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Part VI: Cain's Wife: and the Penalty
Cain Marries a Sister
IN PRIMITIVE societies it is a general
rule that brothers do not marry their sisters. The strictest
of taboos are applied to this particular form of incest. Yet,
from certain points of view, close inbreeding -- especially within
a family of prominence -- has something to commend it when considered
from the social and economic point of view: both material wealth
and wealth in the form of rights or privileges are by this means
kept closely within the family. An excellent example of this
was to be found among the Incas, where the right to marry within
the clan, and indeed to any who were first degree relatives,
was reserved for the chiefs primarily to protect the interests
of the royal house. According to Felip Huaman Poma de Ayala in
his El Primer Nuevo Chronica Y Buen Gobierno, published
in Paris in 1926, the formal Inca statement was: (1)
Inca, order and decree that no one shall marry his sister or
his mother, nor his first cousin, nor his aunt, nor his niece,
nor his kinswoman, nor the godmother of his child, under penalty
of being punished and of having his eyes pulled out . . . because
only the Inca is allowed to be married to his carnal sister.
. . .
In "modern" times the maintenance
of rights within a family by this means is best exemplified in
the royal families of Europe, the right in this instance being
the right of holding dominion rather than material wealth per
se -- since many royal families are impoverished. But as
is well illustrated in the case of the Spanish royal family,
close inbreeding has had a very deleterious effect. Charles Blitzer,
writing of this family, spoke of Charles II in the following
1. Felipe de Ayala: quoted
by Victor W. von Haggen, Realm of the Incas, Mentor Books,
New York 1957, p.125
1 of 16
2. Blitzer, Charles; "The Age of the Kings," in Great
Ages of Man, Time Inc., New York, 1967, p.168.
II of Spain, the most grotesque monarch of the seventeenth century,
had been a travesty of a king. Generations of royal intermarriage
had culminated in Charles in a creature so defective in mind
and body as to be scarcely even a man. He was born in 1661, the
product of his father's old age, and his brief life consisted
chiefly of a passage from prolonged infancy to premature senility.
not walk until he was ten, and was considered to be too feeble
for the rigours of education. In Charles, the famous Hapsburg
chin reached such massive proportions that he was unable to chew,
and his tongue was so large that he was barely able to speak.
bald at the age of 35, Charles suffered one further disability,
politically more significant than all the rest: he was impotent.
The Medici family -- beginning with
Giovanni di Bicci de Medici (1360-1429) and ending, in one line,
with Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) who married Henry II of
France -- provides us with another instance where inbreeding
clearly affected viability. The members of the family for successive
generations traced through two lives lived shorter and shorter,
with the notable exception of Catherine herself. These two lines
are given below with their life spans indicated by years rather
than dates, to simplify the figures (3).
3. Hale, John R, "The
Renaissance," in Great Ages of Man, Time Inc., New
York, 1965, p.165.
Other branches of the family seemed to have done very
much better, a fact which suggests that marriages further afield
led to the birth of quite normally viable offspring.
While it is customary to assume
that close inbreeding has always a damaging effect, this
is not strictly true -- as is evident in the case of the Inca
rulers, whose royal prerogative it was to marry sisters. Indeed
there could conceivably be a connection between a ruling house
and incestuous marriage, for genetic reasons. In antiquity and
during periods when ruling houses were first establishing themselves,
only such families as produced a line of particularly energetic
and forceful individuals would be likely to come to power. It
might very well be evidence of exceptional breeding (in the genetic
sense) that a line could survive the potential hazards of inbreeding
such as are involved in a series of brother-sister marriages.
That a particular "house" could so inbreed successfully
might quite rightly establish that house as an exceptional one
from the genetic point of view. A Royal House may therefore have
been any house which could successfully mate in this incestuous
way and not witness any ill effects, while at the same time accumulating
and consolidating its wealth and prestige.
At any rate, the Incas were a notable
royal house and certainly practiced incest over a considerable
number of generations without ill effect. As Murdock said: (4)
line of Inca emperors reveals only one man of mediocre talents;
all the rest displayed exceptional energy, resourcefulness, tolerance,
and magnanimity in the conduct of affairs. Certainly no dynasty
with a higher average order of capacity has graced a throne in
the whole of human history.
