The following approach is based on the Biblical commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch a 19th century commentator who belonged to a movement that sought to make the Bible and religion more accessible to then modern man. Hirsch followed a long exegetical line that
biblical names indicate attributes.
This is seen explicitly at times; for example Jacob is called Jacob because he grabs his brother (Esau, enemy)by the heal perhaps symbolic of his life.
Using this idea, we see that
Genealogies indicate community life cycles
In other words, each generation has a certain attribute and the sequence of attributes indicates the life cycle of the community. Using this idea we can approximately summarize both the life cycle of Kayin and Seth. There are many similarities and also divergences.
Kayin’s lifecycle is as follows
Possession--> education--> wild-assed---> Forget about God-->
The masses ask/grope for meaning--> leadership
For example, if a previous generation has possessions, this could naturally lead to the subsequent generation seeking education (to preserve societal wealth). This education can lead to self-sufficiency; first there is a generation of wildness (since people are educated, they know it all) followed by forgetting about God.
In arriving at these translations I have used pretty standard biblical terms. Chanoch is in fact the biblical root for education (or training). A transposition of lemech is melech indicating a search for leadership.
A similar analysis applied to Seth's genealogy as follows
Foundation--->Helpless man---> possession---> praise God--->
depression--->education---> masses spread---> leaders
One can then search for parallels in both community cycles as well as divergences. I personally don’t see one as more religious than the other
In presenting this idea I regard it as precisely that: An idea that can be developed in multiple ways but nevertheless points to certain underlying communal lifecycle patterns.
I want to thank Nigel J. for raising in a comment the interesting question: Is this serious exegetical work (“hermeneutical analysis” ) or is it “opinion and interpretation.”
He is correct. I should not have left this out of the post and therefore am adding it.
I believe the above approach presented by me is serious exegetical work. I therefore have to justify this type of genre. Before doing so I point out the obvious: It is not a grammatical or linguistic genre of exegesis. I haven't spoken about the meaning of words in Hebrew or other languages; nor have I spoken about the conjugation of verbs.
The approach I used is symbolic. Symbolism may or may not be justified. There are biblical passages which are clearly symbolic as interpreted by all scholars, all religions, and all periods One such passage is Ecclesiastes 11:9 - 12:7.
The opening verses say, "You can enjoy yourself in youth but you will have to pay; remember your creator while young before years come [old age] in which you say I have no desire to live.”
Thus the symbolic theme is clearly identified. Every commenter takes the passage this way. Certain things are clear: "[Remember your creator before...] the grinders cease" undoubtedly refers to loss of teeth in old age.
But although we are certain of the meaning of certain symbolic passages there are others which have ambiguity (What does "silver cord breaking" and "golden bowl breaking" symbolize).
What we can conclude is that
*Certain passages are universally agreed as symbolic
*In such passages the symbolic meaning of some phrases is unambiguous
*The symbolic meaning of other phrases is doubtful (subject to multiple interpretations)
The fact that symbolism is not as precise as grammar should not deter us from analyzing such passages. We can say the following about the genealogies in Gen. 4 and 5.
Many verses explicitly indicate that "he called his name" is equivalent more to "he nicknamed him"; his name reflects attributes of the person or generation. Some examples are Gen 10:25 "He called his name "split" because the world "split" in his day or Gen 5:29 He call his name "rest" ...this [person] will comfort us [give us rest] from our work and toil and the ground God cursed.”
Thus, it is a reasonable exegetical exercise to say that names reflect attributes and the biblical narrative should be read that way. But then we are in the same situation as Ecclesiastes 12. We know there is a message here but not certain of the meaning of every phrase.
Like Ecclesiastes 12 we can be certain of the symbolic meanings of certain names. Chanoch means training; Eyrad is similar enough to Erod to justify the interpretation "wild-ass" All I have done above is take the most reasonable translations of various names and see them as part of a communal life cycle. If I was writing a paper I would then have to document how these life cycles are present throughout history. But I think this is plausible.
I believe this a serious exegetical approach (with emphasis on the word “approach” versus a completed interpretation). I also believe that too often biblical scholars dismiss a symbolic passage as "a matter of interpretation" when in fact certainties may be inferred.