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And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. (Gen. 4:23 KJV)

Lamech reports that he killed a man and a young man, that is to say, proportionally one man for each wife, in Hebrew is it possible to capture this idea that Lamech was having a jealous crisis?

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  • The slaying 'wounded' and 'hurt' Lamech himself (not anyone else and not potentially anyone else). To read anything other into the narrative is surely a matter of opinion.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 23, 2023 at 7:00
  • The direct question would be, "Why would Lamech make such an announcement and why would he make it to his wives?" First of all, it sounds like he had trouble making them listen to him. He sounds disrespected and hurt. Lamech reminds them of what he did to one or two men for what they did to him. There's a parallel dualism between his voice and his speech with a man and young man. Then, there's two of them. Is Lamech warning us about polygamy? Perhaps his two wives were taking over.
    – Dieter
    Mar 22 at 4:41
  • I’m voting to close this question because it's about a baseless assumption that he killed one man per wife. Questions need to be based on reasonable inferences from texts rather than baseless theories.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 22 at 6:40
  • I'm asking that the revised title and question be considered for reopening.
    – Dieter
    Mar 22 at 18:04
  • @curiousdannii,Dieter - I see a different situation. Lamech is giving a defence for having killed a younger man who attacked and wounded him first. Thus his justification for forgiveness being a multiple times what Cain received from God, who killed premeditatedly or out of pure rage. I do not have enough reputation to reopen closed votes, do I?
    – RHPclass79
    Mar 22 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

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This is such an interesting question. I've always just assumed his taking of his two wives and the boastful murder were related only in that Lamech was boastful and proud. But now that I have noted that he is speaking TO his wives about it, it seems like he is saying it as a threat. He is using his own violence to keep his two wives (and presumably their two families) under him.

Compare this to Genesis 2 where Eve was created to be a "defender facing" Adam. Rather than being united to one wife and her being his protection and security, he has two wives, and won't allow either to protect him ... he isn't allowing someone other than himself to provide security and so provides it for himself. Of course this does not work.

So I would say not jealousy (although that might be a part of it) but insecurity.

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Ancient and medieval Jewish commentators do have something to say about this, but if the OP implies that Lamech killed his wives' lovers, I found no commentary suggesting this. However, I also don't see anything in the text that precludes this interpretation.

Accord to Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi)

Lemech, who was the first one to marry two wives, was also the first one of whom disagreements between him and his wives have been recorded. The two wives were jealous one of the other so that Lemech had to scare them that he would kill them if they would disturb his domestic peace.

Other rabbinical sources speak of the two women being fearful that Lamech, being of the seventh generation from Cain, was unprotected from vengeance from those Cain had harmed. (Based on Gen. 4:15) For example, Ibn Ezra assures his wives that he protect himself from attack:

The rabbis tell us that Adah and Zillah were afraid to bear children because they feared that their offspring, who were the seventh generation from Cain, would die or be killed as punishment for Cain’s sin. Therefore Lamech said to them, “I am in truth the seventh generation and if a man would wound me or a child bruise me, then I would kill them…"

Ramban (Nachmanides) explains the same scenario with Lamech comforting his wives by appealing to God's mercy and protection.

Now Lamech’s wives feared to bear children because they would be the seventh generation to Cain, but he comforted his wives by saying that G-d would be forbearing with him for yet seventy-seven generations because he would pray before Him, for He is long-suffering and would have mercy upon him…

The Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 11:2-4 identifies Lamech's (accidental) victims as two close relatives - his ancestor Cain and his own son - perhaps implying that he was simply reporting this tragic fact to his wives:

Cain became an angel of death, wandering and roaming about, accursed. Lamech, his descendant in the seventh generation, who was blind, would go hunting led about by his young son... One time the lad said to his father: “I see some kind of beast in the distance.” Lamech sent his arrow in that direction, and Cain was slain. As they approached the corpse, the lad... said to his father: “The corpse resembles a man.” Thereupon, Lamech cried out: “Woe is me, it is my grandfather.” In his grief, he clasped his hands together, and accidentally struck the child’s head, killing him…

Summary: Jealousy is mentioned by at least one rabbinical authority, who says that Lamech tried to scare his wives into keeping quiet by boasting of his having killed two men. But his wives' fear that their husband would be killed is the predominant explanation for Lamech's statement, which was designed to assure them that there was no danger. Yet another explanation is that Lamech was simply expressing to his wives his heart's agony at having killed both his ancestor and his son. I could find no commentary indicating that Lamech's victims were his wives' lovers.

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  • +1 Nicely researched. Thank you for the historical insights.
    – Dieter
    Mar 23 at 3:42

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