CAIN (Heb. קַיִן, Qayin, "smith"), the firstborn son of *Adam and *Eve, brother of *Abel and *Seth (Gen. 4:1, 25). In the Bible Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God from the fruits of their labors, but God did not pay heed to Cain's gift. Ignoring a divine warning on the seductive nature of sin, Cain killed his brother Abel (4:2–8). For this act he was doubly punished. Cain, the farmer, was to be denied the fruits of the soil and was to become a ceaseless wanderer on earth (4:11–12, 14). To allay Cain's expressed fear of being killed by any who might come across him, God placed a protective mark upon him, and he then settled in "the land of Nod" (4:14–16). Later he married and bore a son, *Enoch, after whom he named a city which he founded (4:17). This story is clearly fragmentary. No reason is given for the rejection of Cain's offering. His need for self-protection is inexplicable in that no other humans, save his parents, existed. For the same reason, his marriage is a mystery, as is also "the land of Nod." The latter name, indeed, may well be symbolic, designating a "place of wandering" (cf. Heb. nad, "wanderer," 4:12). The other problems apparently derive from the fact that a fuller story once undoubtedly existed, of which scripture has recorded only the outlines for its didactic purposes. The brevity of the narrative description contrasts strongly with the length of the dialogues between God and Cain (4:6–7, 9–15). These express clearly the idea that evil is not metaphysical, but moral, the perversion of man's God-given freedom of will. The punishment making Cain a social pariah conforms to the biblical view that the crime of murder is also a societal offense, and not just a personal wrong. At the same time it is a sin against God (4:14, 16). Finally, it cannot be accidental that the fraternal relationship of Cain and Abel is stressed seven times (4:2, 8 (twice), 9 (twice), 10, 11), intending to emphasize, perhaps, the notion that homicide is fratricide. According to the biblical narrative the name Cain was suggested to his mother by its similarity in sound to the Hebrew verb kanah (qanah); "to gain" or "create," as she explains, "I have gained [or created] a male child with the help of the Lord" (4:1), but what it actually means is "smith" (so in Arabic and Aramaic). Indeed, among Cain's descendants is Tubal-Cain "who forged all implements of copper and iron" (4:22).
[Nahum M. Sarna]
In the Aggadah
Cain was not only the "first murderer" (Esth. R., Proem 10), but also the first person to show ingratitude. Abel, who was far stronger than Cain, overcame him in the struggle, but being moved to compassion by his brother's plea for mercy released his hold upon him, only to be slain himself (Gen. R. 22:8). According to another Midrash (Gen. R. 22:7) the murder resulted from a proposal made by Cain that he and Abel divide the world between them, Cain to receive all lands and Abel all chattel. As soon as Abel agreed, Cain accused him of walking on the land, which belonged to him, whereupon Abel retorted that Cain was clad in garments made of animal skins, which belonged to him. In the ensuing quarrel Cain killed Abel with a stone. Another version is that the dispute arose over the prospective marriage of a twin sister to Abel. God preferred the sacrifice of Abel to that of Cain because Abel selected a choice animal from his flock, while Cain ate his animal and offered up only a few grains of flax. Some aggadists describe Cain as one who repented of his crime (Gen. R. 22:13). When Adam asked him what doom had been decreed against him, Cain answered that his repentance had propitiated God, whereupon Adam, exclaiming, "So potent is repentance and I knew it not," composed a hymn of praise to God (Psalm 92). Wherever Cain went as a fugitive the earth quaked under him and all kinds of animals tried to attack him to avenge the innocent blood of Abel. When Cain could bear it no longer and cried: "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?" (Ps. 139:7), God gave him a dog for protection, or, according to another opinion, made him horns which caused the animals to fear him (Gen. R. 22:12). The implication that God cared for Cain's life is drawn from several aspects of the story. Cain's relatively mild punishment (wandering the earth; Gen. 4:12) and God's protection of him as a sign "lest any finding him should smite him" (Gen. 4:15), even in the face of the Biblical verse, "And no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it" (Num. 35:33), form the basis of various aggadic interpretations. One is that the sign of Cain was not a protective device, but rather a sign of shame and an example for murderers (Gen. R. 22:12) because Cain's punishment was more severe than death, even worse than that of Abel, who died instantly (Ex. R. 31:17). A similar explanation is given by Philo (De Virtutibus, 200) and is reflected in the Septuagint rendering of the words "a fugitive and wanderer" as "groaning and trembling." Cain met his death at the hands of his blind grandson, Lamech, who, following the instructions of his son while out hunting, shot his arrow at an "animal with horns," which in fact was Cain bearing his horn-sign. In the ensuing paroxysm of grief, Lamech killed his son (cf. Gen. 4:23). Many of the universal folk tales which belong to the widespread, orally transmitted tale-type "Two Brothers" (Aarne-Thompson no. 303) are structurally dependent upon the pattern and motifs of the Cain and Abel story as expanded in the aggadah. This tale holds true with the Cain and Abel motifs found in literature generally.
