Posted by: paulgarner | January 21, 2012

Cain’s wife revisited

Recently I wrote about the weird discussion I had with an ill-informed anti-creationist who claimed that no-one prior to Ken Ham had ever suggested that Cain’s wife was his sister. At the time I posted extracts from five Christian commentators going as far back as the fourth century to show that the idea was no late twentieth century novelty. Having done a little more digging, I can now add the following commentators to the list.

This brings the tally so far to seventeen separate sources, all pre-dating the modern creationist movement and all drawing exactly the same deduction from Scripture that Ken Ham does. Just one such source would be sufficient to show that Ken Ham did not invent the idea that Cain’s wife was his sister, but I have now documented seventeen. How many nails does a coffin lid need?

Martin Luther (1483-1546), Commentary on Genesis:

Miserable, therefore, was that going out of Cain indeed. It was a departure full of tears. He was compelled to leave forever his home and his parents, who now gave to him, a solitary man and a “vagabond,” their daughter as his wife, to live with him as his companion; but they knew not what would become either of their son or of their daughter. In consequence of losing three children at one time their grief is so much greater. No other explanation suggests itself for the subsequent statement “Cain knew his wife.”

John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Genesis:

And Cain knew his wife. From the context we may gather that Cain, before he slew his brother, had married a wife; otherwise Moses would now have related something respecting his marriage; because it would be a fact worthy to be recorded, that any one of his sisters could be found, who would not shrink with horror from committing herself into the hand of one whom she knew to be defiled with a brother’s blood; and while a free choice was still given her, should rather choose spontaneously to follow an exile and a fugitive, than to remain in her father’s family. Moreover, he relates it as a prodigy that Cain, having shaken off the terror he had mentioned, should have thought of having children: “Ad sobolem gignendam animum applicuisse.” for it is remarkable, that he who imagined himself to have as many enemies as there were men in the world, did not rather hide himself in some remote solitude. It is also contrary to nature, that he being astounded with fear; and feeling that God was opposed to him, could enjoy any pleasure. Indeed, it seems to me doubtful, whether he had previously had any children; for there would be nothing absurd in saying, that reference is here made especially to those who were born after the crime was committed, as to a detestable seed who would fully participate in the sanguinary disposition, and the savage manners of their father. This, however, is without controversy, that many persons, as well males as females, are omitted in this narrative; it being the design of Moses only to follow one line of his progeny, until he should come to Lamech. The house of Cain, therefore, was more populous than Moses states; but because of the memorable history of Lamech, which he is about to subjoin, he only adverts to one line of descendents, and passes over the rest in silence.

John Gill (1697-1771), Commentary on Genesis:

And Cain knew his wife… Who this woman was is not certain, nor whether it was his first wife or not; whether his sister, or one that descended from Adam by another of his sons, since this was about the one hundred and thirtieth year of the creation. At first indeed Cain could marry no other than his sister; but whether he married Abel’s twin sister, or his own twin sister, is disputed; the Jews say, that Cain’s twin sister was not a beautiful woman, and therefore he said, I will kill my brother and take his wife: on the other hand, the Arabic writers say, that Adam would have had Cain married Abel’s twin sister, whom they call Awin; and Abel have married Cain’s twin sister, whom they call Azron; but Cain would not, because his own sister was the handsomest; and this they take to be the occasion of the quarrel, which issued in the murder of Abel.

Adam Clarke (1760-1832), Commentary on Genesis:

Most people who read this account wonder why Cain should dread being killed, when it does not appear to them that there were any inhabitants on the earth at that time besides himself and his parents. To correct this mistake, let it be observed that the death of Abel took place in the one hundred and twenty-eighth or one hundred and twenty-ninth year of the world. Now, “supposing Adam and Eve to have had no other sons than Cain and Abel in the year of the world one hundred and twenty-eight, yet as they had daughters married to these sons, their descendants would make a considerable figure on the earth. Supposing them to have been married in the nineteenth year of the world, they might easily have had each eight children, some males and some females, in the twenty-fifth year. In the fiftieth year there might proceed from them in a direct line sixty-four persons; in the seventy-fourth year there would be five hundred and twelve; in the ninety-eighth year, four thousand and ninety-six; in the one hundred and twenty-second they would amount to thirty-two thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight: if to these we add the other children descended from Cain and Abel, their children, and their children’s children, we shall have, in the aforesaid one hundred and twenty-eight years four hundred and twenty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-four men capable of generation, without reckoning the women either old or young, or such as are under the age of seventeen.” See Dodd.

But this calculation may be disputed, because there is no evidence that the antediluvian patriarchs began to have children before they were sixty-five years of age. Now, supposing that Adam at one hundred and thirty years of age had one hundred and thirty children, which is quite possible, and each of these a child at sixty-five years of age, and one in each successive year, the whole, in the one hundred and thirtieth year of the world, would amount to one thousand two hundred and nineteen persons; a number sufficient to found several villages, and to excite the apprehensions under which Cain appeared at this time to labour.

