Monday, July 30, 2007

St. John Chrysostom on Lamech's Speech

Alice C. Linsley

The more I read of St. John Chrysostom's writings the more I am in awe of his insights. What grace was given to him!  What breadth of understanding! 

St. John’s interpretation of Lamech’s speech to his two wives is absolutely brilliant and unfortunately, largely ignored. What he says about Lamech the Elder and his daughter Naamah sheds light on the text and clarifies the confusion surrounding the persons of Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4:23) and Lamech the Younger, his grandson (Gen. 5:26).

The confusion arises from the assumption that the two Lamechs are the same person, and that the genealogical lists in Genesis 4 and 5 are about the same people, but from different sources or traditions. This assumption of mid-century source critics assigns the chapter 4 list to the Yahwist source and the chapter 5 list to the Priestly source. Von Rad and E.A. Speiser promoted this interpretation in their commentaries on Genesis and many versions of the Bible assume that this interpretation is correct, noting the similarity of names in the two lists (Irad/Jared; Enoch/Enosh).

However, using the tools of kinship analysis developed by E.L. Schusky in his Manual for Kinship Analysis, it is possible to show that the king lists in Genesis 4 and 5 represent two distinct lines of descent and that these ruling lines intermarried.

This information influences the way we 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. For one thing, this overturns the idea that Cain's line died out.  It also indicates that God never abandoned Cain and his descendants.

The Genesis king lists indicate that the ruler-priests listed in Genesis were of Nilotic origin or Kushite ethnicity. Further, though one line is chosen as the principal line to move the biblical narrative forward, the other line is blessed as well. This theme occurs between brothers all the way through the Bible. Abraham was chosen over his older brother Nahor, but both lines were blessed.  David was chosen over his older brothers, but all of Jesse's house was blessed. Moses was chosen over his older 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).  When we assume that Lamech's line was destroyed by God we impose something on the text that the text does not support.  It is a message contrary to the message God is communicating to us.

God's Love and Faithfulness to Sinners

Lamech is an example of God's love and faithfulness to sinners. 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, and it is he who noted that Naamah, Lamech's daughter is probably the key to understanding Lamech's story.

St. John didn't know that Naamah married her cousin, Methuselah, and named their firstborn son after her father (Gen. 5:26). However, he knew 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)

Cain's line continues to the time of Jesus Christ because, as Naamah's marriage to her patrilineal cousin or uncle reveals, the lines of Cain and Seth exclsuively intermarried.  This is a trait of castes, and the Horites were a caste of ruler-priests to whom God showed great mercy.

Here is what Chrysostom said concerning Lamech, the Elder: By confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brings to light what Cain tried to hide from God and “by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

St. Chrysostom’s interpretation is consistent with the Bible's message about God’s love, grace and mercy, and departs from the interpretation found in Bibles today which stress that God destroyed Cain’s line in the flood. In fact, the text supports Chrysostom’s view, as we will see through tracing the number 7 from Cain to Lamech, the Younger. Let us look at the number symbolism to see that Chrysostom’s interpretation is indeed upheld.

The number 7 represents new life, grace and renewal. Cain murdered and tried to hide his crime from God. Cain’s just punishment was death, yet God showed him grace by sparing his life. Instead Cain was to be exiled from his people. Even then God shows Cain grace by placing a mark on him, not a brand of shame, but a protecting sign. Reflecting on this great grace shown to his ancestor, Lamech challenges God to show him greater grace. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech, the Elder, by confessing his sin, claims a greater measure of grace (77). Lamech, the Younger is assigned even greater grace because he is said to have lived 777 years. This younger Lamech is the son of Methuselah and Naamah, and the father of Noah.

St. Chrysostom recognized the story of Lamech to be about God’s mercy shown to sinners. He placed the emphasis exactly where it should be. Other interpretations reflect spiritual pride. Consider how this is so.

