The Sons of Adam and the Fallen Line of Cain

The Biblical narrative of the fall of humanity, original sin, the first murder, etc. present some questions which have puzzled Bible readers for centuries. Some of the most often questions I receive are “Where did Cain get his wife?” and “Who were the nefilim?”

Answering these questions requires an understanding of Hebrew grammar and syntax- especially of narrative structure. The first thing to understand is that the Bible is not always written in a chronological sequence; this means that when a narrative is read, it must not demand that what came first in the narrative was always the first in the narrative sequence.

An easy explanation of this can be drawn from the first two verses of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” When one reads this in English, or many other translations, one might think the first two verses are in the same narrative sequence; this, however, is incorrect.

In Hebrew, the conjunction and [Waw וְ ] has several functions; the conjunction can be a temporal modifier signaling a transition from an imperfect to perfect- this is with verbs. The conjunctions can signal a continuation of a narrative sequence- the most common use of the conjunction. The conjunction can also be used as a disjunctive- a break or pause in a narrative sequence. In this case, the conjunction signifies a parenthetical narrative in the narrative sequence or a break in the prior narrative sequence and the beginning of a new narrative.

As a disjunctive, the Hebrew and [וְ -Waw] is prefixed to a non-verb in the beginning of its clause; this is what occurred in the second verse above- “And the Earth was…” This construction indicated a disjunction from the preceding verse. The creation narrative, then, actually began with the second verse and not with the first verse. This use of the disjunctive Waw [and] is employed in the narratives which followed the creation narrative: Genesis 3:1 “And the serpent was…;” Genesis 4:1 “And the man knew…;” Genesis 4:4 “And Abel brought…” In each of these cases, the use of the disjunctive Waw [and] indicated a break from the previous narrative sequence.

Genesis 3:1 indicated the break in the creation narrative sequence; it began a new narrative sequence from the point of view of the initial sin of Eve. It was not a chronological sequence but could have been up to 130 years after the events of the creation of man. Later, in Genesis, it is explained that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born- after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In the midst of this narrative, Genesis 4:1 presented a new, parenthetical narrative sequence. This, too, is irrespective of time- when this took place was never clearly mentioned. The use of the disjunctive Waw here indicated that before the temptation of Eve, the children were born; this is the natural understanding of the Hebrew Text when the first commandment God ever gave Adam and Eve was to be “fruitful and multiply.” That they could have spent as much as 130 years in the Garden of Eden without procreation meant that they spent up to 130 years disobeying God’s first commandment. This use of the disjunctive clearly demonstrated that the children- who were twins- were born in the Garden and were not expelled with Adam and Eve [1]

The expulsion of Adam and Eve was not a simple command to leave the Garden but was a rather forceful and possibly a violent act. Neither of the two wished to leave the Garden of God. This is indicated by the use of the two verbs sent [שָׁלַח- shalah] and drove [גָרַשׁ- garash] in 3:23 and 24. The verb sent indicated that they were requested to leave and that they were, possibly, accompanied to the border of the Garden. The verb drove indicated that this was not a consensual leaving on the part of Adam and Eve, but they were compelled to go; this is made even more clear by the fact that the way back was guarded by cherubs wielding flaming swords.

The narrative of the birth of Cain and Abel is an interruption in the sequence of the expulsion of Adam and Eve; it explained an event which occurred prior to Adam and Eve being expelled- the birth of the twins. This narrative is immediately interrupted by the last of the disjunctive Waw clauses- Genesis 4:4 “And Abel brought…”

The new narrative began from the point of view of Cain and Abel who were adults and still living in the Garden after the expulsion of their parents. The disjunctive interrupted the narrative from the clause, “And in process of time it came to pass.” The phrase “process of time” is [מִקֵּץ יָמִים -miqqets yamim] in Hebrew and meant the end of an age. Sometimes, it was translated as “end of days.” To what end of the age is being referenced is clear- the end of the age of innocence. At the conclusion of this narrative sequence, there would be none left who had not sinned against God.

To know, for sure, that Cain was born in a natural state of perfection, it is simple to point out that the Erbsünde [inherited sin] could not have applied to Cain. This is made clear by the statement of God, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). The final clause is written in the imperfect in the Hebrew [וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ -weAttah timshol-bo; yet you, you rule over it]. This is not permissive nor an offer of advice, but a statement of fact; at this point, Cain ruled over sin- it had no power over him just like it had no power over his parents. After this, God said this to no other person.

