Genesis iv. 18-24

June 28, 2010

[18-24. The descendants of Henoch.]

And Henoch begot Irad, and Irad begot Maviael, and Maviael begot Mathusael, and Mathusael begot Lamech: who took two wives: the name of the one was Ada, and the name of the other was Sella.  And Ada brought forth Jabel: who was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of herdsmen.  And his brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of them that play upon the harp and the organs.  Sella also brought forth Tubalcain, who was a hammerer and artificer in every work of brass and iron.  And the sister of Tubalcain was Noema.  And Lamech said to his wives Ada and Sella: Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech: for I have slain a man to the wounding of myself, and a stripling to my own bruising.  Sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for Cain: but for Lamech seventy times sevenfold.

18. Their names.

St. Jerome: “Irad, ‘descent of the city.’  Mahaiael [=Maviaël], ‘who is the Lord God?’ or ‘from life, God.’  Mathusale [=Mathusaël], ‘emission of death,’ or ‘he died, and questioned.’  Lamech, ‘one humiliated,’ or ‘beating, striking,’ or ‘beaten, struck.’”[1] (LNH).

St. Chrysostom: “You see how the course of the genealogy passes; the blessed writer makes mention of men only, and nowhere mentions women” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xx (a). 1.).

19-22. Lamech’s wives and children.

Cornelius: “Lamech, the first polygamist, violated the law of monogamy given in Gen. ii. 24.  Whence Pope Nicholas, writing to the king Lotharius, also a polygamist, calls Lamech an adulterer, as we have in cap. An non, xxiv. quæst. 3.

“After the flood, because the lifetime of men was shorter, and only Noe and his family had survived, God permitted marriage to several wives, lest men propagate too slowly.  This is clear, because Abraham and Jacob, most holy men, had several wives.  It is true that when the human race had spread sufficiently, the more cultivated Hebrews, Greeks and Romans began gradually to turn away from polygamy, and finally Christ removed it entirely, Matt. xix. 4.” (Commentaria, p 121).

St. Chrysostom: “See how the things regarding the comfort of the human race are gradually provided for.  First, Cain named the city he had built from his son.  Then, of the children born to Lamech’s wives, one gave himself to the tending of animals, another worked with metal, still another invented the harp and the organ”[2] (Homiliæ in Genesin, xx (a). 2.).

Cornelius: “Father: inventor, the first to do these things; therefore Jubal, the son of Lamech, was the inventor of the organ and harp; whence not a few think that it is from Jubal, who was jubilant, jocund and jovial, that the Romans took their words jubilare [to rejoice] and jubilum [joyful shout/cry/song]” (Commentaria, p 121).

Calmet, Fr. Haydock: “Noema is supposed to have invented the art of spinning (C).  All these worthy people were distinguished for their proficiency in the arts, while they neglected the study of religion and virtue (H).  The inventors of arts among the Greeks lived mostly after the siege of Troy (C).”

23-24. The words of Lamech; their interpretation.

Fr. Haydock: “St. Jerome, ix. 1. ad Dam. acknowledges the difficulty of this passage, on which Origen wrote two whole books.”

a. Hebrew tradition.

Cornelius: “For I have slain a man and a stripling.  Who, you ask, was this man, and who was the stripling?  The Hebrews, and from them St. Jerome, Rabanus, Lyranus, Tostatus, Cajetanus, Lipomanus, Pererius and Delrio, relate that Lamech killed Cain, his great-great-great-grandfather, in this way.  Lamech was going hunting in a forest that Cain had granted to him, either to walk in or to catch the breeze there.  Therefore Lamech’s companion, or his arms-bearer, noticing the noise and movement of the leaves that Cain was making, indicated to Lamech that a beast was hidden there.  Lamech threw his spear and killed, not a beast, but Cain.  When he found out what had happened, Lamech, burning with rage over the bad sign given by the arms-bearer, struck him with his bow or his club; whence he died shortly thereafter.  So Lamech killed a man – Cain – and a stripling – the arms-bearer.  Nor does verse 15 hinder this: for there God forbids only that anyone shall openly and knowingly kill Cain, whereas Lamech killed Cain by chance, unknowingly.

“However, Theodoretus, Burgensis, Catharinus and Oleastrus consider this tradition to be a fable: and with reason will it appear to be such, if the circumstances that some add to the story are considered; as that Cain was accustomed to walk and seclude himself, not in his city of Henoch, but in the woods; that Lamech was blind, or saw badly, and so when he went hunting he was deceived on account of his blindness by his companion, or by the arms-bearer, and so killed Cain; and that this companion, or arms-bearer, was Tubalcain, Lamech’s son – whom Moses and Lamech himself would surely have named here.

“It is certain, then, that Lamech killed some man, whoever it may have been.

b. Debated points.

