Genesis 4
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Genesis 4:1-16. The Narrative of Cain and Abel. (J.)

The vivid interest, which this section inspires, sometimes causes it to be forgotten that we have here the only tradition relating to the family life of Adam and Eve.

The narrative, as we have it, is evidently intended to describe the spread of sin, its hereditary character, and its issue in violent deeds and death. It is conceivable that J preserved other ancient narratives in which the Hebrew folk-lore recounted the sayings and doings of the first family and their descendants. They might have answered the questions which the gaps in the present narrative inevitably raise; e.g. what was the origin of sacrifice (Genesis 4:3)? why was Cain’s sacrifice rejected (Genesis 4:5)? whose vengeance did Cain fear (Genesis 4:14)? did Cain confess his deed to his parents? who was Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17)? who lived in the city which Cain built (Genesis 4:17)? As it is, such questions are incapable of being answered, except by conjecture. Only such portions of the Hebrew folk-lore have been incorporated from the J source of narrative as seemed likely to serve the religious purpose of the book.

Our curiosity remains unsatisfied. The narratives, more especially in the early part of Genesis, obviously make no claim to be regarded as complete. They are brief, disjointed, and fragmentary excerpts from Hebrew tradition, recording the popular belief respecting the infancy of the human race.

In its original setting, the narrative of Cain and Abel may have been intended to give an account of the first murder, and to supply the origin of blood-revenge. At any rate, the absence of any reference to Adam and Eve between Genesis 4:2 and Genesis 4:24 is very noticeable.

1, 2.  The birth of Cain and Abel.

3–7.  The sacrifices of Cain and Abel: Abel’s accepted, Cain’s rejected: Cain’s anger; Jehovah’s remonstrance.

8–15.  Cain’s murder of Abel: the curse of Jehovah: Cain’s fear, and the sign of Jehovah for his protection.

16.  Cain an exile.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
1. Cain … gotten] Heb. ḳanah, to get. The word “Cain” does not mean “gotten”; but Eve’s joyful utterance gives a popular etymology, which derived the proper name from the verb whose pronunciation it resembled. The word “Cain” (Ḳayin) means in Hebrew “a lance”; and by some the name is interpreted to mean “a smith.” Its relation to Tubal-Cain “the artificer” is doubtful (see Genesis 4:24). That the name is to be identified with that of the nomad tribe of the “Kenites” (cf. Numbers 24:22, Jdg 4:11) is a view which has been strongly maintained by some scholars. But the evidence seems to be very slight. The Kenites were not traditionally hostile to Israel, and did not play any important part in the history of the people so far as is known. The fact that the name appears in another form, “Kenan,” in the genealogy (chap. Genesis 5:9-14) should warn us against hasty identifications. Pronunciation notoriously suffers through transmission, and spelling of proper names is wont to be adapted to the sound of more familiar words.

Eve gives her child its name as in Genesis 4:24. It has been pointed out that elsewhere, where the mother is mentioned in J and E, she gives the name, cf. Genesis 29:32-35, Genesis 30:1-24 (but see Genesis 4:26, Genesis 5:29, Genesis 25:25); whereas, in P, the father gives the name, cf. Genesis 21:3. That the mother should name the child, has been considered to be a survival of a primitive “matriarchal” phase of society: see note on Genesis 2:24. But the inference is very doubtful.

I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord] Literally, “I acquired (or, have acquired) man, even Jahveh.” Eve’s four words in the Hebrew (ḳânîthi îsh eth-Yahveh) are as obscure as any oracle.

(i) The difficulty was felt at a very early time, and is reflected in the versions LXX διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, Lat. per Deum, in which, as R.V., the particle êth is rendered as a preposition in the sense of “in conjunction with,” and so “with the help of,” “by the means of.”

König, who holds an eminent position both as a commentator and as a Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer, has recently strongly defended the rendering of êth as a preposition meaning “with,” in the sense here given by the English version “with the help of” (see Z.A.T.W. 1912, Pt i, pp. 22 ff.). The words will then express the thanksgiving of Eve on her safe deliverance of a child. It is a pledge of Divine favour. Child-birth has been “with the help of the Lord.”

(ii) The Targum of Onkelos reads mê-êth = “from” (instead of êth = “with”), and so gets rid of the difficulty: “I have gotten a man from Jehovah,” i.e. as a gift from the Lord. But this is so easy an alteration that it looks like a correction, and can scarcely be regarded as the original text. Praestat lectio difficilior.

