Early Population

There are two prevalent notions connected with the era of the death of Abel, both of which are doubtless wrong. One is, that Cain and Abel were both young men, some twenty or thirty years of age. But we have shown reasons for believing, that they were not less than a hundred and twenty-five years of age when that dreadful event took place; but it is yet true that they were young. When the life of man reached to nearly a thousand years, an age like this was youthful.

The other is, that besides their parents, Cain and Abel were the only persons in the world, or, at most, that there were besides merely their wives, and perhaps a few young children of theirs. But the fact, that so many years had passed, would alone render improbable what might have seemed likely under the notion that but a few years had elapsed. It is quite incredible that the pair, destined to replenish the earth, and who had children after that calamity, should have been without any in the long interval. Those whom we do know, are named only because there was something remarkable to record of them; but that there were others not named, is certain, from the facts which imply, that there were other people in the earth at the time. We know there were daughters; and the fact, that their existence only transpires incidentally, expresses the probability of a similar silence respecting other children. Cain, we know, was married, which was probably the case also with Abel. They must, therefore, from the necessity of the case, have had sisters, with whom they contracted marriage, although neither their names, nor the fact of their birth, are recorded. One would like to have had some information respecting the first daughters of Eve. There is an old tradition, that Cain and Abel had respectively twin sisters, and that the twin of Cain became the bride of Abel, and the twin of Abel the bride of Cain. She who was born with Cain is, in Arabian tradition, called Achima, and she born with Abel, Lebuda; but the Oriental Christians know them as Azrun and Ovain. Note: D’Herbelot. art Cabil.] We have seen a calculation in Saurin’s Dissertations, which makes it out that at the time of the death of Abel (which the writer supposes to have been in the year of the world 128), there might have been 32,768 persons, descended from eight children of Cain and Abel, born before the year 25; and that, adding other subsequent children of Cain and Abel, their children and children’s children, there might have been 421,164 men descended from them, without reckoning women and children. But there is always some flaw in these round calculations. So in this case it is forgotten, that the antediluvians do not appear to have had children so early. In the genealogy, none of the persons named has a son before he is sixty-five, and some not till far past a hundred years of age. This implies that the period of childhood and adolescence was protracted in proportion to the duration of their lives, and renders it probable that the old patriarchal fathers were in appearance and constitution as young at sixty or sixty-five, as our youth at sixteen or seventeen. Still, even according to this rule. Cain and  Abel may have had a considerable number of children and grand-children at the time indicated; and allowing for other possible children of Adam and Eve, there must have been at the time a considerable number of persons in the world—quite sufficient to account for Cain’s dread of being slain for the murder of Abel; and also for his building a city soon after his migration from the paternal roof.

Let us counsel the reader to be content with such broad facts as may assure us that, according to the intimations in Genesis, there may well have been a considerable number of persons in the world at the death of Abel, and a large population before the deluge. For exact arithmetical calculations there is no basis. The law of population itself is fluctuating, and is affected by a thousand circumstances which such calculations cannot embrace. Thus it is certain that if the population had gone on since the deluge in the ratio which certain calculations assume or endeavor to establish, the world could not by this time contain the inhabitants thus provided for it, and we should be standing in layers three or four deep upon each other’s heads.

Having thus been led into the question of early population, we cannot but say how little reliance ought to be placed on such calculations as those of Bishop Cumberland, and, in later days, of Mr. Malthus, as to the rate of increase in population. The former learned calculator, reckoning the population after the flood, quietly assumes that every child born shall live forty years at least, and that every young man and woman shall marry when twenty years of age, and shall become the parents of twenty children in the next twenty years; and this is supposed to be universal; not one is allowed to die till his task is accomplished. Note: Cumberland’s Essay on Populousness.] All this is in opposition to known facts, as shown in the history of the patriarchs. If we may build upon the genealogy in the tenth chapter of Genesis, the allowance of children to a family seems not to have been materially greater than at present; and historically we know, that Abraham’s father had but three sons, one of whom died  prematurely that Abraham had no children till he was past eighty; that Isaac did not marry till he was about forty years old, and had but two sons; and that Jacob and Esau also (although they had more children), were above forty when they married. In view of facts like these, which occur in every age—and in the recollection of the wars, pestilences, and famines with which God scourges the pride of man—we cannot but assent to the remarks of a writer who had occasion to consider this matter closely. Note: Crosthwaite’s Synchronology p. 247.]

“The increase of mankind seems to be, in an especial manner, kept by the Almighty under his own immediate sovereign disposal; and so mysteriously, that we cannot calculate, nor even guess at, the probable produce of any marriage, under whatever circumstances of rank, wealth, health, age, or climate. The most healthy of every class in life are very often barren; while we constantly see a numerous offspring from sickly, diseased, or even deformed parents. Uncertainty of this kind does not exist as to the lower orders of the creation; as to their increase, we are allowed to calculate and speculate with tolerable exactness. This utter uncertainty as to the very root of population, involves the whole subject, more or less, in its consequences; and with all our labors and tables, however useful and convenient we may find them for the present purposes of life, no sooner do we attempt to open vistas into futurity, than we find ourselves on ground forbidden to the children of men.”