Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Were Cain and Abel Twins?


Alice C. Linsley


Susan Burns, a regular reader of Just Genesis and a fellow member of Open Anthropology Cooperative, has written an interesting and informative piece on Cain and Abel.  She and I agree that the textual evidence suggests that Cain and Abel were twins. Here is what Susan has written:

"Genesis 4: Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, 'I have gotten a man with the help of YHWH'. She again bare his brother Abel. The Hebrew word used for again (yasaph) is an adverb meaning to continue to do a thing. Yasaph implies that Eve gave birth to Cain and continued to do the same thing by giving birth to Abel. In other words, Cain and Abel were twins. The profession of Abel was shepherd and Cain was a farmer and city builder."

The tradition of twins as the progenitors of tribal units or city builders is well documented in Semitic and Indo-European cultures. Usually the first born ascends to the throne of his ruler father and the younger is sent away to establish a territory of his own. In the Bible most of the heroes are sent away sons: Cain the first ruler and city builder named in Genesis, Abraham the youngest son of Terah, Moses the youngest son of Amram, and David the youngest son of Jesse. There is also Joseph who was sent away by his envious brothers who sold him into slavery.

Coptic twins
In the Bible when birth order is specified, the younger twin receives the blessing over the first born brother. Such is the case with Rebecca's twins Esau and Jacob (Gen. 25:1-28) and with Tamar's twins Perez and Zerah (Gen. 38). In Jacob's case this switch results from deception. In the case of Tamar's twins the first to breach the womb had a scarlet cord tied to his arm, but then he pulled his arm in and his brothers was born first.

There are many variations on the theme of rivalry between twins. Jacob is fearful that Esau will kill him for attempting to steal his birthright. In Egyptian mythology Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) were twins. Romulus killed Remus, and in Celtic legend Gwyn and Gwythurin duel every May.The Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, shared a mortal and an immortal existence. Castor was killed on a cattle raid but Pollux persuaded Zeus to allow the brothers to switch places periodically. In Arabian mythology Pollux and Castor were regarded as twin peacocks.

It may be that Peleg and Joktan were twins, but the following wording does not carry the same suggestion as with Cain and Abel. "To Eber were born two sons: the first was called Peleg, because it was in his time that the earth was divided, and his brother was called Joktan. (Gen. 10:25)


Related reading: Sent Away Sons; Noah's Sons and Their Descendants; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People; From Cain to Jesus Christ; Cain's Murder of Abel


4 comments:

Dharmashaiva said...

The Indo-European root *ym appears as the Sanskrit Yama (a male) and Yami (a female), who were twins who were offspring of Surya, and who were the first humans, according to the Rig Veda, Book X.

Alice C. Linsley said...

That's intersting! Ym in the Hebrew means sea.

In a sense, the Adam and Eve story conveys the idea of twins, with the man coming forth from the earth as first-born and the woman coming forth from the man's rib, as the second born. Here the earth is masculine and the rib, which is like a rainbow of heaven, is feminine. In other words, there is a gender reversal since the earth is usually spoken of a mother and the heavens as father. Gender reversals in the Bible point to sacred mysteries and imply the inseparable nature of the opposites.

Sanda Cornett said...

I heard a preacher or should I call him a teacher of the Word, teach that Cain and Abel were twins, but one was from Satan, and the other from Adam. Eve was totally beguiled by the Serpent. We have heard of things like that happening with test tube babies.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Sanda, the notion that Cain was of Satan is not biblical. Cain received great mercy from God and his line intermarried with the line of his brother Seth. Lamech's daughter Naamah (Gen. 4) married his patrilineal cousin Methuselah (Gen. 5) and named their firstborn son Lamech after her father. This was the pattern for cousin brides. Likewise, the lines of Ham and Shem intermarried. That being the case, you would have to say that all the descendants of Cain and Seth are of the Devil, a ridiculous claim!

The promise of the Seed (Jesus Christ) concerns "the Woman" (Gen. 3:15). Eve isn't named until Genesis 3:20. Those who teach the Word of God rightly recognize that the Woman is Mary who brought forth the Son of God.