Biblical evidence that people are not descended from a single male ancestor

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See also

The word adam

See "adam" the common noun, covering:

  • the common noun, meaning humankind
  • the personal name
  • Adam and Eve as archetypal Man and Woman
  • Adam in the New Testament

Cain's Family in Exile

The Biblical evidence

  • Genesis 4:13-14Cain, being sent to be a wanderer in exile in the land of Nod, is afraid that he will be killed by anyone who meets him. Consider further:
    • Genesis 4:25 — After considering the story of five generations of Cain's family, the narrative turns back to Adam and Eve in verse 25 : "Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, meaning, “God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel," for Cain had killed him. (JPS Tanakh) This suggests (but does not prove) that they had no children between Abel's murder and the birth of Seth.
    • Genesis 5:3-4 says that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born; and v4 says After the birth of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters.
    • The Bible is silent on any other children that Eve may have had before the murder of Abel or after the birth of Seth.
  • Meanwhile, according to Genesis 4:17, Cain himself had found a wife, who bore him Enoch, "And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch." (JPS Tanakh)
    • The Bible is silent on where Cain's wife came from, but we might assume that she came from "the land of Nod, east of Eden" (v16).
    • The Bible is silent on who her parents were.
    • The Bible is silent on how many people lived in Cain's city, and where they came from.
  • 4:15 says "the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who met him should kill him." It seems unlikely that this would refer to Cain's younger siblings – 130 years younger, who had also been sent into exile.
  • (added 26 Jan 2022) See The wives of Cain and Seth in The Fourth Conversation.

A literary perspective

"[Genesis 4:]9-12 ... Adam's being driven from the garden to till a landscape of thorn and thistle is replayed here in God's insistence that Cain is cursed by—the preposition also could mean "of" or "from"—the soil ('adamah) that had hitherto yielded its bounty to him. The biblical imagination is equally preoccupied with the theme of exile (this is already the second expulsion) and with the arduousness or precariousness of agriculture, a blessing that easily turns into blight. ...

"14. whoever finds me. This, and the subsequent report of Cain with a wife in the land of Nod, are a famous inconsistency. Either the writer was assuming knowledge of some other account of human origins involving more than a single founding family, or, because the schematic simplicity of the single nuclear-family plot impeded narrative development after Cain's banishment, he decided not to bother with consistency."

— Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses, pp 30-31 (footnotes to Genesis ch.4)

The case to the contrary


  • The 'anyone' could also refer to any of Adam's siblings, as Gen 5/4 says he had sons and daughters. Any one of them could have a spirit of revenge on Cain for the murder of their brother, despite there being a warning mark placed upon Cain, and not necessarily after the birth of Seth who was born when Adam was 130 yoa. Gen 5/4 refers to the life of Adam, and as far as the promised seed is concerned, the genealogy traces the line through Seth (in the likeness of Adam) who is appointed to be a replacement for Cain. Cain is not listed in the genealogy of Adam. It is incidental that Adam lived after Seth was born for another 800 years until death claimed him, highlighting the descent of man inexorably to death in the case of all.
  • It is not to be assumed that Cain found a wife only 'out there' in the land of Nod as though there were other beings contemporary with Adam, as presumed by an alternative view. Cain could already have been married before he was banished. He had plenty of years to marry before he was banished, being an accomplished agriculturalist by then, but the focus of the record of the Generations of Adam is tracing the line of the promised seed. Interestingly, the genealogy of the second Adam in Matthew 1 is in juxtaposition to this one from the first Adam and reveals the way to life, not death as in Gen 5.
  • Cain (and probably his wife) went into exile. We are only told Cain had a son named Enoch after whom Cain's encampment (probably fortified if its meaning entails the idea of 'watch') was named. The Bible does not tell us Cain's younger siblings are sent into exile with him.
Colin (talk) 00:56, 25 May 2018 (UTC)

comment on the case to the contrary

The question is not so much "where did Cain's wife come from?" as "does the story of Cain support the assumption of Primeval Incest?" These words "...could ... could ... not necessarily ... could ... probably ..." indicate speculation in response to a different question again, "Is it possible to read the story of Cain so that it supports the assumption of Primeval Incest?" In this, these comments are successful, but they are not addressing the issue.
The Bible tells us that Cain was afraid of being killed in exile by "anyone who met him" (Genesis 4:13-14) — could this anyone have actually referred to his younger siblings or unrecorded older siblings? (Genesis 5:3-4 says that Adam had sons and daughters after he begot Seth, but Scripture is silent about sons or daughters older than Seth, other than Cain and Abel.) Yes, but if so he didn't need to go into exile to be killed by them. Could it have referred to his siblings exclusively, to the exclusion of all other people because there were none? Yes, that is not impossible, but they still could have killed him at home, and in fact they would have had to go into exile themselves to have an opportunity to kill him if that's where he was. These speculations are a house of cards disguising the plain meaning of Cain's protest, that if he had to become a wanderer away from home, anyone who came across him might kill him.
The suggestion that Cain took a sister-wife with him into exile is also speculation. There is absolutely no justification for saying his wife "probably" went into exile — if Primordial Incest is true then she certainly did; otherwise we cannot say where she came from. The narrative is not of a kind that would require ordinary biographical details. We don't even know where the people came from who joined Cain to populate the city he built. (Where does "encampment" come from by the way, and, wherever it came from, what does using it tell us? Here are fifty English translations that say "city"!)
The "focus of the record" is an interesting question, but it's a distraction from the matter of whether Cain's story supports the claim of Primeval Incest. Textual critics open up another can of worms by pointing out that Cain's and Seth's genealogies are closely parallel:

