Genealogies: From More Disharmony to Restoration
The Ten Generations of Cain and Adam (4:17–26)
The Ten-Generation Genealogy of Adam (Chap. 5)
Up to this point the story of humankind has been confined within just one small family. Suddenly, however, the horizon expands greatly across space and time—a picture of the development of civilization. Beginning with Cain, the succession of developments is dense and rapid: city-building, tent-dwelling, music, technology, and an intensifying spiral of violence and vengeance, even seventy-sevenfold (4:17–24).
Then the story takes a surprising turn. Just when the heritage of violent Cain seemed to be taking over the world, the narrative goes back to Adam and his wife, telling how, despite Cain's murder of Abel, Adam and his wife went ahead and had another son, Seth. And he in turn had a further son, Enosh. Enosh apparently was a good man. It was in his time that people began to call on Yhwh (4:25–26).
Then the story goes back yet again, even further, and in writing! Beginning “on the day God created humankind, ” it gives a written record (literally, a “scroll/book”) of the generations of Adam (chap. 5). It not only reaffirms the birth of Seth and Enosh; it sets all three—Adam, Seth, and Enosh—in the context of blessing and of a great rolling genealogy of descendants, long-lived and illustrious, as far as Noah and his sons.
It is as though, just when the story of humankind seemed to have descended into a downward spiral of vengeance, someone recalled that Adam and his wife had made a fresh beginning. And then, building on that, someone else stood up and said, Yes, and here it is in writing, and in full!
The story contains contradiction: as will be seen, its lists of names (4:1726, and chap. 5) simultaneously overlap and contradict. Such contradiction is ultimately of a piece with the contradictions in earlier episodes: it is a signal that the narrative is not just linear history. It has a transcendental aspect.
The story is told through the form of genealogies—first of Cain (seven generations, 4:17–24), then, briefly, of Adam-Seth-Enosh (three generations, 4:25