Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Anonymous Asks (7)

“If Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, shouldn’t those be the only people on earth? Because when Cain kills Abel, Cain is scared that someone will kill him. But at that time, no one else existed. So who was Cain’s wife?”

Okay, well, let’s start by acknowledging that the Bible doesn’t give us explicit answers to many of our technical questions about the early days of the human race, especially in areas of study that are not spiritually significant. So we cannot say with any biblical authority how Cain got his wife. No Bible student can.

That said, let’s not imagine that either the human writer of Genesis or those who told the story for centuries before him were unintelligent men and women. They were not.

Âwân for the Road

When the story of Cain and Abel was repeated generation after generation and eventually written down for us, it was not by oversight that Cain’s wife was left unidentified, or because the ancients had never thought about the problem she poses. The people who told and heard the story were just as aware as we are that the account raised interesting questions, and yet the version told in sacred texts seems to have been repeated more or less the same way for thousands of years.

Interesting, no?

In point of fact, quite early on, religious literature began to ask (and answer) these same questions. The Book of Jubilees (sort of an alt-Genesis that has been floating around religious circles since at least a couple hundred years before Christ) says Cain’s wife was a woman named Âwân (Jubilees 4:9), the third child of Adam and Eve (4:1), born somewhere between 78 and 84 years after Creation (4:1). Obviously we have no idea whether these statements are true or semi-pious fiction. The Book of Jubilees shows indications of having been written many years after Genesis and has never been held to be inspired by any Christians other than a small Ethiopian Orthodox group. But regardless, it appears the question of Cain’s wife was of interest to readers thousands of years ago. Âwân — Cain’s younger sister — was one of the answers proposed and accepted.

Part of the problem people have with the early chapters of Genesis is that much of what we take for granted about these stories is simply not present in the text — such as the statement that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an apple.

Three Unchallenged Assumptions

Here are three of the more common (and probably false) assumptions made about the Cain and Abel story:

First assumption: Eve had given birth to only Cain and Abel at the time of the first murder. We have no evidence of this. In fact, it is fairly unlikely given normal female fecundity and the absence of modern birth control. With very few exceptions, the genealogical records of ancient cultures list only males, and usually only those males who are in some way relevant to the stories that follow them. Sure, it’s possible Cain and Abel are named in the first verses of Genesis 4 because they were the only humans born prior to Cain’s murder of Abel, but it seems far more likely to me they are named because the sacrifice/murder narrative that follows necessitates introducing these two men specifically. Eve saw Seth (born after Abel’s murder) as uniquely God’s replacement for Abel, but the text does not allow us to say with any certainty how many other children Eve bore to Adam before and after Seth, only that she (probably) stopped having children between the murder and Seth’s conception — and with good reason, it may be argued.

Second assumption: Cain killed Abel very early in human history. If you Google search images of Cain and Abel, you will find that they are very often portrayed as young adults or even teens. But that is a modern notion. People didn’t always think that. The Book of Jubilees, for instance, puts the first murder more than a century into human history (4:2). Again, we cannot say whether Jubilees is correct, but we can say it presents a picture we’re not used to, and which the ancients were. The Bible does not say how old Adam was when he fathered either Cain or Abel, but it does tell us that he was 130 when he fathered Seth. This being the case, depending how soon after the Fall Cain and Abel were born, it would not be unusual for both brothers to have fathered children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren prior to Abel’s murder. There could have been all kinds of people seeking vengeance on Cain.

Third assumption: Cain’s fear of reprisal would only have been legitimate if there already existed a significant number of other people to hunt him down. This does not follow. Even if you completely reject my first two points and prefer the story that Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel were the only four persons alive at the time Cain murdered his brother, Cain was still an intelligent man who (i) knew he had committed a historic, life-changing crime; and (ii) had obviously figured out how babies are born. Further, he had every reason to expect he would live a good long time; he had never yet seen a natural death. He may well have assumed his deed would be remembered and vengeance sought by generations yet unborn. He may have feared his father or mother. Since he does not specify who it is he fears (he merely says “whoever”), we cannot say one way or the other.

The Dreaded Wife

In any case, Genesis tells us Cain settled in Nod, east of Eden, then adds rather abruptly that he “knew his wife, and she conceived”. Again, it is unwise to make assumptions that are not clearly spelled out of us, but it reads as if Cain’s wife relocated to Nod with him.

Whether or not you buy into the Âwân story in the Book of Jubilees, it is obvious Cain’s wife had to be some sort of very close relative, a scenario that would not have offended the patriarchs (after all, God did not formally forbid such marriages until hundreds of years later). In fact, Abram married his own half-sister, and both Isaac and Jacob traveled a considerable distance to find wives from within their extended families. Doing so was considered greatly preferable to marrying outside the family.

Any other explanation of the origin of Cain’s wife requires information we simply do not have.

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