In the biblical Book of Genesis, Cain[a] and Abel[b] are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to Yahweh, each of his own produce, but Yahweh favored Abel's sacrifice instead of Cain's. Cain then murdered Abel, whereupon Yahweh punished Cain by condemning him to a life of wandering. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod (נוֹד, "wandering"), where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch.
The narrative never explicitly states Cain's motive for murdering his brother, nor Yahweh's reason for rejecting Cain's sacrifice, nor details on the identity of Cain's wife. Some traditional interpretations consider Cain to be the originator of evil, violence, or greed. According to Genesis, Cain was the first human born and Abel was the first to die.
The story of Cain's murder of Abel and its consequences is told in Genesis 4:1–18 (Translation and notes from Robert Alter, "The Five Books of Moses"):
1And the human knew Eve his woman and she conceived and bore Cain, and she said, "I have got me a man with the Lord." 2And she bore as well his brother Abel, and Abel became a herder of sheep while Cain was a tiller of the soil. 3And it happened in the course of time that Cain brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord. 4And Abel too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and the Lord regarded Abel and his offering 5but did not regard Cain and his offering. And Cain was very incensed, and his face fell. 6And the Lord said to Cain,
"Why are you incensed,
and why is your face fallen?
7For whether you offer well,
or whether you do not,
at the tent flap sin crouches
and for you is its longing,
but you will rule over it."
8And Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field," and when they were in the field Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him. 9And the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother? And he said, "I do not know: am I my brother's keeper?" 10And He said, "What have you done? Listen! your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil. 11And so, cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother's blood from your hand. 12If you till the soil, it will no longer give you strength. A restless wanderer shall you be on the earth." 13 And Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is too great to bear. 14Now that You have driven me this day from the soil I must hide from Your presence, I shall be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me." 15And the Lord said to him, "Therefore whoever kills Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengeance." And the Lord set a mark upon Cain so that whoever found him would not slay him.
16And Cain went out from the Lord's presence and dwelled in the land of Nod east of Eden. 17And Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch. Then he became the builder of a city and he called the name of the city like his son's name, Enoch.
Cain and Abel are traditional English renderings of the Hebrew names. It has been proposed that the etymology of their names may be a direct pun on the roles they take in the Genesis narrative. Abel (hbl) is thought to derive from a reconstructed word meaning "herdsman", with the modern Arabic cognate ibil now specifically referring only to "camels". Cain (qyn) is thought to be cognate to the mid-1st millennium BCE South Arabian word qyn, meaning "metalsmith". This theory would make the names descriptive of their roles, where Abel works with livestock, and Cain with agriculture—and would parallel the names Adam ("man," אדם, ‘dm) and Eve ("life-giver," חוה ḥwh).
The oldest known copy of the biblical narrative is from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and dates to the first century BCE. Cain and Abel also appear in a number of other texts, and the story is the subject of various interpretations. Abel, the first murder victim, is sometimes seen as the first martyr; while Cain, the first murderer, is sometimes seen as an ancestor of evil. Some scholars suggest the pericope may have been based on a Sumerian story representing the conflict between nomadic shepherds and settled farmers. Modern scholars typically view the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel to be about the development of civilization during the age of agriculture; not the beginnings of man, but when people first learned agriculture, replacing the ways of the hunter-gatherer.
Cain and Abel are likely symbolic rather than real. Like almost all of the persons, places and stories in the Primeval history (the first eleven chapters of Genesis), they are mentioned nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, a fact that suggests that the History is a late composition attached to Genesis to serve as an introduction. Just how late is a matter for dispute: the history may be as late as the Hellenistic period (first decades of the 4th century BCE), but the high level of Babylonian myth behind its stories has led others to date it to the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE). A prominent Mesopotamian parallel to Cain and Abel is the Sumerian myth of the Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzid, in which the shepherd Dumuzid and the farmer Enkimdu compete for the affection of the goddess Inanna, with Dumuzid (the shepherd) winning out. Another parallel is Enlil Chooses the Farmer-God, in which the shepherd-god Emesh and the farmer-god Enten bring their dispute over which of them is better to the chief god Enlil, who rules in favor of Enten (the farmer).
One question arising early in the story is why God rejected Cain's sacrifice. It is never stated whether or not Cain had received specific instructions on how to sacrifice correctly, nor does the text indicate what, if anything, he did wrong. It is also unclear why God then admonishes Cain with a warning about sin. The Midrash suggest that although Abel brought the best meat from his flock, Cain did not set aside for God the best of his harvest.
|Spouse(s)||Awan, who was his sister|
|Parent(s)||Adam and Eve|
According to later traditions:
According to the Book of Genesis, Cain (Hebrew: קַיִן Qáyin, in pausa קָיִן Qā́yin; Greek: Κάϊν Káïn; Ethiopian version: Qayen; Arabic: قابيل, Qābīl) is the first child of Eve, the first murderer, and the third human being to fall under a curse.
