This is Part 4 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.
Click here to read the entire series.
As we continue to discuss Genesis, it is critical that you understand that, from the perspective of the Pentateuch, Genesis is past history and Exodus is recent/unfolding history. That is, Genesis is a collection of sagas which have been orally transmitted to Moses and which, under divine inspiration, he is recording and editing. But Genesis is not really the point of the books of Moses-—far from it. Genesis is not supposed to tell the history of the world…rather, it is supposed to serve as a prologue to the salvation of the Hebrews in Egypt.
I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings. In the Lord of the Rings, you have a four excellent books which tell the history of how one family (the Baggins of Hobbiton) come to possess a magic ring and, through their sacrificial love and humility, rid the world of its greatest evil overlord. These four books (The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) are fantastic, rich, and detailed.
But there is another layer to the Lord of the Rings series. Author J.R.R. Tolkein spent years developing languages for the races of his series, writing their pre-history (The Simarillion), and adding appendices to clarify how events connected.
Genesis is rather like these “extra” books. Moses’ main purpose in the Pentateuch was to record the events of Exodus and the Law which resulted from these events. Thus, Exodus through Deuteronomy are the primary focus of Moses' work. But, just as with Tolkein, he saw the prehistory of how Israel got into slavery as noteworthy, and thus recorded it.
Make no mistake: Genesis is a prequel to the “main event” of Moses’ writings, and should be read as such.
This prequel was transmitted to Moses as eleven ‘sagas’—-the first being the Creation Song of last week. All of the other ten sagas begin with the phrase, “These are the generations of ______” and end with the death of the patriarch of that particular family line.
So as we enter our Second Saga, we are going to be told the history of the generations of “the heavens and the earth”—-that is, the generations of Adam and Eve, the first family who lived in the Garden.
So this section of Scripture is what I would name, “The Saga of the Garden,” for it records what happened after God made the heavens and the earth, in the Garden of Eden.
THE CREATION OF ADAM AND EVE (GEN 2:4-25)
Much confusion exists for Westerners reading Genesis 1 and 2. Some see these as two separate creation accounts which are contradictory; others try to parallel the events and consider it a ‘retelling.’ Both mistakes come from misunderstanding the structure of the text: Genesis is eleven unique sagas, not one linear story from end-to-end. Therefore, some sagas can overlap, and sections of time may be skipped between them.
This is case of an overlapping saga. Genesis 2:4-25 tells us the same things that were told to us in the sixth day of Genesis 1—-that God made man, and created them male and female, and named them His viziers on the Earth. Genesis 2:4-25 simply overlaps this statement, giving us more detail about it.
The Saga begins by setting the scene: no bush was in the ‘land’ yet, and no plant was in the ‘field’, there was no rain on the ‘land’. Now this is often assumed to be a statement that there was no rain cycle yet on the entire Earth, and no plants. But of course as we saw from Genesis 1 this is absurd: there is in fact a water cycle, including growing plants (for as we stated, this takes place on the sixth day).
So what are we to make of this? Genesis 1:1 establishes the setting of the first Saga by using the phrase “heavens and the earth” (shamayim ‘eth ‘erets)—that is, it is talking about the entirety of Creation. But in this Saga, Moses changes to use the words ‘land’ (‘erets), ‘ground’ (‘adamah), and ‘field’ (sadeh): that is, we are now using words referring to local geography rather than worldwide/cosmic geography.
So what local area are we discussing? We see in Gen 2:8 that we are discussing the Garden of Eden, in the East. This is the land which was unplanted and unwatered, a barren landscape which God is about to form into a beautiful location for His newly-created vizier. This is, essentially, man’s palace, from which he will rule over Creation.
Although this Saga gives us very clear markers of how to find Eden, the intepretation is lost to us in modern day. We know that the word eden was used other languages close to Hebrew: in Semitic language it means “luxury” and in Sumerian it means “field,” implying a steppe or large plain. Its location is mysterious, even though we are told the four rivers which surround it. The Tigris and Euphrates are certainly known to us all, and their names are consistent throughout history. The Gihon and Pishon are harder to figure out. Many argue that these are ancient names to tributary rivers; others put them to the east of the Tigris (though “Cush” is part of Egypt, in ancient times the Kassites, east of the Tigris, were called the Kush). Knowing only the Tigris and Euphrates for certain, we can only narrow down the location of Eden vaguely: it was either in the mountains of Armenia (where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin), or in southern Mesopotamia, where they converge and end.
