I read in The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Old Testament "Genesis" by Diane Bergant that the similar names in both Cainite and Sethite genealogies found in Genesis 4 and 5 such as Lamech, Enoch, Methushael/Methuselah, and Mehuyael/Mahalael are a result of a single account being edited by both "Yahwist" and "Priestly" sources of the Documentary Hypothesis. (The DH postulates multiple editors of the text that became the torah.) The names Irad and Jared are also very similar.

Bergant writes (page 46):

There are points of conflict between this genealogy (Genesis 4) and the Priestly genealogy in Genesis 5. Some of the Names are repeated (Enoch,Lamech), and some the names are simply variations of names in the Yahwist genealogy (Mehujael/Mahalalel) and (Methusael/Methuselah). It appears that both genealogies come from a common source that has undergone a long period of transmission.

How does the Jewish tradition understand the strong parallels between these genealogies?

  • 2
    Why do you think names had to be unique even back then? There are various occasions in Tanach of two different people having the same name.
    – CashCow
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 9:48
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    Um... instead of asking "Here's an explanation, completely counter to Judaism, of a Jewish text. Is there any other way of understanding that text?" to which the answer will presumably be "yes", how about "Here is the difficulty I have with this Jewish text. How is this issue resolved?"? That would (a) not insult Judaism by implying there may be no way of understanding the text; (b) ask your question based on the question you have on the verses rather than based on an answer you read somewhere, which just makes more sense; and [continued]
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:39
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    [continued] (c) not bring in a contrary-to-Jewish source, which (i) is distasteful and, because that source is irrelevant to your question, (ii) makes me think you're doing it solely as a form of proselytizing (trying to convince people of the DH).
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:41
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    Adding in verse citations to the various paralleled names would further improve this question.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 15:13
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    Off-topic per the reasons given by @msh210. (I think this question fits into MY's definition of the "comparative religion" off-topic category for those reasons). Edits so far have helped slightly, but the DH explanation of multiple authors is still inexplicably a main feature in the body of the OP. This should be closed until the question is edited accordingly.
    – Fred
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


Rav Hirsch goes over the names and discusses the meaning of the names and the significance for the basic traits of the generation that name is used for. He points out (4:18-22 and 5:11-27). For example, Lemech ends the progress of the generations with a statement that sums up the state of the descent, though from different sides. The Cainite line is constant downward "progress" ending in the children of Lemech whose grandfather מחוי אל - in which G0dliness was extinguished while מחי אל - who extinguished G0dliness. Lemech summarizes the descent by his statement that his children end with the invention of warfare and killing. (ends in utter despair)

When the generation that freed itself from culture was young, it was מחויאל passive, g0dliness was extinguished in it, but when it was older it was מחייאל active, tried to do away with g0dliness in general. It was followed by a generation of מתושאל seeking masses of people from the root of םתים

Rav Hirsch does a similar analysis of the line of Seth and ends with Lemech summarizing the meaning of the line ending with Noach who leads to hope and the possible redemption of makind. The names show both upward and downward trends.

The father of Lemech in the Seth line is מתושלח which means give up the masses whose father is חנך

חנך to educate itself to nurturing and cultivating the seeds of something nobler. But in times of general debasement such efforts remain the work of only individual nobler natures and these feel themselves in such contrast to the masses that they

מתושלח give up the masses. They believe that they have achieved their goal if they have saved themselves and elevated themselves only. To them the masses where מתים whom they שלח, give up, abandon.

  • I love this Hirshian answer!!! Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 21:17

Rabbi Phillip Bieberfeld in Universal Jewish History, vol. I, pg. 69-70, wrote:

"According to tradition, a perversion of the original belief in G'd took place in the third generation, that of Enosh. People then started to believe that some supernatural power had been bestowed by the creator on the planets and the stars. Thus, they began to worship them and finally became idolaters...A further spiritual decline obviously took place in the generation of Enoch (Chanokh) who led a life of intimate companionship with G'd in a morally-disintegrating age and yet, according to tradition, was removed when, finally, he himself was endangered. It was surely no accident that, beginning with him, the names of the Cainites were used among the descendants of Seth. By this time, the former had fought their way into Babylonia and with the help of their metal weapons brought it under their control. We thus find then on the names: Chanokh, Methuselah, and Lemech, corresponding to the names of the Cainites: Chanokh, Methusael, and Lemech The name Methuselah means 'hero' or 'man of the weapon' and is especially characteristic of the whole trend. There are also indications that from this time on intermarriage took place between the two races, leading to the complete corruption of mankind before the Flood..."

In other words, the descendants of Shet's usage of the names of the descendants of Cain, or usage of similar names shows the downward cultural and moral spiral the world was falling to.

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