1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lamech
LAMECH (ְלפױ), the biblical patriarch, appears in each of the antediluvian genealogies, Gen. iv. 16-24 J., and Gen. v. P. In the former he is a descendant of Cain, and through his sons the author of primitive civilization; in the latter he is the father of Noah. But it is now generally held that these two genealogies are variant adaptations of the Babylonian list of primitive kings (see Enoch). It is doubtful whether Lamech is to be identified with the name of any one of these kings; he may have been introduced into the genealogy from another tradition.
In the older narrative in Gen. iv. Lamech’s family are the originators of various advances in civilization; he himself is the first to marry more than one wife, ‘Adah (“ornament,” perhaps specially “dawn”) and Zillah (“shadow”). He has three sons Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal, the last-named qualified by the addition of Cain ( = “smith”). The assonance of these names is probably intentional, cf. the brothers Hasan and Hosein of early Mahommedan history. Jabal institutes the life of nomadic shepherds, Jubal is the inventor of music, Tubal-Cain the first smith. Jabal and Jubal may be forms of a root used in Hebrew and Phoenician for ram and ram’s horn (i.e. trumpet), and underlying our “jubilee.” Tubal may be the eponymous ancestor of the people of that name mentioned in Ezekiel in connexion with “vessels of bronze.” All three names are sometimes derived from יבל in the sense of offspring, so that they would be three different words for “son,” and there are numerous other theories as to their etymology. Lamech has also a daughter Naamah (“gracious,” “pleasant,” “comely”; cf. No’mân, a name of the deity Adonis). This narrative clearly intends to account for the origin of these various arts as they existed in the narrator’s time; it is not likely that he thought of these discoveries as separated from his own age by a universal flood; nor does the tone of the narrative suggest that the primitive tradition thought of these pioneers of civilization as members of an accursed family. Probably the passage was originally independent of the document which told of Cain and Abel and of the Flood; Jabal may be a variant of Abel. An ancient poem is connected with this genealogy:
|“||Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;|
|Ye wives of Lamech, give ear unto my speech.|
|I slay a man for a wound,|
|A young man for a stroke;|
|For Cain’s vengeance is sevenfold,|
|But Lamech’s seventy-fold and seven.”|
In view of the connexion, the poem is interpreted as expressing Lamech’s exultation at the advantage he expects to derive from Tubal-Cain’s new inventions; the worker in bronze will forge for him new and formidable weapons, so that he will be able to take signal vengeance for the least injury. But the poem probably had originally nothing to do with the genealogy. It may have been a piece of folk-song celebrating the prowess of the tribe of Lamech; or it may have had some relation to a story of Cain and Abel in which Cain was a hero and not a villain.
The genealogy in Gen. v. belongs to the Priestly Code, c. 450 B.C., and may be due to a revision of ancient tradition in the light of Babylonian archaeology. It is noteworthy that according to the numbers in the Samaritan MSS. Lamech dies in the year of the Flood.
The origin of the name Lamech and its original meaning are doubtful. It was probably the name of a tribe or deity, or both. According to C. J. Ball, Lamech is an adaptation of the Babylonian Lamga, a title of Sin the moon god, and synonymous with Ubara in the name Ubara-Tutu, the Otiartes of Berossus, who is the ninth of the ten primitive Babylonian kings, and the father of the hero of the Babylonian flood story, just as Lamech is the ninth patriarch, and the father of Noah. Spurrell states that Lamech cannot be explained from the Hebrew, but may possibly be connected with the Arabic yalmakun, “a strong young man.”
Outside of Genesis, Lamech is only mentioned in the Bible in 1 Chron. i. 3, Luke iii. 36. Later Jewish tradition expanded and interpreted the story in its usual fashion.
- The text of Gen. iv. 22 is partly corrupt; and it is possible that the text used by the Septuagint did not contain Cain.
- Gen. x. 2, Ezek. xxvii. 13.
- Genesis, in Haupt’s Sacred Books of the Old Testament on iv. 19, cf. also the notes on 20-22, for Lamech’s family. The identification of Lamech with Lamga is also suggested by Sayce, Expository Times, vii. 367. Cf. also Cheyne, “Cainites” in Encyc. Biblica.
- Notes on the Hebrew Text of Genesis, in loco.