Bereshit Five: From Adam to Noah

This is one of the chapters of Tanakh that I struggle to find meaning in. On first reading (and second…possibly even third), it’s a list of names. Each verse names a generation of Adam’s descendants, his age, and the children that he ‘begot.’ This list stretches hundreds of years, until Noah. Lists like this tend to come off as boring, so I challenged myself to find something meaningful in the chapter.

“And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a song in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth (Genesis 5:3).”

Cain and Abel, the first two sons born to Adam and Eve, are described in terms of each other, not their parents. In their story, Adam and Eve are not pivotal factors, with God assuming the parental role for the two brothers. However, in the case of Seth, he is described as being of Adam’s own likeness and image. This parallels the creation story, when Adam himself is described as being made in the image of God. “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness (Genesis 2:26).” Why, then, is Seth given a similar epithet? If all of man is made in the image of God, why Seth explicitly stated as being in the image of Adam [and therefore, of God]?

Cain and Abel are the first sons, but Seth is the one through whom the line of humanity continues. By ‘begetting sons and daughters,’ and thereby partaking in the ongoing enterprise of creation through the future generations, Seth truly embodies what it means to be in the image of God, which his brothers failed to do.

The list concludes with the birth of Noah, who is the son of Lamech and the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah, the only one in the list to have a description following his name, is described as, “This same shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh from the ground which the Lord hath cursed (Genesis 5:29).” This serves as our introduction to Noah, the next hero of the biblical narrative. I’m interested to see, as I move forward, how this intro plays through in the Noah story.

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