All we can say with certainty is that somewhere in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates, God chose an open steppe or plain which had no trees or bushes and planted a Garden there.
In this Garden, God formed man and gave him the "breath of life" (neshamah chay), a spirit or soul. It seems to be this act which makes us "in His image" in Genesis 1, for it is the only act which separates man from the beasts of the field. This man we call Adam because the Hebrew word for man was...adam. (Creative, huh?)
The key point here for us today is: mankind is not randomly evolved. Frankly this is a pretty easy argument to make against evolutionists. It is true that man's body certainly bears resemblance to other ancients, as does our DNA. But about 50,000 BC, something happened that cannot be explained by evolutionists: anthropologists call it the "Great Leap Forward." The number of neurons in our brains increased exponentially when compared to Neanderthals and other man-like ancient creatures. It is impossible for the evolutionary theory to adequately describe how man can evolve slowly and then, all at once, start wearing jewelry and cooking meat and painting cave walls and making tools to make other tools and talking and burying their dead. Something drastically different happened, which cannot be adequately explained in evolutionary terminology: but of course, we have a clear explanation here.
God then plants the Garden (v.8), filled with all kinds of wonderful and pleasing trees. In the middle of the Garden was a special tree--the Tree of Good and Evil. This tree was covered with a pleasing fruit (probably some form of fig), and Adam was strictly banned from eating it. God promises that knowing good from evil will lead to spiritual death.
Why is this? Why would knowing good from evil lead to death? I expand on this very topic in some detail in my book (buy it here today!), but in a nutshell this is simply how the Law works. When we know something is wrong, we cannot help ourselves but to fixate on it and do it. When our children are young and innocent they have no concern at all for running around naked; it is no sin. But once they understand sex and exhibitionism, running around naked becomes a sin, for now they are trying to rebel against what is good. It is human nature that we are constantly breaking the laws that we believe are good, as soon as we learn of them. God knew that this would be the result for Adam as well.
Adam's choice, then, was to abstain from eating the fig of the Tree of Knowledge, and thus maintaining the pure innocence of childhood for his entire life...or eat from the tree and, knowing Moral Law, be held to its statutes.
In verses 19-25, we see God creating company for Adam. Even from the beginning, man was not meant to be alone; just as God is a social creature of three parts (Father, Son, and Spirit), so too is man an inherently social creature. At this point, "the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them" (Gen 2:19). This is often assumed to be a separate account of creation, but it is clearly not. The creation account in Genesis 1 uses the term bara' to indicate a new creation, and the word 'asah to indicate fashioning something out of a raw material. But here, we are told that God formed (yatsar) the beasts of the field (sadeh).
The word yatsar implies a potter working on clay (cf 1Chr 4:23, Isa 29:16, 30:14, etc.) by squeezing it into shape. This is not God newly-creating all the animals of Genesis 1, but rather is Him making individual animals in this location for Adam to name. This word could cover anything from God making the animals migrate through the Garden, to creating them fresh out of the ground to pop up in the Garden.
Also, it is important to note that the Bible NEVER says that Adam named all the animals of the earth, as people often think. Here it says that God formed the beasts of the field (sadeh). This, as we discussed earlier, implies a LOCAL geography. (For other examples of this usage, see: Gen 23:9, 23:13, 23:19, 24:63, 24:65, 25:9, etc.) Sadeh without doubt here refers only to the Garden of Eden.
In other words, this passage--properly understood--does not show God parading tens of thousands of animals in front of Adam, as he (boredly) says, "Tiger, lion, giraffe..." etc. Nor does this even make sense. As the Hebrews well knew, there were dozens of different languages by the time Moses was writing Genesis, and all had different names for animals.