(iii) According to the traditional Patristic and mediaeval interpretation, the sentence admitted of a literal rendering in a Messianic sense: “I have gotten a man, even Jehovah,” i.e. “In the birth of a child I have gotten one in whom I foresee the Incarnation of the Lord.” But, apart from the inadmissibility of this N.T. thought, it is surely impossible that the Messianic hope should thus be associated with the name of Cain. The Targum of Palestine, however, has “I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord.”

(iv) Another direction of thought is given by the proposed alternative rendering: “I obtained as a husband (i.e. in my husband) Jehovah,” in other words, I discern that in marriage is a Divine Gift. Perhaps the Targum of Palestine meant this, “I obtained as a husband the Angel of the Lord”: my husband is the expression to me of the Divine good-will which I have received. The objection, however, to this interpretation is that it is the reverse of simple and natural. It makes Eve’s words go back to marriage relations, instead of to the birth of her child.

(v) Conjectural emendations have been numerous, and ingenious. Thus, at one time, Gunkel conjectured ethavveh for eth-Yahveh, i.e. “I have gotten a son that I longed for”; the unusual word ethavveh accounted, in his opinion, for the easier reading eth-Yahveh. But in his last edition (1908) the conjecture does not appear.

And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
2. Abel] Heb. Hebel = “breath,” or “vapour,” a name suggestive of fleeting life, cf. Job 7:16. No better explanation of the name is given. Assyriologists have suggested that the name reproduces the Assyrian aplu = “a son.” But it is doubtful whether the resemblance is anything more than accidental. At any rate, no Babylonian version of this narrative has yet come to light. More probable is the suggestion that “Hebel” might represent a form of “Jabal,” as the keeper of sheep (cf. Genesis 4:20). As in the case of Cain (see above), the original form and significance of proper names preserved in primitive folk-lore must be extremely uncertain. In the course of the transmission and repetition of the narrative, less known names would continually be altered to forms which would suggest familiar ideas.

keeper of sheep] Abel is here mentioned first, as the representative of pastoral life. Cain follows the agricultural life, which was commanded for Adam in Genesis 3:17; Genesis 3:23. The calling of Abel is one for which the Israelites had a special fondness. The metaphors taken from the shepherd and the sheep are among the most frequent and the most striking in Holy Scripture.

And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
3. in process of time] Lit. “at the end of days,” a phrase for a period of quite indefinite length; LXX μεθʼ ἡμέρας; Lat. post multos dies.

of the fruit of the ground] Probably the best, or the earliest, of the fruit, corresponding to the “firstlings” in Abel’s offering. Cf. Numbers 18:12, “All the best (Heb. fat) of the oil, and all the best (Heb. fat) of the vintage, and of the corn.”

an offering] Heb. minḥah, lit. a “gift” or a “present,” as in Genesis 32:13, when Jacob sends “a present for Esau his brother,” and in Genesis 43:11, where he says unto his sons, “carry the man down a present.” The word is used especially for “a gift” made to God; and with that sense, especially in P and Ezek., of the “meal offering,” cf. Leviticus 2; Leviticus 6:7-10. Here it is used of “offerings to God” generally, both of animals and of the fruits of the earth.

This is the first mention of sacrifice in Scripture. Its origin is not explained, nor is an altar mentioned. Man is assumed to be by nature endowed with religious instincts, and capable of holding converse with God. Worship was man’s mode of approach to the Deity; and sacrifice was its outward expression. The purpose of the offering was (1) propitiatory, to win favour, or to avert displeasure; and (2) eucharistic, in expression of gratitude for blessings on home or industry. It was deemed wrong to approach God with empty hands, that is, without an offering or gift, Exodus 23:15; Exodus 25:30.

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
4. the firstlings] i.e. “the firstborn,” regarded as the best and choicest, cf. Exodus 34:19; Numbers 18:17; Proverbs 3:9.

the fat] i.e. the fatty portions, which were regarded as choicest for the purpose of a banquet (cf. 1 Samuel 2:16), or for burning in sacrifice, Isaiah 1:11, “the fat of fed beasts.”

had respect unto] i.e. looked with favour upon. In the two passages which it is natural to quote in illustration of this expression, Numbers 16:15, “Respect not thou their offering,” and Amos 5:22, “Neither will I regard the peace-offerings,” the Hebrew has a different verb, but the Latin renders, as here, by respicere.

