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2.5 - The Cain & Abel Story (Chap 4-5)


DW | Old Testament

2.5 - The Cain & Abel Story (Chap 4-5)


In Genesis Chapter 4, we begin with the story of Cain and Abel. The biblical writer gives a dramatic example of how the alienation and sin of the Garden spread to new levels of evil: not only murder, but murder of one's own brother. Here, too, the Yahwist has made use of older stories with mythological overtones. These elements borrowed include the traditional conflict between the farmer and the sheepherder – more current – those that live in cities against those that reside in rural areas.

The genealogies of Genesis 4-5 begin after the story of Cain and Abel. The Yahwist adds a list of Cain's descendants (Gen 4:17-26), emphasizing those who gave the world the civilized gifts of music and ironworking, and concludes with the increase of violence and revenge among these descendants.


In Gen 4:25, the Yahwist records how Adam had a new son, Seth, and how this marked a positive turn around for the human race. From that time on, the people began to call God by his name Yahweh. At this point, the Priestly author inserts his own genealogy of the ten descendants of Adam down to Noah. Many of the names are similar to those in the J list of Genesis 4, and probably stem from an old tradition that had been passed down through the centuries in different forms.

The first seven names in the J list correspond closely to names in the P list: Adam-Adam, Cain-Kenan, Irad-Jared, Muhajael-Mahaleel, etc. But what has always interested readers is the long lifespan that P credits to his patriarchs. This was not intended as proof that humans lived to such old ages in the first days of the world, but more of a literary device to show the superiority of the beginning times and how vastly different they were from our own.

The Sumerian King List, only one of many examples from the Ancient Near East, lists the names and ages of the kings who lived before the flood in the tens of thousands of years... King Alulim reigned 28,800 years, King Alagar reigned 36,000 years, etc. Some Hindu traditions are even more exaggerated. One myth speaks of the perfect First Age of the World when humans stood six miles high and lived 8.4 million years.


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