Genesis 4: Cain Kills Abel; The First Generations

skyscrapers urban sprawl up close Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Adam and Eve beget Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel and is cursed by Yahweh. The first generations and their innovations are recorded.

II. Photo

The first city is founded: “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch.” (v. 17)

III. Select Verses

1-8: Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gained a male child with the help of the LORD.” She then bore his brother Abel. Abel became a keeper of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil; and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. The LORD paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell. And the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you distressed, And why is your face fallen?  Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master.” Cain said to his brother Abel … and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.

15: The LORD said to him, “I promise, if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who met him should kill him.

17: Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch.

20-22: Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds. And the name of his brother was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. As for Zillah, she bore Tubal-cain, who forged all implements of copper and iron. And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

25-26: Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, meaning, “God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel,” for Cain had killed him.  And to Seth, in turn, a son was born, and he named him Enosh. It was then that men began to invoke the LORD by name.

IV. Outline

1-2. The couple give birth to Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd

3-5a. Yahweh accepts Abel's animal offering but not Cain's vegetarian one

5-7. Yahweh encourages Cain (enigmatic statement)

8. Cain kills Abel

9-12. Yahweh punishes Cain to be a wanderer who cannot farm

14-15. Yahweh puts a mark on Cain, lest someone kill him; Cain's potential killer is cursed

16. Cain settles in Nod, east of Eden

17-24. Geneaology: from Enoch to Lamech's children

    17. Cain and his wife beget Enoch, the name of their first city

    18. Enoch's descendants

    19. Lamech's two wives

    20. Lamech's son Jabal, the father of the tent dwellers

    21. Lamech's son Jubal, the father of music

    22. Lamech's son Zillah, father of metallurgy; Lamech's daughter Naamah

    23-24. Lamech avenges an attacker

25. Adam and Eve have Seth in Abel's stead

26. Seth's son Enosh; The beginning of referring to Yahweh by his name

V. Comment

Verses 17-18 concern Enoch the son of Cain:

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad.

The following is what I wrote about Enoch for The Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013):

According to Gen 4:17–18, Enoch (Heb. Ḥănôk; LXX Ενωχ) was the son of Cain and the father of Irad. He was also the namesake for the world’s first city, built by his father Cain.

A number of etymologies have been suggested for Enoch’s name. Philo of Alexandria proposed “your grace” (from Heb. ḥēn; Post. 41), Jerome of Stridonium suggested “dedicated” (from the Heb. root ḥ–n–k; Liber De Nominibus Hebraicis, De Genesi), and modern scholars have added “follower” (HALOT: 333), “inaugurated” (Cassutto: 229), “training” (Driver: 68), and “wise” or “clever” (IPN: 228).

Enoch is portrayed by traditional interpreters as one of the “corrupt,” “wicked,” and “evil” progeny of Cain (e.g., Philo Post. 42; Josephus Ant. 1.2.2; BerR Bereishit 23 : 1; Commodianus, Instructiones 39 [ANF 4.210]; Jerome, Epist. 46.7; John Cassian, Conlationes 1.8.21 [NPNF2 11.383). Modern exegetes have come to question the nature of Enoch’s genealogy. In 1828, Buttman argued that the two genealogies of Gen 4 : 17–26 and Gen 5, which mention Enoch the son of Cain as well as Enoch the son of Jared, were essentially duplicates of one another (170–72). This interpretation has gained widespread acceptance, and many attribute Gen 4 to the Yahwistic source (J) and Gen 5 to the Priestly source (P) (e.g., Gunkel; Westermann; but cf. Hamilton: 250–51). Buttman’s theory was bolstered in 1977 by Wilson, who argued that tribal genealogies are “fluid” and can exist in multiple forms. Thus, the Enochs of Gen 4 and 5 were the same person, reflected in two versions of the same genealogy (158–66).

Modern exegetes also question the textual stability of Gen 4 : 17–18 and the historicity of the city of Enoch, which has never been persuasively identified with an archaeological site (but cf. Sarna: 36). In 1883, Budde suggested that the Bible meant to portray Enoch, and not his father Cain, as the builder of the first city (120–23). In 1885, Sayce suggested that the biblical text had been corrupted and that the first city was actually named for Enoch’s son Irad (404), noting that the name Irad is strikingly similar to Eridu, the first city according to most Mesopotamian traditions (Hallo: 63–64; see Wilson: 148–54 for other parallels, e.g., the Akk. apkallū). While Budde’s and Sayce’s interpretations have been accepted by many, others note that they have “no support in the versions and therefore must be treated as conjecture” (Wilson: 141).

Enoch and his city are portrayed in a number of artistic works. Enoch is probably depicted as a child in “Cain” by Fernand Cormon (ca. 1880) and “Cain and His Family, Cursed by God” by Antoine Étex (ca. 1835), and the construction of the city is depicted in “Enoch Building a Town” by Maarten de Vos and Johan Sadeler I (ca. 1583) and “Cain Builds City of Enoch” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (ca. 1855). A scarab seal of unknown provenance bears the Heb. inscription lḤnk “of/to Enoch” (period un- known; Lidzbarski: 10), but the relationship, if any, between this seal and the Enoch of Gen 4:17–18 is unknown.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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