It is well known that the Ptolemies
also married their sisters in order to maintain the integrity
of material wealth and rights, and the experiment was not without
success if Cleopatra is any indication. This notable woman represented
the seventh generation of such brother-sister marriages. There
is some evidence, I believe, that her young brother was showing
signs of mental deficiency, a circumstance which, if it is true,
might be an indication that the inbreeding process was just beginning
to break down and the line was at the end of its genetic good
Other royal families, the Alii
among the Hawaiians, for example, and the Singhalese (5)
must be counted among those who practiced this principle of brother-sister
marriages. Against this background
4. Murdock, George P., Our
Primitive Contemporaries, Macmillan, New York, 1951, p.417.
5. Alii of Hawaiians: according to Dr. Gorden Brown, Dept. of
Anthropology, University of Toronto; Singhalese: Edward B. Tylor,
Primitive Culture, Murray, London, 1891, vol. 1, p.50.
remember that among the common people such marriages were taboo.
Primitive people are highly observant and quickly learn to avoid
doing things which reduce the viability of their community as
a whole. Experience taught these that the children of brother-sister
matings were in one way or another apt to be less healthy than
the children of those who married more distant relatives.
But it seems likely that these
people also observed rather quickly that the wealth of a family
was dissipated when the various children married at too great
a distance in terms of blood relationship. Hence almost all such
people laid down rules which, while forbidding marriage to a
brother or a sister, also frowned on marriage to anyone who was
only remotely related; in the latter case, the bride price paid
by the groom or the dowry brought by the bride tended to pass
out of the family's control. They therefore bracketed the range
of relationship within which one might marry, avoiding the extremes.
Indeed, in most cases the relationship considered ideal was the
marriage of cousins, a practice almost universal among primitive
Now, the judgment made by the general
public in such a case might very well have been firmly founded
upon fact: namely, such a family was, in their genetic makeup,
truly an outstanding one. This observation makes perfectly good
sense when it is realized that through the centuries we have
accumulated individually so much low-grade genetic material that
when brothers and sisters marry, the same particular kind of
low-grade material finds expression in the offspring in a reinforced
way, in a way which will be examined a little more fully subsequently;
the end result is that such children are apt to be much below
average in many different ways. As we shall show, experience
fully bears this out, and theory has reached such a point of
refinement that geneticists can often predict quite accurately
the degree of probability of detrimental traits that will appear
in such children. Thus, when brothers do marry sisters without
such deleterious effects, we have to all intents and purposes
good evidence that quite by chance they have inherited a less
damaged genetic constitution.
Although I do not have available
all the information that would be required to substantiate what
I wish to propose below, I think we may well have in recent times
a good illustration of these general principles. I have in mind
a very primitive people in South India known as the Toda, (6)
who practice polyandry -- that is, several men
6. Murdock, George P. ref.
brothers) share one woman who becomes wife to them all. In writing
of these people, George Murdock referred to them as a "race
of superb men and hideous women." Elie Reclus, in his work
on comparative anthology titled Primitive Folk, also refers
to the splendid character (within the context of their culture)
of Toda males. And he added this remark, which is apropos: (7)
between relatives has had no dire consequences in this tribe,
which, though it has practiced the closest endogamy (marriage
within the family) for centuries, possesses an athletic constitution
and pleasing exterior, and is famed for the gentleness of its
manners, and the peacefulness and tranquillity of its way of
toward the end of the last century the Toda were apparently beginning
to decline as a consequence of their contact with more highly
civilized people and the breaking up of their own native customs,
we have sufficient evidence from the studies of W. H. R. Rivers
and others that close intermarriage had not proved detrimental
to these people in the way that it habitually does among other
peoples, whether primitive or highly civilized. Some fortuitous
circumstance had therefore preserved among these people a genetic
strain less damaged with the passage of time than most of us
share. It is apparent, therefore, that not only so-called royal
families but even whole tribes may closely intermarry with impunity
upon certain occasions, while others cannot do so without disastrous
Let us therefore examine the factors
which determine when brother-sister marriages will be harmful
and when they will not: and in what form the degeneration is
likely to show up. And let us consider why this effect results.