John Kitto (1804-1854), Daily Bible Illustrations from Genesis:

Cain, we know, was married, which was probably the case also with Abel. They must, therefore, from the necessity of the case, have had sisters, with whom they contracted marriage, although neither their names, nor the fact of their birth, are recorded. One would like to have had some information respecting the first daughters of Eve. There is an old tradition, that Cain and Abel had respectively twin sisters, and that the twin of Cain became the bride of Abel, and the twin of Abel, the bride of Cain. She who was born with Cain is, in Arabian tradition, called Achima, and she born with Abel, Lebuda; but the Oriental Christians know them as Azrun and Ovain.

Johann F. K. Keil (1807-1888) and Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), Commentary on Genesis:

The name Nod denotes a land of flight and banishment, in contrast with Eden, the land of delight, where Jehovah walked with men. There Cain knew his wife. The text assumes it as self-evident that she accompanied him in his exile; also, that she was a daughter of Adam, and consequently a sister of Cain. The marriage of brothers and sisters was inevitable in the case of the children of the first men, if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair, and may therefore be justified in the face of the Mosaic prohibition of such marriages, on the ground that the sons and daughters of Adam represented not merely the family but the genus, and that it was not till after the rise of several families that the bands of fraternal and conjugal love became distinct from one another, and assumed fixed and mutually exclusive forms, the violation of which is sin. (Comp. Lev 18.)

Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), A New Commentary on Genesis:

Whence had Cain his wife? Did he find in the land of Nod human beings of both sexes? Impossible, for the actual unity of the human race is a fundamental doctrine of Scripture which is never broken through, and intends the descendants of Adam to be regarded as the entire human race. In any case we must regard Cain’s wife as a daughter of Adam (v.4). In saying this however free play is left to the imagination, and the narrative appears without disguise to be but a fragment of some lost connected history. It is quite unjustifiable reproach of Karl Hase, that Cain’s marriage with his sister involves the origin of mankind in incest. If the human race was to be propagated from a single pair, such closely related marriages were unavoidable. The notion of incest was originally limited to the reciprocal relation of parents and children, and afterwards extended (but not everywhere equally) in proportion as the possibility of conjugal connections was diversified. For marriage, according to its essential definition (ii. 24 sq.), was to be a new generic and social beginning, accompanied with a breaking off from the Toledoth from which the husband and wife originated.

August Dillmann (1823-1894), Genesis Critically & Exegetically Expounded:

It is not stated where Cain obtained a wife. In the original document, to which ver. 1 and ver. 17 ff. belonged, there may possibly have been mention previously of other sons and daughters of the man, or of a multiplication of the race. According to the context as it lies before us, we can only think of a daughter of Adam, therefore of a sister of Cain. The offensiveness of marriage between sisters and brothers is naturally absent in the case of the earliest ages of the human race.

H. D. M. Spence (1836-1917) and J. S. Exell (1849-1954) (editors), The Pulpit Commentary:

And Cain knew his wife. Who must have been his sister, and married before the death of Abel, as “after that event it can scarcely be supposed that any woman would be willing to connect herself with such a miserable fratricide” (Bush). Though afterwards forbidden, the tendency of Divine legislation on the subject of marriage being always in the direction of enlarging rather than restricting the circle of prohibited relationships, the union of brothers and sisters at the first was clearly indispensable, if the race was to multiply outwards from a common stock.

W. H. Griffith-Thomas (1861-1924), Genesis: A Devotional Commentary:

As to the perennial question of Cain’s wife, it is sufficient to say that she was either his sister or some other relative. In the absence of any law there would, of course, have been no sin in the marriage of a sister, and it is worthy of mention that within historic times the marriage of brother and sister was in practice in the royal family of Egypt, in order to secure unquestioned royalty of blood in the descent; and this was the case when the civilisation of Egypt was at its highest.

J. G. Murphy (1867), A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Genesis:

The wife of Cain was of necessity his sister, though this was forbidden in after times, for wise and holy reasons, when the necessity no longer existed.

H. C. Leupold (1891-1972), Exposition of Genesis:

Cain’s wife must have been his sister who followed him into exile; for Adam had sons and daughters according to 5:4. Nor can marriage to a sister at this early stage of the development of the human race be considered wrong or unnatural. If according to divine purpose the human race is to develop from one pair, then the marriage of brothers and sisters as well as of other close relatives will for a time be a necessity. Later on the nations may see fit to classify such unions as incestuous and seek to keep the human race from running its shoots back to the parent stem; and so they further its natural spread. But in the earlier history of mankind the union of those closely related was not abhorred. Abraham’s wife was his half-sister (20:12); cf. also 24:4 and 28:2.



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