I have suggested interpreting the name of Cain (קין) as a Hebrew rendition of the Hittite kaina- and tried to support this claim with frequent and hopefully reasonable references to an Anatolian milieu. In fact, from the text of Genesis, which builds up a narrative scenario still dependent on the Mesopotamian tradition (e.g., the flood myth), many details are reminiscent of other sources, which need to be rediscovered, though, as in the case of Cain himself.

The reappraisal of those sources is the condition to validate the conjectures I am advancing in many entries of this hypertext, and this one may be the test case to show a method. Of course, a word of caution should be said against the so-called Sirene des Gleichklangs and at the same time against the overcaution that forbids pursuing a path because the promising associations gleaned after a first survey are moot from a linguistic standpoint.

In his comment of The Book of J, Harold Bloom draws our attention to "the characteristic ellipsis," "related to endless wordplay, to an incessant harmony of puns, false or popular etymologies, homonyms, virtually Shakespearean in their witty profusion (Rosenberg & Bloom 1991 [1]: 25). The due readiness to catch up with this oriental wittiness is often the conditio sine qua non to grasp the original multiplicity of the text to interpret.

To understand the speculation of Middle Eastern scribes on signs and the wisdom contained in them, I will mention a neo-Assyrian text (ca. 911-612 B. C.) found in Nineveh (Reiner 1973 [2]: 101-102; Basello 2002 [3]; Jiménez 2015 [4]; Frahm-Jimenez 2015 [5]; Gabbay 2016 [6]: 160), useful to substantiate the perspective of work on which this study is based. Often, in the analysis of ancient texts, we are prone to the prejudice against the so-called "paretymologies," that is, etymologies based on simple assonances and traditional beliefs. It overlooks a typically oriental way of proceeding, called "etymological association" (Maeso 1972 [7]; Selvaggio 2020 [8]), the method used in a case I would like to briefly present, applied to the Elamite names of the months.

The scribe explains the name of the month, Ḫuldube, first comparing it to the Babylonian correspondent, Addaru, and relating his knowledge of signs to worship and mythology. In the erudite speculation of the ancient scribe, the etymology of the word Ḫuldube, written with two cuneiform logograms, HUL that means "evil" (=IGI.UR, MZ 190, n° 733; HF 235, n° 290; Marchesi 2017 [9]: 287) and DÚB that means "crush," is explained through a comparison with the same month of the Babylonian year, in which Marduk's victory over his enemies, typically the Sebitti, is remembered: "The (month name) ḫuldubê means Addaru (XII), ḫul [means ‘evil’ and dub means ‘to crush’], because in Addaru Marduk crushed his enemies […] and [took] kingship" (Frahm-Jimenez 2015 [5]: 341). The seven demons rage on earth, taking advantage of the absence of the god, who is the magician par excellence, and is then forced into an exorcism, if he wants to get rid of them (Pettinato 2001 [10]: 28-29).

Oriental scribes are accustomed to this type of associations, trained not only to deal with multiple languages, more writing systems but also to reason in a symbolic key, to make a series of deductions within a complex of meanings, held together by a myth, a proverb, a ritual practice (Pomponio 1997 [11]). Avoiding the fallacy of anachronistic narrative, also called "presentism," namely the error of reading "the past as if it was nothing but a staging ground for the present" (Boyce 2000 [12]: 326-327) is the only way to make sense of Genesis myths.

The ellipses which have forced laborious semasiological detours should not be fixed once for all by scholars who would have it that ancient wisdom moved along the lines of historical linguistics. To test the importance of the symbolical frame of mind at work in ancient scribal schools, I will show that my interpretation of Cain’s name – based on the Hittite kaina- – is not ad hoc and can be supported through a method that William Whewell called "consilience of inductions." At the moment, I refer to the recent work of Hendel & Joosten (2018 [13]) for an exposition of this principle, while I can try a practical application to the case of Cain.

I am going to begin with an induction that leads to a major and high-order conclusion from many attestations in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible altogether: there is an unpassable border between man and God, let us say between human beings and the divine court where angels belong too. The only way out of this strict monotheism, apparently discarded by the puzzling endorsement of Genesis 3:22, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil," is to resort to Genesis 6, a chapter that I would define "Magna Charta" as to the ontology which regulates power topology in the Bible.

Once the reduction of astral entities to "lights" (Gn 1:14-19) is taken for granted, the playground of mythology is left with the so-called "men of renown" (Gn 6:4), namely heroes of the old days. If there is no way for a man to become like God, the exception acknowledged by the above-quoted words can only amount to acquiring a "divine" capability, namely a "knowledge" in a limited aspect of human experience.