5.1-32: The ten generations from Adam to Noah. This genealogy can be seen, in part, as the parallel to the list in 4.17-26. Note the similarity or identity of many of the names in the two genealogies: Cain/Kenan, Enoch/Enoch, Irad/Jared, Mehujael/Mehalalel, Methusael/Methuselah, Lamech/Lamech. Even if these figures were originally thought to be descendants of Cain, ch 5 treats them all as descendants of Seth. Cain's line will not survive the flood, and the people Israel will emerge from the lineage of the younger son's replacement (4.25), not from that of the murderous first-born son of Adam.

—Jon D. Levenson, Jewish Study Bible Notes, ad loc.
Bruce (talk) 11:13, 26 May 2018 (UTC)

The "Sons of God and the Daughters of Men"

Primordial Incest?

  • Genesis 4:17-26 refers to nine different men in six generations from Adam, all of whom had at least one wife. These clearly may have come from the population that apparently [see below] evidently lived in the land of Nod where Cain was exiled — but since Hellenistic times writers have suggested that all of these people were Adam and Eve's offspring, all produced by incest without any parentage other than from Adam and Eve.
    • The Bible is entirely silent on this Primordial Incest.
    • The Bible is not silent on incest, however. It is shameful in Genesis (Lot's daughters) and 2 Samuel (the rape of Tamar) and it is prohibited in the Law of Moses.
    • If it is unlikely that Cain needed protection from his siblings, younger by 130 years, who had also been sent into exile in the land of Nod, it is even less likely that one of them became his wife.
  • Creation Ministries International argues strongly for a reading of primordial incest here (PDF download).

The case to the contrary


  • "The wife of Cain was of necessity his sister, though this was forbidden in after times, for wise and holy reasons, when the necessity no longer existed." — Albert Barnes Notes on The Bible (per e-Sword)
  • Cain's wife came from one of Adam's daughters he procreated. One of his sisters.
  • "The marriage of brothers and sisters was inevitable in the case of the children of the first men, if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair, and may therefore be justified in the face of the Mosaic prohibition of such marriages, on the ground that the sons and daughters of Adam represented not merely the family but the genus, and that it was not till after the rise of several families that the bands of fraternal and conjugal love became distinct from one another, and assumed fixed and mutually exclusive forms, the violation of which is sin. (Comp. Lev 18.)" — Keil & Delitzsch Bible Commentary on the Old Testament (per e-Sword).
  • It is speculation to assume there was another population apparently living in the land of Nod. The Bible does not tell us that.
Colin (talk) 01:43, 25 May 2018 (UTC);

comment on the case to the contrary

The speculations of Barnes, the second anonymous dot point, and Keil & Delitzsch are all based on the assumption of universal primordial incest — in other words, begging the question. Barnes admits as much by his "of necessity" while K&D state their reasoning clearly with "if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair . . .. Nobody could disagree with their conclusion on that basis, but the conclusion is not evidence in support of the assumption it is based on.
The existence of people in the land of Cain's wandering is not a matter of speculation: he talks about "anyone who meets me" in Genesis 4:14. It is arguable that this doesn't refer to the land of "Nod" ("wandering"), but that's not an obvious way to read the verse. I'll change the word from apparently to evidently.
Bruce (talk) 06:53, 25 May 2018 (UTC)

further thoughts February 2019

  • If Cain was afraid of his family, he'd have wanted to be exiled away from them.
  • If punishment for killing his brother was banishment rather than execution, why would he think his family would commit the same crime by killing him? Bruce (talk)

When humankind began to worship invoke the LORD by name

  • As noted above, Adam's son Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old (PaulGenesis 5:3). Genesis 4:26 says that Seth himself had a son, called Enosh — and it was then that men began to invoke the LORD by name.
    • There are various explanations of this invocation by name of the LORD (Yahweh). Whoever the people were who began to worship invoke [see below] God in this way, they hadn't been doing so before they began.

The simplest explanation of this Biblical evidence is that Adam had contemporaries; this accords with the Scientific evidence that people are not descended from a single male ancestor.

