Book of Moses Commentary Part I: In Praise of Adah and Zillah

[For an introduction to the Book of Moses, please read this.]

Genesis 4:19-24 tells the story of Lamech, who had “slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.”  Other Bible translations I looked at word this declaration to say that Lamech killed the young man because the young man had inflicted an injury on Lamech.  A footnote in the NIV Study Bible explains these verses as a cautionary tale about revenge. 

But where Genesis moves on to another story in the next verse, the Book of Moses continues further.  And that’s where his wives Adah and Zillah shine.

Moses 5:49-59 adds material that says that Lamech killed the young man (named Irad, this text tells us) because the young man had learned the secret oaths that Satan had taught Cain, and which Lamech had also learned, but Irad had exposed those oaths, spreading them to the general public. 

But that’s not my focus here.  What impresses me most about this story is the reaction of Lamech’s wives to his confession to them of his infernal conspiring and homicidal treachery.  They rebelled against him.  Whether or not they physically left him is unclear (and doubtful), but we read that they “declared these things abroad and had not compassion” (v. 53).  What exactly did they “declare?”  Apparently not the actual oaths that Lamech had told to Adah and Zillah (see v. 53 again), or any of the other abominations that Lamech and his brethren had been guilty of.  So what’s left to tell?  One can only surmise that what Adah and Zillah talked about was merely the fact that the men of the land were involved in shady, disreputable doings, perhaps warning or consoling other women, without going into gory or inappropriate detail. 

Here we have prime fodder for gossip, and Adah and Zillah remained circumspect.  In fact, the beginning of verse 53 suggests that none of the women of the land spoke crudely or irreverently about it.  Ironically, verse 52 clearly says that the men of the land practiced wickedness and spread it around to others (perhaps they forgot the first rule of “Selfish Conspiracy Club”: “Don’t talk about Selfish Conspiracy Club”–in just these few verses, Irad and Lamech both blab the oaths that they were supposed to keep secret); the verse ends by emphasizing again that it was the sons of men that were guilty here.  What a stark reversal of stereotypical gender characteristics!  The women conduct themselves with quiet dignity; it is the men who hyperventilate about their silly drama. 

Also unclear is what exactly constitutes Adah and Zillah’s “rebellion” and “lack of compassion.”  At any rate, it seems they might have interpreted Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:22–“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord”–not as a blanket order to obey anything their husbands say or do in the same way that a husband should submit his will to God’s, but more in line with the way that teaching may be interpreted in modern LDS ceremonies, that wives submit to their husbands as long as their husbands are similarly submitting themselves to God. 

In the case of a rebellion against God by a husband, the only rational recourse for a wife is to stop recognizing his authority in spiritual matters.  If this compromises their equal standing as marriage partners, it’s the husband’s fault for failing God first.  Adah and Zillah, like most women I’ve known in this situation, would much rather look to a righteous husband for priesthood leadership than have the greater “freedom” of living the lonely life of someone without a dependable spouse with whom to manage life together.  (Clearly, my thinking here is still being shaped by my “Inactive Husbands” post last week.)

Regarding the text’s mention in verse 51 that the sons of men “knew every man his brother,” this may well be “knowing” in the Biblical sense, but the text then goes on to mention broken commandments (plural) and works that were abominations (also plural) in verse 52.  This suggests that the possible homosexual activity among this secret society was just another item in a long list of sinful behavior, perhaps even a derivative of even worse things, such as is mentioned of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49-50.  (The current LDS edition of the Bible has footnotes that link this inventory of wickedness to the Genesis passages about Sodom and Gomorrah, by the way.)

The actions of Adah and Zillah in these verses demonstrate great integrity.  Their unwavering loyalty to God and His standards for them in the face of faithless manhood stand second in the scriptures only to the three unnamed young women in the Book of Abraham who willingly suffered death instead of bowing down before the popular idols (see Abraham 1:11).  Especially if their decision to “have not compassion” for Lamech is meant to indicate a refusal to make excuses or compromise standards rather than to indicate a decision to reject good feelings entirely, then, truly, these two women are priceless role models for many, many women today.  And an important testament to men. 

This patriarchal conservative proudly salutes an ancient pair of feminine heroines.

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