the Fifth Week of Lent
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Le'mek, לֶמֶךְ , taster, otherwise a vigorous youth, in pause La'mek, . לָמֶךְ Septuag. and N.T. Λάμεχ; Josephus Λάμεχος, Ant. 1:2,2), the name of two antediluvian patriarchs.
1. The fifth in descent from Cain, being the son of Methusael, and father of Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-cain, and Naamah (Genesis 4:18-24). B.C. cir. 3776. He is recorded to have taken two wives, Adah and Zillah; and there appears no reason why the fact should have been mentioned, unless to point him out as the author of the evil practice of polygamy. The manner in which the sons of Lamech distinguished themselves as the inventors of useful arts is mentioned under their several names (q.v.). The Targum of Jonatlan (ad loc.) adds, that his daughter was "the mistress of sounds and songs," i.e., the first poetess; which Jewish tradition embellishes by saying that all the world wondered after her, even the sons of God, and that evil spirits were born of her (Midrash on Ruth, and Zohar). Josephus (Ant. 1:2, 2) relates that the number of Lamech's sons was seventymeven, and Jerome records the same tradition, adding that they were all cut off by the Deluge, and that this was the seventy-and-sevenfold vengeance which Lamech imprecated.
The most remarkable circumstance in connection with Lamech is the poetical address which he is very abruptly introduced as making to his wives, being, indeed, the only example of antediluvian poetry extant (Genesis 4:23-24):
Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my say!
For a man I slew for my wound,
Even a youth for my bruise:
If sevenfold Cain was to be avenged,
Then Lamech seventy and seven.
It has all the appearance of an extract from an old poem, which we may suppose to have been handed down by tradition to the time of Moses. It is very difficult to discover to what it refers, and the best explanation can be nothing more than a conjecture. It is the subject of a dissertation by Hilliger in Thesaurus Theologico Philol. 1:141, and is discussed at length by the various commentators on Genesis. See also Hase, De Oraculo Lamechi (Brem. 1712); Schroder, De Lamecho homicida (Marb. 1721). The fiollowing is a synopsis of ancient and modern views. " Chrysostom (Hom. 20 in Gen.) regards Lamech as a murderer stung by remorse, driven to make public confession of his guilt solely to ease his conscience, and afterwards (Hom. in Psalms 6) obtaining mercy. Theodoret (Quaest. in Genesis 44) sets him down as a murderer. Basil (Ep. 260 , § 5) interprets Lamech's words to mean that he had committed two murders, and that he deserved a much severer punishment than Cain, as having sinned after plainer warning; Basil adds, that some persons interpret the last lines of the poem as meaning that, whereas Cain's sin increased, and was followed after seven generations by the punishment of the Deluge washing out the foulness of the world, so Lamech's sin shall be followed in the seventy-seventh (see Luke 3:23-38) generation by the coming of him who taketh away the sin of the world. Jerome (Ep. 36, ad Damasum, t. 1, page 161) relates as a tradition of his predecessors and of the Jews that Cain was accidentally slain by Lamech in the seventh generation from Adam. This legend is told with fuller details by Jarchi. (See Kitto, Daily Bible Illust. ad loc.)
According to him, the occasion of the poem was the refusal of Lamech's wives to associate with him in consequence of his having killed Cain and Tubal-cain; Lamech, it is said, was blind, and was led about by Tubalcain; when the latter saw in the thicket what he supposed to be a wild beast, Lamech, by his son's direction, shot an arrow at it, and thus slew Cain; in alarm and indignation at the deed, he killed his son; hence his wives refused to associate with him; and he excuses himself as having acted without a vengeful or murderous purpose. Onkelos. followed by Pseudo-Jonathan, paraphrases it, 'I have not slain a man that I should bear sin on his account.' The Arab. Ver. (Saadias) puts it in an interrogative form, 'Have I slain a man?' etc. These two versions, which are substantially the same, are adopted by De Dieu and bishop Patrick. Aben Ezra, Calvin, Drusius, and Cartwright interpret it in the future tense as a threat, 'I will slay any man who wounds me.' Luther considers the occasion of the poem to be the deliberate murder of Cain by Lamech. Lightfoot (Decas Chorogr. Marc. praem. § 4) considers Lamech as expressing remorse for having, as the first polygamist, introduced more destruction and murder than Cain was the author of into the world" (Smith). Shuckford, in his Connections, supposes that the descendants of Cain had lived for a long time in fear of vengeance for the death of Abel from the family of Adam; and that Lamech, in order to persuade his wives of the groundlessness of such fears, used the argument in the text, i.e., if any one who might slay Cain, the murderer of his brother, was threatened with sevenfold vengeance, surely they must expect a far sorer punishment who should presume to kill any of us on the same account. Others regard Lamech's speech as a heaven-daring avowal of murder, in which he had himself received a slight wound. Some have even sought to identify Lamech with the Asiatic deity Lemus or Leames (see Movers, Phoen. 477; Nork, Bibl. Mythol. 1:235).
