Hebrew In Israel | One Verb – Learn Torah

Cain and Abel

Hebrew In Israel | One Verb – Learn Torah

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A Biblical text can be a field of land mines which can create many arguments over what is actually being said.  This has been the main issue in biblical interpretation for the last 2500 years, and has created many interpretations to text which can be read in different ways.  One of the mechanisms used is a very close reading of what is being said, and when the text does something unexpected we look for a reason.  In some cases the reason can be very simple, and in some complex.  The approach depends on what the reader is seeking, and how they want to read the text.  The following is an example of such a case where someone proposed an idea, and I presented a different way of reading.

The First reading

I saw an article written by a good scholar who wanted to argue that Cain and Able were twins.  Though I do not reject the idea completely, I think it was not thought out completely.  The argument was that because we do not have a second verb of conception הרה, and only a second verb of birthing ילד, there was only one conception and they were twins.

וְהָאָדָם,יָדַעאֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ;וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן, וַתֹּאמֶר, קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְהוָה.  וַתֹּסֶףלָלֶדֶת, אֶת-אָחִיו אֶת-הָבֶל
The man had sexual relations with Havah his wife; she conceived, gave birth to Kayin and said, “I have acquired a man from YHW. In addition she gave birth to his brother Hevel (Gen 4:1-2).

The Midrash

Midway I do have to take a moment and point something out.  The above interpretation is actually very old, and appears in Madrash Rabba for Genesis 22:b-c where it states:
אמר לו רבי יהושע בן קרחה: עלו למיטה שנים, וירדו שבעה. קין ותאומתו, והבל ושתי תאומותיו
Rabbi Joshua son of Korcha said:  Two went into the bed, and seven came down.  Cain and his twin, Hevel and his two twins.
ותוסף ללדת את אחיו את הבל הדא מסייעא לרבי יהושע בן קרחה, דאמר: עלו למטה שנים וירדו שבעה. ותוסף ללדת, תוספת ללידה ולא תוספת לעיבור
“In addition she gave birth to his brother Hevel”, this helps R. Joshua son of Korchah who said:  Two went up to the bed and seven came down.  “And she also gave birth”- additional birth, but not additional conception.”
I will add that the twin issue in the madras was considered the reason for Cain’s anger over Hevel.  Cain, according to this interpretation, wanted two wives due to the fact that he was the first born.  Hevel on the other had rejected this because by law twins have equal standing and no one has a right above the other.

The Second Reading

My argument is that there is a weakness to the idea that they were twins.  The Hebrew does omit a second conception, but it does give two acts of birthing in the root ילד.  This is known as מקרא מקוצר- shortened scripture where a particle is not repeated to prevent over burdening repetition.  The focus of the text in our case, is not their birth, and therefore it is shortened.  The focus of the text is what happened later.  If we take the example of Yaakov and Esav, and Peretz and Zerach, who we know were actual twins, we see that the verb used there is יצא- to come out when twins are born.  Hence we can argue that the verb “to birth” is still a part of the conception idea, and we skipped a stage to keep it short.  If they were twins, we would have used a different verb to detect the idea of twins.
Another case I will add to this that unlike the case of Genesis 4, we can find the birth of the 12 tribes a case of birthing ideal.  With the 12 tribes, the focus is on the actually births, and this is why we see an repetitive structure.

וַיַּרְא יְהוָה כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ; וְרָחֵל, עֲקָרָה. לב וַתַּהַר לֵאָה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ רְאוּבֵן: כִּי אָמְרָה, כִּי-רָאָה יְהוָה בְּעָנְיִי–כִּי עַתָּה, יֶאֱהָבַנִי אִישִׁי. לג וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי-שָׁמַע יְהוָה כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה אָנֹכִי, וַיִּתֶּן-לִי גַּם-אֶת-זֶה; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, שִׁמְעוֹן. לד וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי, כִּי-יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, לֵוִי. לה וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת-יְהוָה–עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, יְהוּדָה; וַתַּעֲמֹד, מִלֶּדֶת.
YHWH saw that Le’ah was unloved, so he made her fertile, while Rachel remained childless. Le’ah conceived and gave birth to a son, whom she named Re’uven [see, a son!], for she said, “It is because Adonai has seen how humiliated I have been, but now my husband will love me.”  She conceived again, gave birth to a son and said, “It is because Adonai has heard that I am unloved; therefore he has given me this son also.” So she named him Shim‘on [hearing].  Once more she conceived and had a son; and she said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore she named him Levi [joining].  She conceived yet again, had a son and said, “This time I will praise Adonai”; therefore she named him Y’hudah [praise]. Then she stopped having children.

As can be seen, this example has a multiple repetition of verbs, and belongs to a style of genealogy lists which tend to use such a style of writing.
In the case of Genesis 29 the focus is on the act of birthing and having children.  Hence the text takes a long time and uses repetitive speech to implement this.  In Genesis 4, as stated, the focus is on the actual acts of the sons, and the birth is only there to show that they were born.  We can add to this a much bigger picture in regards to the larger seem of ideas in this story line.  It was argued by 18th century scholars that the story was a story of hope and not sadness.  Adam and Chava are sent from the garden with clothing, and death was not the only option by presenting immediately after the explosion from the garden the creation of life as done by YHWH in Genesis 1-2.


As demonstrated, reading a text can take a small isolated approach to a text, which is legitimate, or take a larger reading and look at a larger context.  Reading a text depends on the style and intent of the reader, and thus creates a verity of readings.  My approach is of a broader literary approach which takes into account larger pictures of intent.  This however does not contradict other possible readings which represent a much narrower reading focused on word analysis.
Originally Published:  17 August 2016

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