How the favourable regard was expressed we are not told. See note on the next verse.

But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
5. but unto Cain] In what way the Divine displeasure was conveyed is not recorded. The suggestion that fire from heaven consumed the offering of Abel, but left that of Cain untouched, is a pure conjecture based upon the group of passages in the O.T., in which the fire from God attested the approval of the sacrifice, Leviticus 9:24; Jdg 6:21; Jdg 13:19-20; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1; 1Ma 2:10-11.

It is a serious omission, also, that we are left to conjecture the reason for the favour shewn to Abel and withheld from Cain. We can hardly doubt, that in the original form of the story the reason was stated; and, if so, that the reason represented in the folk-lore of Israel would not have been in harmony with the religious teaching of the book.

Taking, therefore, the omission of the reason in conjunction with the language of Genesis 4:6-7, and with the general religious purport of the context, we should probably be right in interring that the passage, as it stands, intends to ascribe the difference in the acceptability of the two offerings to the difference in the spirit with which they had been made. Jehovah looked at the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Thus the first mention of worship in Holy Scripture seems to emphasize the fundamental truth that the worth of worship lies in the spirit of the worshipper, cf. John 4:24, “God is spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” This is the thought of Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.… God bearing witness in respect of his gifts.”

The following conjectures have at different times been put forward to explain the preference of Jehovah:

(a) It has been suggested that Abel’s offering was preferred, because it consisted of flesh, and that Cain’s was rejected, because it consisted of vegetable produce. Each man offered of the fruits of his work and calling. Did the original story contain a condemnation of the agricultural as compared with the pastoral calling? But Adam was commanded to till the ground (Genesis 2:15, Genesis 3:19).

(b) The old Jewish explanation was that Cain had failed to perform the proper ritual of his offering, and therefore incurred the Divine displeasure: see note on the LXX of Genesis 4:7. But, again, if so, it has to be assumed that Divine directions upon the ritual of service had previously been communicated to man.

(c) The common Christian explanation that Cain’s sacrifice, being “without shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22. cf. Leviticus 17:11), could not find acceptance, equally assumes that the right kind of sacrifice had previously been Divinely instituted, and that Cain’s rejection was, therefore, due to the wilful violation of a positive command as well as to the infringement of sacrificial rule.

In the silence of the narrative respecting the origin of the institution of sacrifice, these conjectures are merely guess-work, and must be considered more or less fanciful.

his countenance fell] A picture true to nature and more familiar than easy to express in any other words.

The passage illustrates the progress of sin in Cain’s heart. Firstly, disappointment and wounded pride, aggravated by envy of his brother, lead to anger; secondly, anger unrestrained, and brooding sullenly over an imaginary wrong, rouses the spirit of revenge; thirdly, revenge seeks an outlet in passion, and vents itself in violence and murder.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
6. And the Lord said, &c.] Whether Jehovah appeared in a visible form, or spoke to Cain in a dream or vision, is not recorded. The importance of the interrogation lies in the fact, that Jehovah mercifully intervenes to arrest the progress of evil thoughts, by simple words demanding self-examination.

If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
7. If thou doest well, &c.] A verse well known for its difficulties. The rendering in the marg. “shall it not be lifted up?” should be followed. Literally the first clause runs thus: “Is there not, if thou doest well, to lift up?” The infinitive “to lift up” must be taken as an infinitival substantive = “a lifting up,” with reference, in all probability, to the previous phrase, “the falling” of Cain’s countenance. The meaning then is, “If thou doest well, and makest thy offering with a pure and right motive, thy face, instead of falling, shall be lifted up in happiness.” This, on the whole, seems better than the alternative rendering “is there not forgiveness?” The word “to lift up” admits of the meaning “to forgive,” but is hardly likely to be used in this sense without an object, and before any mention of sin has been made.

sin coucheth] The meaning is, “and, if thou doest not well and cherishest evil in thy heart, then, remember, sin, like a savage wild beast, is lying in ambush ready to spring out upon you.”

“Sin” is here mentioned for the first time. Ḥattâ’th has a varied significance, and might here mean either “guilt,” or “punishment,” or “the active principle of sin.” And in view of the personification in the next clause, this last meaning is here to be preferred.

The Hebrew text of Genesis 4:7 is probably corrupt.