It will be necessary to attempt to do this without becoming too
involved in the jargon of the geneticists; thus some statements
may be somewhat unsatisfactory from the point of view of the
experts, an ever-present danger when oversimplification is required.
a man and a woman are mated, each passes onto their children
one half of the inherited potential they themselves have received
from their parents. Present indications are that the characteristics
which each will contribute to the child are carried by genes.
For each character that a man or a woman may contribute to his
offspring, there are usually two alternatives -- or to put it
another way, the potential is in duplicate and at the present
moment chance appears to govern which of the two alternative
7. Reclus, Elie, Primitive
Folk: Studies in Comparative Ethnology, Scott, London, no
will pass on. For example, a brown-eyed parent may pass on to
his children that which will give them blue eyes instead of brown
eyes like his own.
There are a very large number of
alternatives, as for example the control of hair colour (fair
or dark). Modern research into the nature of these controlling
genes (and there are thousands of them in each individual) has
shown that for one reason or another, these genes get damaged
and appear in a condition which is called mutant. Normally a
gene once mutated remains mutated, i.e., damaged, as it is passed
through each successive generation. The inevitable conclusion
of this finding is that the amount of material controlling inheritance
becomes increasingly damaged in its nature with each successive
generation. In other words, each generation may be expected to
be less viable in some way than the preceding one, even though
the damage may be so small as to be, to all intents and purposes,
of little consequence.
Now, if a parent with a particular
damaged gene complex passes onto a son and a daughter this damaged
material, these offspring will both share damage at the same
point (or locus) in their own gene complexes. Should these two
marry, in their mating the particular segments of damaged material
are bound to be brought together in a way that enormously reinforces
their power to effect the growing embryo detrimentally. On the
other hand, if such a son marries a girl from some other family
who, although suffering genetic damage like the rest of us, has
not inherited damage at the same place in the gene chain, the
effect of bringing the two "damages" together is likely
to be much less serious, for the areas of damage do not coincide.
For this reason, marriages are safer from the physiological point
of view when the two parties do not share the same kind of damage
in their genetic make-up at the same locus.
At the beginning of this grossly
over-simplified statement, I said that the amount of damaged
material increases with each generation. It follows logically,
therefore, that each previous generation has suffered less genetic
damage. We can extrapolate backward in time until we begin to
reach a point at which damage to the genetic material would be
vastly less than it now is: logically, if we go back far enough,
it would not exist at all. It is true that this may not be a
straight line function, that the improvement in reverse may follow
a curve which slows up in its approach to perfection and never
quite reaches it. This is possible. There is no need to make
this assumption, however. There is no reason at all why the first
human beings may not have had a perfect constitution, in which
case brother-sister marriages at the time would be absolutely
Before we return once more to this aspect of the paper,
let us look briefly at some of the present evidence for the detrimental
effect of close-relationship marriages. The underlying causes
for the deleterious effects of incestuous matings are pretty
well understood and have been variously expressed. For those
who have some knowledge of and interest in the more basic principles
of human genetics, the following miscellany of quotations will
perhaps be of value and, taken as a whole, state the case clearly
enough. For example, Bentley Glass, in a paper which gives some
consideration to the possibility of "improving" the
human stock by inbreeding in the way this is done with plants,
made the following observation: (8)
the past three centuries human populations have increased enormously
in size, and an approach to panmixia has become characteristic
of the major races of the world population. The result of this
has been to render man a highly heterozygous animal. Beneath
the facade of dominant traits expressed in the phenotype of each
individual, there lies concealed a great number of unmanifested
recessive genes, kept in a heterozygous condition within the
population. From studies of mutation in man, mouse, and Drosophila
it is apparent that the manifestation of the majority of
these recessives would be deleterious in most, if not all, environments.
In fact, one quarter to one third of them are lethal when homozygous.
New lethal and deleterious mutations
arise in each generation at an average frequency that is estimated
to be of the order of 1 in 100,000 per locus per gamete, or higher.
