Service of Sunday October 4th, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters, this biblical passage ends with God entering the history of mankind. The last verse indeed mentions that from Enosh’ birth onwards, men have called on the name of the Lord. How did it come this far? How come religion was created? Such is the question that this text raises.
Who did Lamech kill?
Everything starts with a whodunit. Who did Lamech kill? Who is that man, or rather, the grown-up man and the child, whom Lamech confesses to his two wives to murdering? On the basis of the biblical text, few people are living at that time. They are two handfuls: Adam, Eve, Cain and his descendants, among which Lamech belongs to the sixth generation from Cain. Lamech has two wives, three sons and one daughter. In this list we must find the victim, who remains anonymous in the biblical text.
The most convincing clue to find out the name of the victim may be given by Lamech’s confession. The text mentions living women and Cain, but the latter is not mentioned later on. Indeed, the passage deals with the revenge coming from the murder committed by Cain, and a similar but increased revenge about Lamech. In the previous preaching, which was about Abel’s murder, we had learnt that Cain should be avenged seven times if he were to be killed: so teaches the mainstream translation of the Bible. However, Jewish commentator Rachi gives that text a very different meaning and provides a new insight into the whole story. While the biblical sentence is usually translated as one piece, Rachi proposes to divide it in two parts. This hypothesis is allowed by the absence of punctuation in the original Hebrew text. The translation would then be: “Woe to him who kills Cain” (first part of the sentence) and “vengeance will be taken on him until the seventh generation”. In this case, Abel would be the one avenged, though not immediately: seven generations later would vengeance be taken. This delay may provide some time for repentance and forgiveness.
Therefore, the biblical text and Lamech’s confession are much more understandable. As for Lamech’s victims, one understands that Cain is the grown-up man. But what about the child? Lamech’s children are precisely the seventh generation following Cain. They may seek revenge for Abel’s murder. According to the Jewish comments – the Midrash – of the Torah (i.e. the first books of the Hebrew Bible), Lamech used to go hunting with one of his son, Tubal-Cain. Among Lamech’s sons, Tubal-Cain, who indeed wore the name of his ancestor Cain, was the one who forged iron and bronze tools. One day when they were hunting, Tubal-Cain saw a bush move and told his father. Lamech shot at the bush. Cain was in the bush: he died because of his seventh-generation descendant Tubal-Cain. Mad with grief, Lamech killed his own son, who might be the child mentioned in Lamech’s confession.
This biblical episode shows that Cain’s descendants cannot free themselves from violence. They are prisoners of the vicious cycle of increasing vengeance. Despite the time provided to them, they are submitted to a kind of fatality and reproduce the same violent scene. Cain’s family is entirely built on violence. Can civilization be founded on violence? It cannot, according to the biblical text: the original murder cannot be used as a foundation. Mankind has improved through time because they have adopted some morals. Unlike Cain, Lamech is not surprised at being asked to account for the killing. Lamech himself feels responsible for what he has done. This indicates that something did change, enabling human beings to enter the era of civilization.
Before reaching such a stage, Man was Adam, the animal side of mankind, the being who trusts his instincts to feed and his pleasure to choose. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard talks about aesthetic stage. Adam represents the man without any moral precept, the man who trusts his impulses.
Then Man became Ish the moment he met an Isha, Woman. Ish (man) and Isha (woman) create socialization: mankind attains the cultural dimension. This is the mankind of the Covenant, the mankind of morals. Cain might not have been a moral being when he came into conflict with his brother Abel, but Lamech is a moral being, he is aware of his fault: law is part of the way he sees the world. In this respect, for the writer of the Bible, Lamech’s sons represent the different aspects of civilization. One of them develops grazing: this is the function of shepherds and farmers. Another develops music, which belongs to the field of culture and poetry. The last develops warfare by forging potential weapons. These are the three basic functions on which to found a civilization, according to the biblical writer.