[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]
In Christian Tradition
Abel and Cain are mentioned several times in the New Testament. Matthew 23:25 places Abel at the head of the line of prophets that were killed and the Epistle to the Hebrews 12:24 contrasts the blood of Abel that cried out for vengeance with that of Jesus, the better and superior sacrifice, that cries for mercy and forgiveness. The Church Fathers saw in Abel and in his innocent life as a shepherd, in his accepted sacrifice and in his death a prefiguration of Jesus and a prototype of all Christians suffering persecution and martyrdom. Cain represents the children of the devil and their hatred of the children of God (i John 3:12). From there it was only one step to identifying Abel with the righteous and innocent Jesus, and Cain with the Jews that murdered him. Augustine (De Civitate Dei 15:1) takes Cain as a type of natural unregenerate man and Abel as a symbol of the regenerate spiritual man. The Roman canon of the mass mentions Abel's sacrifice with those of Abraham and Melchizedek.
[R. J. Zwi Werblowsky]
In Islamic Literature
The Arabic names of Cain and Abel are Ḥābīl and Qābīl (Abel, Cain) by the same paronomasia that appears in pairs like Jālūt-Tālūt, Yājūj-Mājūj, though Qāyin or Qayin is also attested (e.g., Ṭabarī, Taʾrikh, 1 (1357 A.H.), 94, 95). the Koran (Sura 5:27/30) relates the essence of Genesis 4 with later aggadic accretions: as Qābīl had slain his brother, God sent a raven to show him how he might conceal the body of his brother… (cf. also Sura 33:72). The motif of learning burial from the practice of a raven is derived from Jewish sources (Tanḥ. B. 10; Gen. R. 22:8; as well as pdre ch. 21, where it is Adam and Eve who emulate a raven by burying their murdered son). Cain's remorse can also be traced to Jewish, as well as Christian, legend. The climax of the Koran passage is clearly inspired by the Mishnah (Sanh. 4:5) as was first noted by A. *Geiger (Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen, 1834). Post-Koranic Muslim sources, though aware of details of the Genesis narrative (e.g., Ibn Qutayba and al-Ṭabarī), tend to favor the accounts found in the aggadah and particularly Christian Syriac sources such as The Treasure Cave (ed. and trans. by C. Bezold, 1883–88). According to the typical post-Koranic Cain and Abel legend each brother had a twin sister, their names being Aqlīma and Labūdā. Each brother was destined to marry the other's sister. Cain, whose sister Labūdā was a beauty, refused, but at his father's bidding he consented to a trial sacrifice. A heavenly flame consumed only Abel's sacrifice, and Cain, finding the judgment unfavorable, murdered Abel with a stone and took his own sister (elements of this legend are found in Gen. R. 22:2, 7; pdre ch. 21; and Treasure Cave, 34; cf. B. Uffenheimer, in: Sefer Zikkaron li-Gedalyah Alon (1970), 40ff., where the erotic theme and murder are traced to a Sumerian prototype).
In the Arts
The biblical story of Cain and Abel has inspired works by many important writers, possibly because of the complex character of Cain. Even in the medieval mystery plays, where characters are usually portrayed in black-and-white stereotype, Cain is never wholly evil. Thus in the English Mactatio Abel, Cain feels it is wrong that God should require him to sacrifice the meager fruits of his toil. The 12th-century French Jeu d'Adam, on the other hand, portrays Cain as an avaricious peasant. The first important modern work on the theme was the prose epic Der Tod Abels (1758) by the Swiss writer Salomon Gessner, which depicted Cain as a tiller of the earth infuriated by the pastoral Abel. Other 18th-century treatments include The Wanderings of Cain (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Abele (1797), a melodrama by the Italian poet and playwright Vittorio Alfieri. The best-known work is the romantic epic poem Cain (1821) by Lord *Byron, which was widely condemned as blasphemous because of its underlying challenge to the benevolence of God. Byron's work was translated into many languages, including a Hebrew version by David *Frischmann (1900), and it inspired several opposite treatments of the story with Cain as the traditional villain, notably The Ghost of Abel (1822) by William *Blake. Three examples of treatments of the story in 19th-century France are the anti-bourgeois poem Abel et Cain (in Les Fleurs du mal, 1857) by Charles Baudelaire; La Conscience, one of the early poems in La Légende des siècles (1st series, 1859) by Victor Hugo; and Qaïn (in Poèmes barbares, 1862), which reflects the bitterness and atheism of the Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle. Another 19th-century work on the subject is the Danish Abels død (1844) by the Existentialist Frederik Paludan-Mueller. Two 20th-century treatments are East of Eden (1924), a one-act play by the American writer Christopher Morley, and a section of A Sleep of Prisoners (1951) by the English playwright Christopher Fry.
