I have long been interested in the subject of architecture, and specifically its relationship to matters of the human experience and our relationship to God and one another. This is connected of course to a fascination with and passion for the idea of the city (which also brings with it interesting points of historical study as well).
So I was super excited when the Bible Project peeps landed on “the city” as the subject of its latest series of podcasts. Thus far it has been quite interesting, if just scratching the surface of what is a broad theme. Perhaps most noted is how they begin with this simple question: how do we reconcile the scriptures presenting of the city as a symptom or product of the essential human problem (violence and division) with the idea that the city becomes a picture of the new creation. It’s an interesting question that weaves it’s way into a study of the patterns we find in Genesis 1-9 regarding the formation of the city. They help show how the story of Cain and Abel and the story of Babel are both parallel depictions of the city, simply from opposite ends (its building and its deconstruction)
One idea that has really stuck out for me as well is how they note the parallel of Cain’s “building” of the city with God’s building of Eve. In Genesis 1 and 2 the first time we see something described as “not good” is when mankind is seen to be alone. This problem is connected to the call to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth- to create- which humanity cannot do alone. The same structure and language is employed in the Cain and Abel story, only in this case it is from the perspective of living in the wilderness space rather than the garden space. When Cain kills Abel not only is he alone, but he notes the problem that “he will most surely die” (a callback to the Adam and Eve narrative). Where God “clothes” Adam and Eve, God marks Cain. The curious thing though is that the mark of Cain doesn’t just promise protection, it promises protection by way of breaking a cycle of perpetual reparation. As it reads,
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
Putting a stop to the cycle of violence comes in response to the fact that “anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over”. Certainly there is a correlation here to Jesus’ later command to forgive seventy times seven.
The ensuing contrast then comes in Cain’s failure to trust in Gods provision and protection. His building of the city, marked as it was in the ancient world by walls that would shut itsself out from external threats, becomes the basis of the portrait of violence based on perpetual repayment for death that then fills the earth.
Fast forward and what you have in the flood story is a reversal of the creation story (a decreation) meant to reset the story and begin to imagine it from the perspective of building a world in the way of God. As the Noah story indicates, death is still present in the wilderness space Noah occupies on the other side of the flood, and yet the promise of new creation follows in the image of the city, a city of contrasts. One in which the gates are never shut.
Further yet, what you then find in the story of Babel is a depiction of a built city being deconstructed. The organizing principle in Cain leading to the chaos of confusion. This also parallels with the same creation-decreation cycle that we find in the creation and flood stories.
Just an add on for fellow Winnipegers too. Cinematheque is currently showcasing their architecture and design in film festival. Schedule available here:https://www.winnipegfilmgroup.com/architecture-design-film-festival-april-26-30-2023/