In my prior post on this topic, I noted the similarities between the genealogies of Cain and Seth, and how source critics propose that they are really the same genealogy from different sources. However, some scholars have pointed out that much can be gained from focusing on the differences in addition to the similarities.
Dr. David Sykes, in his unpublished doctoral dissertation Patterns in Genesis, raises a number of such issues. As he points out (p. 49):
Adam and Enosh have the same meaning, but they are different words; #3 and #5 are switched, and Cain, Irad, Mehujael and Methusael are not identical to Cainan, Jared, Mehalalel and Methuselah. Finally, there is another generation after the Lamechs on each side; the Cainite Lamech bore Jabal, Jubal, Tubal Cain and Naama while the Sethite Lamech bore Noah. These names are not similar at all.Sykes then proceeds to interpret the significance of these differences: Adam and the Cainites are all about settling the world and establishing civilization. Seth and his descendants, however, seem to be free of sin and perform acts of piety. Consider the naming of Cain and Seth. Eve gave him the name Cain because: "I have made a man with God" (4:1). Eve is the prideful subject. With Seth, on the other hand: "God has given me other seed instead of Abel, for Cain killed him" (4:25). God is the subject. The tone has already been set for the difference at their births. When Seth's son Enosh was born, "At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord" (4:26). What Dr. Sykes proposed is that "[I]t would appear that the wicked line of the Cainites was replaced, pointedly, by the pious line of the Sethites" (p. 51).
1. Adam and Enosh
What seem to be going on here is that Adam was replaced by Enosh, for a new beginning of humanity that is devoted to Divine service. The name Adam reflects Adam's emergence from and connection to the ground (adamah). Enosh's spirituality is demonstrated in his name, that lacks the association with physicality.
2. Cain and Kenan
Cain was told that he would suffer seven-fold vengeance (4:15). Kenan, in contrast, had Mehalalel when he was seventy years old and lived to the age of eight hundred forty (7 x 120; 5:12-13). It seems that Kenan very pointedly lacked Cain's seven-fold punishment.
3. Enoch (Chanoch), Irad and Jared
After the Cainite Enoch was born, his father built a city and named it after him. The Cainite Enoch's son is named Irad, "ir" in Hebrew meaning city. There is a clear implication towards building and establishing civilization. The Sethite Enoch, on the other hand, is not connected to a city and his father, rather than son, is named Jared rather than Irad, thus removing the similarity to a city. Additionally, Jared raises memories of humanity's proper role in Creation: "ve-yirdu bi-dgas ha-yam -- and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea" (Gen. 1:26).
4. Mehujael, Methushael, Mahalel and Methuselah
It is unclear what Methushael means, but Mehujael means "erased by God." Among the Sethites, Mehujael is replaced with Mahalalel, whose name refers to praise of God. Methuselah, whose name is also unclear, had the longest life in the Bible. He was certainly not "erased by God."
What can be seen is that in both the Sethite and Cainite genealogies, "the third and fourth generations contain indications about human behavior exclusively, while the fifth and sixth involve divine response to that behavior as well" (p. 59). In the third and fourth generations, the Cainite Enoch and Irad represent focus on the physical while the Sethite Mahalel and Jared represent praising God and fulfilling man's proper role. In the fifth and sixth generations, the Cainite Mehujael and Methushael represent the destruction of their lines while the Cainite Enoch was taken up by God (Gen. 5:24) and Methuselah had the longest life. This accounts for the reversal of #3 and #5.
Both the Cainites and the Sethites have a Lamech. The Cainite Lamech has three sons whose names recall the names of Cain and Abel, the first murderer and his victim, and are also closely related to the word mabul, flood. In contrast, the Sethite Lamech's son was Noah, who was pious and who, along with his three sons, survived the actual flood.
Cause of the Flood
R. Hayyim Angel, in his new book Through an Opaque Lens (pp. 112-118), adds that this entire consideration leads us directly to the flood. We see through the Cainites and Sethites that humanity was dividing into two separate groups -- "the godless, immoral Cain group; and the God-fearing descendants of Seth" (p. 117). The message of the genealogies was this separation in humanity. Then, at the beginning of Gen. 6, we learn of the "fall" of the "sons of God." Who were these "sons of God"? According to Ibn Ezra, these were people who had heretofore lived a Godly existence, i.e. the descendants of Seth. Their fall into immorality led to God's decision to destroy humanity and start over.
Are These Names Real?
What has been proposed so far is that there are interlinking themes among and literary connections between these two lists. This implies that they were not from two separate sources but were intentionally and carefully written in one document. But then were they historical or merely a literary tool? There is no reason to assume that they were not real. Either their names could have been prophetically given or, perhaps, the fluidity among names and usage of multiple names evident in the Bible was used by the Divine author of the Bible to present the story to fit the above messages.