Herder, in his Hebrew Poetry, supposes that the haughty and revengeful Lamech, overjoyed by the invention of metallic weapons by his son Tubal-cain, breaks out in this triumphal song, boasting that if Cain, by the providence of God, was to be avenged sevenfold, he, by means of the newly-invented weapons, so much superior to anything of the kind known at that time, would be able to take a much heavier vengeance on those who injured him. This hypothesis as to the occasion of the poem was partly anticipated by Hess, and has been received by Rosenmü ller, Ewald, and Delitzsch. Pfeiffer (Dif. Scrips. Loc. page 25) collects different opinions up to his time with his usual diligence, and concludes that the poem is Lamech's vindication of himself to his wives, who were in terror for the possible consequences of his having slain two of the posterity of Seth. This judicious view is substantially that of Lowth (De S. Poesi Heb. 4:91) and Michaelis, who think that Lamech is excusing himself for some murder which he had committed in self-defense ("for a wound inflicted on me"), and he opposes a homicide of this nature to the willful and inexcusable fratricide of Cain. Under this view Lamech would appear to have intended to comfort his wives by the assurance that he was really exposed to no danger from this act, and that any attempt upon his life on the part of the friends of the deceased would not fail to bring down upon them the severest vengeance (compare Dathe and Rosenmü ller, ad loc.; see also Turner's Companion to Genesis, page 209). "That he had slain a man, a young man (for the youth of one clause is undoubtedly but a more specific indication of the man in the other), and this not in cool blood, but in consequence of a wound or bruise he had himself received, is, if not the only possible, certainly the natural and obvious meaning of the words; and on the ground apparently of a difference between his case and that of Cain's — namely, that he had done under provocation what Cain had done without it he assures himself of an interest in the divine guardianship and protection immeasurably greater than that granted to Cain. This seems as plainly the import of Lamech's speech as language could well make it. But if it seems to imply, as it certainly does, that Lamech was not an offender after the type and measure of Cain, it at the same time shows how that branch of the human family were becoming familiar with strife and bloodshed, and, instead of mourning over it, were rather presuming on the divine mercy and forbearance to brace themselves for its encounters, that they might repel force with force. The prelude already appears here of the terrible scenes which, after the lapse of a few generations, disclosed themselves far and wide — when the earth was filled with violence, and deeds were every day done which cried in the ear of heaven for vengeance. Such was the miserable result of the human art and the earthly resources brought into play by the Cainite race, and on which they proudly leaned for their ascendency; nor is it too much to say that here also, even in respect to the poetic gift of nature, the beginning was prophetic of the end." (See ANTEDILUVIANS).
2. The seventh in descent trom Seth, being the son of Methuselah, and father of several sons, of whom apparently the oldest was Noah (Genesis 5:25-31; 1 Chronicles 1:3; Luke 3:36). B.C. 3297- 2520. He was 182 years old at the birth of Noah, and survived that event 595 years, making his total age 777. His character appears to have been different from that of his Cainite namesake (see Dettinger, in the Tü b. Zeitschr. f. Theol. 1835, 1:11 sq.). "Chrysostom (Seran. 9 in Gen., and Hom. 21 in Gen.), perhaps thinking of the character of the other Lamech, speaks of this as an unrighteous man, though moved by a divine impulse to give a prophetic name to his son. Buttman and others, observing that the names of Lamech and Enoch are found in the list of Seth's, as well as of Cain's family, infer that the two lists are merely different versions or recensions of one original list-traces of two conflicting histories of the first human family. This theory is deservedly repudiated by Delitzsch on Genesis 5."
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lamech'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​l/lamech.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.