Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Were Cain and Abel Twins?

Alice C. Linsley

Susan Burns, a 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 ancient 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. Most of the heroes of the Bible are sent away sons. Cain, Nimrod, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David are examples, and all but Joseph were responsible for the death of other people. Cain killed Abel. Nimrod was a mighty hunter and a kingdom builder who forged his territory through conquest. Abraham killed in combat. Moses took the life of an Egyptian slave driver, and David killed Goliath and arranged for the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband.

Cain was the first ruler and city builder named in Genesis. Abraham the youngest son of Terah, built his territory between Hebron and Beersheba and Engedi and Gerar. Moses the youngest son of Amram, did not receive a territory. David the youngest son of Jesse, forged a kingdom in Judah and Galilee. Joseph became a ruler in Egypt. Birth order and the status of the man's mother are factors that must be considered in understanding the pattern of sent-away sons as kingdom builders. The firt born son of the ruler's half-sister wife was never sent away. He ascended to the throne of his biological father. The first born son of the ruler's patrilineal cousin/niece bride served as a prime minister in the territory of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. Other sons were given gifts and sent away to establish territories of their own (Gen. 25:6).

Coptic twins
The pattern in Bible for twins also involves birth order,but it is the younger twin who receives the blessing over the first born. 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 brother 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: Twins, Sent-Away Sons, and Heirs to the ThroneSent 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; The Kushite Marriage Pattern Drove Expansion Out of Africa; Cain as Ruler


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.

Anonymous said...

I have read that the word "to-sef" in Genesis 4:2 can mean to continue the same action or to repeat the same action again at a later time. If Cain and Abel were twins, does it not seem strange that the first twins to come into existence are not highlighted as such? Especially since the birth of twins with different characters is emphasized in later accounts? (Esau & Jacob and Perez & Zerah)

I think Cain and Abel were not twins. I believe that the first two verses of Genesis 4 contain a prophetic type of the virgin birth of Jesus. Cain's birth is directly connected by the text to Adam "knowing" Eve. The text does not directly connect Abel's birth to Adam's knowing Eve unless the meaning of the word "to-sef" is taken to mean a continuous action (as opposed to a repetition of that action). If "to-sef" is taken to mean "the same action repeated again at a later time", then we have the birth of Abel apart from any mention of Adam knowing Eve.

The subsequent mention of Adam knowing Eve again prior to the birth of Seth would bracket Abel's birth in between two occasions of sons being born through Adam knowing Eve.

Alice Linsley said...

This article speculates about the possibility that Kain and Seth might have been twins. I make no definitive statement on this. I want to raise the question.