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Genesis 3-6

March 5, 2012

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters.  Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died. – GENESIS 5:28-31

My Kindle app informs me that after a rather lengthy preface and six chapters of Genesis I am 0% of the way through this edition of the ESV.  There’s a long way to go, but I’m enjoying myself so far and am eagerly pushing forward.

Genesis 3 is the well-known story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.  Of all the chapters in all the books of the Bible this is clearly one of the most influential, and like Genesis 1 it probably deserves a more thorough treatment than I am going to give it.  It’s impressive to realize just how many times I have heard the story of “the Fall,” and how many variations and criticisms of it I have been exposed to even as a young, secular American born near the end of the twentieth century.  Genesis 3 is etched not only in our collective Western and perhaps global psyche but in my own individual memory.  I’ve read Milton, and I frequently think about his version of events, but Paradise Lost didn’t cross my mind during the couple of minutes it took to get through this chapter.  The non-subtle gender dynamics and God’s strangely gender-specific punishment of Eve, so often highlighted in critiques and retellings, was of course impossible to ignore, so I would be remiss not to acknowledge it here.  I’d like to know more about the exact properties of the forbidden tree (by the way, were there actually two trees, one for knowledge and one for eternal life?  I wonder how things would have played out differently if humans had eaten the fruit of the latter rather than the former.)  The flaming sword blocking the entrance to Eden was a nice touch — was it the first sword that was created, and did humans base their design of future blades on this original, divinely-created one?  I’m somehow more interested in these props than in the story itself and whatever it purports to tell us about human nature.

On the other hand, I found Genesis 4 and 5 genuinely engaging.  Of course Cain kills Abel in another story we all know pretty well, but in short order there’s a second murder which I hadn’t heard about previously.  The culprit is a man named Lamech.  He’s the great-great-great-grandson of Cain and he has two wives, Adah and Zillah.  We don’t even know the name of Cain’s wife (let alone when or how she came to exist, another one of those relatively cliched criticisms), but we are given these specific details about Lamech’s family.  Anyway, Lamech murders someone for “wounding” him and states, “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-seven fold.”  I think this is all we hear about Lamech (Wikipedia tells me that he is NOT the same Lamech as the father of Noah mentioned in the passage at the top of this post; there are two Lamechs around the same time period.)  The brief story of the polygamous, murderous Lamech must have meant something to the author, but it seems quite random to me.  It actually feels like a reference to some separate folk tale that contemporary readers and listeners would have recognized and that storytellers imported into the Genesis text in an early example of crossover fiction.  I think this Lamech needs a spinoff series.

Genesis 5 lists Adam’s lineage through a series of first-born sons and gives the precise ages of each in years.  This is the section of the Bible where people are said to have lived into the hundreds of years.  I’d heard of this, and in particular of Methuselah who lived the longest at 969 years.  The descendants of Adam typically decreased in age with each generation, which at first I took as a metaphor for their increasing distance from godly perfection.  But things got complicated with Enoch, the father of Methusaleh and five or six generations removed from Adam, who lived a very short time (a paltry 365 years, poor guy) but was said to have “walked with God,” something not said about everyone.  That’s the kind of detail that undercuts my preconceived notions and my expectations of narrative simplicity, and I like it.  As we see in the excerpt at the top of this post, the chapter concludes with the birth of Noah and what may be the Bible’s first prophecy: that Noah will somehow bring relief to humanity.  Knowing what we all know about Noah, I find it hard to see how his actions directly help anybody but his immediate family and animals, but we shall see.

I don’t think I need to comment on Genesis 6.  A chapter-by-chapter commentary is unnecessary and tedious, and this post strays too close to it already.  Like I said, I’ve got a very long road ahead of me, and I’ve got to be selective if I hope to keep up the pace and not burn out on the blog.  As I get further along and further away from these relatively familiar stories, I think it will be easier to pick and choose what to write about. I also think things will only get more interesting as I encounter obscure, new-to-me characters like Enoch, Lamech, and Lamech.


From → Genesis

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