The LXX took the first clause to refer to a ritual inaccuracy in sacrifice, and mistranslated the words “sin coucheth,” failing to perceive the metaphor: οὐκ, ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκῃς, ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς, ἥμαρτες; ἡσύχασον. “If thou madest thine offering rightly, but didst not rightly divide it, didst thou not sin? hold thy peace.” In other words: “you broke the ritual rules of offering; you have no right to complain.”

The Latin reads: Nonne, si bene egeris, recipies? sin autem male, statim in foribus peccatum aderit; sed sub te erit appetitus ejus, et tu dominaberis illius.

shall be his desire, &c.] Better, as marg., “is its desire, but thou shouldest rule over it.” Evil, like a savage animal, is ravening for thee; but thou hast strength, if thou hast the will, to overcome it. The alternative rendering of the text, “his desire … over him,” introduces the idea of one brother’s authority over the other, which seems foreign to the context.

The metaphor of sin as a wild beast ready at any moment to spring upon, and get the mastery of, the man who will not make the effort to do what he knows to be right, embodies deep spiritual truth. The evil passions, always ready to take advantage of the will that refuses to hear the voice of the better self, have often in literature been likened to a wild beast, cf. Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Canto 118:

“Arise and fly

The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;

Move upward, working out the beast,

And let the ape and tiger die”;

and George Meredith’s expression: “The unfailing, aboriginal, democratic, old monster, that waits to pull us down” (Diana of the Crossways, p. 14, edit. 1892).

his desire … rule over] The phrase is identical with that in Genesis 3:16, but obviously the words have a different signification suitable to the context. That these words should refer to the younger brother is the interpretation of the text (R.V.), to which no exception can be taken on lexical or grammatical grounds. But the relation of a younger to an elder brother is not that which is likely to be described in this way. It is better to refer the phrase to the personification of sin, over which Cain can, if he will, obtain the mastery.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
8. told] Heb. said unto, which is the only possible meaning of the original. The rendering “told” implies that Cain repeated to Abel, his brother, the words spoken to him by Jehovah. But this is not the meaning of the original, which is, “Cain said unto Abel his brother”; some words, which are wanting in the Hebrew text, either having been intentionally omitted by the compiler, or accidentally dropped by carelessness in transcription. As the R.V. margin states, “many ancient authorities [Sam., LXX, Syr. Pesh., and Ps. Jon.] read said unto Abel his brother, Let us go into the field”; LXX, διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πεδίον; Lat. egrediamur foras. This addition has all the appearance of an insertion, supplied to fill up an obvious gap, and borrowed from the next verse. Gunkel proposes to read, instead of “and said” (vayyômer), “and was bitter” (vayyêmer), i.e. “and made a quarrel.” Here, as in the preceding verse, we have probably an instance of a very early disturbance of the text.

Possibly, the words spoken by Cain to his brother Abel contained some allusion which seemed wanting in the right spirit towards the faith and worship of the God of Israel, and were omitted without other words being substituted.

the field] i.e. having left the sacred place, shrine or altar, where they had offered their sacrifices. An allusion to such a spot might well have been omitted as unsuitable.

rose up] preliminary to assault: see Jdg 8:21; 2 Samuel 2:14; 2 Kings 3:24.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
9. And the Lord said, &c.] The condensed narrative does not say whether Cain tried to conceal the body of Abel, or had fled at once from the spot. Apparently Jehovah speaks to him suddenly, when at a distance from the scene of the murder. The process of interrogation may be compared with that in Genesis 3:9-13.

I know not: am I my brother’s keeper?] Cain’s reply consists of (a) a statement which is a falsehood; and (b) a question which is defiance. “Keeper,” perhaps with reference, in a mocking tone, to Abel’s occupation as a keeper of sheep. “Am I the keeper’s keeper?”

The first words of the first murderer renounce the obligations of brotherhood. The rejection of the family bond is the negation of love; it is the spirit of murder; cf. 1 John 3:12; 1 John 3:15.

And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
10. What hast thou done?] The same question as that put to Eve (Genesis 3:13). This question has been put by the voice of conscience to every murderer since Cain; it had a special force in reference to the first man done to death by his brother.

the voice of thy brother’s blood] Probably it would be more accurate to translate, as Driver, “Hark! thy brother’s blood, &c.” The word “blood” in the Hebrew is plural, and the word “crieth” is in the plural agreeing with it. The Hebrew for “voice” (ḳôl) should similarly be rendered “Hark!,” instead of “noise,” in Isaiah 13:4, and instead of “the voice of,” in Isaiah 52:8; see Heb. Lexicon.

