Friday, May 7, 2010

Genesis 4:17-26's Cain vs. Seth

With Genesis 4:17-6:4, we enter arguably the most bizarre passage in the Bible.

In Gen 4:17, Cain finds a wife, fathers a son, and founds a city. Again, pro-creation immediately follows punishment in the narrative. And the city is interesting in light of God’s sentence of wandering. Beyond that, the Biblical view on cities leans strongly negative. It’s a long story with interesting implications, but I’ll leave it at another Kass quote: cities are “rooted in fear, greed, pride, violence, the desire for domination…the city’s aspiration to self-sufficiency”.

But where did Cain find his wife and who’s in his “city”? The most likely explanation is the passage of time and daughters of Adam and Eve who are not mentioned explicitly.

Genesis 4:18-24 lays out the first genealogy—Cain’s, with a focus on Lamech as a representative of ultimate evil. He’s the 7th from Adam; he starts polygamy, altering God’s ideal plan for marriage/family in the pursuit of power and legacy. With Lamech's kids, civilization flourishes with advancing technology and culture (incl. 22’s allusion to Bronze Age around 3000 BC). But there’s nothing of God or faith—a focus on the temporal rather than the eternal. Lamech proudly kills another who had wronged him—and shares it in an interesting combo of pride and poetry; strength and song.

Kass links Cain with Lamech and the civilization established/developed by Cain: from fratricide to wanting to rule over others. Both deny human equality; both seek to remove rivals and destroy “brotherly relations”.

In Genesis 4:25-26, we’re told about the 3rd (recorded) child, Seth—who explicitly replaces Abel and implicitly replaces Cain. This follows Adam and Eve's double loss. What could be worse than having a child die? Having your other child be the one who killed him. Almost in passing, verse 26 closes with “men began to call on the name of the Lord”—relatively impressive, especially in contrast to Cain's and Lamech’s noisy bragging.


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