The episode has served artists throughout the ages. Cain was sometimes portrayed wearing the pointed hat (Judenhut) which Jews were forced to adopt in the Middle Ages, while Abel was sometimes shown as the Good Shepherd, bearing a lamb on his shoulders. The subjects treated are the oblations of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:3–5), the murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8), and the curse on Cain and his flight (Gen. 4:11–12). The first two are illustrated in the 14th-century Spanish Sarajevo Haggadah. There are also several apocryphal subjects, such as the lamentation of Adam and Eve over Abel's body, and the legend of Cain's accidental death at the hands of Lamech. These two scenes were engraved in copper by Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533). A very early example of Abel's sacrifice may be seen on a first-century sarcophagus (Sant' Agnese, Rome) while Byzantine mosaics of the sixth century (San Vitale) and seventh century (San Apollinare), both in Ravenna, relate the sacrifice to parts of the Abraham iconography. In the 12th century, the same subject appears in sculpture at Moissac, South of France, and at Modena, on the bronze doors of San Zeno in Verona and in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, and in mosaics at Monreale, in Sicily. Ghiberti included it on the 15th-century bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. Cain and Abel were painted by Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, and other artists. An example of a modern treatment is the bronze Burial of Abel (1938) by Jacob *Epstein.
Apart from some unimportant Italian oratorios of the early 17th century, the first significant musical treatment of the Cain and Abel story is an oratorio by Alessandro Scarlatti, Cain, ovvero il primo omicidio (1706), the autograph score of which was rediscovered in 1966. La morte di Abele (1732), a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, was set to music by Antonio Caldara and by Leonardo Leo. The English translation was set by Thomas Arne as The Death of Abel (1744), the same work being later performed as Abel and The Sacrifice. J.H. Rolle's Singspeil or ballad opera, Der Tod Abels (text by J.S. Patzke, 1769) was performed annually in many German towns until 1809. The reworking of the original text by the German poet Klopstock was set to music by Michael Haydn (1778), and Metastasio's text was used again by Franz Seydelmann (1801). Two other 19th-century musical treatments were Conradin Kreutzer's La mort d'Abel (1810) and Max Zenger's minor opera Cain (1867), with a libretto based on Byron's poem. Some later works are E. d'Albert's opera Kain (1900), F. Weingartner's opera Kain und Abel (1914), and the ballet Cain (1930) by Marc *Blitzstein.
E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964), 29–33; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 29–33; M.D. Cassuto, Mi-Adam ad No'aḥ (19532), 118–55. in the aggadah: V. Aptowitzer, Kain und Abel in der Agada (1922); Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1909), 55–59; A.A. Halevy, Sha'arei ha-Aggadah (1963), 12f.; A. Brieger, Kain und Abel in der deutschen Dichtung (Berlin-Leipzig, 1934); K. Ranke, Die Zwei Brueder (Helsinki, 1934); B. Uffenheimer, in: Sefer Zikka ron li-Gedalyah Alon (1970), 27–68. in christian tradition: Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1 (1907), 35f.; 3 (1907), 142f.; G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1 (1964), 7f.; Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 1 (1969), 28–35. in islam: Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 ah), 36–39; Kisā'ī, Qiṣaṣ, ed. by I. Eisenberg (1922), 72–73; V. Aptowitzer, Kain und Abel in der Agada, den Apokryphen, der hel lenistischen, christlichen und muhammedanischen Literatur (1922); J. Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen (1926), 131; D. Sidersky, Les origines des légendes musulmanes dans le Coran et dans les vies des prophètes (1933); H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1961), 84–88; L. Ginzberg, in: mgwj, 43 (1899), 226–7; El2s.v.Hābīl wa-âbīl. in the arts: L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2 pt. 1 (1956), 93–100; H. Aurenhammer, Lexikon der christli chen Ikonographie, 1 (1959), 8–11; T. Ehrenstein, Das Alte Testament im Bilde (1923), 79–96.
curse of Cain the fate of someone compelled to lead a wandering life, like Cain after the killing of Abel (Genesis 4:11–12).
land God gave to Cain a name for Labrador, referring to Cain's banishment by God to a desolate land ‘east of Eden’. The term derives from a remark attributed to the French navigator and explorer Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), on first discovering the northern shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence (now Labrador and Quebec).
mark of Cain a mark placed on Cain by God, initially as a sign that he should not be killed or harmed, later taken as identifying him as a murderer.
raise Cain cause disturbance or confusion (recorded from the mid 19th century).
Cain / kān/ • n. (in the Bible) the eldest son of Adam and Eve and murderer of his brother Abel. PHRASES: raise Cain inf. create trouble or a commotion.