Genesis 04 – Women in the Bible: Adah and Zillah

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Chapters 4 and 5 can be seen as contrasting allegories of wicked and righteous living, so I’ll discuss them more next blog post, together.  What I find most interesting today is we have, after Eve, the next three women of the Bible mentioned.  The Bible is filled with male figures and written from a male perspective, so whenever a woman is mentioned, my interest is piqued.  What made her unique enough for the writers to take notice? In a time when women were often viewed as property, gaining name recognition in sacred text is a big deal, so let me share what I’ve found out about them. Poor Naamah is just a name, and I can’t find much on her, so I’ll focus on Adah and Zillah.

I promise this is related, so bear with me: One of my favorite podcasts is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, where two Harvard divinity graduates use reading practices from different religions and apply it to each chapter of the books, along with a themed reading.  They’re not making Harry Potter sacred, but using it as a starting point for conversations about life’s challenges and truths.  It’s really great, even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan.  But I mention it because this podcast introduced me to Havruta, a Jewish practice of studying the Torah that is based in partnership and conversation.  To paraphrase, the truth is found more so in the discussion than in seeking an actual “answer.”  I loved that idea, and after reading several opinions on Adah and Zillah, I think that the truth of these women may be somewhere in the conversation, rather than any hard-and-fast answer.

First, we’ll start with their names.  Adah basically means adornment and Zillah basically means the tinkling of bells.  OT names often imply some sort of characteristic truth about the person.  If we’re to believe that (which, whether this is a historically factual story or just an allegory, we can either way), then these women were beautiful.

Adah and Zillah seemed to focus upon their beauty by adorning themselves.  Is this a good or bad thing, or just a thing?  It depends who you ask.  Some see it as the first story of female vanity – Adah and Zillah made themselves appealing so Lamech would be tempted into polygamy, where he then used their beauty against them to incur rival-wife jealousies.  Or, perhaps they were so beautiful that he just couldn’t help his attraction to both of them, and they both had genuine love for him.  Others see Adah and Zillah as a mirroring of the dual-female role in other mythologies, and indeed elsewhere in the Bible (such as Sarah and Hagar or Naomi and Ruth).  And there must have been something inspiring about them, beyond their looks: they are the mothers of the closest thing Christianity has to muses. Their sons, the ones they taught and raised, are responsible for music, animal husbandry, and metal-smithing.

So what is the “real” meaning of Adah and Zillah’s story? Are they warnings to be reviled, or are they they mothers of art to be celebrated?  They were human, just like you and me, and a little bit of both.  They loved the wrong man – tell me you haven’t heard that story a million times over.  Maybe they were a little vain – I certainly am.  But, they were good mothers who encouraged their boys to create things the world had never seen before, things that benefited all of mankind.

I think the moral of the story is this:  It is easy to pass people over.  These women are barely more than names, here.  It is also easy to reduce and compartmentalize people.  We need to remember that every person has a complete and complex soul, and there is good and bad in everyone.  It’s hard. It’s downright exhausting, to be honest. And, just like I mentioned last post, we’re going to fail in our compassion. I fail every day. But (trying to) remember that everyone deserves compassion when you come across someone who is mean, or different than you, or even just driving too slow, will help us make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.

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2 Comments

  1. Very interesting!

    Also…agian with curse of fruits from the soil. 😂 I am curious who these other people are since we learned that Adam’s family was the first (assuming only) people on Earth.

    I wondered about these other people, too. Two things that satisfied my curiosity are this: First, I think Eve just had a ton of kids. Often only the first son (or a few key offspring) are mentioned in each generation. If Adam is living for centuries I’m assuming Eve is, too, and that her childbearing years were much longer, so she could literally have dozens of kids. So yeah, those first unions are probably a lot of uncle-daddy/sister-wife combos. Also, these are generally seen as incomplete genealogies to get to a complete number, like seven generations – so a lot of generations that proliferated in between these key seven also increase the number of people. This could be totally wrong, but it sat well with me.

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