The Jewish Study Bible claims that the “poem of Lamech” attests to the violence associated with Lamech’s ancestor, Cain, and “to the increasing evil of the human race.” But apparently the interpreters exclude themselves from the human race because they go on to state: “The people of Israel will emerge from the lineage of the younger son’s replacement [that is from Seth], not from that of the murderous first born [that is Cain].” (The Jewish Study Bible, p. 20. Parenthesis mine.)

How easy it is to take the attitude that Cain and his descendents were sinners, but Seth’s descendents were righteous. Yet the lines intermarried and God showed grace to both, even allowing Lamech’s daughter, Naamah, to bear the righteous Lamech, father of Noah, ancestor of Abraham, David and Jesus Messiah.

Related reading:  Who Were the Horites?; St. John Chrysostom on Lamech; The Seventh Seal and Silence in Heaven; Lamech's Story and Horite Kinship


Anam Cara said...


This is wonderful. I know I am one who always thought that all the decendents of Cain perished in the flood. It never occurred to me that there would have been intermarriage with the "godly" line.

And yet, don't we always talk about God's love? - that God showed his love by sending His only-begotten Son? So even Cain finds a form of redemption through his decendents.

I would not go so far as to say that ALL are "saved" and go to heaven. God is merciful, but there is always justice, too. And it is vital that we put our trust in Him for that salvation, not believing that we can do it on our own. But what a fantastic revelation.

Now, I suppose if I took the time, I could figure this out myself, but perhaps you know off the top of your head....

If God punishs to the third and fourth generations (Exodus and Deuteronomy), but shows mercy to the thousandth generation - at what point did Cain's line intermarry with Seth's? Is it shortly after the end of the "punished" generations?

My next question (and it's a doozy):

In light of one line chosen, but both blessed, how are we to relate to problems today stirred up by anomosity/jealousy between the decendents of Ishmael and Isaac? Certainly Isaac was chosen. If Ishmael is also blessed, what is it that we as Christians (and spiritual decendents of Abraham through Isaac) should be doing?

My immediate thought is that we are to treat ALL people with respect, love, humility. But is there something in particular that we should be doing in the above case (other than "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."(Psalm 122)

Alice C. Linsley said...

Question #1: Does universal blessing mean universal salvation?

No. That would be contrary to Bible teaching and the Church’s received tradition. The great urgency of the Apostles to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ came from their recognition that eternal souls were being lost.

Question #2: How soon did Cain and Seth’s line intermarry?

Cain’s daughter (not mentioned explicitly in Genesis) married her cousin Enosh and named their firstborn son Kenan, after her father Cain. (The Hebrew spelling of Cain takes K, rather than C.)

Question #3: In light of one line chosen, but both blessed, how are we to relate to problems today stirred up by animosity/jealousy between the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac? Certainly Isaac was chosen. If Ishmael is also blessed, what is it that we as Christians (and spiritual descendents of Abraham through Isaac) should be doing?

Paul teaches that Gentile Christians are spiritually grafted into Abraham’s line. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendents and God fulfilled that in many ways. From Abraham, by his 2 wives and Hagar, came many peoples: Israelites, Palestinians, Bedouins of the Negev and Sinai, Midianites and Edomites. Through Jesus Christ God grafts into Abraham’s line all others who place their trust in Him. We belong to a large household!

The animosity between Arabs and Jews is due to many factors, but we should realize that Jews and Arabs have lived side by side for many thousands of years and have had times of relative peace. Violence breaks out in different places when greed, desire for power, and outside agitation stirs loyalties to take offense against something that has been said or done and to direct it against the perceived enemy. The great losers in these conflicts are Palestinian Christians, an easy target of both Jews and Muslim Arabs. In addition to praying for the peace of Jerusalem, I would say that we should also pray for Palestinian Christians. They are frequently harassed, their lands illegally confiscated and their lives endangered.

Hopie said...