The number of different genes (i.e., loci) in man may be taken
as 10,000 or perhaps even 40,000. It follows that at least one
gamete in ten will bear a new mutant, nearly always of a lethal
or detrimental sort. The effect of these is not normally evident,
since they are kept heterozygous. Any return of the human population
to closer inbreeding may be expected to bring these recessive
traits to the surface. . . .
Human pure lines selected for (say)
intelligence would most probably be weak in vigour, low in fertility,
and beset by numerous hereditary defects.
a mathematical point of view, the situation may be put in this
way: matings among first cousins (as in Darwin's case, for example,
or his sister Caroline's case) result in the offspring having
identical genes in a ratio of 1 to 7. (9) Many of
these genes will be recessive mutants and therefore detrimental
to the possessor when inherited homozygously. Mating of uncle
to niece, or nephew to aunt, raises this ratio to 1 to 3. Matings
among brothers and sisters raises this ratio, often disastrously,
to 1 to 1.
Willard F. Hollander,
in an article significantly title, "Lethal Heredity",
commented on this situation as follows: (10)
8. Glass, Bentley, "A
Biologic View of Human History," in Scientific American,
Dec., 1951, p.367.
9. Darwin's family: see Donald W. Patten, The Biblical Flood
and the Ice Epoch, Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle,
I966 , p.244, fn.16.
10. Hollander., Willard F.; "Lethal Heredity," in Scientific
American, July, 1952, pp.59-60.
Sometimes a mutation is so radical that nothing
can be done to prolong the animal's life to maturity. This is
what is known as a lethal mutation. Often it kills the animal
while it is still an embryo. Most lethal mutations are recessive,
however, and are carried unsuspected by normal appearing animals.
. . .
The quickest way to expose lethal
traits is by intense and continued inbreeding. In man such matings
are generally illegal or tabu; the experience of the race indicates
bad results . . . the outcome is generally detrimental. When
inbreeding begins, the heredity seems to be breaking down. All
sorts of defects and weaknesses appear. The average life span
decreases. After a few generations the family often becomes extinct.
We shall have occasion to return to
this latter aspect of the problem, but we may just note here
Hollander's conclusion: (11) "The abundance of hidden lethals
and hereditary defects exposed by inbreeding must be seen to
be believed. It seems safe to say that very few individuals of
an ordinary mixed population fail to harbor one or more. Whence
came this multitude of skulking malefactors?" To this last
point we must likewise return subsequently, for the perceptive
reader may already have noticed that animals are afflicted with
these imperfections as well as man and they cannot therefore
be attributed in a direct way (at least insofar as animals are
concerned) to a fallen nature. The fall of man may be the originating
cause, but this cause cannot be applied directly to animals
unless animals are included among sinners -- though Scripture
has intimations even for
this. . . . (12)
Under normal circumstances inbreeding,
therefore, leads to a decline in overall vigour for a number
of generations. In many cases the detriment is so severe that
the line becomes extinct. However with very careful management
such inbred lines, if they can be preserved through ten or
twelve generations, tend to settle down in a modified
form, i.e., with a somewhat different character. This different
character may turn out to be a desirable one from the breeder's
point of view, having lost certain of its former strengths and
11. Ibid., p.60.
12. The wording of Genesis 3:14 ("above all cattle . . .")
may quite justifiably be taken to imply that other animals for
some reason were involved in this judgment, a conclusion which
would presuppose at least some moral responsibility on their
part. It could be argued that in Jonah 3:8 it is assumed that
the animals were partly involved in Nineveh's wickedness, the
animals also being dressed in sackcloth. The lamb for the sacrifice
on the Day of Atonement was to be a lamb of the first year, which
again might suggest something analogous to an "age of accountability."
