views updated May 18 2018


LAMECH (Heb. לֶמֶךְ), one of the antediluvian patriarchs in Genesis. According to the list recounting the lineage of Cain (Gen. 4:17–24 – ascribed to the j tradition), Lamech was the son of Methushael (4:18) and the father of three sons, *Jabal, *Jubal, and *Tubal-Cain, and a daughter, Naamah (4:20–22). His wives were *Adah and Zillah (4:19). He was thus the first polygynist and the father of the founders of nomadism, the musical arts, and metalworking. He is also the author of a song (4:23–24), which is structurally and linguistically an example of early Hebrew poetry. Significantly, Lamech is the seventh human generation, and in his song the typological numbers 7 and 77 appear (4:24). Another genealogy of Lamech (assigned to the P tradition) is presented in a list of the descendants of Seth (5:25–31; i Chron. 1:3). In this list, Lamech is the son of Methuselah and the father of Noah. He was 182 years old when Noah was born, and he subsequently had other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:30). He is the seventh generation from Enosh. In this there is a numerical and structural parallel to the other tradition insofar as Enosh is a generic term for man, alongside Adam. Significantly, here, too, the number seven appears, for Lamech lived 777 years (5:31). The relationship between the two lists presents a problem. On the basis of related number typologies, parallel historical frameworks, the reduplication of names (e.g. Enoch; Lamech), and other resemblances, they would seem to derive from a common source, the first probably being the earlier since it records seven generations, while the second counts ten. It is presumed that the latter is an expansion of the former.

The origin and meaning of the name is not clear. An Akkadian noun lumakku, sometimes suggested for comparison, refers to a junior priest attested only in lexical lists (cad L, 244–45). Alternatively, an Arabic etymology would explain this name as "mighty youth," an epithet suitable to Lamech's character.

[Michael Fishbane]

In the Apocrypha

The story of Cain's death at the hand of Lamech, his descendant, is apparently unknown in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (but see *Lamech, Book of). It may be referred to in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Benjamin 7:4 which brings together the "Song of Lamech" and the curse laid upon Cain. In the best manuscript of the Testament, however, Cain's death is said to have been due to the Flood. Lamech, the father of Noah, is mentioned in the Apocrypha in Jubilees 4:27–28 and i Enoch 10:1, and in Jubilees 7:38 some emphasis is put on the fact that it was he who transmitted the teaching of Enoch to Noah. Moreover, the Noah fragment in i Enoch 106 contains the story of the birth of Noah as a wondrous, shining child. Lamech fears that this baby is not his own child, but the offspring of the Watchers and goes to ask his father Methusaleh to inquire of his father Enoch. He is reassured by Enoch. This story also occurs, with some variants, in the second column of the Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran. There, the name of Enoch's wife is Batenosh, as in Jubilees 4:27 (Bêtênôs). The same story is also evidently reflected in the fragmentary text 1Q19, the so-called "Book of Noah."

[Michael E. Stone]

In the Aggadah

Most of the legends about Lamech, the grandson of Cain, center around his killing of his grandfather. He was blind and when he went hunting, he was led by his young son Tubal-Cain, who would tell his father when game came in sight, so that Lamech could shoot at it with his bow and arrow. Once he aimed at some horned creature which Tubal-Cain thought to be a beast. In fact it was Cain, the "sign of Cain" being a horn in the forehead, and he killed him. In despair, Lamech smote his hands together inadvertently killing Tubal-Cain. After this incident his wives, Adah and Zillah, wanted to leave him on the ground that Cain's descendants were doomed to annihilation. But Lamech argued, "If Cain who committed murder with malice aforethought, was punished only in the seventh generation, then, I who have killed inadvertently may hope that retribution will be postponed for 77 generations" (cf. Gen. 4:23). Lamech and his wives put their case to Adam who decided the case in favor of Lamech (Tanh. Gen. 11). According to another tradition, Lamech's wives refused to have intercourse with him because they knew that a flood was to come and therefore they did not want to bear children. Whereupon Lamech answered "Cain was guilty of murder, yet judgment was suspended in his case for seven generations; for me who am guiltless of this crime, surely judgment will wait 77 generations" (Gen. R. 23:4). Lamech took one wife solely for sexual gratification, and the other for procreation (ibid. 23:2).


M. Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (1962), 97–104; S. Gevirtz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel (1963), 26; W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), 85. See Commentaries to Genesis 4:17–24. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; L. Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (1955), 61–62. in the apocrypha: M.R. James, Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament (1920), 10–11. add. bibliography: K. Beyer, Die aramaeischen Texte vom Toten Meer (1984), 167–69; N. Sarna, jps Torah Commentary Genesis (1989), 36–38; R. Hess, in: abd, 4:136–37.


views updated May 14 2018

Methuselah In the Old Testament (Genesis 5:25–27), the longest-lived of all human beings; son of Enoch and eighth in descent from Adam and Eve. He is said to have died at the age of 969 and was the father of many children, including Lamech, the father of Noah.