Who Was Cain's Father?

By Vorjack
Marriage in the Bible, Part 4

Let’s take a look at Genesis 4:1:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (RSV)

If you stop and think about it, that one line has a number of problems. Just what kind of help are we talking about? Remember that God has just increased the pain of labor for Eve, then kicked her out of the garden. It seems odd to be giving God any credit at this point.

There are also problems with the language. The words “the help of” could just as easily be omitted from the translation. But “I have gotten a man (the child?) with the Lord” raises all sorts of questions. What exactly is going on here?

The ancient Jewish sages pondered this question. They were not only concerned with this one line, but also the fact that Cain would go on to kill his brother in a fit of jealousy. Could the answer to the problems of this one line explain the later crime?

Questions of Paternity

Pullquote: Was Cain was really the son of the Satan?

At some point, it occurred to someone that the word Lord could refer to a number of entities. Many of the angels could be referred to as a Lord when addressed by we mere mortals. Including one particular, fallen angel. Could it be that Eve really meant that her son was fathered by this Lord? And could that Lord be … SATAN?

Now, some people will quickly notice a problem here. In the passage quoted above, the word LORD is in all capitals. This signifies (in most translations) that the word being translated is “YHWH,” the four consonants making up the name of God, sometimes called the tetragrammaton. So this interpretation really shouldn’t fly.

But the rules of the interpretive game that the sages were playing required them to stick with the hands that they’d been dealt — even if they knew the deck had been stacked. Since the name of God was too sacred to be spoken, scribes had marked the four letters, or perhaps wrote the word “adonai” — literally “lord” — underneath as a reminder to the reader not to speak the name itself. So the sages seemed to accept this alteration, and interpreted the passage as if the word really were adonai instead of YHWH.

And so it was settled: Cain was really the son of the serpent. His half-demonic nature was what led to his later self-control problems.

Questions of Dating

Pullquote: If you combine it with the story of Lilith, you find that Adam’s first wife ran off, while his second wife had a fling with Satan.

Just as in the case of Lilith, it is extremely difficult to know when this interpretation came about. It is presented clearly in medieval sources, and it is assumed to have deeper roots. But how deep?

There are any number of passages from ancient Hebrew texts that could be interpreted as presuming this legend. For example:

The mother of seven sons expressed also these principles to her children: “I was a pure virgin and did not go outside my father’s house; but I guarded the rib from which woman was made. No seducer corrupted me on a desert plain, nor did the destroyer, the deceitful serpent, defile the purity of my virginity. (4 Maccabees 18:6-8)

In other words, this woman was no Eve. But the connection is not explicitly made. Other passages have similar problems.

There are early Christian sources that might help. One passage that gets cited a lot is from Tertullian: “Having been made pregnant by the seed of the devil … she brought forth a son.” But this translation is suspect, and it ignores the full passage:

For straightway that impatience conceived of the devil’s seed, produced, in the fecundity of malice, anger as her son; and when brought forth, trained him in her own arts. For that very thing which had immersed Adam and Eve in death, taught their son, too, to begin with murder. (On Patience)

Tertullian seems to be saying that Adam and Eve were infected by the serpent with a sense of impatience, which they passed on to Cain.

There are gnostic sources that depict Satan fathering Cain. There are gnostic sources that depict Satan fathering both Cain and Abel. There are gnostic sources that depict Eve escaping from some amorous angels by turning into a tree. It’s perhaps best not to make too much of gnostic sources.

Ancient or medieval, it’s still an interesting take on things. It handily explains Cain’s temper problem. Of course, if you combine it with the story of Lilith, you find that Adam’s first wife ran off, while his second wife had a fling with Satan. If the first humans behaved this way, I think I understand our history a lot better.

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