The ox that gored a man was to be stoned to death, not merely
slaughtered. It is conceivable that this was merely to punish
the owner by rendering the slaughtered animal unfit for food,
since it would not be properly bled: and the hide itself would
probably be marred. On the other hand, it might be argued that
the ox itself was being punished. Such passages as these are
certainly not unequivocal, but they provide interesting possibilities
for further discussion.
many new weaknesses, but having also acquired some new quality
which the breeder had particularly in mind. This is true of corn,
for example. (13) If the inbreeding can be arranged
from widely separated lines, the hybrids generally turn out to
be more vigorous. This sounds like a contradiction. What is actually
meant is that -- by inbreeding one line in one geographic locality
until it is highly degenerate and perhaps barely surviving, and
at the same time inbreeding another line in another geographic
location until it too is degenerate -- if the two inbred degenerate
lines are now crossed, the resulting breed may be more vigorous
than it would have been if the originals had merely been crossed
without first producing the degenerate types. It is not necessary
to go into the causes of this somewhat odd but most useful discovery,
it is necessary only to include it in this discussion because
one commonly hears the statement made that inbreeding produces
superior stocks. This is true of plants and of some animals,
and it is conceivable that it might be true of human beings.
But in the process, the lines degenerate seriously or may die
On the basis of this theoretical
understanding of what is happening, it might be supposed -- and
the supposition is borne out by experience -- that in a small
population which is multiplying there may appear at first an
extraordinary diversity of types. Not all mutations expressed
homozygously are lethal, but they are all likely to be more or
less effective in substantially modifying the bearer's physical
type. As Lebzelter pointed out, a small group of people will
share a basically homogeneous culture but show great physical
diversity, whereas a larger community of people (because mutant
genes are less likely to appear homozygously) will show greater
uniformity of physical type but allow a larger measure of cultural
variability. (14) This may very well account for the
fact that early man seems to have proliferated types (forerunners
of races) in a remarkably short time while at the same time witnessing
an amazing measure of cultural conformity. This heterogeneity
of physical type appears even within single families, as for
example, in the Upper Cave at Choukoutien. (15) Early
human history may have quickly witnessed the emergence of all
the racial types which we now think we can recognize in the modern
world. There is no need to postulate tremendous eons of time.
I prefer the word emergence: most people
13. Inbreeding of corn: Gordon
W. Whaley, "The Gifts of Hybridity," in Scientific
Monthly, Jan., 1950, p.12.
14. Lebzelter Viktor, Rassengescichte de Menscherit, Salzburg,
1932, p.27. University of Chicago Press, 1948. p.80.
15. Choukoutien diversity : see Franz Weidenreich, Apes, Giants,
and Man, University of Chicago Press 1948, p.86.
prefer the word evolution, and on the basis of the above
reasoning they would say, as Franklin Shull said, (16)
that "if a population is very large . . . evolution
must be slow under these circumstances," and on the other
hand if the population is too small and inbreeding too frequent,
the population is likely to die out, being overwhelmed by its
own defects. Several royal families have suffered virtual extinction
by this very process, and all because they sought to preserve
family lines intact.
In some parts of the world there
are isolated communities in out-of-the-way villages, even in
otherwise densely populated areas in which inbreeding has proceeded
for many years. In such communities there is a high incidence
of deaf-mutism. W. L. Ballinger reported in one case that forty-seven
marriages between blood relatives produced seventy-two deaf-mutes.
(17) In the same connection E. B. Dench remarked, "Consanguinity
of the parents is among the most common causes (of diseases in
the ear), and the great frequency of deaf-mutism among the inhabitants
of mountain districts is probably to be explained by the fact
that intermarriages are much more common among such people."
(18) Similarly in Lajous' Analytical Cyclopedia of
Practical Medicine, it is noted that "several statisticians
have proved that the closer the degree of relationship between
parents, the larger was the number of deaf-mutes born."
In The Lancet, a discussion
was reported on the risk taken by parents who decide to adopt
a child born of an incestual relationship It was observed that,
. . . medical practitioners are sometimes asked about the
advisability of the adoption of a child born as the result of
incest. Such children will have an increased risk of being affected
by recessive conditions. In order to get an estimate of the extent
of this risk, in 1958 I invited Children's Officers to let me
know prospectively of pregnancies or of new births in which it
was known that the pregnancy or birth was the result of incest
between first degree relatives.