A comparison of the two narratives- that of the expulsion of Adam and Eve and the expulsion of Cain- will explain to where they were all expelled. Adam and Eve were expelled, rather forcefully, to the East of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3;24). It was outside the Garden of Eden which came to be known as the Land of Nod [נֹוד -nod meaning wandering]. As opposed to his parents, Cain willingly left from the presence of God- which was in the Garden (Genesis 3:8). This is demonstrated by the lack of the two verbs sent and drove; rather it stated that Cain “went out.” The direction of travel, as in the case of his parents, was to the East- to the Land of Wandering (Genesis 4:16).

Cain left from Eden and went to the same land where his parents had been sent; this raises the question, “How long were Adam and Eve in the Land of Nod?” We already know that Adam was 130 years at the birth of Seth; before he was born, Adam had already given birth to many other children- including women. It is from the women born to Adam that Cain took his wife; this marriage and mixture led to the events of Genesis 6 and the deluge. It was Cain’s lineage who invented weapons of war (Genesis 4:22), instruments of pleasure (Genesis 4:21), and were the first to take possessions (Genesis 4:20); his children followed his example as explained from the confession of Lamech- who had also killed many people. Adam’s line- through Seth- were sorry for their sins and tried to amend their ways and walk with God; Cain’s line, however, was unrepentant and spread violence and corruption over the face of the Earth. The Godly line was called the sons of God while the sinful line was called the sons of Adam [men].

The events of Genesis 4 and 5 led to the events of chapter 6. There have been volumes of wasted ink on this subject- most of which ignore the contextual backdrop to the chapter and invent fairy-tales of some sort of inbreeding between humans and angels.

Most of the speculation surrounds verses 1-4 with a strong emphasis on verse 4 in particular.

Gen 6:1 Now when humankind [הָאָדָם -haAdam; the man] began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them,

Gen 6:2 and the sons of God [benei haElohim] saw that the daughters of men were good and they took for themselves wives, any they chose.

Gen 6:3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not quarrel [2] with humankind [baAdam- with the man] forever, since they are flesh. So their days will be 120 years.”

Gen 6:4 The nephilim [הַנְּפִלִים] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward when the sons of God came to the daughters of men and gave birth to them. Those were the mighty men of old, men of renown.

Adam [אָדָם] is the name that God called humanity- both female and male- in the day He created them.

Gen 5:1 This is the Book of the Genealogies of Adam [אָדָם]: When God created Adam, in the likeness of God He made him.

Gen 5:2 Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and called their name “Adam” when He created them.

The humans which followed God and sought to amend their ways were then, and thereafter, referred to as sons of God [בְּנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים -benei haElohim]:

Ye are the children of the LORD your God Deuteronomy 14:1

it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Hosea 1:10

The idea behind the phrase benei haElohim [בְּנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים – sons of God] is not one of absolute sinlessness, nor of being always on the side of right; the idea is and always has been one of contriteness and a readiness to do what is right in the face of bad decisions. After the birth of Seth, in the days of his son Enosh [mortal man], the line of Adam began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26). In Genesis 5:22, it stated that Enoch [Hanokh- dedicated] walked with God. The verb used for “walk” is hit-halek [הִתְהַלֵּךְ] in Hebrew; this is both a reciprocal verb stem as well as a reflexive and meant that one did this for or to themselves as well as in conjunction with another. The idea is that Enoch sought to amend his ways, by walking in the path of God, and God blessed him for it.

It is the same idea behind King David being called a “man after God’s heart” even though he committed murder and adultery; after the crimes were committed, David was genuinely sorry and sought to reform his ways and make restitution for his bad decisions. Repentance [תְּשׁוּבָה -teshuvah] is the key:

“Now when all these things come upon you—the blessing and the curse that I have set before you—and you take them to heart in all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return [וְשַׁבְתָּ -weshavta] to the Lord your God and listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today—you and your children—with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion on you, and He will return and gather you from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.

