I have referred in earlier posts to the attempt to divide the Pentateuch into sources, so I want to take at least one entry to explain why scholars see a need to do that. Any examination of the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy that goes beyond a brief, surface-level reading will reveal many problematic features, including repetitions, contradictions and narrative incoherence. In some cases, a fairly simple division of the text into two or more sources can resolve all of these. The incoherent story of the flood in Genesis 6-8 can be fairly easily divided into an original J version and an original P version that have been woven together by a redactor.
Another difficulty in the early part of Genesis is the presence of two parallel genealogies in 4:1, 17-22 and 5:1-32. A list of the names in each of these will help to reveal the problems.
4:1, 17-22 (J) 5:1-32 (P)
Adam (Eve) Adam
Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-Cain, Naamah Methuselah
Shem, Ham, Japheth
The first problem the presence of these text presents is why there would be a genealogy for Cain at all. After Cain murders Abel, he is cursed and banished by God, but he and his descendants are amazingly creative and productive, developing city-building, music, metal-working, and animal husbandry. According the plot of Genesis, this entire line of humans would have been destroyed by the flood, so why give any attention to them and their cultural development. A problem internal to the first genealogy is that when it gets to the eighth generation and presents multiple children, one of them has a Cain-like name and two of them have Abel-like names. Particularly when we are told that Jabal and Jubal represent the first animal herder and first musician, these two look more like Abel. It appears that Abel has been absorbed into Cain’s genealogy. When comparing the two lists, we find that they have three identical names and four more that are similar. This is a challenging situation to explain, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that these are two different developments of the same genealogy that passed through tradition and ended up in different sources. The writer of Genesis then found a way to make use of both of them. The J version of the genealogy on the left associates Cain even more closely with urban, technological ways of life, in opposition to the nomadic sheep-herding ways of Abel and Israel’s other ancestors. The P genealogy connects the first family to Noah, the hero of the flood story. One lingering question would be whether the J genealogy originally had Noah among the children of Lamech and, thus, a descendant of Cain. If this is true, then the writer of the book of Genesis may have used the P genealogy to separate Noah from the Cain line.
I am working with this text a lot in a current book project, so I will be coming back to it. It is one on which I think a combination of methods might make some good progress.