Cain, Abel, and the Politics of God: An Agambenian reading of Genesis 4:1-16, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Cain, Abel, and the Politics of God

An Agambenian reading of Genesis 4:1-16, 1st Edition

By Julián Andrés González Holguín


192 pages

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pub: 2017-07-11
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The Genesis story of Cain’s murder of Abel is often told as a simplistic contrast between the innocence of Abel and the evil of Cain. This book subverts that reading of the Biblical text by utilising Giorgio Agamben’s concepts of homo sacer, the state of exception and the idea of sovereignty to re-examine this well-known tale of fratricide and bring to the fore its political implications.

Drawing from political theory, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, this book creates a theoretical framework from which to do two things: firstly, to describe and analyse the history of interpretation of Genesis 4:1-16, and secondly to propose an alternative reading of the Biblical text that incorporates other texts inside and outside of the Biblical canon. This intertextual analysis will highlight the motives of violence, law, divine rule, and the rejected as they emerge in different contexts and will evaluate them in an Agambenian framework.

The unique approach of this book makes it vital reading for any academic with interests in Biblical Studies and Theology and their interactions with politics and ethics.


‘This is a groundbreaking analysis of the famous biblical sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel, so crucial for the three Abrahamic religious traditions. In critical theoretical dialogue with Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, and Julia Kristeva, González adeptly transforms the classical interpretations of that first instance of homicide. Conscious of the centrality of that biblical saga for our literary and cultural traditions, González engages in a fruitful dialogue with Lord Byron’s play Cain: A Mystery. As a scholar of Latino heritage, he also holds an enlightening conversation with two of the most celebrated Latin American writers: Jorge Luis Borges and César Vallejo. This is an important contribution to the interpretation of one of the most perplexing and bewildering texts of the Hebrew sacred scriptures.’

Luis N. Rivera-Pagán, Henry Winters Luce Professor in Ecumenics Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA

‘Murder? He probes! González Holguín’s book is a significant and sophisticated study of the many "unsolved mysteries" involved in the first homicide and fratricide in human history narrated in the Hebrew Bible. Drawing from the scholarship of Agamben, Rancière, and Kristeva, González Holguín reads the reception history of this passage—within both biblical scholarship and the larger literary world—and relates Abel’s death to today’s questions about human rights and immigration. This book is wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and socio-politically relevant. Don’t miss it!’

Tat-siong Benny Liew, Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, USA

‘Cain, Abel, and the Politics of God is a groundbreaking re-interpretation of Gen. 4:1-16. It demonstrates that biblical studies can greatly profit from taking into account literary rewritings and re-interpretations of biblical stories, for it opens endless possibilities for a more complex and critical approach to those stories. In addressing the key issue of othering at the core of Abel and Cain story, Julián Andrés González excels in offering an innovative approach to it; he also illuminates the profound impact that bringing together literary and religious studies in illuminating and addressing social, human and political pressing issues of our time as well as convincing us of the urgent necessity of taking a stand, making a commitment in regard to those very issues. This is an exciting and timely study. Cain’s figure is no longer that "other" to be outcast; instead the killing of Abel paves the way to interrogate critically the role of the sovereign: God. In projecting the fate of the immigrant on the cursed Cain, González’s study unveils a sovereign power that very much relies on politics of exclusion, othering and devaluation of other lives. It takes a passionate stand for human rights precisely there where those rights remain in the parenthetical, precarious life of homo sacer.’

Professor Francisco Moran, Department of World Languages and Literatures, Southern Methodist University, USA

Cain, Abel, and the Politics of God succeeds in that most difficult of critical tasks, marrying the rigours of traditional scholarship to the imaginative powers of contemporary method. Marshalling writers from Agamben to Augustine, Philo to Foucault, this book offers a reading of immense richness that despite its complexity never overwhelms, never falters, never brays. Gonzalez’s Agambenian treatment of Genesis 4 is an important comment on the Bible’s political and philosophical currency, then, but equally important is its nature as a challenge to the sovereignty of the old disciplinary boundaries in the academic guild.’

Christopher Meredith, St Mary's University, Twickenham, UK

Table of Contents


1 Cain’s Evil Nature: A Story of Otherness

2 God’s Intervention: A Story of Othering

3 Cain Speaks Back to Augustine: A Critical Reading from Byron to Vallejo

4 Genesis 4:1-16: A Paradoxical Narrative


About the Author

Julián Andrés González Holguín is an assistant professor of Old Testament at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, USA. He is a steering committee member of AAR "Sacred Texts, Theory and Theological Construction" group, a graduate from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and a Latino migrant scholar raised in Colombia with interests in postcolonial, feminist, and political theory in the interpretation of texts.

About the Series

Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Biblical Criticism

The Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Biblical Criticism (RIPBC) series features volumes that engage substantially with Biblical literature from perspectives not traditionally associated with Biblical studies. This series aims at employing the best tools, theories, and insights from the sciences, philosophy, and beyond to yield fresh and demonstrable insights from the Biblical texts and from Biblical criticism itself.

Volumes in this series will typically have a dual emphasis between a field of study and Biblical scholarship, and accomplish at least one of the following:

  • Demonstrate why a particular field of study enables new insights in reading select biblical passages, texts, or corpora
  • Show how Biblical texts have anticipated themes and issues later approached in other disciplines, and can serve as an ancient conversation partner, or prescient critique, of those areas of study
  • Explain how a field of study offers a parallel insight into the methods or findings of Biblical criticism  

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Biblical Criticism & Interpretation / Old Testament
RELIGION / Biblical Studies / Old Testament
RELIGION / Biblical Studies / Exegesis & Hermeneutics
RELIGION / Christian Theology / Ethics
RELIGION / Theology