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In Genesis 4:19-22, we read a short account of some of Cain's decendents:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

It's noticeable right away that this line is very inventive. They're seemingly credited for:

  • Nomadic herding
  • Stringed instruments and pipes
  • Bronze and iron working

Possibly also the line is the first to build a city (Cain v. 17) and take two wives (Lamech, v. 19).

Given that the line starts with Cain who murdered his brother and who lives under a curse, and ends in this section with Lamech who is also a murderer, what is the author's purpose in noting the inventions that came from Cain and his decendents? Is the author trying to somehow ameliorate their reputation? Or perhaps tarnish the their inventions by linking them to their character? Simply recording the history of a few items? Or something else?

3

The text of Genesis 4-5

Genesis 4 and Genesis 5 come form distinct sources.

Under the traditional Documentary Hypothesis' categorization, Genesis 4, along with 5.28b-291 come from the J (Yahwist) source, while the rest of Genesis 5 (minus 28b-29) come from P (Priestly) source.2 They each grew out of a common source, but with a few small editions made to unify the two texts together, they were placed in sequence (i.e. as the complete text we call Genesis 4-5).

Alternately, another hypothesis is that the J form of the genealogy (4,5.28b-29) existed first, and the P form (5.1-28a,30-32) is a revision of J.

In any case, the point is that Genesis 4-5 actually provides us with two versions of the same lineage.

  • Cain (קין) = Cainan (קינן)
  • Enoch (חנוך) = Enoch (חנוך)
  • Irad (עירד) = Yared (ירד)
  • Mehuyael (מחיאל) = Mahalalel (מהללאל)
  • Methushael (מתושאל) = Methushelah (מתושלח)
  • Lamech (למך) = Lamech (למך)

Some names are spelled slightly different, and some have been rearranged relative to the other order. When the two sources are separated, they both conclude with Lamech fathering a son named Noah.3 The emended J source would read something like the following (though the exact placement of the restored 5.28b-29 is uncertain):

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech.

Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of Yahweh.

[To Lamech was born] a son; he named him Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that Yahweh has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’

Because Genesis 4,5.28b-29 and Genesis 5.1-28a,30-32 are alternate forms of the same lineage (whether independently evolving from a common source, or the latter reworking the former), this means that within the original J source it was not portraying Cain's lineage as inventive in contrast to an uninventive lineage from Seth. Within the J narrative, Cain's lineage is the only lineage by the time of Lamech's sons, and the invention of cities, nomadic herding, musical instruments, and metalcrafting is simply the result of the human population growing beyond the initial primitivity of Adam and Eve living in paradise.

Going beyond the source criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis and related theories, there are an array of more speculative ideas. In one, Cain is the eponymous ancestor of the Kenite tribe, and the sons of Lamech correspond to the culture of the tribe; e.g., 'Tubal' is a word taken as 'metal-worker', associated with the metal-working Tubal people mentioned in Ezekiel 27.13, so that 'Tubal-cain' literally just means 'metal-working Kenite'.4 In another, the story is a distorted recollection of Greek myths that traveled to the Near East: 'Jubal Lamechson corresponds to Orpheus, and Tubal-Cain Lamechson to the smiths Hephaestus or Vulcan'.5 In these ideas, there is little moral judgment to be passed on Cain's lineage; it is only a mythic recollection of one tribe or another's ancestry.


Later reinterpretations

Within Second Temple Judaism, the story of Genesis 4 and 6 undergoes reinterpretation. While the narrative of Genesis gives no such indication, books like 1 Enoch make the claim that Cain's lineage -- or rather, humanity in general -- was taught metalcrafting by angels (the 'sons of God' in Genesis 6.2).

1 Enoch 6.1-2

And it came to pass when the sons of men had multipled in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, "Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from the daughters of men, and let us beget children for ourselves."

1 Enoch 7.1, 8.1

These [leaders of the watchers] and all the others [of two hundred watchers] with them took wives for themselves from among all whom they chose. And they began to go in to them, and to defile themselves with them, and to teach them sorcery and spellbinding, and to reveal to them the cutting of roots and herbs. [...] Azazel taught men to make swords of iron and weapons and shields and breastplates and every instrument of war. And he showed them the metals of the earth, and how they should work gold, to fashion it suitably; and concerning silver, to fashion it for bracelets and ornaments for women.

In 1 Enoch, this learning of metalcrafting is presented as a bad thing, though that may only be because such metalcrafting was used for violence and vanity, and was taught alongside various forms of magic, directly leading to the corruption of the earth that necessitates the flood in Genesis 6. (The Book of Jubilees, which reinterprets both Genesis and 1 Enoch together, presents the watchers as initially teaching humanity 'judgment' and 'uprightness', and only later choosing to marry human women 'so as to be defiled'. Jubilees makes no comment on the origin of the specific skills of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain as far as I can find.)


Footnotes

1 HarperCollins Study Bible - Student Edition, page 13: '5.28-29 In a brief insert from the J source, Lamech derives the name Noah from the word relief'. Names where their symbolic value is spelled out for the reader are prevalent throughout Genesis 2-4, commonly accepted as the beginning of the J source narrative.

2 Johnstone, Moberly, Rogerson, Genesis and Exodus, page 84: 'In Genesis 5.1-28, 30-32 we have what is ascribed by source criticism to the P source; and it is interesting that the list of ancestors has similarities with what is regarded as the J passage of 4.17-21.'

