During this Christmas break I have been reading a book by Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God, the same book I mentioned in a previous post, a book that had taught me much about the God of the Old Testament.
Schroeder is a physicist who combines his scientific research with his love and devotion for the Bible. In a commendation of the book, David J. Wolpe, Rabbi at the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California wrote:
“A brilliant mix of ancient exegesis and modern science that will convince some and infuriate others. Schroeder’s book demands the attention of anyone who wonders if God must be exiled from the modern, enlightened mind.”
In the first chapter of his book, “A Few Words About What God Is Not,” Schroeder discusses some of the misconceptions people have about the God of the Hebrew Bible. Schroeder claims that these misconceptions about God exist among skeptics as well as among believers.
Skeptics believe that the God of the Bible is a man-made creation that exists only to satisfy human curiosity about the existence of human life in this vast universe. Skeptics also believe that God is irrelevant and unnecessary in an enlightened society.
On the other hand, some believers think that God is there to satisfy every human need, to answer every question dealing with the mysteries of life. Many believers have, what Schroeder calls “the parentlike image of an infinite, error-free God” and they believe in “an all-powerful, ever present, ever involved, never erring Creator” (2009:5).
This childlike view of God is, in many ways, contrary to the image of God revealed in the Hebrew Bible. Schroeder says that this view of God fails when one is confronted with the facts of life, the brutalities, the violence, and the injustices that are present in every human society.
Schroeder wrote his book in order to address this misperception about God. He wrote: “We are about to correct that misperception, and in doing so we’ll develop an understanding of the Divine as made manifest in our world” (2009:5).
There is much that Schroeder says in chapter one about the misconceptions people have about God. I will not summarize the whole chapter in this post. Rather, I want to quote a section of chapter one that made me think about one question that my students ask me in class every time I teach the Pentateuch, a question that you probably have asked yourself: “Where did Cain find his wife?”
Before I answer this question, let me quote Schroeder and say a few words about what he wrote. When discussing the age of the universe, Adam and Eve, and the fossils of hominids that date back thousands and thousands of years, Schroeder wrote:
The ancient biblical commentators, those whose writings predate by many centuries the discoveries of modern science (writers of the Talmud, ca. 400; Rashi, ca. 1090; Maimonides, ca. 1190; Nahmanides, ca. 1250), learned from the detailed wording of Genesis that the universe is young and old simultaneously. These ancient commentators actually discuss what science has only recently discovered, that the flow of time is flexible. The rate at which times passes varies depending upon the conditions and the temporal locations from which events are viewed. That is the nature of time in this amazing world of ours. And with that knowledge they describe the old/young age of our universe. They talk about “beings” that we today would refer to as hominids, being identical to humans in shape and in intelligence, lacking only the soul of humanity, the neshama, to make them human. According to these ancient biblical commentators they walked the earth at the time of biblical Adam and before. “Cavemen” were never a theological problem to these ancient commentators.
A superficial reading of the Bible misses all of this. But the Bible is anything but superficial (2009:22-23).
What interested me most in Schroeder’s quotation is the fact that these Jewish biblical commentators talk about pre-Adamic people from “the detailed wording of Genesis.” This statement raised two questions in my mind. The first question was: “Where in Genesis did the Rabbis see this?” The second question was whether the existence of these pre-Adamic people can explain what the Bible says about Cain’s wife.
I have not read what the Rabbis wrote about these pre-Adamic people. I am depending on Schroeder’s statement to reconstruct the possibility of pre-Adamic people in Genesis. My view is only a possible interpretation, not a fact that can be proved historically. Now, follow my discussion of this issue and then ask questions later.
In Genesis1:26, the New International Version (NIV) describes how God created man: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’” The Hebrew word for “man” is ’ādām. Thus, when we read Genesis 1:26, we think of two people, Adam and Eve. If God created only two people, then Cain’s wife was one of his sister, since according to one tradition, Eve had 70 children.
However, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates Genesis 1:26 as follows: “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’” The Hebrew word for “humankind” is ’ādām, the same word translated as “man” in the NIV. In fact, the word ’ādām is a collective word that should be translated as “humankind.”
Now, how many people are there in “humankind”? More than one and more than two. If God created more than two people, then Cain found his wife among the women who were part of the “humankind” God had created.
When we understand the word ’ādām from this perspective, the Rabbis were right. This brings me to Cain. Where did Cain find his wife? There are three possibilities: either she was his sister or she was one of the women that were a part of the “humankind”God had created.
The third possibility is only a theory. This is a theory that is based on what the Rabbis said about the pre-Adamic people and not on the Bible.
Where did Cain find his wife? The answer to this question may be found in recent studies on the people whom we call Neanderthals. An article published in Wikipedia says the following about the Neanderthals:
The Neanderthals are an extinct species of human in the genus Homo, possibly a subspecies of Homo sapiens. They are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.3%, just twice the variability across contemporary humans.
Genetic evidence published in 2010 suggests that Neanderthals contributed to the DNA of anatomically modern humans, probably through interbreeding.
If, as the Rabbis wrote, there were people living before Adam and during the lifetime of Adam’s children, and if there was interbreeding between modern humans and the Neanderthals as the evidence seems to prove, then it is possible that Cain found his wife among those people who were alive at the time God put the neshama, the spirit of human life in Adam.
The possibility that Cain found his wife among these pre-Adamic people may find support in another passage in Genesis. When Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, he “settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch” (Genesis 4:16-17).
The fact that Cain built a city in the land of Nod may indicate that there were many people living in the place he settled, people who were not the children of Adam and Eve.
Now, is this what happened? Probably not. This is only a possible interpretation of how Cain found his wife, but an interpretation that finds no support in the biblical text. Where did Cain find his wife? We still do not have a definite answer to this question and we many never know the true answer to this baffling question.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary