Friday, January 17, 2014

Cain and Family (A Logic Problem)

In this post, Cain’s wife and Tubal-cain’s sonic screwdriver, Slacktivist takes a look at Genesis 4 and argues that it doesn't make sense at all to read it as something that literally happened.

And I pretty much want to quote every part of this post, because it says EXACTLY what I used to believe and then how that very obviously can't be right, and you guys, Slacktivist is my favorite blog.

Anyway. Now that I'm thinking about it, I realize every time I've read Genesis 4, I've run into some issues with the timeline and such.

At first everything is very straightforward. Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel. God likes Abel's offering better than Cain's. Cain is jealous and he kills Abel. Then God shows up to give Cain a little talk and tell him he'll be punished. So far it all makes sense. But then we get to verse 14: "I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."

Umm, wait, who would find him and kill him? I thought the only people were Adam and Eve and Cain. And maybe a few other siblings that aren't mentioned. Why is he worried about encountering an unfriendly stranger while wandering?

To figure this out, we must construct a massive logic problem! Oh this will be fun. There are a bunch of events we must put in order:
  1. Cain kills Abel.
  2. God speaks to Cain about his punishment.
  3. Cain and his wife start a family and build a city.
  4. Adam and Eve have another son, Seth.
  5. There are enough generations of people that Cain is justified in his fear of encountering a random stranger.
And what do we know?

1 comes before 2. That's obvious. ("The bible is clear...")

2 comes before 3. The way the text is written, it seems that way. But I'm open to the idea of switching that around to get the logic problem to work...

1 comes before 4. In verse 25, Seth is born, and Eve says it's great she has a new son to replace Abel. So Seth is the first son born after Abel's death.

5 comes before 2. Because Cain says he's concerned about that.

5 cannot be between 1 and 2. That would mean Cain kills Abel, then several generations go by as the human population multiplies, then God gets around to punishing Cain.

5 cannot be between 1 and 4. Because Seth has to be the first son born to Eve after Abel's death. How could generations and generations go by, of Eve having no kids/ only daughters, and then she has a son? Even if you believe that women back then could have kids much much older than now, it's not gonna be a hundred years between sons.

Here are the possible solutions:




In each of these, 5 is before 1. The earth already has a big population of people Cain is not acquainted with, before Cain kills Abel.

But wait! Here's another fun piece of information. Genesis 5:3 says, "After Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth."

Darn. We're only allowed 130 years before event number 4. But every possible solution has 5 occurring before 4.

So, back to the drawing board...

How long does it take for a population to grow from 2 to "enough people that it's likely you'd encounter a random stranger when you're out wandering"?

Well, how many children are Adam and Eve going to have in those 130 years? Let's say 50, because Eve was superwoman.

Half of them are daughters. And they're all superwoman too. They can all have 50 kids. So let's add it up:

First generation: 2
Second generation: 50
Third generation: 1250
Total: 1302 
Hmm, okay, maybe there can be a massive population unacquainted with Cain. Then again, some people have that many Facebook friends.

And maybe Eve's older daughters would even be having grandchildren by then.

But... all of this before Cain even kills Abel?

I always thought the point of this story was "oh goodness, look at how fast sin is wreaking havoc on the world- in the first family we already have brothers killing each other!" But... if there are already a thousand people... and only one guy who kills his brother... and the majority of people don't even know Cain... then... wha?

And wait a second, why would Eve say that she's happy about Seth's birth because now she has a son in place of Abel, if she already had 1000 descendants?

"He can have Abel's old room." Image source.

You know, to be honest, to me this story reads like "Adam and Eve were the first humans. Oh but right there were a bunch of foreign people already there of course, but they don't count." Very ethnocentric, viewing foreigners only as a possible threat to Cain, not as people who need to be incorporated into this whole "this is where humans came from" story.

Chew on that for a bit.

Image source.
But anyway...

So it didn't really happen. So all this effort to try to understand the timeline misses the whole point. Well then, what is the point? If it didn't happen, why was it written down?

And seriously, what was with this bit in Genesis 4:23-24, where a dude named Lamech tells his two wives some cryptic bit of poetry about how he killed someone? I mean, if we're saying that didn't really happen, then... why would someone invent this and write it down?

This is a question about the culture back then. We can't understand the author's intention and what the stories would have meant to the original audience without knowing a bit about the culture. And, uh, I don't. I just do logic problems, you guys.

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