No, read in context, this verse means that God brought to Adam all of the local beasts who would live in the Garden, so that he could name them. Giving them names was a sign that Adam was in charge over them: it was a sign of his authority as God's vizier on Earth. It is not an ancient biological classification system, but rather means that God brought all of the animals in the Garden (not the earth, 'erets!) to Adam, and Adam demonstrated his authority over them by naming them.
But man--like God--needs the company of people like himself. So God creates a woman (who is named "Woman") to be Adam's companion. The Bible says in Genesis 2:24 that this is the reason that a man should leave his parents and form a new family, and that when he does they become something new together.
(Aside: Some skeptics claim that Genesis 2:22-23 indicates that the Bible teaches that men have one less rib than women, and this is why this 'myth' developed. Of course that is absurd. Hebrews--as did everyone in the ancient world--had seen plenty of dead bodies and were quite capable of counting ribs! Further, even the most fundamentalist young earth creationist points out that this act would only have affected Adam, and not be passed on to later generations.)
THE FALL OF MAN (GEN 3:1-24)
As we enter Genesis chapter 3, we see the sort of "inciting incident" that sets the rest of human history in motion--the fall of man. Up until this point, Adam and Eve have been with God an indeterminate amount of time in the Garden. We do not know how many days or years or millennia they were together in the Garden before this event occurred; our Western eyes tend to read this passage as occurring immediately, but we are given no time indication here. Even the age of Adam recorded later cannot be taken as an example, for his life "countdown" could very well not have started until after his expulsion from the Garden.
The serpent here seems to be a lizard with legs of some sort, perhaps a salamander or dinosaur-like quadrapedal lizard. Of course we Christians and later Jews like to discuss a great deal about who is possessing this serpent to speak and deceive; but our purpose is to understand what Moses and his readers understood, and the concept of Lucifer/Satan was completely unknown to them. All they knew from their Saga was that a serpent was talking to the woman.
This serpent decieves the woman with a lie that even today we tend to believe: that God does not want the best for us. He asks us to do something, but in reality He is playing some bigger game, and is withholding from us good. Maybe He asks us to give sacrificially, and as a result we are not able to afford the house we want: evil starts tickling our ears with the question of the serpent--that God really says "No" because He is withholding good from you (v.4-5).
The woman, desiring to be wise, ate of the fruit and her husband--who was with her the entire time and did nothing to dissuade her--ate as well (v.6).
At this point, a great awakening occurred within them, and they understood Moral Law. They became concerned about their nudity, lost their innocence, and covered themselves with fig leaves (quite possibly from the very same tree).
God reacts to this rebellion against His one Law by cursing Adam and Eve and their descendents. The curse is the same for both: exile.
This is often missed by Christians today. We read the chapter linearly and thus see the curse as: man has to work in the ground and woman has painful childbirth, oh and by the way you are both kicked out of the Garden.
But this is not the case at all. The Garden, recall, was man's refuge and palace. The world outside its walls was wild and barbaric and untamed. The Garden was safe, controlled, cultivated. Adam and Eve had no major duties, fruit bore itself, and they were close to God directly. There were no childbirth pains because there was no sex and thus no pregnancy. Both were innocent as children, and their love as husband and wife was not erotic in nature at that time. Adam was not working the land because there was no need--all of his food was provided for him by fruit trees. All he had to do was reach.
The curse, make no mistake, is the Exile. It is being cast out of the Garden so that they could not eat of the tree of eternal life and become fallen, sinful immortals (3:22,24). God kicked Adam and Eve out of their paradise and, as a result, into the natural and very wild world. Here Adam would have to work for his success, causing sweat. Here he would age and die (v.19). Here Eve would get pregnant and go through the pain of childbirth.
We wrongly discuss the world as a "fallen world"--no, it isn't! It is a wild world. God created a teeming wilderness where man was not intended to be, and He created a tame Garden from which man could rule as His vizier. It is man who fell, not the world. In the Garden we were protected from earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes...but did they still occur in the wild world? Of course! In the Garden the animals lived in peace with man and the trees provided the fruit and there was no death. But parallel to this, was death occuring in the wild world as carnivores ate each other? Of course!