3 Hendel, Reading Genesis: Ten Methods, page 58, footnote 31: 'I attribute the report of Noah's birth (5:29) to J, where it was originally located at the end of the Cainite genealogy (Genesis 4:25-26); see also Friedman's similar treatment of 5:29 in Hidden, 74. In other words, J's Noah is a descendant of Cain, not Seth.' Johnstone, et al., Genesis and Exodus, page 85: 'Genesis 5.29 is assigned by source criticism to J because of its reference back to the cursing of the ground and the toil of labour (3.17; 4.12).'

4 E.g. Graves, Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, page 110.

5 Brichto, The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings, page 168.

  • See my comment to Dick Harfield's answer on this question. – Lucian Aug 9 '17 at 11:56
3

The fact that Cain and his descendants were the initial cultivators of civilization, culture, and technology, is a first glimpse of the Bible’s view of unregenerate mankind and the nature of history.

C.A. Auberlen in The Prophecies of Daniel and Revelations of St. John (T & T Clark, 1856), comments:

It is a significant fact, that the beginnings of civilisation were among the children of Cain (Gen 4:17-24), even then the children of this world were wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luk 16:8). Thus, alienation from God drives man to worldly culture.

Mankind alienated from God and devoid of His renewing grace, as was the line of Cain, strive to recreate the effects of God’s grace through earthly means, namely the cultivation of self and civilization.

Auberlen further comments:

The world, whether consciously or unconsciously, strives to become like God, not by a spiritual renewal from on high, and sanctification by God’s Spirit, but by cultivation and development of the natural gifts and endowments of man, which is essentially only a repetition of the fundamental principle announced by the serpent in paradise: Man is to attain of himself, without God’s assistance, and in opposition to God, to the highest knowledge (intellectual civilisation), and thereby to being like God.

This desire of man to use civilization, culture, and technology to “become like God”, or to attain of himself what only God’s spirit can attain, begins with Cain’s line and progresses throughout scripture, culminating in the beast of Revelation 13.

Regarding the beasts in Daniel 4, Auberlen states:

The prophet describes to us the kingdoms of the world and the civilisations of the world. The first metals-gold and silver-are nobler, more valuable; but the latter-brass and iron-are infinitely more important to the cause of civilisation and culture, yea, they are the proper representatives and bearers of it; with the artificers in brass and iron commenced the first development of human civilisation (Gen 4:22)...What Daniel represents in his four world-kingdoms, is in reality nothing else but the development from a state of nature to a state of refined civilisation, from a natural, vigorous, solid mode of existence to a life of refinement and intellectualism, which he represents more especially by the symbol of the wise eye of antichrist (Dan 7:8)

Whether or not one agrees with the details of Auberlen’s understanding of the significance of the metals in Daniel 4 or the identity of the antichrist, the main point remains clear: The impetus for the progress of civilization and culture finds its roots in alienation from God. Cain and his descendants were the first examples of those without hope beyond this world. It is therefore completely natural that their efforts would be directed towards cultivating it.

This is not to say that culture, technology, and the arts are inherently opposed to God, but that those alienated from God, desiring to achieve ultimate meaning and happiness through these things, are naturally its foremost proponents, and (at least) subconsciously try to replace God with culture.

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I think the author is developing an implicit contrast between the line of Cain and the line of Seth.

Cain is self-righteous; this is seen when he becomes angry at God and his brother when his own offering to God is not accepted (Genesis 4:5ff). This sense of self-righteousness and of his own importance continues with his ancestors. For example: Cain names a city after his son; Lamech was not content with the one wife which God had ordained (compare Genesis 2:24 and 4:19).

Cain's line created many great works, like you noted, and were recognized for these things. Yet, they were not the line of the promise. That is, they were not the line through whom the Messiah would come.

The line of the promise belonged to Seth; the Savior of the world would be descended through him. It is not until Seth's time that "... people began to call upon the name of the LORD" (Genesis 4:26). And it is Noah, descended from Seth, who ultimately is the only one whom God saves (along with his family) from the flood, because "Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8). So, the Messiah will come from Noah and Seth's line (see Jesus's genealogy in Luke 3).

While Cain's line was great and mighty on the earth, they all perished in the flood. In contrast, Seth's line didn't appear to be all that great (in the eyes of man), but God's promise of the Messiah continued through his line, and humanity continued through his descendant Noah.

It's a similar theme carried throughout the Bible. E.g. the older son (who should have the birthright) serving the younger, the apparently weak defeating the strong, the meek inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5), and (most significantly) the Messiah being born to a poor virgin.

  • What promise exactly was given to Seth's line? – curiousdannii Dec 21 '16 at 2:48
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    I'm referring to the promise the Lord gave in Genesis 3:15 of the "seed of the woman" who would crush the head of the serpent. This is taken by many to refer to the Messiah, or Christ and is called the protoevangelium (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protevangelium). The point is that the promise of this Christ lived on through the line of Seth, then up to Noah, then ultimately through Abraham and up to David until finally Christ was born of David's line. Luke traces Jesus' human genealogy back to Adam through Seth. – Rev. Aaron Simms Dec 21 '16 at 2:58
  • It wasn't given particularly to Seth's line, but to Adam and Eve. It is a promise to all of humanity. Seth's line is not special in that regard. – curiousdannii Dec 21 '16 at 4:24
  • I agree with you that the promise wasn't given particularly to Seth and that it was a promise for all humanity. The distinction I'm trying to make is that the promise continued or lived on through Seth's line, as the Messiah is descended from him. In Genesis, there's talk about all the great works that Cain's line did, but the Messiah doesn't come from him. – Rev. Aaron Simms Dec 21 '16 at 12:17
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    No, because Luke 3 traces Jesus' lineage back through Seth then to Adam (see Luke 23:23-38). – Rev. Aaron Simms Dec 21 '16 at 13:23

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