These children were followed prospectively
and anonymously through the Children's Officers. The children
were known to me by number and correspondence referred only to
the child's number. Thirteen cases of incest (6 father-daughter
and 7 brother-sister) were reported to me in 1958 and the latest
information on them was in midyear 1965 when the children were
all 4 to 6 years old. I summarize here the information on these
16. Shull, Franklin, Evolution,
McGraw-Hill, New York, 1936, p.146.
17. Ballinger, W. L.,
Diseases of the Nose, Throat, and Ear, Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia,
8th edition, p.823.
18. Dench, E. B., Diseases of the Ear, Appleton, New York,
19. Lajou, Analytical Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine, p.450:
the documentation is unfortunately incomplete.
20. "Risks to Offspring of Incest," in The Lancet,
London, Feb. 25, 1967, p.436.
are dead: one at 15 months of cystic fibrosis of the pancreas,
confirmed at necropsy; one at 21 months of progressive cerebral
degeneration with blindness; and one at 7 years, 11 months of
Fallot's Tetratology (this child had an IQ of 70). One child
is severely sub-normal, with much-delayed milestones, and was
considered non-testable at age 4 years, 9 months, when she had
a vocabulary of only a few words. Four children are educatively
subnormal; the known IQ of 3 are 59, 65, and 76. The remaining
5 children are normal.
The risk of parents sharing a recessive
gene will be four times greater in cases of incest between first
degree relatives than it would be between first cousins.
much, then, for the evidence. Incest today is clearly detrimental
in a very large percentage of cases, the risk of defective
offspring being so high that every civilized country legislates
against the marriage of brothers and sisters. Yet it is a risk
rather than a certainty, an important fact which shows that under
certain circumstances it might be quite safe -- though the circumstances
under which such a union could be predicted safe are not known
at present. Current genetic theory does, however, indicate that
the number of recessive and damaged genes increases rather than
decreases with each generation. It might be thought that if there
is a steady increase, the complement of genes in each individual
would be by now all damaged in one way or another. Indeed, if
the factors which lead to such damage (certain types of natural
and artificial radiation and some poisons, and so forth) have
always been with us -- a fact which seems likely enough for a
very large part of human history -- and if current theory about
the vast antiquity of man are really sound (which I don't believe
they are), one would have to suppose that the damaging process
must by now have almost completed its task. But evidently, even
in comparatively recent times, this is not the case, for as we
have already noted, both Hawaiian and Incan chiefs successfully
married their sisters, and somewhat before that the Ptolemies
It seems to me, therefore, that
the evidence does not on the face of it bear out the concept
of man as already having thousands of successive generations
behind him. The biblical record actually shows only 77 generations
from Adam to Christ, (21) and if we add to this the two thousand
years since, we have something like 100 to 120 generations covering
the whole of human history. Since the accumulation of defective
genes is meaningful only in terms of their effect on succeeding
generations, it is not altogether unlikely that the first human
beings (namely, Adam and Eve) were indeed perfect, and
21. See "Genealogies
of the Bible," Part V in Hidden Things of God's Revelation,
vol.7 of The Doorway Papers Series.
the damage started to be done following the Fall and has accumulated
ever since at what seems to be a reasonable rate during these
120 generations, until we reach the present situation in which
there are still some possibilities of successful brother-sister
matings, though the odds are against it. At the rate at which
these mutations occur in each generation, according to current
genetic theory, one would not expect to find any undamaged segments
of the individuals inherited stock of genes if the human race
had been multiplying for thousands upon thousands of generations.
We would all be so badly damaged by now that no brother-sister
marriage could possibly succeed any longer.
On the other hand, taking the biblical
story as it stands, Adam's sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4),
of whom Cain was one and his wife another, need not have been
carriers of any more than a mere token of damaged genetic stock.
Such a marriage need not have endangered the offspring.
There is, surprisingly enough,
direct evidence in Scripture that this interpretation of the
events is strictly true. We are first of all presented with a
list of immediate descendants for some ten generations from Adam
to Noah who enjoyed what must be described as magnificent viability.
Consider for a moment what was happening during this period of
time. Prior to the Flood, man may well have been shielded against
at least one source of danger to the genes, namely, cosmic radiation,
by the existence of some kind of barrier in the upper atmosphere.
