Victoria & Albert Museum, London/Art Resource, NY

Cain (upper right) offers grain to God, who spurns it in favor of the meat sacrifice of his brother Abel (upper left), in this 12th-century Flemish illumination. The bottom scene shows the memorable consequences: His offering spurned, Cain slays his brother in jealousy.

We never learn why God rejected Cain’s offering, but the Bible is full of stories of sacrifices that pleased God and ones that didn’t. As Bryan Bibb shows in the accompanying article, the bewilderingly complex rules and regulations governing sacrifice in ancient Israel may reflect the wide variety of local religious traditions that existed throughout the land before the Bible was written.