CONTEXT: This much told story (Kayin and Hevel, recast as Cain and Abel), with its interesting epilogue, presents moral and theological questions and linguistic issues. I leave the first two for the reader/listener to ponder.
            “The man,” in the first line, renders ha’adam, o¨s¨t¨v, where the definite article (ha-) indicates the general meaning, “person,” as it does in the Garden story, Genesis 3. This story calls for the more restricted meaning, “man.”  Note that verse 25, at the end of the epilogue, the same word appears without the definite article signifying that there Adam is a proper noun.
            “The man knew Chavah” is a simplistic translation of the suggestive biblical idiom for sexual intercourse.  Speiser points out that in Babylonia, the Akkadian cognate may be used the same way and extends even to dogs. (Anchor Genesis, 1964, p 31)
"Woman," isha, אִשָּׁה, can be interpreted as "wife," in this story. I use the word as it shows up in Hebrew and let the reader/listener do the interpreting.
            The narrative interprets “Kayin” as a word play on kanah, which means “acquire.” Had Hevel a parallel explanation, it would be “for nothing, in vain.” As a noun, hevel occurs in “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
            “Sin is a demon at the door” references a Babylonian image of a being, depicted both as benevolent and malevolent, often lurking at the entrance of a building to protect or threaten the inhabitants. The Hebrew rovets, .ֵc«r, is generally read as a verb–though as a verb it would be the wrong gender here–meaning “couch, crouch,” but it could be read as a noun, cognate to the Akkadian rabitsum for the above described demon. (Speiser, op.cit. pp 32-3)
            “Shet” is a word play on shat, ,¨J, meaning “put, set.” “Shet,” in preference to the frequently found “Seth,” illustrates the advantage of transliterating from the Hebrew, which allows the reader connection to the word play.  Seth is from the Septuagint, Σηθ­Greek having no “sh” sound. (Cain is the Latin form of the Greek, Καιν, Abel is straight from the Greek, Αβελ–Greek having no letter for “h.”)

Genesis 4:1-16
            1The man knew Chavah, his woman. She conceived and bore Kayin, as to say: “With Yahh, I have acquired a man.” 2Continuing, she bore his brother, Hevel, (as to say, “for nothing.”) Hevel was a herder of flocks, Kayin, a worker of ground.
            3Eventually Kayin brought a tribute for Yahh from the fruit of the ground. 4Hevel, too, brought, of the firstborn and fattest of his flock. Yahh looked with approval on Hevel and his tribute 5and did not look with approval on Kayin and his tribute. Kayin grew very angry and his face fell.
            6Yahh said to Kayin, “Why are you angry? Why is your face fallen? 7Is it not that if you do good there is uplift? And if you do not do good: sin is a demon at the door, attracted to you–though you can master him.”
            8Kayin said to his brother Hevel, “. . .”  And it happened. When they were in the field Kayin rose against his brother Hevel and killed him.
            9“Where is your brother Hevel?” said Yahh to Kayin.
            “I have not known,” said he. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
            10“What have you done?! A voice. Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11So, now, you are cursed from the ground that opened her mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12Should you work the ground she will not continue giving you her strength. You shall be a wanderer and drifter on the earth.”
            13“My guilt is too heavy to bear,” said Kayin to Yahh. 14“Here you have driven me off the face of the land today. I will be hidden from your face. If I am to be a wanderer and drifter in the land, it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”
15Yahh said to him, “Should any who kills Kayin be sevenfold avenged?” and Yahh set for Kayin a mark that any who find him should not strike him. 16Kayin left the presence of Yahh and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:17-26  Epilogue+

            17Kayin knew his woman–she conceived and bore Chanoch. As it happened, Kayin was building a city. He named it Chanoch, after his son.
            18To Chanoch was born Irad. Irad begat M’chuya’el, who begat M’tusha’el, who begat Lemech.
19Lemech took himself two women, one named Adah, the other, Tsilah. 20Adah bore Yaval who was ancestor to tent dwellers with livestock. 21His brother’s name was Yuval who was ancestor to all who take up lyre and pipe. 22Tsilah, too, bore: Tubal Kayin, sharpener of plows, bronze or iron. Tubal Kayin’s sister was Na’amah.
            23Said Lemech to his women, Adah and Tsilah:
Hear my voice, women of Lemech,        listen to what I say.
I have killed a man for wounding me,        a child for bruising me,
For Kayin is sevenfold avenged,        and Lemech seventy seven!

            25Adam knew his woman again and she bore a son. She named him Shet, “for God has set me other seed in place of Hevel (for Kayin killed him).” 26To Shet, as well, was born a son. He named him Enosh. It was then that calling upon the name of Yahh was begun.

© Rabbi David L. Kline  


Ray Green said...

In reading your translation of the Cain and Able story, I noticed that there are three dots in this sentence; “Cain said to his brother Abel,…and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.” I went back to the JPS translation and sure enough, the three dots are there too. Until now, I hadn’t really thought about this and I assume the translator used the three dots to indicate something analogous in the Hebrew text. Although I have not read the entire Bible, it seems to me that the writer/editors had no trouble creating dialogue that they could not have been privy to. To me, the inclusion of … is not because the writer didn’t know what was said, (even in the context of a novel or folk tale), but because he didn’t want to say something. Those three dots indicate to me that a lot may have happened and been said before the fatal blow occurred. Any thoughts?

David L. Kline said...

"Those three dots indicate to me that a lot may have happened and been said before the fatal blow occurred." The rabbis, in Midrash Genesis Rabba 22:7, agree with you. In separate opinions, they have the brothers arguing over property rights, their mother, their sisters(Kayin was a twin, Hevel was a triplet in the Midrash). Rashi simply suggests they were arguing.
The ellipsis is an imperfect rendering of what is called a "lacuna" in the text. The Hebrew has ~vayomer~, meaning "he said," as distinguished from "he spoke." We might expect something like: He said, "Let's go out to the field." Ellipsis is deliberate. Lacuna is more likely to have been a scribal error