“Furthermore, Theodoretus and Rupertus think that Lamech killed only one person, who in the Hebrew style of poetry and rhythm is called man, by reason of his sex, and stripling, by reason of his age – for the Hebrews, in their meter, repeat and explain the first half of the verse in the second half.  However, the others all teach that Lamech killed two people: for one is here called man, the other stripling; and, as it is in Hebrew, ieled, that is, boy; now a boy cannot be called a man.  Again, a man who studied with Emmanuel Sa incorrectly translates this speech as a question, and explains it in this way:  When Lamech heard, so he says, that it was bad for him to have married two wives, and they were afraid that something bad would happen to them on that account, he said to them: ‘Have I killed any man, that you should be afraid for my life?  If Cain’s killer is to be heavily punished, how much more him who should kill me?’  In fact, not only the Hebrew, but also our text, the Septuagint, the Chaldaic and others, read this as a statement, not a question.  Also incorrectly, Vatablus translates it as a conditional, in this way: ‘If I should receive a wound from anyone, even the strongest man, or from a stripling lacking in strength, I would kill him; for I am strong and powerful; therefore, my wives, there is nothing to fear for me or your children on account of polygamy.’

c. “To the wounding of myself, and a stripling to my own bruising”

“Read this as ‘through my wound, through the bruise of my envy,’ that is, ‘struck and inflicted by me in envy’; this is clear from the Hebrew.  Others explain it in a second way, as follows: ‘By the same wound with which I stabbed the man, I bloodied myself; and by the blow with which I discolored the stripling, I gave my soul a black bruise: the mark and guilt of murder, and thus I am liable to be wounded and bruised, and will myself be killed.’  Accordingly the Septuaginta translate, I have killed a man in a wound to me, and a stripling in a bruise to me.  This is what the Lord threatens to David the murderer: Thou hast killed Urias with thy sword; therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house.[3] Hence it is that murderers, terrified by their conscience, are always fearful, are terrified by the ghosts of the dead pursuing their killers, and consigning them to death.  Sophronius gives an excellent example in Prato Spirit. cap. clxvi, of a thief who has converted and become a monk, who constantly sees a boy following him, saying: Why did you kill me?  Begging for pardon he goes out of the monastery and enters the city, where he is captured and beheaded.  This latter sense is more profound, but the former is simpler” (Commentaria, p 121-122).

d. An exposition of the latter opinion: Lamech repents his crime.

St. Chrysostom: “Consider immediately, I beg you, from the beginning, how useful to Lamech was the punishment inflicted on Cain.  Not only does he not expect that he will be accused by another, although he has fallen into the same sin, and in fact more gravely; but with no one accusing or rebuking him, he makes himself known, and confesses what has happened, telling the women the greatness of his guilt, as though fulfilling what was said by the prophet: The just is first accuser of himself.[4] … See how he sits in judgment against himself, and exhorts his wives in this way, lest they receive what he says carelessly.  For he says, Hear my voice, and hearken to my speech: ‘Apply your minds intently,’ he says, ‘and listen diligently to what I am about to say.  For I shall not speak to you of common things; no, I shall open hidden things to you, and confess things that no one else knows, but I alone, and that eye that knows no sleep; I fear this eye, and hurry and gasp, that I may reveal to you what I have done, and how great are the punishments to which I have rendered myself liable by my impious deeds’ … What he says is great, and great indeed: we observe the soul of a man good in many ways.  For he not only confesses his deed, and brings into the open the murders he has committed; he also imposes punishment on himself, comparing his sin to that of Cain.  ‘For what pardon,’ he says, ‘shall the man receive, who was not made better by another’s punishment, but instead, having a fresh and powerful memory of it, added to it the accomplishment of a double murder?  I have killed a man,’ he says, ‘to my own wounding, and a stripling to my own scarring.  I did not harm,’ he says, ‘those I killed, so much as I harmed myself.

“The confession of sins is the abolition of guilt.  Now if Lamech did not flee from uncovering and confessing to his wives the murders he had committed, of what pardon shall we be worthy, if we will not confess our sins to Him who accurately knows all our crimes?

“What is more, if Lamech, who had neither a law to learn from nor prophets to hear, nor any other warning, knew by the judgment implanted in nature that he was guilty of what he had dared to do, and brought into the open the deeds he had committed, and condemned himself: how shall we have any defense, if we do not show our wounds with all diligence to the Lord so that we may receive medicine for them from Him?” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xx (a). 2-4.).


[1] The LXX gives the names as Γαϊδάδ, Μαλελεήλ, Μαθουσάλα, Λάμεχ.

[2] LXX: οὗτος ἦν ὁ καταδείξας ψαλτήριον καὶ κιθάραν (“He it was who invented the lyre and harp”). Vulgate/DR: He was the father of them that play upon the harp and the organ. Hebrew interlinear: He-was father-of every-of playing-of harp and-flute.  Cornelius: “Organ seems here to mean pipe or flute.”

[3] II Reg. xii. 9-10.

[4] Prov. xviii. 17.

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