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. Adam and Eve’s son Cain kills 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 escapes capital punishment, but gets a disfiguring mark
on his forehead and is 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 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,
as 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. For example, Cain disputes with God whether
Noah’s vessel containing so many animals can float. Another example is, “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.” Saramago also describes the horrendous unsanitary conditions in Noah’s