Bruce (talk)

The case to the contrary


  • It is not correct to say ' men' only began to worship God after Enos(h) was born. It occurred when Cain and Abel brought offerings "unto Yahweh", of which God respected Abel's (Gen 4/3-5). And no doubt it was practised by Adam and Eve too, who would have taught Cain and Abel about worship of the Creator.
  • Some Jewish commentators refer the invocation as saying men began to profane His name by calling on their idols in His name as idolatry commenced. E.g. Maimonides in his Treatise on Idolatry (per Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible)
  • "...the statement that 'men began to call upon the name', implies that they did so in a special way...They now did so in a new way such as did not ascribe credit to it. They began to invoke his name in a way that led to a profanation of it and contributed to the decline that consummated in the flood." — H.P.Mansfield, The Christadelphian Expositor, Vol 1 p101.
  • Geneva Bible Translation Notes: — " In these days God began to move the hearts of the godly to restore religion, which had been suppressed by the wicked for a long time."
  • Matthew Henry's Commentary on the whole Bible: —" Now that Cain and those that had deserted religion had built a city, and begun to declare for impiety and irreligion, and called themselves the sons of men, those that adhered to God began to declare for him and his worship, and called themselves the sons of God."
  • It seems inappropriate to imply men here are not of the human race descended from Adam.
Colin (talk) 03:05, 25 May 2018 (UTC)

comment on the case to the contrary

True, the invocation isn't necessarily about worship, so I've fixed that and left a paper trail. But it is about invocation: one of these is correct —
* men (see "adam" the common noun) began to worship the LORD by invoking him by name; or
* men (see "adam" the common noun) began to blaspheme the LORD by invoking him by name
although in fact the verb has no subject adam. Robert Alter[1] Robert Alter describes the syntax as "an atypical and vague passive form of the verb". He notes that "the narrative unit that begins with one general term for human being, 'adam, in verse 1, here concludes with another, 'enosh, and those two words elsewhere are bracketed together in poetic parallelism", but he doesn't specifically say that the adam/enosh wordplay might explain the unusual passive construction.
The suggestion that invocation in this case is blasphemous is only one of the ways that people have tried to explain the apparent loss of knowledge of God, and/or the apparent contradiction with Exodus 3. Rashi agrees with Maimonides; the NET Bible translators' notes agree with Ibn Ezra:

tn Heb "call in the name." The expression refers to worshiping the Lord through prayer and sacrifice (see Gen 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25). See G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:116.

Still, the simple fact is that invocation of Yahweh was begun after the birth of Enosh; a straightforward reading would suggest that people in the family of Adam, Cain, Abel etc had invoked him much earlier; this is evidence that other people existed outside that family. Not conclusive evidence, given the possibility that the invocation was actually some kind of blasphemy or profanation that had never been practised before, but evidence nevertheless; and it agrees with the other Biblical and Scientific evidence that people are not descended from a single male ancestor.
(Re that last dot point: Adam was an adam but he wasn't the only one. Eve, for example, was an adam too. It's begging the question to say that other adams couldn't be called people (adams) if they weren't descended from the adam called Adam. We're looking at evidence adduced in an attempt to show that other such adams did exist.)
Bruce (talk) 13:14, 26 May 2018 (UTC)

comments on cases

  • Genetic errors may have occurred before the law forbidding incest was introduced under the Law of Moses. If brothers and sisters sharing the same genetic errors when they married, they would be more likely to pass on such mutations to their offspring. To prohibit incest would work to cancel out accrued errors.
  • Bearing in mind Adam and Eve would have been in prime, very good condition, problematic errors would not likely arise for some time. Long life spans could be evidence of this.
  • It is just as speculative to read into Genesis 4/17 that he found his wife in the land of Nod. All we are told is Cain went out and Cain's wife became pregnant. Cain may have been married before he went out of the area east of Eden.
  • It is evident Adam and Eve had sons and daughters before Seth for Cain to be concerned about his personal security in the earth, and who may have considered vengeance upon Cain for the murder he committed of their 'brother'. This is not to assume other pre-Adamic, 'evolved' female beings were in existence at the time.
  • The arguments from silence does not prove anything.
  • The birth of Seth was specifically relating to the furtherance of the line of the promised seed.
  • "encampment" - Strongs convey's this idea:
‛ı̂yr ‛âr ‛âyar
eer, awr, aw-yar'
From H5782 a city (a place guarded by waking or a watch) in the widest sense (even of a mere encampment or post): - Ai [from margin], :::city, court [from margin], town.".

More later

Colin (talk) 08:01, 11 June 2018 (UTC)


See at Genesis 4:17.

Compressed Genealogies

The fact that Biblical genealogies can be compressed, leaving out one or more generations, has been taken as reason to doubt the literality of numbers of years given in them for the length of lifetimes and men's ages when they first had children, and chronological calculations based on them. This is a point of contention between scholarly and fundamentalist approaches. See Compressed Genealogies for some Biblical evidence.

Bruce (talk)
  1. The text of Alter's 1996 commentary is no longer at this address. As of mid 2024 a copy was here.