Dr. Stephan Davis
“When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.’ 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. 5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’…Now the earth was corrupt [or, spoiled] in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’” (Gen 6:1-7, 11-3)
Genesis 1 pronounces the creation ideally “good” (tob me’od, Gen 1:31) and the creator well-disposed toward the human person. Adam and Eve’s disobedience — and the resulting curses of the human person’s relationships with God, each other, and the environment — is the first step in the degrading or dis-ordering of creation. Genesis 3-11 narrates the steps of de-creation, the undoing of the original goodness. Rather than the gods corrupting the cosmos from the beginning, in the biblical storyworld the human person introduces evil into the created order: violence, murder, polygamy, uncomplimentary sexual relationships and the un-natural mingling of spiritual beings with humankind. De-creation begins when the human person introduces evil into the world. The heavenly beings join in — signaling a full-scale rebellion — to fully corrupt the created order.
The story of Cain immediately follows the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. His story is difficult for readers because it provokes more questions than it provides answers. The initial mystery is his birth, which is described in odd language: “Adam knew his wife Eve, she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘I have gotten a man with Yahweh’” (Gen 4:1). To “get a man” does not seem a proper description of giving birth to a baby boy, so some ancients suspected that Cain was born with some characteristics of a developed human being: his legs could run and hands grab. Perhaps this unique birth could only have taken place with Yahweh’s intervention, and what appears to be a great moral failure is connected with Cain’s monstrous birth. Thus Cain appears to be flawed from the beginning.
Yet within the story there seems to be a clearer explanation of Cain’s monstrous act. Cain is described as a “worker of the ground” and he presents his offering to Yahweh from the “fruit of the ground” (Gen 4:2-3). Readers will recall that the ground (‘adamah) was cursed as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Gen 3:17). This curse is not repealed until Gen 8:21, when Yahweh — who has received a sweet smelling offering from Noah — declares “I will not continue to curse the ground (‘adamah) because of humankind (‘adam).” Thus Cain unwittingly gives Yahweh a gift from the cursed ground. Yahweh’s lack of regard for Cain’s offering is understandable, but not to Cain, who was not born when the ground’s curse was announced. In other words, Cain may have simply been unaware of the curse. His ignorance leads to anger and despair (Gen 4:5). Yahweh alerts Cain that he must exercise self-control: “sin is at the door; it wants you, but you must rule it” (Gen 4:7). This is the first time the term sin (hatta't) appears in Scripture. In the New Testament writings of the apostle Paul, Sin and Death will emerge as the two great enemies of the human person that are conquered by Christ’s death and resurrection. The sin that preys on Cain anticipates the later biblical perception of Sin as a power and the plague of all human existence.
Cain does not control his emotion, but rather murders his brother in the field (Gen 4:8). His act exhibits the destructive potential of the human person. In other ancient accounts, violence originates with the gods, but in the biblical storyworld the human is responsible. Yahweh, the God who formed the father Adam, encourages the son Cain to avoid this great evil. Cain’s act comes with its own curse, his: he is cursed from the ground (’adamah) that received Abel’s blood (4:11). As the father’s error resulted in the (’adamah)’s disorientation, so the son’s tragic evil deed becomes his own alienation from the very ground upon which he relies. I say “tragic” here to draw attention to the nature of Cain’s fall: an ignorantly flawed gift leads to a disproportionately evil act. Then Cain must live with the self-knowledge that he killed his own brother Abel, and he must live “on the earth” ('eretz, not ‘adamah) as a fugitive and wanderer (4:12), all the while bearing the mark that signifies him as the first murderer who is under the protection of Yahweh (4:15). Is it any wonder that Cain exclaims, “my punishment ('awon) is greater than I can bear” (4:13)? 'Awon is a typical word for “iniquity” in the Hebrew Old Testament, so Christian readers can recognize in Cain’s anguished expression an anticipation (prolepsis) of the crucified Christ who bears the world’s “too great” 'awon on himself (see Isa 53:5).
Without excusing Cain’s misdeed, Yahweh protects him from becoming a victim of the violence he initiated. Some readers perceive an even greater reclamation in the favor Yahweh grants Cain’s lineage, who introduce significant elements of human culture: building cities, dwelling in tents, cattleherding, musical instruments, and metalwork (Gen 5:17, 20-22). This interpretation assumes the ancients looked at these innovations as progress rather than degradation. There is no conclusive evidence, but at least one ancient thought writing was taught to humans by an evil angel. Of more profound significance is Genesis’s contrast of the lineages of Seth and Cain, which represent the two ways of humankind.
