# 7. Who is Adam’s first son: Cain or Seth? (Gen 4:1 vs Gen 5:3)

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“When Adam had lived 130 years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:3-4).

The genealogical list in Genesis 5:3-32 continues in the same manner as presented above. That is in each successive generation the antediluvian patriarch—Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, etc.—is said to live X amount of years at which point he gives birth to a son, then he lives Y years further and gives birth to other sons and daughters. Moreover, the genealogical list is enumerated from father to son; there is no mention of the female, and each son is depicted as the first son, who then further fathers a son. This continues for ten generations until we hit Noah. In other words, in this author’s genealogy there is no mention of Cain and Abel. Seth, like Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, etc., is presented as the first son.

The genealogy of Genesis 5 was written by the Priestly writer and is part of the interpretive framework that the later redactor imposes on the Yahwist material (also #8-9). We should additionally note that this writer’s genealogy makes no mention of Cain and Abel. If the Priestly writer was familiar with the Cain and Abel story, then it would appear that he has consciously suppressed it. Furthermore, the Yahwist source never explicitly mentions Adam by name, but rather by the generic “the man” (ha’adam). “And the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain” (4:1). It is conceivable, therefore, that J’s Cain and Abel story, and the genealogy of Adam-Seth were originally components of two separate textual traditions that were later brought together. Genesis 4:25—”And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth”—is thought to be a later editorial insertion which attempts to smooth out the tension resulting from the combination of J (4:1) and P (5:3). Needless to say, Genesis 4:25 is at tension with 5:3-4 which clearly implies that Seth was the first born, and if a unified rationale be sought between J and P, then Cain and Abel would have to be born after Seth, at least according to P: “The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were 800 years, and he had other sons and daughters” (5:4).

There is additionally the same formulaic and thematic interest in Genesis 5:1-32 as was seen in Genesis 1:1-2:4, and expressed in similar terms: creation in image and likeness. These stylistic and thematic similarities fortify the claim that both Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 5:1-23 were penned by the same writer, namely the Priestly writer. Moreover, if P is a later attempt to “rewrite” J, then his lack of acknowledgment of the Cain and Abel story is more an attempt to subvert it, as well as to subvert the history of increasing violence inherent in the Yahwist’s narrative. Rather, the Priestly writer moves us from a good and blessed creation to the flood narrative via a series of genealogies (5:3-23) which in fact merely duplicate the original blessed creation by presenting the generations of mankind from Adam to Noah as a continuation of the creation of mankind in the likeness and image of its creator. There is nothing ominous or corrupt in P’s portrait of mankind, which is radically different from J’s story of fraternal murder and his genealogy of a human race prone to increasing levels of violence and sin.

For more on how and why P imposed a new interpretive framework on J read The Priestly Writer’s Reworking of the Yahwist Material of Genesis 1-11.

21 thoughts on “# 7. Who is Adam’s first son: Cain or Seth? (Gen 4:1 vs Gen 5:3)

  1. You’ll get use to it. It’s rather typical nomenclature now, short-hand for the Priestly writer and the Yahwist (German J) writer. These “titles” have been assigned by scholars because they represent the basic orientation of each textual tradition. P was written by a priestly guild, etc. They are, like most texts of the Bible, anonymous. These somewhat artificial titles allow us to speak about the Bible’s different features, styles, and textual traditions.

  2. Redactionism issues aside (with which I have no bone to pick), I think you’re missing something obvious. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that Seth was Adam’s first son. In fact, assuming that the somewhat hard-to-believe ages presented for the antediluvian patriarchs are true, I would wager that Seth may have been something like Adam’s 100th child. The reason Seth is highlighted in the genealogy here is that he was a direct ancestor of Noah. I actually doubt that any of the men listed in Genesis 5 were firstborn sons, and I include Shem, Ham, and Japheth in this assessment. Still, I always enjoy reading stuff like this, and I’ll no doubt drop in from time to time to read your stuff. Congrats on your writing and good luck!