Deuteronomy 30:1-4 [see also Deuteronomy 4:24-31]

“Do I delight at all in the death of the wicked?” It is a declaration of Adonai. “Rather, should he not return [בְּשׁוּבֹו -beshuvo] from his ways, and live? Ezekiel 18:23

In contrast to the godly line of Adam, the line of Cain was not sorry and sought no reform; on the other hand, they continued in their murderous ways and developed the art of pleasure and war. This line was called the nephilim. Nefilim is a plural passive participle from the verb NaFaL- to fall; the passive participle is used, more often than not, as an adjective in Hebrew. The nephilim are those people who were in a fallen state. The choice of word used in this narrative echoed back to the fall of Cain himself:

Cain became very angry, and his countenance fell [וַיִּפְּלוּ -wayYippelu]. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen [נָפְלוּ -noflu]? Genesis 4:5-6

The idea behind the verb NaFaL [נָפַל]- when applied to humans- can have several meanings; the most common meaning, when applied to humans, is that of death, or one fallen in battle. The nephilim in Genesis 6:4, however, was alive and not dead; the meaning in this case, then, is that of a person from one camp defecting to the people of another camp- they changed sides. Consider the following verse:

Then the remnant of the people who were left in the city—the deserters [הַנֹּפְלִים -haNofelim] who had defected [נָפְלוּ -noflu] to the Babylonian king and the rest of the populace—Nebuzaradan captain of the guard exiled them. 2 Kings 25:11

The nephilim in Genesis 6:4, then, were those who were formerly godly but fell to the wicked ways of the sons of Cain. This is easily proven when considering the verse:

The nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, whenever the sons of God came to the daughters of men and gave birth to them. Those were the mighty men of old, men of renown.

The last clause of this verse, in Hebrew, is actually a bit different than what is commonly translated:

הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם

These were the gibborim [גִּבֹּרִים] which were from ancient times [מֵעוֹלָם -me’Olam] men of God [אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם -anshe HaShem].

Gibborim [גִּבֹּרִים], in Hebrew, represented men of war, or men of great valor; David’s warriors were called gibborim (2Samuel 23:8)- so too was Nimrod called a gibbor [גִּבֹּר] (Genesis 10:8). The line of Cain was responsible for spreading violence in the Earth and the mixture of the godly line of Adam ensured that their wicked ways would dominate the world. These wicked men spread violence and war; in the end, God saw the world destroyed from these people:

God saw the earth, and behold it was destroyed because all flesh had destroyed their way upon the earth. Genesis 6:12

Only Noah was a righteous man and always sought to walk with God; for this reason, God spared the life of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God. Genesis 6:9

For you only do I perceive as righteous before Me in this generation. Genesis 7:1

This narrative dealt with the consequences of the fall of humanity, the faith and righteous acts of the men of God, and their deliverance and reward for their faithfulness to God’s law. It never had anything to do with fallen angels fathering hybrid children with humans and creating a race of giants or supermen. In fact, angels are not mentioned in this narrative nor were they the objects of divine wrath.

 

[1] Rashi,  the medieval Rabbi and Torah commentator Shlomo Yitzchaki, explained concerning this verse:  והאדם ידע AND THE MAN KNEW already before the events related above look place — before he sinned and was driven out of the Garden of Eden. So, also, the conception and birth of Cain took place before this. Had it been written, וידע אדם it would imply that after he was driven out children were born to him (Genesis Rabbah 22:2).

 

[2] My Spirit will not quarrel with humankind forever, since they are flesh. The verb used I translated as quarrel is יָדוֹן- yadon from the verb root [דין] D-Y-N; this word is used in reference to quarreling or disputing over a case of law or a matter of controversy- similar to trying a case in court. Consider the following:

Open your mouth, judge righteously, plead [וְדִין -wedin] the cause of the poor and needy. Proverb 31:9

All the people throughout all the tribes of Israel were at strife [נָדוֹן -nadon] saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and he saved us from the hand of the Philistines. Yet now he had to flee from the land because of Absalom, 2Smauel 19:10

About Ya'aqov ben Yisrael

I am simply a man with questions and trying to figure out the answers; my greatest joys are found in the study of Torah: its language and exegesis.
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7 Responses to The Sons of Adam and the Fallen Line of Cain

  1. avraham says:

    Jacob, Thank you for the great clarification of this grammatical issue regarding the sequence of the garden. How do you understand that ibn ezra such a great grammarian disagrees with this? Take a look at his perush on 3.6.

    In your explanation of the opening of Genesis, are you saying unlike Rashi, that the first verse is an absolute statement, a kind of general introduction, but then the process of creation starts with the second verse?