This is something that I have not caught all the years we have discussed you research...the intermarriage of the "sons of promise" and the "sons of blessed."
It just shows how great is God's grace!

"How shall we then live?"...the famous question of Francis Schaeffer's book of the same title...demonstrating His wonderful grace as best we can and identifying it as His.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hopie, I'm so glad you're my sister. You've been a strong influence on my faith and a godly model of what it means to be a Christian.

I hope I haven't bored you through all these years with my Genesis research! If so, you've been too gracious to show it. Thanks for putting up with me.

TLF+ said...

Grace across the generations expressed in "sevens" - is this directly behind what our Lord says: Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." ???

My last congregation was St. John Chrysostom... I always delighted in finding gems from his preaching to share with the people there.

Alice C. Linsley said...

A lovely connection, Father. I'm sure this is what our Lord had in mind. How can we who are recipients of such great mercy, not extend it to others? It is not at the very heart of the Gospel?

As I recently wrote for another blog: "Right thoughts and actions, those that are according to God’s will, are prompted and empowered by grace. More than that, our very existence is by that same grace which fills all things. Paul teaches that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ and our lives are hidden in Christ. This being so, every virtuous thought and every good thing is to the praise of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

We do well to remember this when we feel proud of being good, for only as we give credit fully to God’s grace at work in and through all things, do we as Christians have an authentic witness."

Hopie said...

You have stumped me, bewildered me, confused me, challenged me, but NEVER have you bored me, Alice. Our Dad would be proud of you...He always said it was a sin to bore someone with scripture study or the Gospel!

Anonymous said...

I was looking for a place to post this and this seems as good a place as any. I have been reading your blog recently from the beginning to see if I could follow your thoughts. I read in one post that you did not believe that there was a literal "Adam" and "Eve". I am also wondering if this includes a historic garden of Eden as well.

Previously you wrote:

"Adam and Eve are the mythological first parents of the Afro-Asiatic peoples. They are not to be regarded as historical persons, as evidenced by their symbolic names".

I am not sure how this proves that they were not historical persons. Do not all names hold symbolic value? What is the evidence? Even if their names carried with it certain meaning, I can't see why this would necessarily mean that they did not exist? I am writing this here because your post has to do with St.John Chrysostom. It seems like many of the fathers, Chrysostom in particular, believed in a literal approach to the Scriptures but not the way that protestants today use this approach. From reading other excerpts from Chrysostom, he seems to hold to the fact that everything in Genesis literally happened, just not exactly how it is stated and word for word, as a scientific text book, such as many today try and prove. He also states that the rivers are mentioned near the Garden in order to show that this was a literal place and not an allegory of a heavenly realm or state of being. In another post, I believe that I read that you believed in the Christ centered interpretation of the Scriptures but from what I have read, this approach is not so concerned about proving historical facts because when we do this we often miss the point. I guess the point would be that Christ is in and behind everything and has been, is and will be. I am not saying that your research is not of value but I am wondering to what degree it is important to our knowledge of Christ, which can only be revealed in and through Himself and the Church. It is possible that you answer many of these things in other posts but it will take me some time to read through the majority of them. Please forgive me for any assumption that I inadvertently make here. In Christ, SW

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Church Fathers do not take a uniform approach to the interpretation of Genesis. That is why I have argued that there is not Orthodox approach to Genesis. You may want to read some of the Fathers on Genesis. Click on the INDEX and scroll to the heading "Fathers". You will find the piece of St. Ephrem the Syrian especially helpful, I think.

I believe that there was a garden and that it was on the Atlantic coast of modern day Nigeria (not far from the present city of Lagos. You can read about this in teh essay titled "Is the Land of Nod the Region of Nok?"

Adam and Eve may have been historical people, but there is no evidence in Genesis to support that. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence to support that Cain and Seth were historical and that they married the daughters of an African chief named Nok. You may want to read "Cain's Princess Bride".