The “Problem” of Cain

Who did Cain marry? And who exactly was he afraid of?

In an article published on the Logos Bible Software blog in March 2014, Tremper Longman (Biblical studies professor at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA), lists several views on how Adam and Eve are to be understood. One of the views he cites is that of the British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. Longman writes:

“Now Wright’s view, as I understand it from conversations with him, is that… Adam and Eve are a kind of a representative couple within that breeding population. They’re not alone. And actually, that helps explain certain features of Genesis 1-11, like who Cain married, who Cain was afraid of, and those kind of things. So that’s his view: they were an actual representative couple, like the queen and the king. Or we could conceive of them as the priest and the priestess, since Genesis 1 and 2 also talk about the cosmos using a kind of temple language.”

Longman goes on to state that he would “allow for the possibility” that Adam and Eve weren’t that original couple (one pair of many), but that they were “representative of that original couple.”

There are many things that could be said about Longman’s view on the subject of the historicity of Adam and Eve, but I want to focus on only one aspect of what he says in this article. Namely, his statement that N.T. Wright’s view of Adam and Eve “helps explain certain features of Genesis 1-11, like who Cain married, who Cain was afraid of, and those kind of things.” He has in view Wright’s ideas that Adam and Eve were representatives of a larger population of human beings, and not the only two human beings alive in the beginning.

My question about this statement is this: Why is it necessary to go in search of another explanation for these features of the text, when the answer is actually clear, simply working with the account of Genesis itself?

First of all, who was Cain afraid of? Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve mentioned in Scripture. In Genesis 4:25, we’re told that Eve bore a son and named him Seth, “for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’” In Genesis 5:3, we’re told that Seth was born “when Adam had lived 130 years,” and that birth, presumably, occurred relatively soon after Abel’s death, not too long after the time when Cain said, “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me shall kill me” (Gen. 4:14), and within the same period in which “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Gen. 4:17).

Cain and Abel were Seth’s older brothers. They may have been the first two sons born to Adam and Eve, but that is not necessarily the case. But even if we assume that they were, it is entirely possible that Eve could have given birth to sixty-five children before Seth was born (and that’s a conservative guess on my part, assuming single births happening every two years – the numbers could have been much higher). I’m not a mathematician nor the son of a mathematician, and I never took statistics. Therefore, my personal attempt at making some calculations on the population growth possibilities “in the beginning” ended up being, to say the very least, a little rough. But assuming the same rate of reproduction (one child every two years born to adult women), the population of the world by the time Seth was born would have already been in the thousands.

So that answers one question – of whom was Cain afraid? He was afraid of his siblings and their children, his nephews and nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces, and so on. Remember the long lifespans that Scripture records about the people who lived before the flood – many generations of one family would have been alive at the same time, and population would grow exponentially. If we take the information given to us in Scripture seriously, and work with that information, it all seems fairly straightforward.

But what about the second question – whom did Cain marry? And again, the answer to that question is straightforward, and, dare I say, obvious. He married his sister. Or perhaps he married his niece, in which case, one of his brothers must have married his sister. Remember, the proscriptions against incest were not given until the time of Moses (Leviticus 20:17, etc). In fact, we’re told that Abraham and Sarah were half-siblings (Genesis 20:12). Given the fact that the population began with a perfect, error-free genetic stock, this needn’t have been a problem until generations had passed, with the resultant genetic deterioration. For these first generations of the human population, consanguinity would have been a complete non-issue.

So, there’s no need, on the basis of these supposedly problematic questions, to go in search of explanations elsewhere. There’s no need to posit the existence of another branch of humanity apart from Adam and Eve and those descended from Adam and Eve. There’s no need to imagine that Adam and Eve were merely the representative leaders of a much larger population group, whether they were their king and queen, or their priest and priestess. And there’s no need to imagine that they stand even further removed from actual history, as representatives of those representatives (whatever that might mean). Adam and Eve had children, and they probably had a whole lot of them. Those children married each other and had (a whole lot of) children, who married each other, and so on.

It seems to me that bringing these issues into the discussion, as Tremper Longman does, only serves to muddy the waters. I’m far from the first person to have addressed these issues, and there are many others who have addressed them in far greater detail than I have in this short blog post. I’m certain that Longman, as an Old Testament scholar, is well aware of those explanations. Tremper Longman and others who deny the actual historical existence of Adam and Eve must admit that their denial is, in reality, not based in any “problem” in the Biblical account.

The “problem” of Cain, when it comes right down to it, turns out not to be a problem at all.