LAMECH AND THE OTHER LAMECH
THE NAME LAMECH appears in the early part of Genesis twice, in the genealogical passages in chapters 4 and 5, and the relevant verses apply, if taken literally, to two different people. On the one hand, the descendant of Cain in Genesis 4, 18―24 is a curious mixture of positive and negative: his two wives, Ada and Sella, provide him with children ― Jabel, Jubal and Tubalcain (plus a daughter, Noema) ― all of whom look like culture- heroes, giving the world tentmaking, music and metalwork. And yet he utters a bloodthirsty sword-song to those two wives, claiming apparently to have killed a man and a young man ― the text is not clear and may rest upon a parallelism 1 ― and reminding us of the curse upon his ancestor, Cain. If Cain is to be avenged sevenfold, he boasts, then he, Lamech, will be avenged seventy-sevenfold. In contrast, the Lamech who is apparently descended from Seth in Genesis 5, 25―30 seems far less exciting. His place in history is due primarily to the fact that he is the father of Noah, whom he welcomes as the saviour of the cursed lands, although we are told that he has other children as well. Only the Sethite list appears in I Chronicles 1 and in Luke 3, 36, and the name-lists provided in Genesis by the Jahwist and in the Priestly Codex were, as modern scholarship makes clear, originally the same; even in the Middle Ages they are occasionally merged, not always intentionally.
More often, though, a literal reading does separate the two Lamechs as entirely different characters, occasionally giving them slightly different names by varying the vocalisation, which the Vulgate does not, although their fathers' names ― Mathusael and Methusalah ― vary more clearly. A famous illustrated manuscript with a text in Anglo-Norman, the fourteenth- century Holkham Bible Picture Book, calls them Lamek and Lamed, for example, although it has to be said that in the second case the writer needs a rhyme for Jared, and in any case, Chaucer spells the same one, the Cainite patriarch, in different ways, though admittedly not in the same work. The German chronicler Rudolf von Ems is one of the few who draws attention to the identity-problem, when he turns from the Cainite to the Sethite Lamech, explaining carefully: 'ez was der niht/ den ich nande é', 'this isn't the one I mentioned before'. Towards the end of the fifteenth century John Capgrave tells us rather sententiously apropos of the Sethite Lamech, 'And here is for to note þat þere were too men of þis same name Lameth: on was of þe kynrod of Cayn and he broute in first bigamie; the oþir was of þe kynrod of____________________