Another available induction regards the use of words connected to the root šmr, first applied to the duty of Adam, who must guard the garden (2:15), secondly to the cherubim, commanded to guard the way to the tree of life (3:24), thirdly to Cain who protests being considered the guardian of his brother (4:9). Another conclusion is at hand: if Adam is first appointed guardian of the garden before the fall and later, he is confronted with the cherubim who act as guardians against him, God approved this role both for humans and angels. What is the matter then? This is a key question about Genesis, and it touches on an abuse of power I have already dealt with in two entries (Adam, Psamtik I) (Ez 28:14).

It is noteworthy that God addresses to his court, his angels, when he wants to remark the "advancement" of the first couple: "like one of us, knowing good and evil." They share the role of guardian, and the human trespass should regard the extension of a function limited to the garden and its animal to people. We can fully appreciate what is at stake whether we compare this abuse of power to what happened when Adam named Eve, notwithstanding the duty was to name animals. What is not punished can be a real infringement? I think that this divine lenience may be explained within the experimental context I have underlined. God lets Adam go because he wants to see the outcome of his leave. Are naming and warding so critical to allow a final induction? They are both princely duties that put the first man’s responsibility under strain because he is basically a worker, not a lord endowed with power over subjects.

In a way, this series of inductions is parallel to the progressive extension of the prerogative to name human beings until Eve takes her place in this climax. The choice of naming her son "Cain" (kaina‑) is consistent with what I have argued so far because it is meant to express her ambition to have Adam and Cain adopted among the "sons of God." A purpose revealed by a formulaic clause light-heartedly read as a reminder of the Hebrew traditional marriage: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24). On the contrary, it is meant as a drift toward a foreign model because it comes after a "linguistic experiment" that Adam undergoes (Gn 2:18-22), whose result is the attribution of Anatolian features to Eve (see the entries "Adam" and "Psamtik I").

A further application of this oriental framework, where naming is a divine or royal prerogative, bound to create or change things (see Jacob renamed "Israel," Gn 35:10 and Joseph’s new name by the Pharaoh, Gn 41:45), comes from the third designation of a human being by another and the first one by a woman. When Eve names Cain and resorts to a Hittite word (kaina-), we should scaffold her deed within its due context, where royal utterances are framed like this: "the word of Tabarna, Great King, is of iron, (it is) not to be discarded, not to be broken. Whoever alters (it), his head will be cut off" (awāt tabarna LUGAL.GAL ša AN.BAR ša lā nadīam ša lā šebērim ša ušpahhu SAG.DU-suinakkisū)," Riemschneider 1958 [14]: 334–335; Güterbock 1967 [15]: 49; Košak 1986 [16]: 133; Devecchi 2010 [17]: 5). This Bekräftigungeformel is present also in Hittite adoption’s documents, such as CHT 221, 2 (Carruba 1988 [18]: 43; see also Rüster & Wilhelm 2012 [19]: 51; Bilgin 2018 [20]: 177-178), to make it clear that certain solemn declarations are unbreakable.

Eve’s words are exceptional whether they are taken literally and adequately referred to Adam, who is "acquired," in a striking reversal of the traditional institution: while the husband is called baʾal ("master," Gn 20:3; Ex 20:17), the wife becomes beʾulat baʾal, she is "owned by her husband" (Dt 22:22; 24:1). Ruth is "bought" by Boaz (4:5-10), crediting the usage of the verb qanâ (TWAT7 63-70; Jacobs [21]). This is not the only possible interpretation of the disputed passage (Gn 4:1), but it is in line with the Hittite meaning of the word kaina-. As I have already remarked, Eve’s intention, after the fall, is to draw the logical consequences of her "new dignity," as she was named ’išša ("woman") – nearly homophone of the Hittite išḫa- ("master") ­– and "mother of all living" too. She can bribe a new status for Adam and Cain, who are bound to "enter into" God’s house according to the formula of the Hittite antiyant- marriage: "antiyant- of the king" is equivalent to "king's son-in-law" (LÚMES HADAN LUGAL, Imparati 2004 [22]: 267).

All these references to the Hittite language and culture face an objection that I hope to tackle in this hypertext, but now I will add a few remarks about it before I address the main question of this entry. The language of Genesis is commonly ascribed Classical Biblical Hebrew, whose terminus ad quem should be around 500 B. C. (Joosten 2005 [23]). About 700 years or more might separate the first book of the Bible from the abandonment of Hattusa and represent an impassable barrier for memories to be transmitted. The fall of the capital of the Hittite empire did not produce a total discontinuity (De Martino 2016 [24]: 109–110; De Martino 2018 [25]). The Neo-Hittite states have sprung up, which in the Babylonian chancelleries retain the ancient name of "land of Hattu" (Tavernier 2010 [26]) and in the language used for commemorative stelae carry on – until the 8th century – the tradition of the Luwian Hieroglyphic (Giusfredi 2012 [27]: 153 n. 154).