At this point, we are not so far from the three functions conjectured by Georges Dumézil in his studies on Indo-European myths. Instead of music or culture, Dumézil talks about the priestly function, which is in charge of the sacred. Indeed, isn’t it the duty of artists and poets to provide the general public with the infinite treasures of the sacred which inhabit everyday life, sometimes unsuspected? Don’t the poets steal the sacred fire and bring it to us so as to warm us up with the most beautiful, the truest, and the most sacred things? The biblical writer is not wrong to assign artists the task of revealing to the world the strengths operating in history, these strengths that our senses cannot feel without their help.
Adam, the man at the aesthetic stage; Lamech, the man at the moral stage (Ish); Enosh is the one who reaches the third stage, the religious stage according to Kierkegaard’s denomination: the spiritual man, the one who calls on the name of the Lord, the one who appeals to God. Never had Adam appealed to God, either to ask Him whether he was really allowed to eat the fruit in front of him, or for anything else. Cain had preferred fleeing from the Lord, somehow like his father had. Lamech however leaves it up to law, to morals. Enosh, which, with Adam and Ish, is another way of saying “man” in Hebrew, reaches the following stage: appealing to God. That is why Enosh is a spiritual being, that is what paves the way for religion. That we shall study now.
This spiritual being is not from Cain’s descent. This is a new lineage from Adam and Eve, a new seed as the text says. Civilization may be built upon an original act of violence; some people would even say that civilization feeds on violence. Nevertheless, the next stage could not be reached but by another way. Death and resurrection: here is what this text says about Seth being appointed instead of Abel. Abel died and Seth was appointed to create a new lineage, a new civilization that could go beyond the stage of latent violence. Indeed, one may talk about a new civilization here. Not what we are taught to think are great and nice civilizations, but actually are just temporary societies doomed to collapse one day or another. Here, one deals with civilization in the most accomplished, the most unconditional sense, which owes nothing to any circumstantial interest but is entirely oriented towards the pursuit of good, well, beauty, to use non-biblical terms.
A closer look at the Hebrew text reveals that this is not such an easy step as the translated text may suggest. Man did not merely began to call on the name of the Lord in the era of Enosh. The Hebrew verb hll mainly means “to profane”. So this last verse, which leaves the door wide open to religiosity, contains an act of profanation. “At that time people began to profane in order to call on the name of the Lord”. The biblical spirituality is both profanation and invocation. It is both doubt and faith. It is reformation and adherence. It is break and confidence. It is demythologizing and preaching. It is smashing idols and writing professions of faith. It is getting one’s object of adoration right. It is re-enchanting life, not the scenery around it.
Let us point out that no theophany, no apparition of the Lord encouraged Seth or Enosh in this direction. Did Adam and Eve directly teach catechism to their descendants? Did the Lord mean anything else than an extraordinary character who could teach the world good and evil, things that should or should not be done? Enosh starts the history of the true, accomplished mankind by profaning the images of God that were in use at that time. Perhaps did he even challenge the images of God his parents and grandparents had passed on. Perhaps did he dare think for himself and choose to speak to the divine without intermediary, without abiding by the family tradition or whatever people were in the habit of saying or doing. Perhaps did Enosh decide to internalize the issue of the Lord and to manage personally with this surplus life that is named spirituality and that, here, appears as the way of founding our lives on something else than violence or vengeance. Enosh’s spirituality may stem from his uncovering his family history as latent conflict resolution and the promise of life in fullness. When Enosh learnt from his grandmother Eve that God himself gave a new posterity after Abel was killed by Cain, he discovered that life is big enough to be filled in with something else than violence or vengeance.
The lesson of theology we may learn from this biblical myth states that the beginning of the history of God in the history of men coincides with the beginning of the history of Man human at last. The invention of God coincides with the invention of the human Man. Only when they invoke the Lord— the Hebrew word for which is the verb “haya” conjugated in the future tense, which means the possibility for something or someone to come — only then do men overcome their condition of rational animal. Then they attain the religious stage in which their spiritual dimension makes them human, in other words able to address somebody else as their fellow man. Nevertheless, this ability cannot be passed on by genes. Each new generation is likely to go through this humanizing process if they want to overcome each stage, reach the next one and attain bliss.
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