Seth is Cain’s brother, born to Adam and Eve after Abel’s murder (Gen 4:25). Seth’s status in the story is signified by the alignment of the birth of his first son Enosh with a key biblical innovation: “at that time people began calling on the name of Yahweh” (4:26). The status of Seth’s lineage is identified with Enoch, the seventh son from Adam and Seth. Twice Genesis states that Enoch “walked with God” (5:22, 24). For the ancients Enoch was the archetype of the visionary because of his mysterious disappearance from the scene: “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God (Elohim) took him” (5:24). It was assumed that Enoch was taken to the heavenly world, where he witnessed supernal mysteries. Enoch becomes an exemplar in the biblical story (Sir 44:16, 49:14; Heb 11:5) and an apocalypse written in Enoch’s name was cited as an authority in the New Testament (Jude 1:14). Thus Enoch’s status in the biblical story is beyond what might be warranted based on the little narrative space devoted to him.
In contrast to Enoch, the seventh in the Adam-Cain line is Lamech, who becomes the first person to take two wives (Gen 4:19) and commits the second murder (4:23). The narrative suggests a contrasting two ways of Adam: the way of Adam-Cain-Lamech, characterized by murder, polygamy, and human culture; the way of Adam-Seth-Enoch, characterized by the invocation of the name above all names and walking with God. The Cain-Lamech way is the degradation of Adam, the undoing of the human person made in the image of God (1:26-27). The Seth-Enoch lineage must in some way signify the hopefulness in the human person, if for no other reason than the “righteous” (zaddiq) and “blameless” (tamim) Noah comes from this line (6:9). Perhaps the use of the term “walk” (hithallek) in the early chapters of Genesis is the hint: as Yahweh walked in the garden (3:8), so Enoch and Noah walked with God (6:9). The Cain-Lamech way is terminated by the flood, so all further degradation of the human person comes through Seth-Enoch-Noah.
Genesis shows that the human person’s behavior affects the ground (‘adamah) . Because of Adam the ground is cursed (Gen 3:17); the blood of victim Abel cries out from the ground (4:10-11). Noah’s father anticipates that his son would ease the harship of the ‘adamah: “This one will provide relief (= verbal form of the name Noah) from the work and toil of our hands, which is due to Yahweh’s cursing of the ground ‘adamah” (5:29). Noah’s relief appears only after the ‘adamah is cleansed by the flood (8:21).
According to Gen 6:2-3, heavenly beings of some sort joined in the corruption of creation: “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were good, so they took as many wives as they chose.” This degrades original goodness on a number of levels. Although “sons of God” is ambiguous here, it is clearly in contrast to “daughters of humankind,” suggesting therefore that heavenly beings are participating in the degradation and signaling a full-scale rebellion against the created order. The narrative suggests that a legendary race of “mighty ones,” the Nephilim, came from the dis-ordered union (6:4). Nephilim was translated in the Septuagint (Greek OT) as gigantes, which could mean “giants,” but the actual Hebrew derivation is from naphal, “to fall.” In other words, the term Nephilim suggests “fallen ones.” Although the biblical text is vague, these Nephilim seem to be an unholy hybrid who represent the corruption of the human person.
Taking more than one wife continues the corruption introduced by Lamech (4:19, but it also anticipates the behavior of Israel’s future kings. signaling a full-scale rebellion -- to fully corrupt the created order. According to Genesis, the degree of human corruption was a surprise to the one who formed Adam:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.… Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Gen 6:5-6, 11-12)
Note the reinforcement of the judgment: only-evil-continually. Readers of the Bible should begin to look for such statements of extent in the biblical story. The flood appears in the story as God’s response.
Noah emerges from Seth’s lineage.
Noah also walked with God (Gen 6:9). He is from Seth’s lineage, so his role as sole remnant of the sons of Adam is also the remnant . “Remnant” signifies the small percentage of God’s people through whom Yahweh keeps his promises to Israel. The explicit use of remnant (Heb. she'ar) appears later in the biblical story as an explanation for Joseph’s unlikely rescue of his family.
F The flood story must not be separated from the status of the tob me’od creation: spoiled, only evil continually, filled with violence. It is not an act of random violence, but the consequence of human corruption — some use divine justice as the descriptor of this sort of act. Noah represents divine mercy, then, although the text also suggests reward, since Noah, like Enoch his ancestor, “walked with God” (Gen 5:24; 6:9).
In human culture: 60+ peoples have flood stories; 200+ stories in all.
Genesis different because of meaning of flood:
Babylonian story = human making too much noise;
Genesis = world corrupt, full of violence
But a great flood should be apparent to archaeologists: vast majority = no evidence of flood
> How do we reconcile: universality of story but lack of evidence?
