Curious what theologians throughout history made of Genesis 4

It baffles me that the belief that Adam was the first human and that the flood was global has been such a long-standing interpretation given all the scholars and great minds who have dedicated so much interest to the biblical texts.

For example, Genesis 4. This chapter makes no sense at all in the context of traditional interpretations.

It seems reasonable to assume that the author choosing to include so much about Cain’s life beyond his slaying of Abel means it’s significant and relevant information.

Genesis doesn’t give us much about the world before the flood, just over five chapters, but even as little as there is it seems to cover a lot of ground. The tricky part about this portion of Genesis is that Adam has traditionally been counted as the first human God created, and even though Genesis 5 lists generations of descendants living many years each and having many children, the population bottlenecks at the flood where only eight people are said to have survived via Noah’s ark.

So then why would the author of Genesis feel it necessary, out of the 1,656 years that passed between Adam’s creation and the flood, to spend half a chapter on Cain and his descendants? Unless the wives of Noah or his sons were of Cain’s bloodline, presumably they all would have died. Yet, with the exception of Noah, pre-flood Genesis provides more specific information about Cain and his bloodline than anyone on Seth’s side of the family.

Genesis 4 talks about mysterious unnamed figures who could potentially harm him outside of his homeland, a city he built, and specifically named descendants who, along with their skilled ‘children’, died in a global flood not long after, presumably.

The author deemed it necessary to name four specific sixth generation descendants: Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-Cain, and Tubal-Cain’s sister, Naamah. The two sons of Lamech’s wife Adah, Jubal and Jabal, are said to be the ‘fathers’ of those who possessed specific skills. Tubal-Cain’s skill is noted as well.

Jubal … Father of those who live in tents and raise livestock
Jabal … Father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes
Tubal-Cain … Forged tools out of bronze and iron

These four descendants are the same number of generations from Adam as Methuselah in Genesis 5. A quick bit of math will reveal that Methuselah died the same year as the flood, possibly in it. So it would seem that taking the time to specifically mention these four descendants, along with the various skills they introduced into the world, would be pointless if they and everyone they ‘fathered’ died in the flood too. Not to mention the intended reader would presumably not be familiar with these people they’re speaking of.

So, how has centuries of intense theological study addressed this? I’ve not been able to find this particular angle addressed in any of my searches.



I’ll give you my personal interpretation:

The story of Cain was a story that was co-opted by the Jewish priests.

The original story of Cain may very well have been an etymological story about the origins of the Kenites … a wandering tribe that had an uncanny relationship with Yahweh… and enjoyed an broadly known immunity from predation and feuds. Jubal lived in tents and raised livestock, while Tubal-Cain forged tools out of bronze and iron.

This last part is a good trick, since Iron was not a common metal for tools until the tin trade had broken down completely during the rise of the Sea People and the widespread collapse of the Bronze Age! Without tin there was no bronze… but iron ore was easy to get throughout the region - - but the knowledge of how to smelt it into a useful metal was not easy to formulate.

As soon one people or another developed a reputation for it, the formula and the process would either be bought or coerced from them. And very quickly iron workings became widespread. To say that the Philistines were master iron-workers may be true … but it was certainly not something they knew how to do when they brought down Anatolia, Ugarit and other Syrian city states.

It just so happens, prior to their general disappearance during WWII, there was a tribe known as the
Solluba, the Sleb, or the Sulayb. They were known as “tinkerers”, “healers” and they enjoyed a general immunity (more in principle than in reality I suppose. After other tribes might engage in violent conflict, if they were nearby they would render aid to the wounded of both sides. And they would trade in their metal goods.

As I’ve mentioned in other postings, the whole idea of an immunity conferred to Cain “because he was a murderer” sounds very much like the rather determined machinations to throw a revered tribe “under the camel/bus”!!! It makes little sense on the face of it.

But if the writer was trying to draw attention to the fact the Cainites had a preferred status (because of how bad they were)… while at the same time pointing out that the Cainites are of a non-Abrahamic tribe of great antiquity, then the story of Cain that we find in the Bible seems to fit the bill!

That’s definitely an interesting theory, but there’s a few things pulling me in another direction. Here’s a brief rundown of what I think and why…

“In Western Europe, the Bronze Age lasted from about 2000 BC until 800 BC. In the Middle East, it started about a thousand years earlier. For example, bronze was first used in Mesopotamia around 3300 BC.”- Bronze Age - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

All of the skills and characteristics associated with the descendants of Cain are consistent with Sumer. Here’s an example …

G4:20 - Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.

“The third culture that contributed to the building of Eridu were the Semitic-speaking nomadic herders of herds of sheep and goats living in tents in semi-desert areas.” - Eridu - Wikipedia

Genesis also says Cain built a city. Not a homestead or village like you’d think if it were just him and his family. According to the Sumerians the first of their many human-form gods, Enki, showed up one day and established the first Sumerian city, Eridu.

The Sumerians would have been the people who populated the region the story of Cain and Adam is set.

Though it says Cain would be a “restless wonderer” because the ground would no longer yield food for him, he somehow managed to “settle” in the land of Nod. According to the Sumerians, Enki established Eridu and taught them farming. They were meant to work the fields and provide for the god who lived in the temple in the center of the city.


And yet one of his descendants lived a tent life.

What problem does your Sumerian theory resolve?

It pinpoints a moment in history when/where these stories took place. And seeing as how modern civilization started right there, it illustrates how those events shaped the world we live in today.

So I would say the problem it potentially solves is the still largely unknown specifics of our species’ transition from our primal past into the civilization builders we’ve become.

