s piety. Cain was actually the child of the angel that God set in front of the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from reentering it to gain food after God had expelled them for disobeying him. Eve granted the angel sexual favors for reentry to avoid starving.
God criticized Cain for Abel’s murder and Cain, in turn, charged God with complicity; he shouldn’t have shown undeserved favoritism to his brother. The two agree on a compromise of Cain’s sentence based on the shared responsibility for Abel’s death. Cain escaped capital punishment, but got a disfiguring mark on his forehead and was banished to wander, like an illegal alien without a country.
Contrary to what seems to be recorded in the Bible, there were other people present on earth at that time, many living in organized cities. Adam and Eve and their descendants were a special divine project, an experiment that didn’t work.
Cain drifts from place to place, like a protagonist in a sci-fi movie. He finds himself in one episode after another, moved by some force, not God, who doesn’t keep tract of him. The new place might be the present or the future. He is plucked back and forth, as in a roller coaster time-driven ride. He finds himself in a town called Nod where its queen takes a fancy to him and they engage in sexual escapades until the queen’s husband becomes tired of the affair and embarrassed, and tries to have Cain killed.
After this adventure, Cain finds himself following Abraham on a mission to sacrifice his son Isaac, and intervenes by seizing Abraham’s hand. An angel sent by God to stop Abraham arrives late due to a problem, he says, with one of his wings. Cain is then hurled back in time to watch the Tower of Babel incident, then shunted forwards in time to when God and two angels visit Abraham and Sarah and foretell Isaac’s birth, followed by a slight shift to Lot’s house and the destruction of Sodom, then to the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf, Joshua at Jericho where contrary to reports, the sun didn’t stand still, Job and his afflictions where God is complicit with Satan, and Noah and the flood.
The book is jammed with Cain’s disgust at the countless murders committed by God, at Sodom, the Tower of Babel, the golden calf, the flood, among others. Why, he wonders, was God disturbed at his single murder when he commits so many? He decides to take revenge against God.
The book is also packed with irreverent humor. Cain, for example, disputes with God whether Noah’s vessel containing so many animals can float. Saramago describes the horrendous unsanitary conditions in Noah’s ark. He reveals that, “Among themselves, the angels were happy to acknowledge that life in heaven was the most boring thing ever invented, with the chorus of angels constantly proclaiming to the four winds the lord’s greatness, generosity and even his beauty.”