The continuity along the centuries after the fall of Hattusa is certified by the "the persistence of indigenous cults of Hittite–Luwian origin (e.g. Tarḫunt and Sandan)," and "clearly revealed in the theophoric names which continued in use until Late Antiquity (e.g. names based on the root Ταρκ— and Σανδ—)" (LGPN5B xx; Houwink Ten Cate 1965 [28]). This is true especially for the main bulwark of this tradition, Cilicia, ruled by local dynasts until the revolt of Cyrus III (401 B. C.). We do not know what happened to the Hittite language after the end of the empire, and its remains are scarce in the Middle East area that continues to bear its name (Bryce 2012 [29]: 57–60), but certainly, the great times of Anatolian mythology are taken up in Hesiod (Rutheford 2009 [30]), a sign of continuity guaranteed by bilingualism, translations, lexical and phraseological agreements with Homeric Greek (Dardano 2017 [31]).

In the increasingly dense network of cultural exchanges, as archaeological discoveries and decipherments advance, Cilicia seems to have played the role of an ideal interface between East and West (Klock-Fontanille 2009 [32]; Van Dongen 2013 [33]). There we find traces of an important chapter in Middle Eastern mythology, particularly close to the Hittite context outlined so far. Among the Hurrian myths of the Kumarbi Cycle, we find the so-called LAMMA Song (CTH 343, Hoffner & Beckman 1990 [34]: 46-47), in which the god Kurunta – according to the current interpretation of the logogram (Haas 2003 [35]; Mouton 2002 [36]: 95-96) – usurps Tešub's place in the sky and takes over the insignia of his power: the reins and the whip with which he drove his battle chariot. His reign, marked by inertia and hostility towards the first gods, is bound to end by the decision of the gods themselves who allowed his temporary supremacy. Kurunta, won by Tešub and his helpers, will undergo a real sparagmos (Bernabé 2004 [37]; Haas 2006 [38]: 144-147; Polvani 2008 [39]).

Kurunta's case is worthy of attention for various reasons: the first because Eve is attributable to the Hittite Hapantali(ya), a protective goddess like Kurunta, who shares with him a close relationship with the animal world (Schürr 1991 [40]; Hawkins, 2004 [41]; Adiego Lajara 2011 [42]; Hawkins 2013 [43]; Schürr 2017 [44]). In addition, the fact that Kurunta took over the reins and whip, with which the storm god leads his chariot, reaffirms the close link between power and this military symbol that identifies him primarily. Not only that, but this chariot is also a celestial vehicle because, in Hittite iconography, it merges with the eagle (Dietz 2019 [45]), the royal animal par excellence, endowed with a prodigious view. Kurunta is an archer god depicted standing above a deer; he is considered the lord of steppe animals. As we will see, he is an important Hittite sibling to frame the character of Adam and Noah, both invested with the task of "wildlife management," in the first case voted to failure and instead in the second to success, because under divine supervision.

That is not all, though, because in both stories occurs the transgression related to "seeing nudity," which in Hebrew is proxy for "laying bare secrets", "spying" where it would be forbidden. In Genesis, this exuberant gaze is censored, starting with the nudity of the ancestors, and then going to the naked Noah, in the grip of wine fumes, up to the sin of Reuben (Cross 1988 [46]), the eldest son of Jacob, who " went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard" (Gn 35: 22). The reaction of the latter, to whose ear comes the thing, is expressed in the curse that deprives him of primogeniture: "Unsteady as water, you’ll no more prevail! For you mounted the place where your father lay, you profaned my couch, you mounted!" (Gn 49:4; de Hoop 1999 [47]: 284-285, 351).

In Reuben's name (רְאוּבֵן), explained by his mother Leah as "the LORD has seen my suffering", but easily interpreted with a typical popular etymology, Reʾûben,"See, a son" (Gn 29: 32), we may even read a reference to the Luwian ruwan, in itself an adverb (ru-wa/i-na, "formerly," Hawkins & Davies 1978 [48]: 111; Carruba 1968 [49]), equivalent to the Phoenician lpnm (Blum 2008 [50]: 113), which in Zincirli, in the inscription of king Kilamuwa, is substantivized – hlpnym – to signify the kings who preceded him (Hoftijzer 1995 [51]: 580; Sperling 2017 [52]: 74–75). In Luwian Hieroglyphic, Ruwan and Ruwa are represented with the sign = CERVUS2 (Hawkins 2004 [41]), which stands also for Kurunta, Runtiya (Dillo 2013 [53]), whence various contracted forms, including Run- < Runt(a)- (Houwink ten Cate 1965 [28]: 129; Carruba 1968 [49]).

