Genesis 4:1


וַיִּקְרָא הָֽאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ חַוָּ֑ה כִּי הִוא הָֽיְתָה אֵם כָּל־חָֽי וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת־חַוָּה אִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת־קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יְהוָה

 4a And the man proclaimed his wife’s name Eve, because she was [the] mother of all the living. 4b Now the man had known his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man together with the LORD.”


Careful readers will recognize that the first part of this verse, (4a), is identical to Genesis 3:20. In all probability its appearance as Genesis 3:20 is a copying mistake[1]It’s probably a type of mistake called a  parablepsis.. Many (most?) scholars now believe that this verse probably appeared originally as the first clause of Genesis 4:1[2]For an extensive discussion of the proper placement of this verse, see Westermann, pp 268-269.  My translation here reflects this view.

Eve: the Hebrew name, pronounced /khay⋅yah/, means “living thing”. The authors of the Septuagint understood her name to be an intensive form that meant not just life but the “propagator of life[3]Sarna, p. 9. Her name, obviously, reflects the woman’s central role in procreation as intimated and described in Genesis 3:15-16.

Eve, Mother of all Living

Eve, Mother of All the Living

mother of all the living: this phrase is closely paralleled in many (most?) of the ANE mythologies where it is used in reference to a mother goddess. In this narrative, the author takes pains to demythologize and naturalize pagan theology so as to express the biblical concept of the human woman’s primary role – motherhood (see discussion below).

Now the man had known his wife…: both the vocabulary and the grammar point to the conclusion that primeval couple engaged in sexual intercourse while still in the Garden. First, the idiomatic meaning of the verb “to know” as used here, יָדַע (/ya⋅da/), is idiomatic for sexual intercourse and used throughout the Hebrew Bible.

Second, the author makes explicit that sexual intercourse occurred at some time in the past by the structuring the verbal clause as a past perfect, i.e., “[Adam] had known“. The grammar of this verse unambiguously asserts that intercourse occurred and was completed sometime prior to verse 4:1.  Specifically, its verbal structure meets the three criteria of a Hebrew past perfect:

  1. The first verb /hay⋅tah’/ (= “was”) is of the perfect form,
  2. the subject-verb order of the second verb, /və⋅ha⋅Adam ya⋅da/ , is reversed[4]In Hebrew the verb normally precedes the subject.,
  3. the subject of the second verb (Adam) is prefixed with the vav conjunction.

For an extensive discussion of the Hebrew grammar of the past participle (a.k.a the pluperfect tense), see the discussion of Creatio ex Materia in the appendix of the first creation story.

Given that this is the first verse following their expulsion and given that this set of verses in chapter 4 is a continuation of the Garden story, their laison occurred while still in the Garden of Eden. Sarna[5]Sarna, p. 32 allows that “[t]here is nothing to sustain the idea that sexual activity first occurred outside Eden. More to the point, for sexual activity to have taken place in Eden would help explain the source of shame that caused them to cover only their genitals before coming into the presence of God (see the commentary for Genesis 3:7).

Cain: the Hebrew word from which Cain is translated, קַיִן(/Qa⋅yin/)[6]Rhymes with cayenne as in cayenne pepper., is interesting. Its root has a late (but clear) connection with metalworkers in other Semitic languages[7]G. A. Cooke, A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903, pp. 286- 87.. But before drawing any conclusions about the importance (or not) of metalworkers, note that the pronunciation of the Hebrew name, /Qa⋅yin/, is in assonance with with /vat⋅to⋅mer/ and /qa⋅ni⋅ti/. Here is the transcription:

אֶת־קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי

et-Qayin vattomer qaniti …

There is likely little theological import here. The fact that there is an explicit association with metalworking is probably accidental. More likely, the author chose (invented?) Cain’s name for its assonance. As mentioned frequently in all these translations, the ancient Hebrew authors delighted in this kind of word-play.

produced a man: the word here translated as “produced” is  קָנִיתִי(/qa⋅ni⋅ti/) has a meaning more closely and frequently related to buying or acquiring something via a commercial transaction.  However, cognates in closely related languages[8]Notably Akkadian and Ugaritic can mean “create” or “produce” when humans are in view.

together with the help of the the LORD: the usual English translation of the Hebrew for this phrase does not do justice to the message the author means to convey. Here’s a paraphrase:

While I was created by God from a man, it was I together with God that created a man.

In other words, where Adam was portrayed as a passive participant in the creation of a woman (Genesis 2:21-22), in this verse Eve reminds us that she was more than a passive participant. Not only was she obviously and actively involved (giving birth), but God was her necessary “assistant”. This is an amazing and singular claim and deserves more explanation.

The Hebrew phrase, qaniti eesh et-Adonai translates word-for-word “I-produced a-man the LORD” – a clumsy and ambiguous rendering that can be interpreted as Eve having produced the LORD! It turns out that the “et-” prefix is the key to this translation. Now, “et-” does not translate directly into an English word. Rather, the “et-” prefix is what is termed by grammarians as an accusative. In biblical Hebrew, the ‘et‘ accusative when prefixed to a proper name is often translated as “together with”[9]This is an example where a word-for-word translation can lead one astray because, when prefixed to a regular noun, “et-” marks the noun as the direct object of the preceding verb and has … Continue reading. “Together with … I produced” suggests the author is making a claim about the importance of the mother in the creation of a child given God’s involvement.  The message here is that giving of birth, or more generally motherhood, is a divinely inspired role.

Word-For-Word Translation

My translation conventions can be found here.

And-proclaimed, the man, a-name-of his-woman “life” because she was mother-of all-living. And the man had known Eve his woman and she conceived and bore Cain. Then she said, “I got a man together with the LORD”.

Commercial Bible Translations

  • (nrs) Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.”
  • (kjv) And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
  • (niv) Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”
  • (net) Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the LORD did!”

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