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Category: E.A. Speiser

Melvin: Who Built the First City? Cain? Enoch? Chousor? Or Nimrod?

“The portrayal of the rise of civilization in Genesis 1–11, on the other hand, is generally negative and is devoid of any hint of divine assistance or bestowal of the arts of civilization. A key text in this regard is Genesis 4:20–22, in which the descendants of Cain found the guilds of nomadic shepherding, music, and metallurgy.

The statements are brief, merely indicating that Jabal was the founder of nomadic shepherding, Jubal was the founder of the art of music, and Tubal-cain was the first to work with metals.

If one considers the entirety of Genesis 4, one may also add to the list of new developments animal husbandry (v. 2), agriculture (v 2), city-building and urbanism (v 17), and polygamy (v 19).

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

Gunkel, following Wellhausen, reads the account as brief fragments of what were originally much fuller mythological narratives and suggests that they may originally have referred to deities, but even if this reading is correct for the original myths, the text in its present form has been largely de-mythologized, and the individuals and their accomplishments are completely human.

(Hermann Gunkel, Genesis (trans. Mark E. Biddle; Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997), p. 50. Wellhausen argues that the genealogies in Genesis 4 and Genesis 5 refer to the same individuals and were originally identical.

See Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel􏰦􏰈􏰌􏰒􏰇􏰞􏰌􏰏􏰇􏰋􏰎􏰃􏰂􏰌􏰃􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰧􏰉􏰆􏰂􏰌􏰈􏰚􏰃􏰌􏰘􏰃􏰓􏰆􏰈􏰎􏰇􏰒 (New York: Meridian, 1957), pp. 308–09; see also E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB 1; Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 35–36. If this is the case, then it is important to note that Cain’s genealogy has been distinguished from Seth’s by the insertion of episodes which give the entire list a negative overtone (e.g., Cain’s fratricide, Lamech’s murders).

See John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (2d ed.; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1930), p. 115. Since the statements concerning the arts of civilization appear only in the Cainite genealogy, it is likely that their inclusion is for the sake of bringing upon them “guilt by association” with the dark line of Cain.

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.

Seth’s genealogy, by contrast, includes a number of statements which give a more positive impression to the whole list (e.g., humans calling on the name of Yahweh, Enoch walking with God). However, Gordan J. Wenham makes a case against seeing the two genealogies as originally identical. See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC, 1; Waco: Word, 1987), p. 110.)

Further indication of the human origin of civilization in Genesis 1–11 appears in the motif of city-building and urbanism. Interestingly, Mesopotamian myths attribute the origin of the earliest cities to the work of gods (e.g., Marduk’s construction of Babylon) or semi-divine heroes (e.g., Gilgamesh’s building of the walls of Uruk), while Genesis 4:17 attributes the first city to Cain, who names it after his first son, Enoch, with no indication of divine assistance.

(Westermann notes that the reading of the Hebrew text seems to indicate that it was actually Enoch who built the city, rather than Cain, until one reaches the phrase 􏰣􏰦􏰢􏰃כשם כנן “according to the name of his son,” which he suggests may originally have read simply כשמו􏰣􏰄􏰎􏰧 “according to his name” (Genesis 1–11, 327).

He further argues that it would be unusual for Cain to have been both the founder of agriculture and the first city-builder. Such accounts of the development of civilization typically do so by a succession of births in which each generation makes but one new contribution.

But this is not always the case, as The Phoenician History shows by attributing to Chousor (Kothar) the arts of magic, divination, prophecy, sailing, and fishing (see Albert I. Baumgarten, The Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos: A Commentary [Leiden: Brill, 1981], p. 143).)

Similarly, the building of several key cities in Mesopotamia, as well as the formation of the world’s first empire, is attributed to Nimrod in Genesis 10:8–12.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 7-9.

Semites vs. Sumerians

“Each new discovery of cuneiform tablets elicits a wave of publications asserting biblical ‘parallels,’ many of them uncertain and farfetched, even when a millennium or more may have elapsed between the tablets and the relevant portion of the Bible.

The biblical scholar M. Dahood, for example, saw parallels betwen the Bible and cuneiform tablets from Ebla in northern Syria, which date to approximately 1300 years before the kingdom of David. E. A. Speiser insisted that the ‘patriarchal age’ of the Bible was reflected in tablets from Nuzi in northern Mesopotamia (early fourteenth century BCE), although most of his analogies have been discarded in recent years.

The discovery of prophetic documents at Mari (eighteenth century BCE) attracted much discussion, as did comparison of ancient treaties with the biblical covenant.

A subtler interconnection between the worlds of the Hebrews and of the Babylonians was provided by what might be called ‘Pan-Semitism,’ the idea that the Semitic peoples had certain innate mental and emotional characteristics and limitations in common that conditioned their religious values.

A concise statement of this view, which is traceable, for example, to the works of the influential French thinker Ernest Renan, will be found in S. A. Cook’s contribution ‘The Semites, Temperament and Thought’ in the Cambridge Ancient History (1924), chapter V.

Cook held that Semitic thought was verbal rather than visual, emotional rather than systematic or speculative, and so could not have created such a grand astral system of beliefs as the Pan-Babylonianists had imagined underlay modern Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

To Pan-Semitists, Greece, with its alleged superior visual and speculative thought, albeit comparatively shallow religion, was as essential to understanding Christianity as was Judaism.

Scholars wrote of the ‘Hebrew’ and the ‘Greek’ element in Christianity and European culture. The Pan-Semitists bracketed Judaism, Islam and Babylonia as ‘Semitic’ in type, but not Christianity. This left the place of the Sumerians in the equation Babylonian = Semitic difficult to define.

The early twentieth-century historian Eduard Meyer, for example, therefore argued that the Semites were the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia and the Sumerians were later invaders, thereby maintaining the originally ‘Semitic’ character of Mesopotamian civilization.

In the period after World War I, some scholars tried to distinguish ‘Sumerian’ from ‘Semitic’ thought in Mesopotamian culture. Thus discussion of the relations between Babylonia and the Bible proceeded in an atmosphere charged with faith, scepticism and anti-Semitism.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamian Religion and the Bible,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 208-9.

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