  3. I might say that it’s rather strongly implied:
    “When Adam had lived 130 years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.
    “And Seth lived 105 years and he fathered Enosh”
    And Enosh lived 90 years and he fathered Cainan”…

    And right, I’m not arguing that this is factual, but in the literary narrative Seth is Adam’s firstborn.

  4. David is called the firstborn but he clearly was not in strictest sense the first son of Jesse. Firstborn is an idiom used to show preeminence or the inheritor of a birthright/blessing of some sort. It is clear by Cain’s murdering of his brother that he would not be the firstborn. Abel was obviously murdered so then the blessing(family inheritance) would likely go to Seth. The firstborn is usually the oldest but not in all cases, i.e, Ephraim and Mannasah, David, or Esau and Jacob. Sometimes it goes to the child who is more responsible. This would perhaps explain why Seth is Mentioned after Adam in the Next genealogy which shows where Jesus would descend from. So, in a manner of speaking the Messiah would come from a purer line. You’re thought is based on the assumption that this is a genealogy based on chronological order as it has been pointed out Adam had other Sons and daughters…

  5. I’m not sure where you’re pulling all this from, but clearly it is not from the text. Much of what you’ve presented here is theological interpretation, speculation, etc. The conversation must start from the text. I realize the topic is sensitive; but we have to start being honest to these texts, their authors, what they believed and why, etc., AND THEN we can have a conversation about ok, where do my beliefs fit in. Having said that, certainly there is room here to disagree with and dispute me. I’m fine with that. Yet, I see my task as defending the text, not your beliefs, nor mine, nor what later generations of readers say about the texts; but the texts in their own literary and historical contexts.

  6. Not to try to put words in others’ mouths, but it seems to me that the commenters above weren’t objecting to your reading because they wanted to defend the Bible as God’s infallible Word. They were simply pointing out that an account could have served a different purpose, for that author, in their own literary context, from another author’s text (to use some of your favorite words :)).

    Your paragraph beginning “The genealogical list”, up until the last two sentences, seems to be arguing in favor of Brucker’s suggestion that children are being omitted intentionally and that the point of the genealogy in Ch. 5 is to establish how we get from mankind’s start to Noah (who, after all, is the subject of Ch. 6). Then somehow you arrive at a different conclusion. As was pointed out, you are reading the word “firstborn” into an account that doesn’t use it.

    To look at it another way, was the writer really intending to suggest that Seth lived 105 years before having one child, or at least one boy? And that Enosh lived 90 years before having his firstborn? Either these guys went through a really delayed puberty, or they had some fertility issues! If *their* previous children were being omitted, why not Adam’s?

    I would suggest that this Noah-centered take on the account is arguably just as faithful to the text as your more literal approach, and only requires an expectation that the reader would know the purpose of the genealogy he was reading, which is to explain how Noah shows up in the next chapter.

  7. It appears to me that in order for this to work, one needs to accept the supposition that some folks (PJ) supposedly changed some text in order to clean up a problem, but didn’t bother to do so for many of the other problems, seems suspect, and is based on conjecture, and it’s use will lose people who are unfamiliar with those theories. Rather than introducing suppositions, that believers will certainly reject, it might be better to stick to the texts where there are clear contradictions as you have posted elsewhere. Such a thing as Kayin and Hevel being omitted from the generation list in 5:1 is very clear, and makes a good point. Of course, a believer might indicate that the purpose of the list was to bring forth the genealogy of Noach, (who is introduced at the end of the list and his story begins immediately after that list) and so Kayin and Hevel were irrelevant since he was not their descendant, and, as pointed out by someone else, it lists only a single line and all irrelevant briths are omitted. That might be an important point to address. Further, תולדות has other meanings besides a “genealogy”. Genesis 2:4 and 25:19 are a couple of counter points where it means “history” or “period” of a specific focus, while there are also times when it is used as a genealogy.

