[b-hebrew] Names in Genesis 4
JBarach at aol.com
JBarach at aol.com
Thu Dec 13 19:32:04 EST 2007
Genesis 4 gives the list of Cain's descendents: Enoch, Irad, Mehujael,
Methushael, and Lamech, and then mentions Lamech's wives (Adah, Zillah) and their
children (Jabal, Jubal, Tubal Cain, and their sister Naamah).
While some scholars simply say that these names aren't in Hebrew and
therefore can't be translated, I'm not satisfied with that approach. After all, the
names of Adam and Eve (Chavvah) and their sons, Cain, Abel, and Seth, are
all either Hebrew or closely enough related to Hebrew that they can be
understood -- closely enough related, in fact, that a pun on the name works (e.g.,
"Cain" and "acquired/created"; "Seth" and "appointed").
Some of the names of Cain's descendents are fairly easy to understand.
"Enoch" means "dedicated," and is a term that's used for the dedication of
architecture. The names of Lamech's wives and children also can be understood.
What I'm wondering about are the other names in the list: Irad (ערד),
Mehujael (מחיאל), Methushael (מתושאל), and Lamech (למך). Cassuto suggests
that Irad is related either to "city" or to "wild ass," both of which are ער
. Hirsch takes Irad to be "wild ass. He suggests that Mehujael is from מחוי
אל, "in which godliness is extinguished" or מחו אל, "who extinguished
godliness." Methushael he takes to mean "seeking masses of people," from מתו
אל. The etymology of Lamech, however, he says is "completely obscure."
I'm attracted to some elements of Cassuto and Hirsch's approach. James
Jordan follows Cassuto in seeing Irad as being related to ער, "city" and "wild
ass." (There does appear to be some sort of a connection between these two
meanings: Jair's sons in Judges ride on ער and rule ער). He suggests that
the Hebrew listener to the text might hear something like "The Man who Dwells
in a City like a Wild Ass" or "Man of the Untamed (by God) City."
Jordan takes Mehujael to be from מחו י אל. Unlike Hirsch, he thinks that
the yod in the word is a reference to YHWH. so the word would mean
something like "He Who Blots Out Ya(hweh) El(ohim)." That seems plausible to me.
Unlike Hirsch, Jordan takes Methushael to be from three roots: מתו ש אל.
He understands מתו to refer to death and takes אל to be a reference to
God, as in Mehujael. The ש, he suggests, may be an abbreviated reference to
peace, as it appears to be in the name Methuselah (מתושלה, where שלה seems
to mean "peace and quiet": "His death is peaceful"). The name Methushael,
therefore, would mean something like "He Who Kills the Peace of God."
As for Lamech, Jordan agrees with Hirsch that the etymology doesn't get us
anywhere. He writes: "I suggest that just as Rebekah is a play on barak
(blessing) by reversing the first two letters, so Lamekh is a play on melekh
He suggests, finally, that "Reading 4:18 as a Hebrew might have heard it,
then, we hear: 'And to the Dedicated One was born the Rebellious-City-Dweller.
And the Rebellious-City-Dweller begat the One Who Strikes Out Against
Yahweh-Elohim. And the One Who Strikes Out Against Yahweh-Elohim begat the One Who
Kills the Peace of Elohim. And the One Who Kills the Peace of Elohim begat
It seems to me that Jordan's approach is plausible, but I'd be very
interested in your thoughts on the etymology of these names.
John Barach (541) 531-2906
Pastor, Reformation Covenant Church (CREC)
706 Beekman Avenue
Medford, OR 97501
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