Cain, the Messiah? and the Mystery of ET

27 January 2009

During a recent study a question came up around the Hebrew word et. In Hebrew, et can serve as what is called an "object marker" (OM). It appears before an object that receives an action in a sentence (what we might call the direct object in English). Et points to the direct object. Here is an example from Genesis 1:1-

Bereshit bara elohim et hashamayim v'et haaretz.
In (the) beginning created G-d (OM ->) the heavens and (OM ->) the earth.

The heavens and the earth are what receive the action of G-d creating (note the two object markers... one for each object). In the passage during this week's study (Genesis 4:1) we found the following:

V'haadam yada et Chavah ishto;
And the man knew (OM ->) Eve his wife
vatahar vatelod et Qayin,  
and (she) conceived and (she) bore (OM ->) Cain,
vatomer qaniti ish et YHVH.
and (she) said (I) have acquired (a) man (OM ->) the LORD.

Eve receives the action of Adam "knowing".

Cain receives the action of Eve "bearing".

The Lord receives the action of Eve "acquiring" Cain???

That last one doesn't make sense. Eve should be the one receiving the action of acquiring, right? There is another use for the Hebrew word et: as a preposition. It can mean many things including "from", "by", "belonging to", or "with", for example. Several modern translation translate the et in this verse as "with".

For example, the NASB translates this as "with the help of" the LORD. There was a question asked during the study: "How can we know what a certain word originally meant?" One way that is used to determine original meaning is an examination of other ancient translations of the Hebrew text. This provides an indication of how the text was understood in earlier (although not necessarily the earliest) times.

There are ancient translations of the Old Testament in Aramaic called Targums (see Most of these were first-century and pre-first-century translations similar to our modern "Living Bible". They were paraphrased translations intended to convey the rich meaning of the original Hebrew into Aramaic which was the common language of the day. One Targum (known as Targum Onkelos) translates Genesis 4:1 in the traditional way:

And Adam knew Hava his wife, and she conceived, and gave birth to Kain; and she said I have acquired the man from before the Lord.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (which can be viewed at , however, offers this translation:

And Adam knew Hava his wife, who had desired the Angel; and she conceived, and bare Kain; and she said, I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord.

This reveals the discussion point from our study: that there was at least one understanding of the passage around the first century which taught Eve thought Cain was the messiah… the "angel of the Lord". While this may seem surprising to us, if we consider the events from Eve's perspective there was no indication that G-d's promise of a "seed" that would crush the head of the serpent would occur thousands of years in the future. For all Adam and Eve knew the "promised one" was their firstborn child. Looking back from our 21st century perspective we can see the error but without the benefit of hindsight would we be any more informed than them?


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Yom Sh'lishi, 28 Adar, 5783

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