The Hebrew paretimology about Reuben ("See, a son") may be viewed as a fiction to mask the real and embarrassing etymology, which actually can be grasped through a Luwian Hieroglyphic logogram, LITUUS (L. 378; Mouton [36]: 103-105), often used together with CERVUS (Hawkins 1980 [54]: 141), but also in the iconography of kings and gods, and to mean "see" (mana-, Starke 1980 [55]; Poetto 1986 [56]). In addition, the verb becomes part of a name such as Manapa-Tarḫunta, which can be interpreted as "Look at him Tarḫunta!" (Melchert 2013 [57]: 45), confirming what is known from Hittite sources, e.g., the Ritual for the tutelary god of the hunting-bag (KUŠkuršaš, McMahon 1991 [58]: 245), in which DLAMMA, i.e. Kurunta, is invoked. The prayer to the god is preceded by kaša, an adverb that can have the sense of "behold", that is, to draw attention to the speaker (Rieken 2009 [59]; Marazzi 2011 [60]; Archi & Venturi 2012 [61]: 36–37; Steitler 2019 [62]).

Reuben is the firstborn among the children of Jacob, and he is likely to represent the Luwian branch of the Hebrew tribes, because he seems to sum up in himself most of Kurunta’s features. The "rape" of Bilhah in Migdal Eder (Gn 35:21; Mic 4:8), the possession of mandrakes (Gn 30:14) reveal a special vital zest, shed on Reuben the suspicion of sorcery, and make out of him a kind of satyr. However, the picture would not be complete without mentioning those "sons of God," those valiant warriors, who hide themselves under the Semitic equivalent of the Hittite term kaina-, namely hatni (Mitchell 1969 [63]) which enters to compose ancient names such as: Hatni-Dagan, Hatni- Šamaš, Hatni-Addu, to be understood as "relative of Dagan, Šamaš, Addu," all deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon (Hoffmon 1965 [64]: 205-206).

Now, starting from hatni, ḪĀDANU (Weeden 2011 [74]: 507) we may have a chance to understand why Eve is making a point using a Hittite word to name Cain, referring his first son to those adoptive children. The right perspective is offered by a myth, in which we find the Mount Bisaisa as the protagonist, who tries to rape the goddess Ištar (Haas 1993 [65]; Haas 2006 [38]: 212-213). Another myth, that of Mount Wašitta (Kloekhorst 2007 [66]; Kloekhorst 2016 [67]), demonstrates the tendency of these peaks to arrogance, because they dare to turn their eyes to heaven, aiming to obtain some divine privilege, such as sleeping with the goddess. Relevant in this regard is the episode of love between Anchises and Aphrodite, narrated in the Homeric hymn to the goddess (Scafoglio 2009 [68]). It is no coincidence that Mount Bisaisa is often joined to Hatni (Miller 2005 [69]), a talking name of Akkadian origin, which means "relative", the same as Hittite kaina-. Both the mountains and their retinues are subordinates: in the row of Hittite deities, carved at Yazilikiya, they bow to the superior gods, who walk on their heads (Haas 1982 [70]; Lombardi 1996 [71]; Lombardi 1997 [72]).

In Ezekiel 28 we read, about the king of Tyre, an invective against the hybris of those who proclaim themselves god, while they can at most be cherubim, which had the privilege to soar on the mountain of Eden (Launderville 2003 [73]). It is important to note the explicit association between the mountain and the primordial garden, which does not emerge from the text of Genesis though, perhaps because it was taken for granted in the times when it was written. To conclude this entry, one last remark about Reuben (< ruwan?) who leads the group of Joseph’s brothers, accused of being spies in shepherds’ disguise: "And Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, ‘You are spies! To see the land’s nakedness you have come.’" (Gn 42:9). Reuben (=Runta) is charged of "seeing the land’s nakedness".

Alter comments the following: "The idiom refers to that which should be hidden from an outsider’s eyes, as the pudenda are to be hidden from all but the legitimate sexual partner. Joseph’s language thus casts the alleged spies as violators of the land." (see also TWAT6 373). The occurrence of ʿerwat hāʾāreṣ (the unprotected borders of the country that enemies may easily penetrate) preceded by the verb rōʾeh "see", the same used by Reuben’s mother to create his name: "Thus ‘Reuben’ is construed as reʾu ben, ‘see, a son,’ but Leah immediately converts the verb into God’s seeing her suffering." (Alter about Gn 29:32).

This insistence of Genesis on this leitmotif: "Reuben-see-nakedness", is a reminder of the hybris which damned the firstborn disowned by Jacob, maybe reminiscent of the close relationship of two Luwian hieroglyphs: CERVUS (Runta-Ruwan-Ruwa) and LITUUS (mana-, "see"). In CTH 343.1, the usurper Kurunta suffered a tragic end, he was dismembered. The same destiny was impending on the tribe of Reuben, who risked extinction according to Deuteronomy: "Let Reuben live and not die, though his menfolk be but few." (33:6). Maybe a historical event transfigured into literature with a close eye to the Luwian analogue?

Originally Published: June 22, 2021

Last Update: July 14, 2021

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