The First City Genesis 4:17

The First City—Gen_4:17

Until Noah was instructed to build an ark, there is not in the sacred record any invention in art or handicraft ascribed to any not of the family of Cain. This is remarkable. Look at the two lists of the descendants of Cain and of Seth respectively. In the former are simply names, interrupted by a snatch of old verse, by the account of some equivocal proceedings of Lamech, and by a hint concerning the inventors of arts. In the genealogy of the line of Seth, the persons acquire distinct individuality. Not only the names are given, but how old they were when favored with a son, how long they lived after, and what was the sum of their age. These facts give the list the utmost importance as a chronological document, and it is only from it that we have our knowledge of the time which has passed since man’s creation and the duration of the interval between the creation and the deluge. The interruptions in the list have no respect to inventions or any such matters, but have reference to the religious character or religious hopes of the individuals. The Cainite list is of the earth, earthy; the Sethite list has a savor of heaven, and yet is of the highest secular interest, being in fact the basis of chronology and history.

It is no doubt in a great degree from the facts of this  record, transmitted through the survivors of the deluge, that most of the traditions of mankind ascribe the great inventions of art to evil men. It may be that the decay of higher interests directed all force of mind in the Cainite race into the channel of invention and discovery, for the aggrandizement of this life; and led them unconsciously to furnish a fresh illustration of the truth learnt even in Eden, that—

“The tree of knowledge is not that of life.”

The only fact we learn of Cain himself after his exile is, “That he built a city, and called it after the name of his son Enoch.” In considering this fact we must not forget the important evidence it affords that houses were earlier than tents, towns than encampments, and the settled than the nomad life; and in correspondence with it the origin of the tent-dwelling life is afterwards ascribed to a period long subsequent—the fifth generation from Cain. This is not the course which an inventor would take in recording the progress of mankind, nor is it in accordance with the hypothesis of those who contend that man advanced progressively out of the savage state. In such a calculation we see tents covered with the skins of beasts, regarded as being of earlier date than houses—a prior stage in human civilization. But in the true record, the first-born man builds a city, and the tent comes later by more than a thousand years.

We must not, however, allow ourselves to form any magnificent ideas of Cain’s city. We have no reason to suppose that it was more than a collection of low cottages or hovels—probably a wooden frame, wattled with reeds or twigs, and plastered with mud; or as probably substantially constructed with layers of dried mud successively deposited—a very ancient and still common mode of building in the East. The latter mode of construction may at the first view seem less likely than the other to be of early date. But it is in reality—if simplicity be required, much more simple, the operations being fewer, and scarcely any other implements being needed than the hands and the feet. It may also be noted, that  “houses of clay” or mud are the first where materials are mentioned in Scripture—if the book of Job be entitled to that ancient date which is generally claimed for it. Note: Job_4:19; compare 24:16.] It is possible that an Irish mud-cabin forms no inadequate representative of the buildings of Cain’s city. But the term implies the existence, scarcely perhaps of a wall, but of a fence, to protect the domestic animals from the depredations of beasts of prey, if not from the incursions of human enemies. This may also have been formed of mud, as many town walls still are formed in the East. It may even have been constructed of loose stones, if stones were found in the locality; but it may quite as probably have been a hedge of briers or of the thorny cactus, of which they are still constructed in the East, and are found to be not only impervious to beasts of prey, but to form a sufficient protection from the sudden incursions of predatory hordes. Jericho is at this day so defended, and many places on the coast of Palestine are hedged in with the prickly pear. In fact, a thinly dressed or half-naked people have much dread of strong thorny plants which tear the flesh; and this gives to them an adaptation for defence of which we, with our thick clothing, can scarcely form a conception.