LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON GENESIS 4 1-2
"You two are book-men: can you tell me by your wit;
What was a month old at Cain's birth, that's not five
weeks old as yet?"
(Shakespeare-Love's Labor's Lost 4.2.40)
Why did Cain kill his brother Abel?
It is usually assumed by modern
commentators that God's rejection of Cain's offering led him to kill
his brother in a fit of jealousy
Such a conclusion is logical in light of
the way the action in the story is arranged. But the fact is we are never
told the specific reason for the murder. Ancient exegetes also speculated
over Cain's motive and sometimes provided
the same conclusion as modern interpreters.
But some suggested that
there was something more sinister behind the killing, that there was
something inborn about Cain that led him to earn the title of first
These interpreters pushed back past the actual murder to
look, as would a good biographer, at what it was about Cain's birth
and childhood that led him to his moment of infamy. Correspondingly,
they asked similar questions about Abel. The result was a development
of traditions that became associated with the brothers’ births,
names and occupations.
Who was Cain's father?
As we noted in the introduction, Cain and Abel is a story of firsts.
In Gen 4:1 we find the first ever account of sexual relations between
humans with the end result being the first pregnancy.
And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and gave birth to Cain
and she said, "I have gained a man with the help of the Lord."
Anglea Y. Kim, "Cain and Abel in the Light of Envy: A study in the History of
Interpretation of Envy in Genesis 4 1-16," JSP (2001): 65-84.
12 chapter one
The language describing Adam's relations with Eve is the usual biblical
form of "knowing her" which is somewhat prosaic in comparison
to the more graphic "entering into her" found elsewhere in Genesis
(e.g. Abraham with Hagar 16:4; Jacob with Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah
29:23, 30; 30:4; Judah with Tamar 38:18).2
The description of Eve's
conceiving and giving birth also follows standard formulas, but what
is unusual is the declaration made by Eve after giving birth to Cain,
her first child. It is this statement that attracted the attention of later
translators and interpreters and led them to speculate on the meaning
of Eve's words.
In the Hebrew version of the story Eve declares that she has "gained
a man with the Lord." Most English translations will insert the phrase
"with the help of" (NRSV) to clarify how Eve received a man from
the Lord. But the Hebrew is more ambiguous and difficult to translate
than is sometimes appreciated.
The problem centers on how one is to
understand the phrase "and Jehova" .While the majority of modern com mentators
suggest that the phrase be translated as "with the help of the
Lord," such a translation is without parallel. For instance, if the "you" is
understood as a direct object marker rather than as a preposition, it
is then possible to understand Cain as the fulfillment of the promise
made to Eve in Gen 3:15 where God says the woman will have a child
who crushes the head of the serpent.
Such ambiguities in the Hebrew
represented both a challenge and an opportunity to early translators
A survey of extant translations from antiquity reveals that attempts
were made to clear up the ambiguity, but were not always successful.
The LXX, for instance, translates the phrase as "on account of" or "through
God," which would suggest some type of divine intervention.
Sym machus, on the other hand, simply translated it as owner or exercising full rights ("with
the Lord") which would lend more support to modern translations.
While either of these translations may seem innocuous at first glance,
both contain potential theological statements about the interaction.
Susan Brayford, Genesis
(Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden: Brill, 2007),
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC 1; Waco: Word, 1987), 102; Martin Luther,
Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-15 (Luther´s Works, Vol. 1; Saint Louis, Mo: Concordia,
Note also that the translator used a deity, god rather than master or lord which is the usual
Greek equivalent for present time in the LXX; see John William Wevers, LXX: Notes on the
Greek Text of Genesis (Septuagint and Cognate Studies 35; Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press,