Everyone he “fathered” it says lived a tent life. People living this kind of lifestyle were one of three cultures that eventually became the first city.


Knock yourself out …

Joshua wants me to be LESS specific… not MORE specific…

What I’m more interested in here is the theological explanation for this passage in the context of the traditional interpretations.

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“Cain is the first in a seven-member linear genealogy ending in three individuals who initiate action (Jabal, Jubal, and Tubalcain). Other Genesis genealogies also end in three individuals initiating action (5:32 and 11:26). The purpose of this genealogy is to explain the origin of culture and crafts among human beings.” - Genesis 4:17-24 NABRE - Descendants of Cain and Seth. Cain had - Bible Gateway

Here’s one explanation I found. Its statement about the purpose of this passage being an explanation of the origins of culture and crafts seems to totally ignore the flood. Any culture or crafts introduced would have been swept away and forgotten.


This is one of the reasons I consider the Jewish co-opting of the Mesopotamian Flood Story as a late addition to Genesis. Or maybe the flood was originally a REGIONAL flood and then for some reason somebody tried to convert it to a global event. The effort was clumsy… but it seems to be more believable that it was initially regional… and then a scribe got carried away in a later generation.

There’s nothing in the original text to suggest it was a global flood. It’s only really in the English translation that hills became mountains and such. The text itself supports surviving lineages …

Before the flood …

Genesis 6:4 - The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

After the flood …

Numbers 13:33 - We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

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The RTB ministry holds to a (large, yet) regional flood theory.


You are kidding right? There’s nothing in the text that “suggests” a global flood?

"the usage of universal terms is prolific as the Flood account reaches a crescendo in Genesis 7:18–24":

"And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. . . . And all flesh died that moved . . . every creeping thing . . . and every man…"

"All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground. . . .

“In Genesis 7:20 we are told that “the mountains were covered.” Because water always seeks its own level, how could the mountains only be covered in one local area without also covering the mountains in all adjoining areas and even on the other side of the planet (Figure 2)? This clear statement in God’s Word only makes physical and scientific sense if the Flood were global in extent.”

“Even the renowned and theologically liberal Hebrew scholar James Barr, then Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University in England, was prepared to admit in a letter to David C.C. Watson dated April 23, 1984”:

". . . so far as I know, there is no Professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that . . . Noah’s Flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the Ark. Or to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose . . . the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood are not taken seriously by any such Professors, as far as I know."6

"Another theological problem arises when we come to Genesis 9:11–15. God made a promise to Noah and his descendants that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” In other words, God was promising never to send another event like the one Noah experienced, where we are told specifically in Genesis 7:21 that “all flesh died.”

@Jeremy_Christian, if we take this promise literally, if the flood was global, God has kept His promise. If the Flood was regional… how would you be able to say God has kept His promise?

And then there is the least mentioned problem with a regional flood, beginning with
Genesis 8:5:

Unchecked Copy Box Gen 8:5
And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month , on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

So… mountains are now visible from sea level… but these mountains must be very, very very distant, yes… because in verse 8:

Unchecked Copy Box Gen 8:8
Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;
But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.

At last, in Genesis 8:11, the bird finally finds evidence of dry land …
Unchecked Copy Box Gen 8:11
And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

No, not kidding. The “global” viewpoint was obviously held by those doing the translating. It shows in their choices. The Hebrew can be read either way.

“Because of the curvature of the earth, the horizon drops from where the viewer is standing. However, the drop is proportional to the square of the distance between the viewer and an object on the horizon (Young nd). From these relationships, it can be seen that a tribal chief (or Noah) standing on the deck of a large boat (Ark), perhaps 7.8 meters above the water,would not be able to see the tops of any hills as high as 15 m from as little as 24 km away across flood plains covered with water because the curvature of the earth prevents it”

“Northeast and southwest of the nearly flat surface that contains the two rivers, the topography rises to more than 455 m in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. Calculations show that elevations of 455 m high cannot be seen beyond 86 km away, and these places are more than 160 km from the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers.”- Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth | National Center for Science Education

Re: Rainbow/Promise

In the traditional view, being that Noah was only 10 generations from Adam, why would God need to flood the entire planet for only a small group of humans that inhabited a very small area?

In my (non-traditional) view, considering it’s the introduction of free will through Adam and Eve that resulted in this action, only a small group would be responsible. Wiping out all life globally would be the definition of “over-kill”.

Also, about that promise …

Genesis 2:7

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 6:17

"Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.

This, I think, is significant as well. The only creature said to have the breath of life is Adam. Is the “breath of life” what it sounds like to our modern English speaking ears? Or does that specifically mean Adam and all of those that descend from Adam?

Whether the bird comes back or not is not an optional decision of a translator.

And your realistic interpretation of mountains visible at the horizon makes your interpretation less likely, not more likely. The translation is not based on a realistic story.

The bird coming back finding dry land in a regional flood is much more likely than the bird finding dry land after a global flood.

According to the traditional interpretation, the only people there to witness this were standing on the ark. From that vantage point there’s very little that could be determined about the extent of the flood.


Absolutely. So… if it’s a regional flood… and always has been… then why are there any instances when the bird comes back?

There are no regional floods where a bird can’t find find land…

So you’re suggesting the bird came back because the patch of land where the twig was found was so small the bird was forced to return to the ark?


What? You are aware that first Noah lets the bird out more than once, right?
And the only reason a caged bird comes back to the boat is because he loves the food… or because there is no place for him to land.

Why the bird comes back another time WITH a twig is a bizarre but religious twist for sure.

You send out a bird to find out IF it comes back. Technically speaking, the story is so corrupted that even though there is a MOUNTAIN above water … the bird still comes back.