WAS GOD A HYPOCRITE to let Cain get away with the world’s first murder and then tell the Jews they couldn’t do the same?
“Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death,” (Leviticus 24:17).
Here’s a Friday Fun Fact that might surprise you—although it wouldn’t have been fun for Cain. There’s a theory out there that Cain got what he gave: murder.
That was a surprise to me.
I read about it in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, in the article “Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” by John Byron. Dr. Byron is a New Testament prof at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio—where some of my family lives in a house the Amish built.
Dr. Bryon says scholars in ancient times saw a clue about Cain’s murder hidden in the song of Lamech—one of Cain’s grandsons, five generations after Cain.
“I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.
If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!” (Genesis 4:23-24).
First clue: a word.
’ish is the Hebrew word for “man.” It shows up only twice in this tale reported in Genesis 4.
Eve uses it to describe her first son, Cain:
“I have produced a man!” (Genesis 4:1).
Lamech uses it to describe the person he killed:
“A man who attacked me” (Genesis 4:23).
The “man” Cain equals the “man” killed. So goes the theory.
Second clue: God put a bounty on Cain
Jewish scholars who created the first Bible translation, from Hebrew to Greek during the 100s BC, had a different way of describing what God and Lamech said about Cain.
I’ll paraphrase the typical way of reading it.
God: “I’ll make sure anyone who kills Cain gets seven times the payback” (Genesis 4:15).
Lamech: “Cain’s murderer gets seven times the payback” (Genesis 4:24).
Translators of the Septuagint flipped those coins, tails to the wind.
Again, I’ll paraphrase.
God: “Anyone who kills Cain get seven sins forgiven.”
Lamech: “Thanks to Cain, I got my revenge seven times over.”
I know. That second clue sounds like more than a stretch. But in fairness to the translators, the Hebrew lingo of Lamech’s line doesn’t make much sense the way it reads. So it’s pretty much anyone’s guess what he had in mind. Other than the fact that it wasn’t afternoon tea.
Because of these clues, some of the early Jewish scholars pitched the idea that Cain got what he deserved: murdered by blood kin.