    And a third question regarding the verse:

    וַיִּרְא֤וּ בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־בְּנ֣וֹת הָֽאָדָ֔ם כִּ֥י טֹבֹ֖ת הֵ֑נָּה וַיִּקְח֤וּ לָהֶם֙ נָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּחָֽר

    Do you agree with Rashi’s comment on that verse that the bene elohim sinned? According to your comments, it would seem that you hold the nephallim as the cause of the mabul.

    Your essay is very interesting but it raises a lot of questions that I have wondered about over the years.

    Thanks,
    Avraham

    • Hello Avraham,

      I looked at Ibn Ezra’s commentary as 3,6; I do not see with what he disagreed. Here is his commentary for 3,6

      ותרא האש’. בלבה
      ונחמד העץ. בעבור שתשכיל ותפקחנ’ עיני’
      וטעם עמה. שיחד אכלוהו וגלת’ לו סוד הנחש. והנה לא היה אדם שוגג על כן נענש. ורבים אמרו כי עץ הדעת עץ תאנ’ בעבור שמצאו ויתפרו עלה תאנ’. ואלו הי’ כן הי’ הכתוב אומר ויתפרו עלה עץ הדעת. גם רבים אמרו שחטה היה. והנכון בעיני ששני עצים הם בתוך גן עדן ואינם במקום אחר על כל פני האדמ’. והאחד עץ הדעת והוא יוליד תאות המשגל ועל כן כסו האדם ואשתו ערותם. ופי’ ויתפרו ידוע וכן שק תפרתי עלי גלדי. והמבקשים מחט מהבילים. כי בעץ דק יעשו צרכם. וכאשר אכל אדם מעץ הדע’ ידע את אשתו. וזאת הידיע’ כנוי למשגל. ובעבור עץ הדעת נקרא כן. גם הנער כאשר ידע הטוב והרע אז יחל לתאות המשגל
      ועץ החיים. שיוסיף חיים ויחי’ האדם שנים רבות. ואין מלת לעולם עד עולם ועד. והנה כן ועבדו לעולם. וישב שם עד עולם. ורבים אחרים. ומפרשים אמרו בפסוק כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות כי לא נברא על מתכונת שימות רק כאשר חטא נגזר עליו המות. ורבי’ ישאלו מה חטאו זרעו ואלה דברי רוח כי רוח א’ לאדם ולבהמ’ שבה יחי’ וירגיש בעולם הזה וכמות זה כן מות זה מלבד החלק העליון שיש לאדם מותר מן הבהמ’. וכבר הביא אחד מרופאי יון ראיות גמורות שלא יתכן שלא יהי’ לחיי האדם קצב

      Perhaps you can point to the specifics of the disagreement and we can discuss it further.

      Rashi clarified the use of the Waw Disjunctive in his commentary on 4,1

      והאדם ידע כְּבָר קוֹדֶם הָעִנְיָן שֶׁל מַעְלָה, קוֹדֶם שֶׁחָטָא וְנִטְרַד מִגַּן עֵדֶן, וְכֵן הַהֵרָיוֹן וְהַלֵּדָה שֶׁאִם כָּתַב וַיֵּדַע אָדָם, נִשְׁמָע שֶׁלְּאַחַר שֶׁנִּטְרַד הָיוּ לוֹ בָנִים:

      The nefilim were the descendants of Cain; and interesting clause in understanding just who the nefilim were is

      הֵ֧מָּה הַגִּבֹּרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר מֵעוֹלָ֖ם אַנְשֵׁ֥י הַשֵּֽׁם׃

      These are the warlords which were of old men of Hashem [God].

      Gibbor is, for the most part, a warlord- as were David’s men of war. HaShem is a substitution for the Name itself- similar to Leviticus 24,11

      וַ֠יִּקֹּב בֶּן־הָֽאִשָּׁ֨ה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִ֤ית אֶת־הַשֵּׁם֙ וַיְקַלֵּ֔ל וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֹת֖וֹ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וְשֵׁ֥ם אִמּ֛וֹ שְׁלֹמִ֥ית בַּת־דִּבְרִ֖י לְמַטֵּה־דָֽן׃

      It was the intermarriage between these two groups which ultimately led to the deluge. Because of the intermarriage, the land became full of violence and corruption- those who would oppose such violent actions and pleasure-seeking slowly dwindled away until only Noah was found to be righteous.

