Thursday, July 26, 2007

St. Chrysostom on Lamech

© 1998 Alice C. Linsley
Lamech Segment: Genesis 4

Explanation of Symbols
O Female Δ Male
= Marriage
/ Line of descent
_ Siblings

Those following this research on Genesis know that Lamech the Elder and Lamech the Younger are of great significance. Their relationship sheds light on the kinship pattern that characterized rulers among Abraham's people. To understand how the two Lamechs are related, we must consider Naamah, sister of Tubal-Cain.

St. John Chrysostom didn't know that Naamah married her cousin, Methuselah, but he did know that she was important. He called her "Noeman" and said about her, "Well, now for the first time it refers to females, making mention of one by name. This was not done idly, or to no purpose; instead the blessed author has done this to draw our attention to something lying hidden." (Chrysostom's Homilies on Genesis, CUA Press, Vol. 74, p. 38)

How did this great preacher, teacher and pastor of the early Church know? Because he believed that everything in Scriptures is written for our edification, instruction and correction.

Genesis 4 tells us that Lamech had two wives. This was typical of Afro-Asiatic chiefs before Abraham and after Abraham. Lamech is unusual however. Unlike other chiefs, he maintained his wives in separate households on an east-west axis. The location of the wives is significant because their positions marked the boundaries of the chief’s territory.

Among the Neolithic Afro-Asiatic peoples God’s emblem was the sun. We see remnants of this in the Psalms where it speaks of God riding the sun as a chariot. The Creator's territory was marked by the sun’s rising in the east and setting in the west. So when Lamech positioned his two wives on an east-west axis he was setting himself up as an equal to God. The Hebrew scholar, Theodor Gaster, noted that the names of Lamech's wives: Adah and Zillah, mean “dawn” and “dust”.

The key to understanding the kinship pattern is Naamah, Lamech's daughter. As can be seen from the diagram above, she married her patrilineal parallel cousin Methuselah (Gen. 5:26) and named their first-born son Lamech, after her father. This pattern is evident throughout the Genesis 4 and 5 geneological record. Cain's daughter married her cousin Enosh and named their first-born son Kenan. Kain (or Cain) and Kenan are linguistically equivalent names. Irad's daughter married her cousin Mahalalel and named their first-born son Jared. Irad and Jared are linguistically equivalent. Methushael's daughter married her cousin Enoch and named their first-born son Methuselah, again linguistically equivalent names. So it is evident that the pattern is consistent throughout the Genesis 4 and 5 record.

Discovering this kinship pattern has taken time because until modern biblical scholarship regularlized the names, the linguistic equivalents were not obvious.

In his homilies on Genesis St. Chrysostom, who used the Septuagint, gives the name Gaidad instead of the more accurate Irad. St. Ephrem the Syrian used the Aramaic and possibly the Syriac and his name for Irad was Edar. The confusion surrounding the person of Irad has for centuries made it difficult to discover the kinship pattern, so the Fathers can't be blamed for not discovering it. And yet, blessed Chrysostom recognized that Naamah is mentioned "to call our attention to something lying hidden."


Anam Cara said...

This is all quite fascinating, but I have to wonder: so what?

What difference does this make to faith if grandsons were named after the grandfather? If it is important, why was it hidden? What do the people gain who solve the mystery over those who never even know there was a mystery?

How does this information edify? If this is simply instruction, how much does it matter if we miss this "class"? How would this correct something in our lives that needs correction?

And, most important, how should we live (change our lives?) in light of this information?

All I can think is that this would prevent a man's line from dying out due to lack of male offspring. It would mean that my daddy, who had four daughters, would have had at least two children named after him (Two of his daughters had a male child first, while another had first a girl, then a boy. The forth only had girls.). Is that what we are supposed to get from this, that male lines never died out?

Again, so what difference does that make to us in our "modern" lives? How should we live in light of that information?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Our faith is not based on this information. It is based on the Apostolic witness that Jesus is God Incarnate, that He died and rose again and is alive as Head of the Church and that by grace we have been made a part of his Body. Our faith rests on the divine Person of Jesus Christ, the very image of the Father, to whom the Holy Spirit witnesses and the angels ever sing praise.