    You are busy, though. That is clear! :D

  8. My Hebrew is weak, but doesn’t it say or imply of Cain that Eve thought Cain was “the man child” and not “a man child”? That is, there was an almost Messianic expectation for Cain since the “seed of the woman” was to defeat the serpent right there, early on in Genesis. Cain made an epic fail, Abel had died, and “Seth”… means “appointed”. A replacement, a new “first begotten, unique son,” a substitution for Cain and Abel. You may have heard that the ten patriarchs names play in the Hebrew to form “Man… appointed… mortality and suffering… the blessed God… will come down and teach… after His death… those who suffer… will rest.” The Christian gospel in Genesis. This is one place I come back to when we add higher textual criticism to our studies. You do know both Christian and Jewish tradition see multiple levels of interpretation and beyond the face of the text not merely to redact Messianic expectation into the source texts but because they are encoded there? Thanks for the scholarship and effort you are putting into this blog.

  9. This is mind-blowing. Please don’t stop doing this. When you hit the end of the OT contradictions, which should be quite a few days from now, are you going to address NT inconsistencies? and dare I say, historical Jesus?

  10. It is interesting to note that outside Genesis 4, Cain and Abel (as proper names for individuals) appear nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible. In fact, the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 1:1) omits both from his genealogy. The New Testament mentions Cain in Hebrews 11:4, 1 John 3:12, and Jude 11, and Abel in Hebrews 11:4, 12:4, and Matthew 23:35/Luke 11:51. With respect to why the Priestly author omitted mention of Cain (and Abel) in the Genesis-5 genealogy, Richard Elliott Friedman suggests that it’s because the Cain-and-Abel pericope involves sacrifice, something that the Priestly writer claims originated after the tabernacle was established (Exodus 40). See page 27 of *The Bible With Sources Revealed*.

  11. It’s interesting that you failed to mention the distinct possibility that Adam is not Cain’s father. You can research seedline theory as it’s known, and personally I believe it’s highly likely for several reasons. Nowhere is Adam named as Cain’s father, nor is Cain ever referred to as the son of Adam. Furthermore, Eve announces “I’ve gotten a man from the Lord”. Cain was a murderer, and Satan is known as the father of all murderers. I can go on and on – do the research yourself – there’s no reason to assume that Adam was Cain’s father.

  12. You find the same thing in Chronicals. Neither Cain or Abel is mentioned-straight to Seth. Lest there be any doubt both of David’s sons ARE listed and we all know that story so it has nothing to do who was a murderer or who was murdered. The only reasonable explanation is that neither Cain nor Able were of Adam’s seed.

  13. @John Scoone

    Nowhere is Adam named as Cain’s father, nor is Cain ever referred to as the son of Adam.

    uh.

    וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ; וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן

    And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain,

    yeah, it’s a coincidence that she got pregnant after they had sex.

  14. Jerry,

    While I appreciate your comment, the biblical texts themselves on their terms and their authors, what they believed and did not, violently disagree with your claim that, I might remind you, has no textual supporting evidence. The texts say otherwise. And this site is devoted to the texts—not our beliefs about the texts.

    I might also emphasis that this site has nothing to do with arguments for or against God or the existence of God or a god. It has everything thing to do with this collection of ancient texts that only centuries later came to be labeled “the Book” and thenceforth took on new reader-imposed meanings. So we are moving past this, going back to the texts before they were co-opted into this centuries-later interpretive framework.

    More so it’s really a website devoted to the authors of these texts, their beliefs—not ours about them—their audiences, the historical circumstances that prompted them to write what they did and ultimately to believe what they did, the literary conventions employed by ancient scribes, the disagreements and disputes they had with one another, etc.— all of which are preserved in this corpus of literature. This has nothing to do with my beliefs or yours; rather it has everything to do with what these texts say and do not say, the beliefs—competing beliefs—of their authors, their competing worldviews, value systems, ideologies, etc.