Westerners wrongly read Genesis 2 as the state of the entire world, when in fact is it the record of the Garden--as is clearly shown by the multiple uses of the world "field" instead of "earth." Outside the Garden, for God-only-knows how many eons, the wild world continued and evolved as it normally does. And because man fell and rebelled, he was kicked out of his sanctuary and exposed to this wild world...that was his curse.
MAN IN EXILE (GEN 4:1-26)
The end of the saga of the generations of the Garden is told in Genesis 4. Here we see what happens when Adam and Eve are released into the wild world of Earth, their return to the Garden no longer being possible (3:25).
Adam and Eve begin having sex for the first time (4:1) and she shortly gets pregnant. She gives birth to Cain and Abel (and almost certainly, sisters as well during this period).
Cain took responsibility to farm the land, while Abel began domesticating sheep. Cain and Abel both made an offering to the God who had exiled them, in the hopes of pleasing Him. Now as Moses and the Hebrews in Egypt would have well known, offerings were done to gain favor from God for future crops.
Here we see that Abel's offering was found pleasing to God, but God had "no regard" for Cain's offering. This might mean--as we Westerners generally read it--that God somehow shone the light down on Abel and Cain grew into a fast fit of rage.
But I doubt that is the case. Agricultural offerings were done in the hopes of securing the next harvest. Most likely, God's "having regard" for Abel's offering but having "no regard" for Cain's means that God allowed Abel to have a successful birthing with his flock, while Cain had a bad harvest. Cain, angry at God for not blessing him, confronts God.
Now God's response is fasincating. Most interpret it to be God saying that Cain did not do well with his offering, but is that really what He says? To wit:
The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Gen 4:6-7)
This is a situation every parent can understand. Imagine that one of your kids does something which pleases you and you praise him for it; your other kid then gets made that you did not praise him as well. You respond, "Don't be mad! If you do good things I will praise you, too," and then warning them, "Make sure you can control your anger. Sin is trying to distract you, stay in control."
But Cain doesn't stay in control. He kills Abel. God then curses Cain by saying that never again will his crops yeild harvests (v.11-12). Unable to grow crops, Cain will be forced to wander throughout the earth and will be a "fugitive" from his family, driven out of the area where Adam and the rest of the first family is staying.
This next section of Scripture is among, I think, the most interesting and misunderstood.
Recall that at this point, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, and established a place to live and raise their family probably somewhere in Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent). Cain is then kicked out of this area to be a fugitive and wanderer.
Cain's response? "Whoever finds me will kill me." And then later, in verse 16, Cain will reach a seemingly-settled area called Nod and start a family with a woman there.
Now what does this mean? Who was Cain in danger from? He was a fugitive separated from Adam and Eve's homestead, so it isn't them. He fears death from someone OUTSIDE of their area, and eventually settles with some of these people and marries one of them. So who are these people?
There are three plausible explanations, I think:
(1) Cain's Unnamed Sisters (and maybe brothers)
The traditional explanation is that these are some of Adam and Eve's other children. We know that Adam had "other sons and daughters" (Gen 5:4), but we do not know how many or when. The presumption is that some of these unnamed siblings left the family voluntarily, for reasons not recorded in Scripture, and those are whom Cain joined/feared.
Now this is of course entirely possible. Recall that Moses is writing received oral sagas that are thousands of years old by the time he gets them. For gaps to exist, and names be forgotten or not included, is not at all a shock; in particular, if something shameful was done by these people (such as deserting their family, a major sin in the culture of Moses), then they may well have been left out of the tales purposefully. Further, their family relationship would explain why Cain feared retribution from them for his sin of killing Abel.
However, there is something which brings me pause for this explanation. Recall that Cain was forced to be a fugitive away from his family, and clearly fears being killed once he was to start wandering around the earth. It seems difficult to believe that this event was noteworthy of recording, yet it was not noteworthy that enough sons and daughters had left to become a "people/tribe" nearby. When you read this section, there seems to be an underlying terror and revulsion at the idea of leaving the Garden and becoming a nomad--as though it were the worst thing that God could do to Cain. So it seems strange that this was not recorded about the other brothers and sisters.