There are many who believe that this barrier disappeared at the
time of the Flood and could indeed have been related to that
event. The pre-Flood population (both men and animals,
be it noted) may therefore have suffered little damage to
their genes throughout each succeeding generation while these
environmental conditions existed.
Added to this is the fact that
the population was multiplying during this time so that, even
if some damage was occurring, it would become less and less necessary
for any man to marry a near relative, thereby avoiding any reinforcement
of such gene damage. For this reason, there is little or no evidence
that man, physiologically considered, was becoming an inferior
creature -- at least, insofar as his inherited vigour was concerned:
and the same may well have applied to the animal world.
But then came the Flood, which
reduced the world's population to eight souls, all of whom had
now accumulated some damaged genes and were also first-degree
relatives, i.e., Noah and his three sons. The sons and daughters
of the next generation would therefore
marrying near relatives, and one could only expect as a consequence
that evidence of decreased viability would begin to show up,
while the potential hazard from cosmic radiation would greatly
increase. This could be the answer to Hollander's final query:
inbreeding of a greatly reduced population, and exposure to cosmic
radiation at a new level -- both as a consequence of the Flood.
This is, of course, precisely what did happen and precisely at
a rate commensurate with the discovery of modern genetics resulting
from experimental inbreeding. Within ten generations (compare
Glass's figures) the life span of post-Flood individuals, insofar
as they are represented by those whose ages are given in the
Bible, had rapidly declined until it was only about one eighth
of the pre-Flood period, thereafter slowly leveling off first
to 120 and later to three score and ten. (22)
All this makes perfectly good sense
and accords very satisfyingly with modern findings, provided
that one accepts the whole biblical record just as it stands.
has been proposed by some who have due regard to the Word of
God that Cain married the offspring of some other human creatures
who were not descendants of Adam. (23) They argue
this on the ground that Cain would not have expressed any fear
of being killed by people who might find him unless there really
were people outside his immediate family in Adam. But this assumption
need not be made at all, because Cain would not necessarily have
knowledge of whether there were or were not other people in the
world; even if he had never seen any, he might very well suppose
that there were, the supposition being all that was needed to
make him afraid. He was simply a man living in fear of suffering
at someone else's hand what he had caused his brother to suffer.
He had no way of knowing whether there were or were not other
people in the world: his conscience served to people it even
if no other people had existed.
At the same time, very serious
theological problems would arise if Cain had married outside
the family of Adam, since his children and his descendants would
no longer be strictly "in Adam." This difficulty has
been met by some writers by proposing that the Flood destroyed
all except those who belonged to Adam's family. It is possible,
of course, that this is so, but this vast population must still
presumably come to the judgment with all those whom the
Flood destroyed, and how then will they be judged? It does not
22. 0n this see "Longevity in Antiquity
and Its Bearing on Chronology," Part I
in The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, vol.5 of The Doorway
23. See the next chapter,
"Was Cain's Wife of the Line of Adam?"
the Bible allows for such a contingency. As I see it, the redemption
that is in Christ was as applicable to Adam and Cain and all
the rest of the patriarchs as it is to ourselves. Would we not
then be faced with a kind of half-applicability to Cain's children,
and a quarter-applicability to his grandchildren, and so on as
the line was diluted -- until there is no applicability at all?
The very statement of the situation itself points up the theological
problem that such a circumstance would bring about.
To some extent the above interpretation
of the identity of Cain's wife has been held as an accommodation
to anthropological theory which postulates sub-humans and near-humans
at a period in time far antedating the "traditional"
date for the creation of Adam. I do not know the answer to the
present conflict between secular and biblical anthropology, although
I am sure we shall see the answer in due time: but I believe
that the Bible itself has gone out of its way to try to make
it clear that Adam really was the only man at the time
of his creation and Eve the only woman at the time of her formation.
Genesis 2:5 tells us that there was not a man to till the ground.
Genesis 2:18 tells us that Adam was quite alone and that this
was not good for him. Then in Genesis 2:20 we are told that although
God brought creatures to Adam who might have been a potential
mate for him, there was not found one that was suitable. Finally,
as though the point had still not been made quite clear, we are
told in Genesis 3:20 that Eve became (so the Hebrew) the
mother of all living.
