15th century depiction of Cain and Abel, Specu...
15th century depiction of Cain and Abel, Speculum Humane Salvationis, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the biblical book of Genesis (4: 2-16), Abel is the second son of Adam and Eve who is killed by his brother Cain.

Cain’s motives are most likely jealousy and anger. Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. Cain and Abel had made sacrificial offerings but only Abel’s is acceptable to God. After Cain murders Abel, the Lord casts him out of the land, placing a special mark on his forehead.

This mark protects Cain from those who might harm him out of revenge for murdering Abel.

Cain goes on to establish a city. He becomes materially prosperous but is forever alienated from God.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain and Abel Offering their Sacrifices
Cain and Abel Offering their Sacrifices (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[a] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so[b]; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,[c] east of Eden.¹

English: The Story of Cain and Abel; as in Gen...
English: The Story of Cain and Abel; as in Genesis 4:3-15; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cain is mentioned later in the Old Testament’s Song of Lamech (Gen. 4:24) as the epitome of revenge. He’s also alluded to in the New Testament as “of the evil one” (John 3:12).

Broadly speaking, it seems that Cain represents the abrasive, worldly-minded person while Abel symbolizes the gentle, spiritually-minded person.

God punishes the murderer, Cain, with a life of alienation, but he doesn’t utterly destroy him and, indeed, allows him to materially prosper. Some see this as a sign of God’s inherent injustice, others, as evidence of God’s great love, compassion and mercy.

Since Cain, Abel and Seth (Genesis 4:25) are the only children of Adam and Eve, many believe the Bible does not explain how other human beings came into existence.

In pop culture, Caine (Kwai Chang Caine) is the name of a TV character played by the late actor David Carradine in the 1970′s TV series, Kung Fu. This TV Cain, also known as “Grasshopper” is a wandering Shaolin monk in early America.

The idea of Cain as an archetype of evil or of estrangement is not limited to the Bible and TV. More examples in religious publications, general literature and pop culture are listed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel#Popular_culture

¹ http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+4%3A2-16&version=NIV


  1. Christianity is just a myth, but it’s a damn powerful, profitable myth. Anyway, I just wanted to remind you that in the Biblical tradition, Adam and Eve supposedly had another son, I think his name was Seth.
    I totally agree with you, but I had to mention that.


  2. Toward the end of your article on Cain you write: “Since Cain and Abel are the only children of Adam and Eve, many believe the Bible does not explain how other human beings came into existence.” This, however, is not what the states.

    In Genesis 4:25, Moses wrote: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth.” The Scripture goes on to say in Genesis 5:3 and 4: “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he begot sons and daughters.”


  3. Thank you, Richard. I was just editing another entry today (that will become visible midnight tonight) where Seth was mentioned in my research. I have read the entire Bible at least twice and really don’t know how I missed that. Maybe because I tend to read it more as a prayer and not so much analytically. Or maybe I wrote this entry while waking up from a nap or something. I don’t know! But I appreciate your correction and will fix the entry ASAP.


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