According to Genesis 4:1–16, Cain treacherously murdered his brother Abel, lied about the murder to God, and as a result was cursed and marked for life. With the earth left cursed to drink Abel's blood, Cain was no longer able to farm the land. Cain is punished as a "fugitive and wanderer". He receives a mark from God, commonly referred to as the mark of Cain, representing God's promise to protect Cain from being murdered.
Exegesis of the Septuagint's narrative, "groaning and shaking upon the earth" has Cain suffering from body tremors. Interpretations extend Cain's curse to his descendants, where they all died in the Great Deluge as retribution for the loss of Abel's potential offspring.
One popular theory regarding the name of Cain connects it to the verb "kana" (קנה qnh), meaning "to get" and used by Eve in Genesis 4:1 when she says after bearing Cain, "I have gotten a man from the Lord." In this viewpoint, articulated by Nachmanides in the thirteenth century, Cain's name presages his role of mastery, power, and sin. In one of the Legends of the Jews, Cain is the fruit of a union between Eve and Satan, who is also the angel Samael and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and Eve exclaims at Cain's birth, "I have gotten a man through an angel of the Lord." According to the Life of Adam and Eve (c. 1st century CE), Cain fetched his mother a reed (qaneh) which is how he received his name Qayin (Cain). The symbolism of him fetching a reed may be a nod to his occupation as a farmer, as well as a commentary to his destructive nature. He is also described as "lustrous", which may reflect the Gnostic association of Cain with the sun.
In an alternate translation of Genesis 4:17, endorsed by a minority of modern commentators, Cain's son Enoch builds a city and names it after his son, Irad. Such a city could correspond with Eridu, one of the most ancient cities known. Philo observes that it makes no sense for Cain, the third human on Earth, to have founded an actual city. Instead, he argues, the city symbolizes an unrighteous philosophy.
In the New Testament, Cain is cited as an example of unrighteousness in 1 John 3:12 and Jude 1:11. The Targumim, rabbinic sources, and later speculations supplemented background details for the daughters of Adam and Eve. Such exegesis of Genesis 4 introduced Cain's wife as being his sister, a concept that has been accepted for at least 1,800 years. This can be seen with Jubilees 4 which narrates that Cain settled down and married his sister Awan, who bore his first son, the first Enoch, approximately 196 years after the creation of Adam. Cain then establishes the first city, naming it after his son, builds a house, and lives there until it collapses on him, killing him.
In this alternative reading of the text, the ground could be personified as a character. This reading is evidenced by given human qualities, like a mouth, in the scripture. The ground is also the only subject of an active verb in the verse that states, "It opens its mouth to take the blood." This suggests that the ground reacted to the situation. By that logic, the ground could then potentially be an accomplice to the murder of Abel (Jordstad 708).
The reaction from the ground raises the question, "does the intimate connection between humans and the ground mean that the ground mirrors or aids human action, regardless of the nature of that action?"
In Jewish tradition, Philo, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer and the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan asserted that Adam was not the father of Cain. Rather, Eve was subject to adultery having been seduced by either Sammael, the serpent (nahash, Hebrew: נחש) in the Garden of Eden, or the devil himself. Christian exegesis of the "evil one" in 1 John 3:10–12 have also led some commentators, like Tertullian, to agree that Cain was the son of the devil or some fallen angel. Thus, according to some interpreters, Cain was half-human and half-angelic, one of the Nephilim. Gnostic exegesis in the Apocryphon of John has Eve seduced by Yaldaboth. However, in the Hypostasis of the Archons, Eve is raped by a pair of Archons.
Pseudo-Philo, a Jewish work of the first century CE, narrates that Cain murdered his brother at the age of 15. After escaping to the Land of Nod, Cain fathered four sons: Enoch, Olad, Lizpha and Fosal; and two daughters: Citha and Maac. Cain died at the age of 730, leaving his corrupt descendants spreading evil on earth. According to the Book of Jubilees, Cain murdered his brother with a stone. Afterwards, Cain was killed by the same instrument he used against his brother; his house fell on him and he was killed by its stones. A heavenly law was cited after the narrative of Cain's death saying:
With the instrument with which a man kills his neighbour with the same shall he be killed; after the manner that he wounded him, in like manner shall they deal with him.
A Talmudic tradition says that after Cain had murdered his brother, God made a horn grow on his head. Later, Cain was killed at the hands of his great grandson Lamech, who mistook him for a wild beast. A Christian version of this tradition from the time of the Crusades holds that the slaying of Cain by Lamech took place on a mound called "Cain Mons" (i.e. Mount Cain), which is a corruption of "Caymont", a Crusader fort in Tel Yokneam in modern-day Israel.
The story of Cain and Abel is also made reference to in chapter 19 of 1 Meqabyan, a book considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. In this text, Cain killed Abel as he desired Abel's wife.
|Parent(s)||Adam and Eve|
According to later traditions:
According to the narrative in Genesis, Abel (Hebrew: הֶבֶל Héḇel, in pausa הָבֶל Hā́ḇel; Greek: Ἅβελ Hábel; Arabic: هابيل, Hābīl) is Eve's second son. His name in Hebrew is composed of the same three consonants as a root meaning "breath". Julius Wellhausen, and many scholars following him, have proposed that the name is independent of the root. Eberhard Schrader had previously put forward the Akkadian (Old Assyrian dialect) ablu ("son") as a more likely etymology.
In Christianity, comparisons are sometimes made between the death of Abel and that of Jesus, the former thus seen as being the first martyr. In Matthew 23:35 Jesus speaks of Abel as "righteous", and the Epistle to the Hebrews states that "The blood of sprinkling ... [speaks] better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). The blood of Jesus is interpreted as bringing mercy; but that of Abel as demanding vengeance (hence the curse and mark).
Abel is invoked in the litany for the dying in the Roman Catholic Church, and his sacrifice is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass along with those of Abraham and Melchizedek. The Alexandrian Rite commemorates him with a feast day on December 28.
According to the Coptic Book of Adam and Eve (at 2:1–15), and the Syriac Cave of Treasures, Abel's body, after many days of mourning, was placed in the Cave of Treasures, before which Adam and Eve, and descendants, offered their prayers. In addition, the Sethite line of the Generations of Adam swear by Abel's blood to segregate themselves from the unrighteous.
In the Book of Enoch (22:7), regarded by most Christian and Jewish traditions as extra-biblical, the soul of Abel is described as having been appointed as the chief of martyrs, crying for vengeance, for the destruction of the seed of Cain. This view is later repeated in the Testament of Abraham (A:13 / B:11), where Abel has been raised to the position as the judge of the souls.
The following family tree of the line of Cain is compiled from a variety of biblical and extra-biblical texts.
Various early commentators have said that Cain and Abel have sisters, usually twin sisters. According to Rabbi Joshua ben Karha as quoted in Genesis Rabbah, "Only two entered the bed, and seven left it: Cain and his twin sister, Abel and his two twin sisters."
The Book of Genesis does not give a specific reason for the murder of Abel. Modern commentators typically assume that the motives were jealousy and anger due to God rejecting Cain's offering, while accepting Abel's. The First Epistle of John says the following:
Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous."
Ancient exegetes, such as the Midrash and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, tell that the motive involved a desire for the most beautiful woman. According to Midrashic tradition, Cain and Abel each had twin sisters; each was to marry the other's. The Midrash states that Abel's promised wife, Aclima, was more beautiful than Awan. Since Cain would not consent to this arrangement, Adam suggested seeking God's blessing by means of a sacrifice. Whoever God blessed would marry Aclima. When God openly rejected Cain's sacrifice, Cain slew his brother in a fit of jealousy and anger. Rabbinical exegetes have discussed whether Cain's incestuous relationship with his sister was in violation of halakha.
[Prophet], tell them the truth about the story of Adam's two sons: each of them offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one and not the other. One said, 'I will kill you,' but the other said, 'God only accepts the sacrifice of those who are mindful of Him. If you raise your hand to kill me, I will not raise mine to kill you. I fear God, the Lord of all worlds, and I would rather you were burdened with my sins as well as yours and became an inhabitant of the Fire: such is the evildoers' reward.' But his soul prompted him to kill his brother: he killed him and became one of the losers. God sent a raven to scratch up the ground and show him how to cover his brother's corpse and he said, 'Woe is me! Could I not have been like this raven and covered up my brother's body?' He became remorseful.— The Quran (English translation by Muhammad Abdel-Haleem)
"No soul is wrongfully killed except that some of the burden falls upon the son of Adam, for he was the first to establish the practice of murder."
Muslim scholars were divided on the motives behind Cain's murder of Abel, and further why the two brothers were obliged to offer sacrifices to God. Some scholars believed that Cain's motives were plain jealousy and lust. Both Cain and Abel desired to marry Adam's beautiful daughter, Aclima (Aqlimia' in Arabic). Seeking to end the dispute between them, Adam suggested that each present an offering before God. The one whose offering God accepted would marry Aclima. Abel, a generous shepherd, offered the fattest of his sheep as an oblation to God. But Cain, a miserly farmer, offered only a bunch of grass and some worthless seeds to him. God accepted Abel's offering and rejected Cain's—an indication that Abel was more righteous than Cain, and thus worthier of Aclima. As a result, it was decided that Abel would marry Aclima. Cain, on the other hand, would marry her less beautiful sister. Blinded by anger and lust for Aclima, Cain sought to get revenge on Abel and escape with Aclima.
According to another tradition, the devil appeared to Cain and instructed him how to exact revenge on Abel. "Hit Abel's head with a stone and kill him", whispered the devil to Cain. After the murder, the devil hurried to Eve shouting: "Eve! Cain has murdered Abel!". Eve did not know what murder was or how death felt like. She asked, bewildered and horrified, "Woe to you! What is murder?". "He [Abel] does not eat. He does not drink. He does not move [That's what murder and death are]", answered the Devil. Eve burst out into tears and started to wail madly. She ran to Adam and tried to tell him what happened. However, she could not speak because she could not stop wailing. Since then, women wail brokenheartedly when a loved one dies. A different tradition narrates that while Cain was quarreling with Abel, the devil killed an animal with a stone in Cain's sight to show him how to murder Abel.
After burying Abel and escaping from his family, Cain got married and had children. They died in Noah's flood among other tyrants and unbelievers.
Some Muslim scholars puzzled over the mention of offerings in the narrative of Cain and Abel. Offerings and sacrifices were ordained only after the revelation of Tawrat to Musa. This led some scholars, such as Sa'id ibn al-Musayyib, to think that the sons of Adam mentioned in the Quran are actually two Israelites, not Cain and Abel.
According to Shi'a Muslim belief, Abel ("Habeel") is buried in the Nabi Habeel Mosque, located on the west mountains of Damascus, near the Zabadani Valley, overlooking the villages of the Barada river (Wadi Barada), in Syria. Shi'a are frequent visitors of this mosque for ziyarat. The mosque was built by Ottoman Wali Ahmad Pasha in 1599.
Allusions to Cain and Abel as an archetype of fratricide appear in numerous references and retellings, through medieval art and Shakespearean works up to present day fiction. A millennia-old explanation for Cain being capable of murder is that he may have been the offspring of a fallen angel or Satan himself, rather than being from Adam.
A medieval legend has Cain arriving at the Moon, where he eternally settled with a bundle of twigs. This was originated by the popular fantasy of interpreting the shadows on the Moon as a face. An example of this belief can be found in Dante Alighieri's Inferno (XX, 126) where the expression "Cain and the twigs" is used as a kenning for "moon".
A treatise on Christian Hermeticism, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, describes the biblical account of Cain and Abel as a myth, i.e. it expresses, in a form narrated for a particular case, an "eternal" idea. It shows us how brothers can become mortal enemies through the very fact that they worship the same God in the same way. According to the author, the source of religious wars is revealed. It is not the difference in dogma or ritual which is the cause, but the "pretention to equality" or "the negation of hierarchy".
In Latter-day Saint theology, Cain is considered to be the quintessential Son of Perdition, the father of secret combinations (i.e. secret societies and organized crime), as well as the first to hold the title Master Mahan meaning master of [the] great secret, that [he] may murder and get gain.
In Mormon folklore—a second-hand account relates that an early Mormon leader, David W. Patten, encountered a very tall, hairy, dark-skinned man in Tennessee who said that he was Cain. The account states that Cain had earnestly sought death but was denied it, and that his mission was to destroy the souls of men. The recollection of Patten's story is quoted in Spencer W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness, a popular book within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This widespread Mormon belief is further emphasized by an account from Salt Lake City in 1963 which stated that "One superstition is based on the old Mormon belief that Cain is a black man who wanders the earth begging people to kill him and take his curse upon themselves (M, 24, SLC, 1963)."
There were other, minor traditions concerning Cain and Abel, of both older and newer date. The apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve tells of Eve having a dream in which Cain drank his brother's blood. In an attempt to prevent the prophecy from happening the two young men are separated and given different jobs.
The author Daniel Quinn, first in his book Ishmael and later in The Story of B, proposes that the story of Cain and Abel is an account of early Semitic herdsmen observing the beginnings of what he calls totalitarian agriculture, with Cain representing the first 'modern' agriculturists and Abel the pastoralists.
Baldwin establishes such a verbal clue when the narrator remembers his mothers warning.