    Moreover, to claim from a position of ignorance (i.e., not knowing who wrote these texts, to whom, why, etc.) that a collection of ancient texts written by 70+ different scribes, different priestly clans, different competing prophetic schools, secular writers, poets, king-sponsored scribes, etc. and over a period of a 1,000 years through two different cultures do not evidence competing views, beliefs, interpretations of history, concepts of Israel’s god, or the priesthood, support or lack thereof for kings, competing views of sacrifice, etc. is just blatantly negligent of these texts, their authors, their messages, and their beliefs. In short, you have, the label “the Bible” has, imposed an erroneous sense of homogeneity and a singled-voiced message onto these texts and their authors and have thereby suppressed these authors’ messages and beliefs, and have imposed your own beliefs as more important! So your objective becomes supporting your views about the texts, rather than listening to the messages and beliefs of the individual authors of these texts.

    My plea to modern Christians is that they, we as a culture, start being honest to the authors of these texts, what they believed, and understanding why they believed what they did—not negligently imposing our beliefs onto their texts, or the beliefs of later readers. So, in our dealing with the Torah here, the elite priest who wrote Leviticus disagrees on many points with the more secular Levite scribe who wrote Deuteronomy, and these disagreements and competing beliefs are evident in the texts they left behind and later scribes collected together, and an even later readership labeled “the Book.” And this is merely one example out of literally thousands. So in short, this website is devoted to their messages—and perhaps even against those, like yourself, you unknowingly drown out their messages and disagreements by imposing a later reader-oriented interpretive framework upon these competing messages that now dictates that these competing texts be read as a single-voiced message. Again, diligent and honest study of these texts in their own historical and literary contexts contest this view. This is what the text themselves are saying.

  15. I feel that genisis leaves you no option but to speculate. As I understood 4:1 as I read it (Now Adam knew eve his wife she bore and conceived cain) This does say as written that cain is son of Adam like Arach mentions above. Now Eve says ” I have aquired a man from the lord”. Now while reading that there was no mention of conception of any other before. So reading further to 4:14,15 now cain and the lord are in agreement that others will seek to kill cain as he wonders. It’s at this point where you must speculate, was cain the first son? Why did Eve say the LORD has given her man? Did Adam and Eve “know” eachother before?
    At this point you have to go back and re read the first seven days continue on to the harden look at the order of events and decide (speculate ) on weather or not Adam and Eve were even the first poeple?
    I guess my point is: We can’t come to a conclusion on allot of the scriptures without some sort of reading into or speculation of what its trying to say.

  16. Why did Eve say the LORD has given her man?

    the “knowing” is the key, here. they had taken that “knowledge” from yahweh, and chavah (“eve”) is saying that she has basically stolen yahweh’s creative power. i don’t think these stories are all meant to be separate, unrelated narratives, but one broader myth about marriage, sexuality, and family.

  17. Shalom
    Context Context Context!
    It is CRUCIAL that you study Scripture from the correct interpretation(s) in order to determine the practical answer(s). The correlation between that of Habel & Kayin and Seth is one of Kahunnah (Priesthood).
    Ahdahm was (As Above so Below) of the MalkiTsadik Kahunnah (as is our Kohan Gadole, Yahusha ha’Mashiak, presently before AB YaHUaH), and because of Sin (ha’Sha’tan’s deception/seduction of Habbah), therefore the ‘tainted’/impure bloodline/seed of Habel & Kayin, because of the Deception/Sin, was not acceptable and therefore ‘birthright’ lost, whereas the pure bloodline of Seth (Ahdahm & Habbah’ OWN son and therefore the TRUE ‘firstborn’) was the NEXT in line MalkiTsadik Kohan Gadole (‘High Priest’) in the ‘Order of Melchizedek’.
    The better understanding of Scripture is thus, since the BEGINNING (B’r’sheeth), clearly marked as a War between Bloodlines!
    Shalom Shalom!
    BenaYahu

  18. Seth was born later. He was listed as the first son, likely because Abel was dead and Cain had been banished. There are other people in the Bible that are left out of geneologies for disgracing their families as well.

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