Barry Newman's Blog

July 20, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part II)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:00 pm

Genesis 4: 1 -16 – Cain and Abel

“Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the LORD (Yahweh) I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD (Yahweh). But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD (Yahweh) looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD (Yahweh) said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD (Yahweh) said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

The LORD (And he) said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’

Cain said to the LORD (Yahweh), ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’

But the LORD (Yahweh) said to him, ‘Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the LORD (Yahweh) put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.  So Cain went out from the LORD’s (Yahweh’s) presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (NIV)

The birth of Cain and Abel

Sorry.  I few technicalities before dealing with the offerings of Cain and Abel.  And the science will be towards the end of this series.

Walton (Walton, J.H., Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001) sees at least four problems in correctly understanding the birth of Cain (pp. 260, 261).  The first concerns the time when he was conceived.  He suggests that the syntax and grammatical form of the verb translated “lay” indicates that a pluperfect translation “had lain” is more appropriate.  “Lay” suggests that the conception occurred after the events described in chapter 3 had occurred.  On the other hand, “had lain” raises the possibility that the conception had occurred before the disobedience of the man and his wife or was even caught up in their disobedience.

Our chapter divisions might suggest that there is meant to be a distinct break between the account in chapter 3 and what is described in verse 1 of chapter 4.  But the chapter divisions while not arbitrary are artificial.  However, I think the use of the word, “Yahweh” in verse 1 and its regular use throughout chapter 4 is sufficient to suggest that there is indeed a type of break between chapters 3 and 4.  As a consequence the idea that the writer is intending to convey that the conception of Cain had occurred during the events described in chapter 3 should be treated with considerable caution.  Furthermore there is no clear indication in chapter 3 that such a conception took place when it would have been simple to do so.  The reference to nakedness is associated with the idea of being ashamed, not with the idea of sexual intercourse and connects with the end of chapter 2.  And the reference to “one flesh” while suggestive of sexual intercourse, is in fact a reference in chapter 2 to a situation somewhat removed though related to the events of chapter 3.  However, whatever position one adopts on this matter is basically irrelevant with respect to what occurs in chapter 4.

The second problem that Walton sees has to do with the naming of Cain.  Yet nothing of significance seems to depend on it.  There is a word play between “brought forth” (Hebrew: qaniti) and “Cain” (Hebrew qayin).  However contrary to what usually occurs with such a word play, there is no statement equivalent to the one the man makes when he names Eve. There he explains that she is so named “because she would become the mother of all the living” – the word play being between “Eve and “living”.  Furthermore, the first part of the text reads, “And she conceived and gave birth to Cain” rather than the expected “She gave birth to a son and called his name Cain” Overall the text simply reads, “And she conceived and gave birth to Cain (qayin) and said, I have brought forth (qaniti) a man (ish).  Though, as Walton explains, the normal “naming formula” where there is a word play, is not adhered to, in fact, the “and said” of the Hebrew acts as an indication that a word play is involved. “Qayin” is immediately followed by “and said” which in turn is immediately followed by “qaniti”.

Walton’s third problem relates to how to understand, “qaniti”, translated, “brought forth”.  He explains that the verb “usually means ‘to acquire’ in the Old Testament, though a few passages suggest, ‘to create’”.  He further points out that there is Ugaritic support for “create”. If this is the sense, then perhaps the text is indicating that Eve in some way is a co-creator with God whose help she has needed in giving birth to Cain with perhaps some emphasis being giving to God in this creative work.

Alternatively, Walton indicates that there is Akkadian support for “acquire” in expressions for some personal names, quoting a Mesopotamian name which means, “I acquired him from the gods”.  Though in the Hebrew, the name “Cain” is given in isolation from the verb, Walton refers to the Mesopotamian name as an indicator that in the ancient world there was this understanding that in some sense a deity could be involved in the acquiring of a child.

Walton opts for the notion of “acquiring” with the understanding that the clause reads something like, “I have obtained [a man] with the help/consent of Yahweh.” Eve had been told that with respect to at least the birth process her pain would be greatly increased.  With God’s help she was able to cope with the pain and makes an explicit statement to this effect.  In his reference to “consent” Walton seems to be additionally alluding to the idea that Eve acknowledges the necessity of God to grant her conceiving a child in the first place.

Regardless of how the phrase translated, “with the help of the Lord (Yahweh) has been understood above, Walton’s fourth problem relates to a difficulty in how to understand the Hebrew word, “et” commonly translated “with”. Given this perspective, the text simply reads, “I have acquired a man with Yahweh”.  Expressed as such, the meaning of the statement is unclear.  Interpreting “et” to mean in this instance “with the help of” makes sense.  However “et” can be understood as a “direct object marker”, with the statement then being made, “I have acquired a man, that is, Yahweh.  Apparently some, harking back to a Messianic understanding of Genesis 3: 15 (the offspring of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent etc.) see Genesis 4: 1 as also being Messianic – the man is Yahweh.  As Walton points out however, nowhere in the Old Testament is the Messiah ever referred to as Yahweh.  Besides, the context is clearly a reference to the birth of Cain.

In concluding his remarks on this matter, Walton claims that there is Akkadian support for the meaning of “with the help of” though there is no support from Hebrew usage. Citing two Akkadian examples, Walton argues that the Akkadian preposition itti can be translated “from” or “with (the consent) of” and contends that “since the Akkadian cognate preposition itti has a semantic range comparable to that of the Hebrew preposition et, either nuances can be legitimately used in Genesis.” He thereby concludes that “the NIV translation is about the best that can be done given the current state of the data.”

It is of some interest that Eve refers to the child as, “a man”.  The word “ish” is used (see Genesis 2: 23) not the word, “adam”. This delivers the reader from what otherwise might have been some theological if not otherwise confusion.  At the same time however, the reference to, “a man” focuses our attention on ongoing humanity.  Though there is no reference in Genesis 2 and 3 to man and woman being placed under the blessing of “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1: 28) that text now begins to find its fulfilment in Genesis 4: 1 and following.

The birth of Abel is simply recorded without any word play and without any reference to there being help given by Yahweh.  It is the birth of the first that is given some attention simply because it is the first child to be born. It is not only Eve’s first but the first of all that are born. Though there is no play on words, are we meant to see the connection between the word, “Abel” and a similar sounding Hebrew word, that has the sense of emptiness, something being unfulfilled, transitory or unsatisfactory?  His life cut being short has that ring about it.


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