Cain And Abel
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"Mother always liked you best!"

— Tommy Smothers

Basic Information

(Genesis 4:1-16)

According to the book of Genesis, the first two sons of Adam and Eve were Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, tilling the soil, and Abel raised livestock. One day, both Cain and Abel brought offerings before the Lord; Cain brought some of his harvest and Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock. The Lord was happy with Abel's gift; less so with Cain's. [B]ut on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Gen. 4:5)

Cain invited his brother to go out with him into the field; and while they were alone together, Cain killed Abel.

Some time later, the Lord asked Cain where his brother was. "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9) You'd think Mom and Dad would have told Cain that you can't bamboozle God like that. "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." (Gen. 4:10)

The Lord declared that there would henceforth be a curse on Cain; that the earth which had received his brother's blood from his hand would reject him and not yield crops when he tilled it; and that he would become a wanderer on the earth. Cain pleaded that this punishment was more than he could bear. Not only was he being driven from the land and from the Lord's presence, but as an outcast and a wanderer, he would be killed by anyone who found him.

The Lord replied that anyone who killed Cain would suffer vengeance seven times over, and he placed a mark on Cain as a warning that Cain was to be spared.

Cain left the Lord's presence and went out to the Land of Nod, east of Eden.

So why did God accept Abel's offering, but not Cain's? Some interpretations view the story as an allegory about the conflicts between early nomadic herders and the first farmers. Others say that Cain already had resentment in his heart towards his brother, and that tainted his offering. Other views point to the descriptions of the brothers' offerings: Abel gave the choicest meat from the firstborn of his flock, while Cain just gave some stuff; implying that Abel's gift was of greater quality.

The Genesis account states that Cain resented Abel because God favored him. Other sources have suggested different motives. According to the Jewish Midrash, the two brothers were given twin sisters to marry, but Cain was jealous of Abel's wife. Mormon teaching says that Cain coveted Abel's cattle.

Christian teaching compares the death of Abel to the death of Christ. Abel is sometimes seen as the first martyr, and Jesus speaks of him as righteous. On the other hand, the author of the book of Hebrews contrasts Abel's blood which cried for vengeance, with the Blood of Christ, shed for the sake of mercy.

The "Land of Nod", mentioned in v.16, translated literally means "land of wandering", and so is not necessarily the name of a specific location. Although the term has sometimes been used as a poetic pun for sleep.

Although he wandered for a time, Cain eventually built a city, which he named after his son, Enoch. This was a different Enoch from the famous Enoch. Where did Cain get his wife? Scholars have argued about that for ages. The Midrash suggests that she was his twin sister. Also, along these lines … who, exactly, did he think would be killing him? Presumably his remaining family might be a threat but if he was being driven away from them …?

Some traditions, however, have claimed that Cain's punishment to wander was eternal, and that like the Wandering Jew, his travels continue to this day. Other legends say he eventually reached the Moon in his wanderings and that the shadows on the moon resembling a man with a bundle of sticks on his back is the image of Cain.


Game and Story Use

  • The story of Cain and Abel is not only the story of the first murder, it's the seminal tale of sibling rivalry. Any plot involving enmity and rage between brothers can evoke elements of the primal slaying.
  • Cain as an immortal wanderer and avatar of bloodshed is a possible NPC in a mystical campaign.
  • What if the "Land of Nod" was both a metaphorical expression for sleeping and the place Cain went to wander? This would make Cain a malevolent figure, haunting the darker corners of Dreamland and stalking the nightmares of others.
  • Worth noting that is actually Cain who has inherited his Father's curse ("Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field") as opposed to Abel, who seems to have made a end run around it by becoming a pastoralist.
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