Friday, July 23, 2021

The Good Guy-Bad Guy Motif Fails


And Adam again had relations with his wife, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another seed in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD
[YHWH]. (Genesis 4:25-26)

Alice C. Linsley

In the Old Testament we find examples of the denigration of certain groups. The Moabites and Ammonites are slandered as the offspring of incest (Gen. 19:30-38). Ham's "son" Canaan (Gen. 10:6) is cursed for something his father/ancestor is said to have done (Gen. 9). Cain is cast as an unrepentant murder while his brother Seth is portrayed as righteous.

This good guy-bad guy motif is superficial. It does not stand up under closer investigation. If Ham's line is cursed, so is the line of his brother Shem because the descendants of Ham and Shem intermarried. Moses and David also murdered, and there is no textual evidence that Moses repented. David married the widowed Bathsheba, but their first son died as divine punishment for David’s adultery and murder of Uriah. David repented, and Bathsheba later gave birth to Solomon. However, God did not permit David to build the Temple because of his guilt and "bloody hands" (1 Chronicles 22:6-8).

The rulers listed in Genesis 4 (Cain's descendants) and Genesis 5 (Seth's descendants) intermarried. This is the earliest kinship data in the Bible about the Horite and Sethite Hebrew. Both groups called upon the name of the LORD. Genesis 4:26 indicates that name is YHWH, which reminds the reader that we are hearing from a source that lived long after the time of Cain and Seth.

In the diagram below, the left side lists Cain's descendants (Gen. 4) and the right side lists Seth's descendants (Gen. 5). Analysis of the kinship reveals the early Hebrew feature of the cousin bride's naming prerogative. These rulers had two wives. The second wife was usually a cousin. Her paternal ancestry is traced through the naming of her first-born son. The cousin bride named her first-born son after her father.

Looking at the diagram, we see that Kain's unnamed daughter married her cousin Enosh and named their first-born son Kenan/Kain after her father. Irad's unnamed daughter married her cousin Mahalalel and named their first-born sons Jared/Yared/Irad after her father. Lamech the Elder's daughter Naamah married her cousin Methuselah and named their first-born son Lamech.

Note that the triangle at the head of the diagram is the father of the wives of Cain and Seth and his name was a royal title, Enoch (Enosh or Enos).

The LXX uses epikaleisthai from "kalew" which means call, that is, to invoke the Name of the Lord/YHWH. This indicates a later source since there is no evidence that the name YHWH was known in the time of Cain and Seth. The Sethite and Horite Hebrew knew the High God by the names Ra or Anu. The High God's son was called Hor/Horus or Enki. In an attempt to portray these pre-Abrahamic rulers as bad guys, some Jewish writings (i.e., the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan) say that it was then that men began to "profane" the Name of the Lord.

St. John Chrysostom preached that Lamech the Elder repented and received mercy. Here is what he 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. John's interpretation is consistent with the Bible's message about God’s love, grace, and mercy, and departs from the interpretation which stresses that God destroyed Cain’s line in the flood. In fact, the text supports John 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. John’s understanding of Lamech’s speech to his two wives (Gen. 4) is brilliant. 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 his gransdon, Lamech the Younger (Gen. 5:26). Naamah is the clue to understanding the cousin bride's naming prerogative, an important feature of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the early Hebrew. He called her Naamah "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." (St. John Chrysostom's Homilies on Genesis, CUA Press, Vol. 74, p. 38)

St. John 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 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.) 

This is contrary to the scriptural evidence that the lines of Cain and Seth intermarried and that both are early Hebrew rulers. In the diagram below we see that Lamech the Elder's daughter Naamah married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah and named their first-born son Lamech, after her father. 

How easy it is to take the attitude that Cain and his descendants were sinners, but Seth’s descendants 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: The Mark of Cain; Hapiru, Habiru, 'Apiru, Hebrew; Horite Mounds; The Curse of Ham Falls Also on Shem; Royal Titles in Genesis; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People; Hebrew Rulers With Two Wives

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