      • avraham says:

        Thanks for your helpful replies.
        Regarding Ibn Ezra, he says that the eating of the tree brought about desire. So it follows either that they had children without this physical desire before eating; or they had it after. If they had the children before, then shouldn’t Kayin have been a pure tzaddik, born from parents untainted by physical desire? So it seems to me reasonable to think that Ibn Ezra thinks they were born before the eating of the tree of knowledge.

        It does seem to me that they were born before the eating. The main point of my question is whether there are commentators that dispute Rashi on this.

        The second thing I was asking you was your view on the debate about the relationship between the first two verses of Genesis. You quote Rashi about the vav but it seems that you disagree with his perush on the grammar of beit in bereisheit. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

        And regarding the mabul:
        Ususally יָד֨וֹן is translated as contend. So this makes one thing that the reason for Hashem’s anger is the previous verse about the taking of the wives. This is what Rashi’s comments suggest. However I see there is another view as below, where it is translated as “abide.” I don’t know how it is translated that way (perhaps you do), but it fits better with your perush, because then the reason of the flood is presented later as you describe

        וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֗ה לֹֽא־יָד֨וֹן רוּחִ֤י בָֽאָדָם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ם בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם ה֣וּא בָשָׂ֑ר וְהָי֣וּ יָמָ֔יו מֵאָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃
        The LORD said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.”—

        It does not seem to me that taking of beautiful women whoever you choose is the mark of sons of God. It seems to me that these are the sons of the powerful, that is, the elite and they did whatever they wanted. So you had those guys on the one hand, and the nephalim who were mighty men of renown causing a lot of trouble and Hashem had to intervene. I also do tend to think that they were some sort of giants and very powerful people because of the many references to this kind of thing in ancient history.

        Look forward to your thoughts,

        Avraham

      • It is my opinion that the children were born before the parents ate from the tree; this is evident from the statement YHWH said to Cain

        הֲלֹ֤וא אִמ־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֹ֔ו וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בֹּֽו׃

        If you do right, is there no dignity? Yet if you do not do right, [it is] as the opening for sin; is lying in wait- and its desire is for you, but you may rule over it.

        There have been a great many commentaries on this passage, but here is my two cents worth- an opinion only.

        The narrative of the brothers began with Cain bringing an offering- a minchah- to YHWH; the next verse, as some have supposed, might- in translations- imply Abel brought his minchah after Cain- Abel, seeing his brother’s offering, brought a better offering. The 4th verse, however, began with a disjunctive Waw- which made this the actual beginning of the narrative and not the preceding verse. This means that Abel was the first to bring an offering and it was the best of what he had to offer. Cain was the firstborn, but failed to act in such a manner; it was this that prompted YHWH to not regard the second minchah from Cain- which made Cain angry.

        It was at this point- since YHWH knows the thoughts of our hearts- that the exchange was made between YHWH and Cain- before he acted out of anger or shame. Below, I will re-post the verse and annotate it for emphasis:

        If you do right [a causative verb], is there no dignity [feminine noun]? Yet if you do not do right [a causative verb], [it is] as the [this is a definite preposition prefixed to the following noun] opening [masculine noun] for sin [feminine noun]; (is lying in wait)[a single masculine active participle]- and its [masculine personal pronoun] desire [feminine noun] is for you, but you may rule over it [masculine personal pronoun].

        The participle, [רֹבֵץ] roveits, is clearly intended for the only masculine noun in the passage- the door/opening [petach]. Therefore, the masculine personal pronouns are also referring to the door/opening- which is in a construct with sin. It is sin’s door/opening over which Cain had the ability to rule or control; before he opened it, he had a choice to do so or not, but once that door was opened, he no longer held power over sin- to do that which was right.

        We have control over sin, only before it is accomplished- that is, before we act- right or wrong- we hold the power to choose which path we take as well as the consequences of our actions. No matter our thoughts or how enticing sin might seem, as long as we do the right thing, sin will never dominate our lives

      • Just being born tsadiq doesn’t guarantee a sinless life; Adam and Eve were created tsadiq and both violated the command.

  2. Avraham says:

    I have been reading more of your articles And rereading this one. I would be very interested in learning with you if you are open to this and have the time. I am a former classical scholar and now orthodox but I would like a better understanding of the pshat and clarity to see the text apart from all the layers of traditional interpretation. avrahamapatow@gmail.com

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