Almost any one of these statements
by itself might be thought by some people sufficient to settle
the issue. But surely their cumulative effect is about as conclusive
as to the intent of Scripture as any such series of statements
could possibly be. I believe, therefore, that the only position
one can reasonably take in the matter of Cain's wife is that
she was one of Adam and Eve's daughters, i.e., a sister of his
for we are told that Adam and Eve had daughters as well as sons.
(24) From there on, everything makes good sense if one
accepts the record as it stands.
One further point only remains
to be underscored. This is the perfectly proper absence (if all
that we have said thus far is true) of
24. 0ne further scriptural
reference may be mentioned. In Acts 17:26 we are told that God
derived all nations that dwell on the face of the earth
"from one." In the usual Authorized version rendering
the verse reads, "of one blood," but the best manuscripts
do not have the word blood. This could therefore be taken
to mean in the most literal sense that all nations have had their
ultimate origins, not merely in Adam and Eve, but even more specifically
-- since Eve was taken out of Adam -- in one man, Adam. This
would leave even less room for any multiple-origins theory. I
was interested to find this view reflected in the Jesuit commentator
Henricus-Rencken's book, Israel's Concept of the Beginning,
Herder and Herder, New York, 1964, p.225.
slightest indication that Cain was contravening any existing
prohibition against a brother-sister marriage. His action in
destroying his brother is condemned in no uncertain terms, but
there is no reference whatever to the existence of any prohibition
against incest as appears several thousands of years later in
the Book of Leviticus. This not only suggests that the prohibition
did not exist, not at that time being required, but that the
writer who recorded the events of Cain's life lived at a time
when brother-sister marriages were still not viewed as sinful
This absence of any condemnatory
note, in a record which elsewhere judges its "heroes"
in no uncertain terms when they contravene the laws of God, can
only be reasonably accounted for on the grounds that this record
as we have it is a contemporary or near-contemporary one and
not something concocted by a self-righteous priestly community
living some thousands of years after the event. Had they been
members of such a hierarchy and had they been knowledgeable enough
to realize that the prohibition was not necessary in Cain's time,
one might reasonably expect they would have added in parenthesis
at the appropriate place in the record some little note to the
effect that "at that time there were no laws against incest."
As the record stands, one gets the feeling that the writer was
totally unaware of any potential hazard in brother-sister marriage.
conclusion, it seems to me that the circumstances surrounding
the identity of Cain's wife have a significance in the light
of Christian faith for the following reasons. First, we know
from modern genetics why incestuous relations are most likely
to be damaging to the offspring. But we also know that by chance
such relations may not be damaging, a fact which demonstrates
clearly that under certain circumstances brother-sister marriage
might be not merely acceptable but greatly to be preferred from
certain points of view.
Second, our present understanding
of the processes of mutation, whereby the gene make-up of two
proposed marriage partners has become damaged, also allows us
to extrapolate backward into the past and say, with some measure
of assurance, that the further back we go, the less likely are
the offspring to suffer the consequences of inbreeding.
Third, the Bible supplies us with
a piece of historic information -- namely, the account of the
Flood and how the world's population was reduced to eight souls
-- which provides a key to the sudden loss
in terms of longevity which Scripture states immediately followed
the re-peopling of the world.
Fourth, the events recorded in
the first few chapters of Genesis indicate that inbreeding was
either comparatively harmless or was carried out with decreasing
frequency as the centuries rolled by from Adam to Noah. In the
case of Cain and his sister, both of whom were siblings in Adam
and Eve's family, the amount of genetic damage carried in the
genes must have been very small indeed. At least this is true
if we believe, as I do, that Adam and Eve themselves were created
perfect at first, with no damaged genes.
In short, the circumstances are
all of a piece. If we allow the record to speak for itself, and
if on the basis of this record we draw these quite reasonable
conclusions, there is a ring of truth which accords perfectly
with the assured findings of modern human genetics; and this
is illuminatingly illustrated from the subsequent history of,
not only single families, but whole tribes of both civilized
and primitive peoples, in both modern and more distant times.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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