This information matters because it affects the way we understand or interpret the Bible. It points us to God's love for us sinners, an undeserved love. It is part of a larger pattern that is seen throughout the Bible. Here we find again the idea that one line is chosen, but the other line is still blessed. This happens between brothers all the way through the Bible. Moses was chosen over his brothers Aaron and Korah, but even Korah's rebellion against Moses' authority does not lead to his being cut off from the land of the living (Numbers 26:11). Abraham is chosen over his brothers (like Moses and David, Abraham was the youngest) and yet his brother Nahor is blessed by God also. When we assume that Lamech's line was destroyed we impose something on the text that the text does not support and which is in fact contrary to the message God is communicating to us.

If anyone deserved to be "cut off from the land of the living" (no progeny) it was the braggart and murderer Lamech who set himself up as God. Yet God allowed Lamech's line to continue and to flow into the line of Messiah. St. John Chrysosotom has edifying comments on this unfathomable grace as it relates to Lamech. I will post on this next.

(Anam Cara, you are always at least one step ahead of me! God bless you!)

hopellen said...

Yes...Everything God does demonstrates His grace. I truly appreciate the concept that "some are chosen, yet the others are blessed." Oh, that those that are blessed might choose to belong to the "chosen" through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior.

farstrider said...


Fascinating as always. I wonder about a connection that you seem to be drawing, though. Within the "box" you write:

"Further exploration of this segment reveals that the bride named her firstborn son after her father, suggesting that the son belonged to her father’s house while the bride belonged to her father’s house. Levi-Strauss observed in 1949 that in a patrilineal system, mother and child do not belong to the same clan."

And then within the main text you write, "Their relationship sheds light on the kinship pattern that characterized rulers among Abraham's people."

It is late and I've been parsing verbs all day, so I may be missing something, but... I'll speak on.

How do the relationships and the naming of Lamech's son tell us anything about the kinship patterns of rulers among Abraham's people?

From Genesis 12 on we never (or at least rarely) see this custom of a bride naming her firstborn son after her father-- and this includes those in Abraham's line. Moreover, Abraham's sons are very clearly of his clan, and not Sarah's father's and the same goes for his descendants. Consider also the later priestly and kingly lines-- all follow the lines we would expect: father to son to grandson and so on.

I have trouble accepting Levi Strauss's observations as well. Most "patrilineal" societies (which is to say most societies by far) do not operate the way he suggests they do. Perhaps he was speaking of certain patrilineal societies in a very specific context?

My first reaction, anyway.



Alice C. Linsley said...


A few things to keep in mind.

The kinship pattern I'm describing pertains only to chiefs, those who ascend to the governance of their father's territory.

Before one could ascend, he had to have two wives. This explains Abraham's urgency to see Isaac with a (second?) wife before he dies. Why does it appear that Rebekah is a second wife? Notice where the servant brings her to meet Isaac? Not to Hebron, Sarah's home, but to Beersheba, Keturah's home. Isaac apparently had already married a half-sister, as Abraham had done when he married Sarah (and as Terah had done before Abraham, and Nahor before Terah).

The proper marriage arrangement for chiefs among Abraham's people was a half-sister and a patrilineal parallel cousin. Keturah was a patrilineal parallel cousin to Abraham. From her were born to Abraham 5 sons. None of these were to ascend to govern Abraham's territory extending from Hebron to Beersheba. That territory would be ruled by Isaac, but Isaac still had to live and cooperate with his 5 brothers, some of whom were very important. (Midian is the progenitor of the Midianites who will later help Moses bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses married 2 wives, one was Cushite and the other was a Midianite patrilineal parallel cousin, Zipporah.)

The bride's naming prerogative is to designate to whom the first-born son belonged. Half-sisters didn't need to name their first-born sons after their fathers because those sons already belonged to the ruling father. Patrilineal parallel cousins often did name their first born son after their fathers, especially if the son might ascend. This is because the bride belonged to her husband's house, but the first born son of the cousin bride belonged to the bride's father's house.

Cain and Seth were brothers. They married their patrilineal parallel cousins who named their first born sons after their father, Enoch/Nok. From this we understand that Genesis 4 and 5 represents an ancient intact genealogical segment that was regarded as honorable among Abraham's descendents. But it is not about the house of Adam. It is about the house of Nok.

I'll be writing more on this when I post on the genealogy of Moses.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hope, this from Donne (d. 1631)says it all.

"God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons. But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies. In paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn: his mercies are ever in their maturity…

He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring. Though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintered, and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries. All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons."

John Donne, quoted in Ordinary Graces, Edited by Lorraine Kisly

Alice C. Linsley said...

Farstrider, I have given additional information relative to your questions here: