Cain and Abel (Hebrew: הֶבֶל ,קַיִן Qayin, Heḇel) were, according to the Book of Genesis, two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain is described as a crop farmer and his younger brother Abel as a shepherd. Cain was the first human born and Abel was the first human to die. Cain committed the first murder by killing his brother. Interpretations of Genesis 4 by ancient and modern commentators have typically assumed that the motives were jealousy and anger. In the Cain and Abel story found in the Quran, the text refers to them simply as the sons of Adam (Arabic: ابني آدم).
Hebrew Bible version:
1Adam knew his wife Eve intimately, and she conceived and bore Cain. She said, "I have had a male child with the LORD's help."a[›]
2Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land. 3In the course of time Cain presented some of the land's produce as an offering to the LORD. 4And Abel also presented [an offering]b[›] – some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.c[›] The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast.
6Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? 7If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it."
8Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field."
And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.—Genesis 4:1-8 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
The Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, offers an alternate version of the seventh verse:
If you offer properly, but divide improperly, have you not sinned? Be still; to you shall he submit, and you shall rule over him.
Later in the narrative, God asked Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" Cain replied, "I know not: am I my brother's keeper?"
And he said, "What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now [art] thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." (Genesis 4:10-4:12)
Cain and Abel are traditional English renderings of the Hebrew names Qayin (קין) and Hevel (הבל). The original text did not provide vowels. 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 is thought to derive from a reconstructed word meaning "herdsman", with the modern Arabic cognate ibil now specifically referring only to "camels". Cain is thought to be cognate to the mid-1st millennium BC 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) and Eve ("life-giver," חוה Chavah).
The oldest known copy of the biblical narrative is from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and dates to the first century CE. 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.
The Genesis narrative 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. Ancient exegetes, such as the Midrash and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, suggest something even more sinister behind the killing. They supplement that the motive involved a desire for the most beautiful woman. According to Midrashic tradition, Cain and Abel each had twin sisters whom they were to marry. The Midrash states that Abel's promised wife, Aclima, was more beautiful. Since Cain would not consent to this arrangement, Adam suggested seeking God's blessing by means of a sacrifice. Whomever God blessed would marry Aclima. When God openly rejected Cain's sacrifice, Cain slew his brother in a fit of jealousy and anger. Analysts have described Cain's relationship to his sister as being incestuous.
Cain, by Henri Vidal, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
|Known for||First person that was born; first murderer|
|Spouse(s)||Awan, who was his sister|
|Parent(s)||Adam and Eve|
According to the narrative in Genesis, Cain (Hebrew: קַיִן, Qayin; Koine Greek Κάïν, Ka-in; Ethiopian version: Qayen; Arabic: قابيل, Qābīl) is the first child of Eve, the first murderer, and the first human being to fall under a curse.
According to the biblical narrative in 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. Exegesis of the Hebrew narrative has Cain punished as a "fugitive and wanderer". 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. Cain's curse involves receiving a mark from God, commonly referred to as the mark of Cain. This mark serves as God's promise to Cain for divine protection from premature death, with the stated purpose to prevent anyone from killing him. It is not known what the mark is, but it is assumed that the mark is visible.
Cain is also described as a city-builder, and, through three sons of his son five times remote, as the forefather of tent-dwelling pastoralists, all lyre and pipe players, and the bronze and iron smiths, respectively.
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 1800 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,[a] 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 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, a 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.
According to the Life of Adam and Eve, Cain fetched his mother a reed (Heb. 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.
Icon of Abel by Theophanes the Greek
According to the narrative in Genesis, Abel (Hebrew: הֶבֶל, Hevel; 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 extra-biblical Book of Enoch (22:7), 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 story appears in the Qur'an, in Sura 5, ayas 27 to 31:
[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 QUR'AN (English translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)
According to Shi'a Muslim belief, Abel (Arabic: "Habeel") is buried in the Nabi Habeel Mosque. The mosque is located on the west mountains of Damascus, near the Zabadani Valley, overlooking the villages of the Barada river (Wadi Barada), in Syria. Muslims are frequent visitors of this mosque for ziyarat. The mosque was built by Ottoman Wali Ahmad Pasha in 1599, and it is said to have 40 mihrabs.
Freud’s theory of fratricide is explained by the Oedipus or Electra complex through Jung's supplementation. Indeed, in the Old Testament, in particular in the Judaic, Midrash Rabba, and Islamic versions, wherein Cain and Abel are not the only offspring of Adam and Eve, but born as twins with one sister each. In that regard, Abel and Cain were the first two sons, each of whom was born with a twin sister, and Adam decided that, to avoid incest, Abel would marry Cain's sister and Cain would marry Abel's sister. However, Cain refused because he wanted to keep his own sister, while Abel respected the paternal law. Adam suggested sacrificial offerings, and, in his absence, God accepted Abel's lamb rather than Cain's offering of grass. As a result of this preference, Cain killed Abel. However, this interpretation does not relate to the preference of the sacrifices by God, but rather to the acceptance or rejection of God's law. Abel obeyed this law while Cain did not, and, as a result, Cain killed Abel.
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".
In medieval Christian art, particularly in 16th century Germany, Cain is depicted as a stereotypical ringleted, bearded Jew, who killed Abel the blonde, European gentile symbolizing Christ. This traditional depiction has continued for centuries in some form, such as James Tissot's 19th century Cain leads Abel to Death.
In the 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 Book 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.
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As the first murderer and first murder victim in the Bible, Cain and Abel have often formed the basis of tragic drama.
^ a: Literally, the Lord (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
^ b: The bracketed text has been added for clarity (HCSB)
^ c: or fat calves, or milk Josephus — all plausible renderings the Hebrew consonants
Also in Paradiso, canto 2, line 51.