The Complete Book of Genesis

OK, So Cain Could Have Had a Wife
What's really in the Good Book.
May 18 2006 5:30 PM

The Complete Book of Genesis

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I don't have time for a full entry today—no time to read, much less to write—but I wanted to use your vigorous e-mails to clarify my earlier entries.

Maybe it was unfair for me to call Lot's daughters Judea's Hilton sisters. A number of readers wrote in to defend them, pointing out that they may have had sex with their drunk father only because they believed he was the last man on earth—Sodom and Gomorrah had been incinerated, after all—and that humanity would die out unless they had children. Others note a sly in-joke. Lot's daughters get pregnant as a result of this incest and bear sons named Moab and Ben-Ammi. These boys are described as the forefathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites, two tribes that the Israelites conquered around the time of Kind David. Attributing your enemy's origin to incest—what a great insult!

Speaking of incest, I guess Cain could have found a wife after all. Lots of readers point out that Genesis 5:4 says that Adam had other children: He "begot sons and daughters." On the other hand, that means Mrs. Cain was also Cain's sister.

There are a number of competing theories about how biblical characters managed to live so long. Most readers propose that the Flood represents some break, because 900-plus-year life spans drop to 100-200 years after the Deluge. Many agree that the shrinking life span is rooted in the distance from Creation—the further from Edenic perfection, the shorter human life. Some readers, who interpret the Bible more literally than I do, posit that there was a "Vapor Canopy" manufactured during Creation that protected Methuselah et al. from disease, radiation, and so forth, allowing their longevity. This canopy was gone after the flood, so we died younger. Other readers note that just before the story of Noah, God says of man: "Let the days allowed him be 120 years," and after that the millennial life spans vanish, but the patriarchs live extra-long because they are blessed by God. Still others suggest that Israelites had different ideas about how long a year was. The most persuasive explanation, to my mind, comes from reader Alan Zimmerman: "The written Bible, as we know it, was probably composed over a long period of time by numerous people whose interpretations of the oral tradition varied greatly depending on circumstance and point-of-view. One possibility is that during the generations of repeating the stories the ages simply represent the natural tendency of story tellers to embellish the exploits and accomplishments of heroes to outsized proportions. Sarah, perhaps, was 39 years old, but isn't it a better story, isn't it more of a miracle, when we read that she got knocked up at 99?"

And finally, in the spirit of equal time: I wrote that the worst moment in Hebron's recent history came in 1994, when a Jewish settler massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Many of you chastised me for neglecting to mention the murder of 67 Hebron Jews by Arabs during anti-Jewish riots in 1929.

To learn more about the Blogging the Bible project, click here.

Thoughts on Blogging the Bible? Please e-mail David Plotz at plotzd@slate.com . E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

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