Eden flooded? No, either because it is in sacred space, untouched by corruption and judgment, or on a mountain, the highest mountain (Ez 28:13-14).
1. Progressive Revelation, or Why Is Yahweh so Cruel?
a. Problem defined: As depicted in many of the stories of the OT, Yahweh appears to be a cruel God
“Cruel” = punishing people too severely, showing favoritism
not meeting modern standards of good behavior
not acting as one might expect of the good God or God of love that Christianity has preached
b. Christian Theology accepts progressive revelation: our conception of the Bible’s God develops as the story unfolds
what occurs early in the biblical story is not true for the story as a whole
It is only in the suffering of God in our world that God’s character is fully revealed
c. Classic Christian formulation: What is concealed in the OT is revealed in the NT
Han Urs von Balthasar (20th century Catholic theologian): the OT consists of formless fragments of God; it is only in the person of Christ that these fragments find their form
d. The cross as the sign of God’s solidarity with, and experience of human suffering
e. Jewish Theology, which rejects God in Christ, has to deal in other ways with the negative impression of Yahweh:
“Wrestling” with God is expected ( derivation of name Israel in Gen 32:28)
Recognizes that the command to love God (Deut 6:5) must be commanded because God does not always appear lovable
Thus, loving God is an act of faith in God’s ultimate goodness despite apparent negative characteristics
f. In both Jewish and Christian traditions doubt is an element of faith rather than its negation
g. In OT class, without the influence of the OT, Yahweh may appear cruel and unfair
Yahweh must be compared to other ANE gods
OT students not required to accept the ultimate goodness of Yahweh, but they are required to understand the ANE context rather than superimpose modern concepts of God onto ancient texts
2. All of Genesis 1–11 may be called the primeval history = one story
Primeval = “of, or relating to the earliest ages”
still in realm of mythology: but is mythological non-theological?
a. The story of Israel alone begins in Genesis 12 with Abraham
b. Why did ancient Israel tell its own story beginning with the creation and “pre-history” of all humanity?
3. History as Progressive Degeneration
a. opposite of our idea of progress
works well within Platonic system of emanations: the further the world gets from its point of origin, the more it deteriorates; the level of imperfection of someone or thing corresponds to its spatial or temporal distance from the origin of life
because the creation account in Genesis 1 is positive (in contradistinction to some of the other ANE creation stories) the degeneration in the chapters that follow is all the more acute
F Students should be able to chart the steps of degeneration in Genesis 1–11
b. in ancient Israelite thought, degeneration often linked with the increase in new arts and technologies (e.g. writing)
Cain’s “geneology” features the originators of tentmaking, cattle, music, metalworks (Gen 4:17–22; next slide)
some think Cain is “redeemed” in Genesis because his “family” founded so many important things – yes or no?
“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. And Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubalcain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (Gen 4:17–22)
Contrast: in context of Seth and his son Enosh: “At that time people began to invoke the name of Yahweh” (4:26)
Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)
story = an etiology:
an explanation from antiquity why some aspect of the world is like it is; a cause or origin story
tower story explains why the peoples were dispersed throughout the earth and the differentiation of languages – a degeneration from good creation
Tower of Babel = ziggurat, a Mesopotamian temple of successive stages (like a wedding cake); a fabricated cosmic mountain
story mocking the well known ziggurat in Babylon (where Jews were exiled), dedicated to Marduk?
Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian in 539 BCE
perhaps a satirical play on the etymology of “Babylon”: not “gate to the gods” (bab-ili) but “place of confusion” (bll)
“Therefore its name was called Babel, because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth; and from there Yahweh scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Gen 11:9)
Patterns of Contraction and Expansion in Primeval History (Genesis 1–11)
Begins with one couple who become parents of all of humanity
contraction: one chosen = Noah
expansion: Noah’s sons become the ancestors of all of humanity (70 nations = everyone)
further expansion hidden in the promises to Abraham
contraction: Isaac rather than Ishmael, Jacob rather Esau
1. Noahide Covenant
1st use of “covenant” = Gen 6:18
after the flood God institutes a covenant with all of humanity, a universal covenant rather than the exclusive covenant which is later given only to Israel: “covenant…with every living creature” (Gen 9:9–10)
Eternal covenant (9:16) is different than covenants that must be made anew
Stipulations of the Noahide Universal Covenant
“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1)
A condemnation of non-productive sexuality?
While animals may now be killed for food, their blood must be drained (Gen 9:3–5): “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood”
in later periods Jews understood that the Noahide covenant meant God expected all people – not just Jews – to have at least a minimal standard of behavior.
In the early days of the church, Jewish Christians decided that gentile Christians should at least follows these laws: “abstain from idolatry, from sexual immorality, and from what is stangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20)