“Fr. Petros, the first book of Bible – Genesis – tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel and settled in the land of Nod, we read that “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Gen 4:17). But where did Cain’s wife come from?” – Anthony (Karonga Diocese – MALAWI)
Since Adam, Eve, and their sons are the only humans the Bible has mentioned so far, the sudden appearance of Cain’s wife has troubled Biblists, Theologians even Readers from ancient times to the present.
RE-TELLING THE STORY
As it is described in Genesis 2:7ff, and confirmed in the New Testament (Luke 3:38; Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; 1 Tim 2:13), God created one man in the beginning. He drew from that man a woman (Gen 3:20). From these first two human beings descended all of mankind (Gen 3:20; cf. Acts 17:26; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45). Modern science has recently confirmed through the study of the mitochondria that all of humanity came from one original mother.
The process began when Adam ‘knew’ his wife, a euphemism in Hebrew for sexual relations, and she conceived and bore her first son Cain (Gen 4:1). We are also told that she subsequently bore Abel (Gen 4:2). The next time we read about human reproduction is when Cain ‘knew’ his wife and she bore him a son (Gen 4:17). One of the more common questions that people ask is the origin of Cain’s wife. Where did she come from? The logical answer, based on the information given up to this point, and that fact that we are told that Eve not only bore another son named Seth, but had “other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:4) is that Cain’s wife was either his sister or a very close relative, such as a cousin or niece.
SOME HIDDEN FACTS
The Bible does not say how old Cain was when he killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). Since they were both farmers, they were likely both full-grown adults, possibly with families of their own. Adam and Eve surely had given birth to more children than just Cain and Abel at the time Abel was killed. They definitely had many more children later (Genesis 5:4). The fact that Cain was scared for his own life after he killed Abel (Genesis 4:14) indicates that there were likely many other children and perhaps even grandchildren of Adam and Eve already living at that time. Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17) was a daughter or granddaughter of Adam and Eve. This claim is confirmed in the Midrash (an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew Scriptures) see below.
THE MIDRASH AND PSEUDO-PHILO
Jewish and Christian interpretations from the first few centuries of the Common Era are more elaborate. Some ancient Jewish writers who retell the story mention that Adam and Eve had daughters early on and even give them names. The book of the Midrash, a second-century B.C.E. retelling of Genesis, calls Eve’s daughter Awan; and the first-century C.E. writer Pseudo-Philo mentions a daughter named Noaba. It was common practice for early Jewish writers to supply names for female characters who were unnamed or outright missing in the biblical texts.
THE TWO PROBLEMS:
The marriage appears to be in contradiction of God’s commandment that a man may not marry someone of close relation such as a sister, aunt, or niece (Lev 18-20). However, this law was given much later in history, during the time of Moses, and so this law only applied to God’s people from Sinai forward, this would not have affected Adam and Eve, or Cain and his wife. Another example of marriage within close degree of relation long before the time of Moses is Abraham’s marriage to his half-sister Sarah (Gen 20:12).
B. BIOLOGICAL DEFECTS
If Cain married his sister, wouldn’t his offspring be deformed? The answer is no. In fact, if this were a problem for Cain, it would have also been a problem for Adam and Eve, who were not simply closely related, as a brother and sister would be, but genetically identical.
The reason that incest today often results in genetic abnormalities is that when two people of similar genetics (i.e., a brother and sister) have children together, there is a high risk of their recessive characteristics becoming dominant. When people from different families have children, it is highly unlikely that both parents will carry the same recessive traits. The human genetic code has become increasingly “polluted” over the centuries as genetic defects are multiplied, amplified, and passed down from generation to generation. Adam and Eve did not have any genetic defects, and that enabled them and the first few generations of their descendants to have a far greater quality of health than we do now. Adam and Eve’s children had few, if any, genetic defects. As a result, it was safe for them to intermarry.
Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17) was a daughter or granddaughter of Adam and Eve. In the early days of humanity, marriage between brothers and sisters was both necessary and genetically safe. The current civil laws, canon law and even the ancient law of Moses forbid intermarriage within close degree of relation in order to avoid the problem stated above. This, however, was not the case with Cain and his wife, or for that matter Adam and Eve, since Adam and Eve were created perfectly with no mutations in their genetic code. If a mutation occurred in the conception of Cain, the odds that this same mutation would also occur in the conception of the woman who would eventually become his wife would be almost impossible.
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Luttikhuizen, Gerard P. (Editor): Eve’s Children: The Biblical Stories Retold and Interpreted in Jewish and Christian traditions (Vol. 5 ed.). Leiden: Brill (2003).
Kugel, James L.: Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as it was at the Start of the Common Era. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press (1998).
Byron, John: Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry, Leiden: Brill (2011).