Question by Felix Baidoo
“When Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, there were only four people on earth at that time, i.e., Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel. However, according to the Bible, Cain killed Abel and was cursed by God, leaving only three people on earth i.e., Adam, Eve and Cain. But according to the Bible, Cain travelled to a town called Nod and married and gave birth to children with her. My question is, which other human did Cain marry? Please I need your answer.”
The biblical text alluded to in the question is Genesis 4:1-26 which deals with the descendants of Adam. The literary genre of the passage is genealogy. It traces the origins of the first human family. Biblical genealogies tend to be scanty in detail in the sense that they tend to focus almost exclusively on key figures needed to move the story forward.
In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created Adam and Eve: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Next, in Genesis 4:1-2, we are told of the birth of Cain and then Abel – in quick succession, it would seem. According to Gen. 4:8, Cain killed his brother Abel.
After Cain had killed his brother Abel and had been banished by God we read, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch” (Gen 4:16-17). The text seems to pose a problem as it makes reference to the wife of Cain when so far in the text, only four human beings have been mentioned: Adam, Eve, Cain and his brother Abel whom he had killed. The legitimate question to ask here is: Where did Cain get his wife? So far there has been no mention of any other woman apart from Eve.
It is important to note that those whose names have been mentioned so far in the story are individuals whose actions are significant for all humanity. It does not necessarily mean that they were the only human beings existing at the time. In fact, the text of Genesis 4:1-26 makes it evident that at this point in the story, we are no longer in the first stage of human existence on earth. And so, for instance, in Genesis 4:14, Cain complains to God that as a fugitive and wanderer, there is the possibility of him being killed by whoever finds him. This presupposes that there were other human beings living at the time. It is along this same line that the mention of Cain’s wife in Genesis 4:17a is to be understood. The sacred author presupposes that humanity has spread over the face of the earth. Indeed, as Genesis 4:17b indicates, at this stage in the Genesis story, we are at the beginnings of civilization as human beings begin to live in cities.
We, therefore, have to assume that other human beings were living at this point in the Genesis story. Indeed, according to Genesis 5:4, “[Adam] had other sons and daughters”. Cain must have married his sister. But if this was the case, was he not guilty of incest? Two things can be said in response to this objection. First, if the human race was propagated from a single pair, as the evidence seems to indicate, such closely related marriages were unavoidable. In the second place, the notion of incest must be probed more closely. At first the sin of incest was connected with sexual relationships between parents and children. Only afterwards was the notion of incest extended to sibling relationships. By Moses’ time there were laws governing all forms of incest (Lev 18:7-17; 20:11-12, 14, 17, 20-21; Deut 22:30; 27:20, 22, 23). These laws clearly state that sexual relations or marriage is forbidden with a mother, father, stepmother, sister, brother, half-brother, half-sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, aunt, uncle or brother’s wife.
The Bible, in the meantime, notes that Abraham married his half-sister (Gen 20:12). Therefore, the phenomenon is not unknown in Scripture. Prior to Moses’ time, incest in many of the forms later prohibited were not thought to be wrong. Thus, even Moses’ own father, Amram, married an aunt, his father’s sister, Jochebed (Ex 6:20).
Even though the sacred author knew that there were countless other human beings living in the Genesis story, he continues to focus on the first human family because the actions of those individuals teach us a timeless religious truth: sin has a devastating effect on human beings’ relationship with God and with one another.
In conclusion, it is justifiable to affirm that even though by the time the Genesis story reaches chapter 4:17 where there is the mention of Cain’s wife, only four individuals have been mentioned in the story, the sacred author presupposes that other human beings were living at the time. Let us always keep in mind that in Genesis chapters 1 to 11, we are dealing with primeval history about human origins, a story intended to teach us a religious truth about how God created all that exists and how human beings to whom God entrusted his creation alienated themselves from God through sin. The sinful acts of those individuals mentioned in the story – Adam, Eve, Cain, Lamech, etc. – are of a paradigmatic character. In other words, they constitute a pattern of behaviour into which every person is likely to fall and they stand as warnings to all who are tempted to disregard divine laws.
By Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, Ghana