Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Sons of Cain Invent Technology

(Originally posted on Daily Kos for the D'var Torah series on Oct 12, 2012)

Like the Book of Genesis, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with The Dawn of Man.  The two have little else in common.  One has Monoliths, the other has Monotheism.  Both show the First Man experiencing something which opens his eyes and gives him an understanding he didn't have before.  In the case of Adam, it's: "Holy crap!  I'm not wearing any pants!!!"  In the case of the caveman from 2001, it's:  "Hey!  I can use this bone to bash things!!!"  Then he flings the bone into the air and it becomes a Pan-Am space plane on its way to the Moon.  Which is less doofy than it sounds because the caveman's bone club is The First Tool, you see, and by inventing it, he has set mankind on the path to developing technology, which will cumulate in that spaceship.

You get that in a lot of stories about Early Man, like the opening sequence of 2001; the movie The Quest for Fire; the Clan of the Cave Bear novels; Ringo Starr's Caveman.  They usually seem to focus on the discovery of the Important Seminal Inventions of Civilization, like Fire, the Wheel, Animal Husbandry, the Missionary Position, etc.  Perhaps we like these types of stories because we live in a technological society and so technology is important.  Or perhaps because these stories tend to be written by Science Fiction writers, who have an interest in tech stuff.
But the Bible has very little to say about technology.  The Discovery of Fire was of less interest to the writers of Genesis than the Discovery of Sin.  We know that Adam and Eve invented Clothing and Blaming the Woman; we can infer that they also invented Sex, although Genesis is not terribly specific about that either.  They probably invented lots of other stuff too; but Scriptures say very little about these things.
Until we get to the Sons of Cain.
We left Cain taking his unnamed wife and leaving the surviving members of his family to live in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  There he built a city, which he named after his son Enoch. And then we get the first of many genealogies of the book of Genesis.
When I read the Bible, I tend to skip over the long lists of "begats".  I'm sure many people do the same.  And there are a lot of them in Genesis; in fact, you could look at the book as one long genealogy with narrative interruptions.  But every now and then we get a odd little factoid about one of these ancestors, just enough to whet our curiosity.   Enoch, (the other one, not the son of Cain), who "walked with God" and whose passing was a mystery is one of them.  But in the listing of the descendants of Cain we get this passage:
Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.  Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the fatehr of those who live in tents and raise livestock.  His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute.  Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.  Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah.  (Genesis 4:19-22 NIV)
Okay, first a couple of minor points.  The Lamech in this passage is a different guy from the Lamech mentioned in the next chapter as the father of Noah; just as the Enoch mentioned earlier is different from the one who was the father of Methuselah.  And as far as I know, no Biblical scholars have ever suggested a connection between Lamech's second wife and Japanese giant monsters.
But look at the three sons of Lamech:
* Jabel, "the father of all who live in tents and raise livestock"
* Jubal, "the father of all who play the harp and flute 
* Tubal-Cain, "who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron
In those three sons, the writer of Genesis cites the birth of nomadic herding, musical instruments and metallurgy.  (Their sister Naamah isn't credited with anything specific, but the fact that she is mentioned at all in the genealogy is something noteworthy).
And these innovators come from the cursed line of Cain.  The Bible doesn't mention anyone in the line of Seth building anything interesting until Noah.
Perhaps the reason why Scriptures says so little about invention and technical innovation is that the compilers of Genesis associated that sort of thing with the wicked Sons of Cain.  Their father certainly was no winner.  The passage goes on to say:
Lamech said to his wives, 
"Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words; 
I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 
If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." 
(Genesis 4:23-24)
In other words, Cain killed his brother because Cain hated him; Lamech killed some guy just to be a jerk.  And he went on to boast about it.  
Then again, the writers of Genesis probably omitted mentioning technology because they were trying to outline a history of God's relation to His People, not a history of invention.  There are a lot of details which Scripture ignores simply because they are irrelevant to the message the writers wished to convey, such as where Cain got his wife, or what exactly did happen to Enoch, or did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons.  Yeah, people have been speculating about these lacunae for millenia, but the Bible just doesn't say.
So Scriptures isn't necessarily saying here that Technology is by nature Evil.
Then again, the First Tool invented by the caveman in 2001 was an instrument of murder...

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