Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mrs. Cain

“You’re a Pastor’s Kid,” a friend once said to me; “Maybe you can answer this one.  Where did Cain get his wife?  I’ve never gotten a straight answer.”

“The Bible doesn’t say,” I replied.  “Anyone who gives you a straight answer is Making It Up.” 

I’m not sure if it was the answer she wanted to hear, but I think she appreciated my honesty.  Often when Christians are arguing with skeptics we feel a need to have an answer for everything.  We forget that “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer if we truly don’t know something.  There are a lot of places in the Bible where information is left out; presumably because the writer of that part felt it was unimportant; or perhaps just overlooked it because it was less important than something else, or perhaps most likely, because the writer didn‘t know either.  Cain’s Wife is one of these.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from speculating.

There are two possible explanations I can think of for where Cain got his wife.  One is that she was specially created for him, as Eve was for Adam.  This, to me, seems overly complicated.  The other is that Adam and Eve had other children besides the ones specifically mentioned in the Bible and that Cain married one of his sisters.

But wouldn’t this technically be considered incest?  Yes, that’s probably a big reason why people don’t like to talk about Cain’s wife, and why Bible skeptics like to bring it up.  The explanation I’ve read is that the prohibition against brother and sister marrying had not yet been established.  Besides, what the hell else were they supposed to do?

But what about inbreeding?  Wouldn’t family members intermarrying that close together result in all sorts of genetic problems?  The Author of Genesis is as silent on the subject of genetics as he is on the name of Cain’s wife.  My own idea is that the first couple generations after Creation still possessed a greater measure of the Divine Creative Force, resulting in a kind of innate biodiversity which made it possible for them to interbreed without the problems of inbreeding.  And if this sounds like the purest moonshine, yes it is.  Like the Author of Genesis, I know little about genetics either; probably even less, since Moses used to herd sheep and would have had some idea of practical animal husbandry.  This is just a piece of whimsy on my part, and I don’t expect anyone to take it seriously.

But did Cain have a sister?  The Bible doesn’t mention one.  If you think about it, though, Adam and Eve lived together, according to Genesis, for something like 900 years.  And although the Bible doesn’t go into details about it, you have to assume they invented sex.  Do you really think they would have stopped at two kids?

The Jewish Midrashic tradition says that Cain and Abel each had twin sisters and that these were the women they were going to marry.  The Midrash is a tradition of biblical commentary which explores the text to plumb deeper meanings.  In some cases the midrashim  are interpretations of the Law or applications of Mosaic Law to situations Moses never dreamed of.  Sometimes they take the form of parables illuminating some aspect of the text.  And, as in this case, some Midrash are stories that expand upon existing Biblical narratives.

The sister Abel was promised, Aclima, was the more beautiful of the two and Cain wanted her.  Their father Adam suggested they both offer sacrifices as a means of letting the Lord decide.  When God favored Abel over him, Cain’s jealousy deepened into murder.

The apocryphal Book of Jubilees, thought to be written around the 2nd Century BC, tells a similar story.  Here, the girl the two quarrel over isn’t a twin but their younger sister, named Awen.

Another midrashic version says that Abel had two sisters – that they were triplets –- but that Cain only had one.  Abel felt that he should get both, but Cain argued that, being the older brother, he should get the spare.  How the sisters felt about this doesn’t seem to be mentioned.  However many sisters Cain and Abel had, the one Cain married is the only one who gets mention in the text; what might have happened to the others is unknown.

Cain took his wife and went out into the Land of Nod, which means “Wandering”, so it doesn’t necessarily mean a geographic designation.  Referring to sleep as the “Land of Nod” is an unrelated pun.

According to Genesis, Cain eventually settled down long enough to build a city so that his son, Enoch could have a home.  Presumably, that’s where his wife ended up.  Legend, however, insists that Cain himself was doomed to wander the earth, and wanders still.

If you look up at night and look at the full moon, the shadows on its face might resemble a man with a bundle of sticks on his back.  Or it might look like a rabbit; but in medieval folklore it’s a guy with some sticks, and this burdened traveler is Cain, cursed to wander through all eternity.

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