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Genesis 4:16 KJV

And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden

Is the land of Nod a real location or does it mean Cain wandered round east of Eden?

Wikipedia suggests:

"Nod" (נוד) is the Hebrew root of the verb "to wander" (לנדוד). Therefore to dwell in the land of Nod is usually taken to mean that one takes up a wandering life.

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2 Answers 2

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This is a difficult question to answer without working from presuppositions about the origin of the book of Genesis, its genre, and its authorial intent.

The Documentary Hypothesis suggests that Genesis is a composite work, made of several different sources, edited together over the course of several centuries. We find that Genesis chapter 4 primarily comes from the 'Yahwist' source, that is, the chapters of Genesis that refer to God as 'YHWH' (as opposed to a text like Genesis 1, which refers to God solely as 'Elohim').

In the Yahwist source, names describe the thing or person they refer to. 'Adam (man) is so-named because he comes from 'adamah (ground; Genesis 2.7). Chavvah (life-giver) is so named because she is the mother of all chay (life; Genesis 3.20). The same goes for Eden, Cain, Abel, Seth, Adah, Zillah, Jabal, Jubal, Tubalcain, Naamah, Noah, etc.

When we come to Genesis 4.8-17, this descriptive naming is very hard to miss. Cain is sentenced to 'wander' the earth, so he goes east to the land of Nod (wandering). Cain has a son named Chenok (dedicate), and then builds a city and dedicates it to the name of his son. These descriptive names pose a chicken-and-egg problem: Was Nod named so because Cain was sent there to wander, or did he go to wander there because it was named Nod? Was Chenok born before the city that was 'dedicated' to him, or was the city built first and retroactively 'dedicated' to Chenok when he was born?

Whether the original author and readers of the Yahwist source understood the land of Nod or the city of Enoch to be actual locations in their past cannot be determined with any certainty. However, the overt symbolism behind the names suggests the narrative in Genesis 4, if it was intended to be read as historical, has still been mythologized to some extent.

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@MarkEdward-I like your answer as you open the possibility for a "Land of Nod". What is your take on Josephus's account(In Antiquities-Chapt. 2)? –  user2479 Jan 2 at 9:17

The Hebrew word נוֹד (nod) is translated in the KJV and some other English translations as though it was a proper noun (a name). However, the same word occurs in Psa. 56:8 and is translated as "wandering."1

Gesenius defines the word as "flight, exile," although it appears he also assumes it represents the "proper n[ame] of the country to which Cain fled, Gen. 4:16."

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This noun is derived from the same root as the verb נוּד (nud), which Gesenius defines in binyan Pa'al (Kal) as "to move to and fro, wander (aimlessly), take flight," among other meanings.

In fact, this same verb occurs in the context of Cain's narrative in Gen. 4:12 and 4:14.

When you work the ground, it shall not yield its strength to you again. You shall be a fugitive and a vagabond (wanderer) in the earth.

כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה לֹא תֹסֵף תֵּת כֹּחָהּ לָךְ נָע וָנָד תִּהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ

Behold, you have driven me out today from the face of the earth, and I shall be hid from Your presence, and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond (wanderer) in the earth. And it shall come to pass, everyone who finds me shall slay me.

הֵן גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹתִי הַיּוֹם מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וּמִפָּנֶיךָ אֶסָּתֵר וְהָיִיתִי נָע וָנָד בָּאָרֶץ וְהָיָה כָל מֹצְאִי יַהַרְגֵנִי

Based on this, there's no reason to translate the word נוֹד in Gen. 4:16 as the name "Nod" rather than "wandering," as it is translated in Psa. 56:8. Ibn Ezra says that Moshe called the land נוֹד "because he (Cain) was a fugitive and vagabond."2


Footnotes

1 The only difference is that the word in Psa. 56:8 has a first-person, singular number, pronominal suffix meaning "my," and is written defectively without the ו.

2 קראו כן בעבור שהיה נע ונד.

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