God does not give names. What’s in a Name?

Cain and Abel #1

In the following few posts, we will delve into the story of Cain and Abel and into the meaning of a name (Gen 4).  

It is among the most familiar stories of the Bible: God prefers Abelโ€™s offerings over Cainโ€™s. In his jealous rage, Cain murders Abel. God punishes him, making him an eternal nomad, yet providing him with a mark to stop people from killing him.

But as we delve into the Hebrew language, we will see that this is merely a simplified interpretation of the story, one of many. But before we start with the plot, letโ€™s look at the first verse. This is the perfect place to contemplate the meaning of a name (Gen 4:1).

Also, I invite you to watch our Lesson video covering the first part of the Story of Cain and Abel.

ื•ึฐื”ึธืึธื“ึธื, ื™ึธื“ึทืข ืึถืช-ื—ึทื•ึธึผื” ืึดืฉึฐืืชึผื•ึน
And the manื•ึฐื”ึธืึธื“ึธื
Knew – this word in the Bible can have one of two meanings: first it can be the same ‘know’ as we use today, to get acquainted with. The second is to have sex with. As in the second part of this verse we learn that the woman got pregnant and gave birth, it is safe to assume that the latter is the case here.ื™ึธื“ึทืข
with Eve (Cha-va)ืึถืช-ื—ึทื•ึธึผื”
His womanืึดืฉึฐืืชึผื•ึน
1. And the man had sex with his woman, Eve

The translation seems straight forward. All except for a subtle point: The manโ€™s name is never mentioned. In English and many other languages, including Hebrew, we call him Adam. But reading the text, he has no name. The Bible simply refers to him as the man (ha-a-dam).  

We will discuss the importance of this (and whether a single man or many men were created) when we read chapters 1-2 about the creation. But for now, letโ€™s contemplate What is the meaning of a person without a name?

God does not give names.

This is the job he assigns to the man, as we can see in Gen 2:19-20. The following is only a rough translation, as we will translate it in detail when we analyse that chapter.

ื•ึฐื”ึธืึธื“ึธื, ื™ึธื“ึทืข ืึถืช-ื—ึทื•ึธึผื” ืึดืฉึฐืืชึผื•ึน
19 And God created all animals and birds, and he came to the man, to find out what name he would give them. And whatever name the man gave, that became the name.ื™ื˜  ื•ึทื™ึดึผืฆึถืจ ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื” ืึฑืœึนื”ึดื™ื ืžึดืŸ-ื”ึธืึฒื“ึธืžึธื”, ื›ึธึผืœ-ื—ึทื™ึทึผืช ื”ึทืฉึธึผื‚ื“ึถื” ื•ึฐืึตืช ื›ึธึผืœ-ืขื•ึนืฃ ื”ึทืฉึธึผืืžึทื™ึดื, ื•ึทื™ึธึผื‘ึตื ืึถืœ-ื”ึธืึธื“ึธื, ืœึดืจึฐืื•ึนืช ืžึทื”-ื™ึดึผืงึฐืจึธื-ืœื•ึน; ื•ึฐื›ึนืœ ืึฒืฉึถืืจ ื™ึดืงึฐืจึธื-ืœื•ึน ื”ึธืึธื“ึธื ื ึถืคึถืฉื ื—ึทื™ึธึผื”, ื”ื•ึผื ืฉึฐืืžื•ึน.
20 And the man gave names to all animals and birds.ื›  ื•ึทื™ึดึผืงึฐืจึธื ื”ึธืึธื“ึธื ืฉึตืืžื•ึนืช, ืœึฐื›ึธืœ-ื”ึทื‘ึฐึผื”ึตืžึธื” ื•ึผืœึฐืขื•ึนืฃ ื”ึทืฉึธึผืืžึทื™ึดื, ื•ึผืœึฐื›ึนืœ, ื—ึทื™ึทึผืช ื”ึทืฉึธึผื‚ื“ึถื”; ื•ึผืœึฐืึธื“ึธื, ืœึนื-ืžึธืฆึธื ืขึตื–ึถืจ ื›ึฐึผื ึถื’ึฐื“ึผื•ึน. 

Eve, as well, was created without a name. When God first brings her to the man, he simply call her a woman, just like he had been doing to everything else.

23 And the man said, I will call her a womanื›ื’  ื•ึทื™ึนึผืืžึถืจ, ื”ึธืึธื“ึธื… ืœึฐื–ึนืืช ื™ึดืงึธึผืจึตื ืึดืฉึธึผืื”

Only in chapter 3, after God has told them their punishment for eating from the fruit of the garden, the man gives his woman a name. He calls her Eve (Cha-va)

20 And the man named his woman, Eve (Cha-va)ื›  ื•ึทื™ึดึผืงึฐืจึธื ื”ึธืึธื“ึธื ืฉึตืื ืึดืฉึฐืืชึผื•ึน, ื—ึทื•ึธึผื”

For God, in a perfect world, names do not exist. In Buddhism, this is called oneness, or the original state: there is no separation; all is perfect. Is this Oneness what the Bible means when it says that man was created in Godโ€™s image?

The man needed the separation a name gives

But the man needed separation; the separation created by names, and God assigned the naming job to him. But in the Garden of Eden, the man, still not far away from being โ€˜in the image Godโ€™, his separation is still minimal, only as necessary: a fish, a bird, a woman.  Proper names are not needed.

But getting banished, he separates and not only from the garden. Now everything, every item, every detail needs a name. It is not enough to know that the person with him is a woman. He feels obliged to give her a name. She becomes Eve. The separation from the oneness is compete.

This feeling of separation is the yearning we all feel towards the oneness we once had. We try to satisfy this yearning, often by creating more separations. Few and far between manage to discard names and get closer to the original state in which no names exist. But only the man, the one who had experienced the oneness first hand, remains nameless forever.   

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Eleonora
Eleonora
11 months ago

Maybe it also means that we are separated from nature as unlike animals every human being will be given a name. We have lost our original nature, our peaceful attitude and oneness with the universe has disappeared unlike to the state the first man in the Bible was when he… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
11 months ago

Thank you Eleonora for an insightful question. If I gave you an answer, it will not be the Bible it will be my interpretation. This is what Bible teachers have been doing throughout the years. They came up with their own answers and fed them to their followers. I believe… Read more »

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11 months ago

[…] this second post about Cain and Able, we will finish verse 1 (you can find the first part here: https://hebrew-bible.net/2021/10/18/the-story-of-cain-and-able-part-1-whats-in-a-name […]

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8 months ago

[…] is a recording of our Zoom study session covering the first part of the story of Cain and Abel. To attend live sessions please check our […]