That said, "strange" and "implausible" are not the same thing, and this remains the most widely-believed interpretation of the passage.
However, I do think there are two other explanations which deserve consideration.
(2) The tribe of Nod were Neanderthals
Modern geneticists now believe based upon the mapping of the human genome that the human-like Neanderthals vanished not due to plague or war, but because they interbred with humans. Neanderthals were physically similar to humans, capable of using tools and some speech...but they simply lacked the neurological capacity and the Great Leap Forward that humans have. They were sort of sub-human: not human at all in terms of intellect or spiritual outlook, but close enough physically for interbreeding.
So it is feasible that the Neanderthals were in fact advanced apes (slightly less-hairy chimps) capable of interbreeding with humans but lacking the soul that God breathed into Adam and Eve. So, while Adam and Eve were in the Garden, these man-like creatures we now call the Neanderthals (whom evolutionists wrongly identify as ancestors) were in fact wandering around and forming nomadic civilizations, just as archaeology indicates. These were the people of the land of Nod, and it is there that Cain was exiled to--and from these barbarians whom he feared would kill him.
This explanation also makes sense linguistically. The land of Nod (nawd) in Hebrew literally means, "wandering." It is generally assumed that this is simply a reference to God calling Cain a wanderer in verse 14, but it may be much more specific than that. The people of Nod may have been called Wanderers because they were nomads, as all Neanderthals were. Part of Cain's curse was that he too would have to be an uncivilized Wanderer (4:12), joining the hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes nearby who incapable of growing crops (just as Cain now was).
So Cain headed for the nomadic Neanderthal tribes living in Nod, and intermarried with them. God, still loving this human Cain, protected him from being killed during his journey (Gen 4:15). Verses 17-24 record the line of Cain, and some of the generations which followed him.
This is not only Biblically solid (explaining Cain's fear and God's curse), but also dovetails with both the findings of modern genetics and archaeological/anthropological evidence. As a Christian, though, this theory cannot be accepted unless it is also clearly understood that only the children related to Adam and Eve are actually humans, and therefore have souls; the "people of Nod" (other than Cain's line) were not humans at all in this theory.
(3) The tribe of Nod were fallen angels
Christians often get hung up on the fact that Adam and Eve were the only human-like beings around...despite the archaeological evidence (discussed in theory 2 above). But what is more surprising is that Christians forget that we know for a fact Biblically at least some other human-like creatures were, in fact, around at this time.
In Genesis 6:1-4 (which we will discuss more at length next week), we see that there are people interbreeding with Adam's line, causing a shorter lifespan and angering God enough to bring about the Flood. Next week we will discuss all options of who they may be, but one such option is that they were fallen angels, demons who were having sex with Adam's line and polluting the human gene pool.
If so, we do not know exactly when they came down and began interbreeding. Genesis 5-6 is a saga of Adam's line, which of course overlaps the Genesis 4 saga of Cain's line. So it is entirely possible that the "people of Nod" whom Cain feared joining were demons roaming the land. This too would explain both his fear and the physiological similarity necessary to allow him to take a wife.
So any of these three are valid possibilities for Cain joining a nomadic people and finding a wife.
Genesis returns to Adam in 4:25, saying, "And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth". Seth is said to be a replacement for the loss of Cain. The implication of this passage is that Seth is the first (male) child born since Cain killed Abel, and therefore it seems to me that scenarios 2 and 3 above are more likely than the "land of Nod" being some offshoot of Adam's unmentioned daughters. But any of the three are possible, and the identity of the people of Nod is not really critical at any rate.
CONCLUSION OF THE SAGA
The Second Saga was written to tell the history of the "generations of creation"--that is, the events in the Garden and shortly after the Exile. Here we see Adam and Eve decieved into distrusting God in the Garden, and then exiled into the wild Earth from which they had previously been protected. They set up a civilized family life, tending sheep and planting crops and having babies. After one son kills his brother, God exiles him from this family (just as He had exiled Adam from the Garden). Cain is forced to go even further into the wild, joining nomadic Wandering tribes. He intermarries with them, and this is the end of this second Saga.