The Hebrew idea was that blood shed, for which there was no avenger, cried to Jehovah for vengeance against the murderer. Jehovah has learned of Abel’s murder from the cry of his blood spilt upon the ground. Another Hebrew belief was that, if only the blood were covered with earth, it would be silent. Cf. Job 16:18, “Oh! earth, cover not thou my blood and let my cry have no resting-place”; Isaiah 26:21, “The earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain”; Ezekiel 24:7. To this ancient supposition there is an allusion in Hebrews 12:14, “the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.”

“In the picturesque legend of the Arabs, there rose from the blood (or bones) of the slain man the ‘death-owl,’ which shrieked, ‘Give me to drink,’ until it was appeased by the blood of vengeance.” (Gordon’s Early Traditions of Genesis, p. 203.)

And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
11. from the ground] The meaning is not quite obvious. Probably, we should not understand, that the curse is to come from the ground upon Cain, but that Cain is driven by Jehovah’s curse from the ground. The emphasis is on “the ground” (hâ-adâmâh). It is the ground which Cain tilled, the ground whose fruits he offered, and the ground which he has caused to drink human blood. From this ground he is now driven by a curse. For pollution of the land by bloodshed cf. Numbers 35:33, “So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood, it polluteth the land: 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.”

On blood-revenge, cf. Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage, pp. 25–27.

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.
12. when thou tillest, &c.] The meaning is, that when, or if, after this curse, Cain continues to till the ground, the ground will refuse to give a return for his labour. Therefore, he will not be able to live on the cultivated ground. He must leave it and wander forth.

her strength] That is, “her fruits.” So the Vulg. “fructus suos.” The word “strength” is used in this sense for the produce of the soil in Job 31:39, “If I have eaten the fruits (marg. Heb. strength) thereof (i.e. of the land) without money.”

a fugitive and a wanderer] The alliteration of the two words in the original (n‘â vâ-nâd) is difficult to reproduce in English. The word for “a fugitive” means “one who staggers, or reels,” from weakness, faintness, or weariness.

“Weary and wandering,” or “staggering and straying” would be attempts at reproducing the original. The LXX στένων καὶ τρέμως = “groaning and trembling,” is more of a comment than a translation; and the Lat. “vagus et profugus,” like the English version, is inexact.

Two points are to be noticed in this sentence upon Cain:

(1) He is sent forth from the cultivated soil: in other words, he is banished into the desert. He is to lead the life, neither of the shepherd, nor of the tiller of the soil, but of the roaming Bedouin of the desert.

(2) His wandering is not the result of a guilty conscience, but of a Divine sentence. It is his penalty to lead the nomad life of the desert, homeless and insecure and restless. Whereas Adam was banished from the garden to till the soil (Genesis 3:17), now that soil is to refuse its fruits to Cain, and he must fly into the desert.

And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
13. And Cain said] The bitter cry of Cain is not that of repentance for his sin, but of entreaty for the mitigation of his doom.

My punishment] Better than marg. mine iniquity. The Hebrew word is used to denote both guilt and its penalty, and consequently is sometimes ambiguous, e.g. 1 Samuel 28:10, “And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall be no punishment happen to thee (marg. guilt come upon thee) for this thing.” In our verse the rendering “punishment” is to be preferred. Cain in Genesis 4:14 is thinking of his sentence, not of his sin.

than I can bear] The rendering of the margin, than can be forgiven, which is that of the versions, though possible, is not to be preferred. It has sometimes been advocated on the ground that the “iniquity” of Cain was typical of the sin “that is unto death” (1 John 5:16), and that cannot be forgiven (St Mark 3:29). LXX μείζων ἡ αἰτία μου τοῦ ἀφεθῆναί με. Lat. major est iniquitas mea quam ut veniam merear. Similarly Targum of Onkelos: cf. Psalm 38:4, “As an heavy burden, they [mine iniquities] are too heavy for me.”

Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
14. Behold, thou hast, &c.] Cain accepts Jehovah’s sentence as a banishment from the cultivated ground. “And from thy face shall I be hid,” Cain recognizes that banishment from the land, in which Jehovah’s presence was manifested, implied expulsion from Jehovah’s presence. In the desert to which he was to flee, Jehovah would not be found: Cain would be hidden from His face. The early Israelites believed that, if a man was driven from the land in which Jehovah was worshipped, he was no longer in the presence of Jehovah, but of other gods. Thus David says, 1 Samuel 26:19, “they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods.” The desert to which Cain would be driven was a region believed to be haunted by the demon Azazel (Leviticus 16:8) and dangerous spirits.

whosoever findeth me, &c.] Of whom was Cain afraid? Different answers have been given. 1. The wild beasts (Josephus). 2. A pre-Adamite race of Man 1:3. Other sons of Adam. 4. It has been suggested that the present story formed part of a tradition originally referring to a later time, when the earth was numerously inhabited, and has been adapted, on account of its moral significance, to the story of the first family. But it is unreasonable to expect from the detached narratives of early folk-lore the logical completeness of history. Cain’s words are rightly understood as a reference to the custom of blood-revenge, which went back to the remotest prehistoric age. The cultivated land was regarded as the region in which there prevailed social order and regard for life; but in the desert there would be none of the restrictions which regulated the existence of settled communities.

In the desert Cain, as the murderer, would be destitute of the protection of Jehovah. He would have no rights of kinship: anyone might slay him with impunity. He would find no friendly tribe; he would be an outlaw.

And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
15. Therefore] i.e. on account of Cain’s entreaty, Jehovah’s mercy is shewn to the first murderer. Cain has no friend: Jehovah, by an act of benevolence and authority, will protect him, and undertake his cause even in the desert.

A slight variation in text accounts for LXX οὐχ οὕτως, Lat. Nequa-quam ita fiet.

vengeance … sevenfold] i.e. if Cain were killed, seven deaths would be exacted in retaliation; the murderer and six of his family would forfeit their lives, cf. 2 Samuel 21:8. The words of Jehovah are noticeable, because (1) they emphasize the corporate responsibility of family life, which so often meets us in the O.T.; and (2) they recognize, but regulate, blood-revenge, as a disciplinary primaeval custom of Semitic life. This Oriental custom, while recognized in the O.T. as part of Israelite institutions, is continually being restricted by the operation of the spirit of love, gradually revealed by prophet and by law, in the religion of Jehovah.

the Lord appointed a sign for Cain] The popular expression “the brand of Cain,” in the sense of “the sign of a murderer,” arises from a complete misunderstanding of this passage. The object of the sign was to protect Cain. It was a warning that should prevent the avenger of blood from slaying him. Even in the desert Jehovah would be Cain’s champion. We have no means of knowing what the sign was. The words imply that some visible mark, or badge, was set upon Cain’s person. If so, it may have some analogy to the totem mark of savage tribes. “There seems little doubt, that the sign which Jahveh gave to Cain … was a tattoo mark, probably on his forehead (cf. Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6), to show all men that Cain was under His protection, and thus to save his life. In all probability the mark was the ‘sign of Jahveh,’ the tav (Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6)—which was once doubtless worn quite openly by His devotees, and only afterwards degenerated into a superstition.” (Gordon, Early Traditions of Genesis, p. 211.)

And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
16. from the presence of] Cf. 14, “from thy face.” Cain going out “from the presence of” Jehovah, quits the land in which that presence was revealed. Jonah in fleeing from Palestine fled “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).

in the land of Nod] That is, Wandering, cf. the word “wanderer” (nâd) in Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:14. This region cannot be identified; it serves as a vague designation for all the country in the unknown East, which was thought to be inhabited only by nomads.

on the east of] This rendering, like the Lat. ad orientalem plagam, is preferable to that of the marg. in front of (LXX κατέναντι). See notes on Genesis 2:14 and Genesis 3:24.

And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.
17. his wife] On the question, Who was Cain’s wife? see note at the beginning of the chapter. If the narrative be homogeneous, she must have been either a daughter of Eve, or of a family of whose contemporaneous origin and existence this narrative in Genesis gives no account. But the compilation of our primitive story from different sources necessarily leaves many questions unanswered. No attempt is made to remove this and similar obvious inconsistencies.

Enoch] Heb. Ḥănôkh = “dedication”: the same name occurs in Genesis 4:18; see note. It is also the name of a Midianite clan, Genesis 25:4; 1 Chronicles 1:33; and of a Reubenite clan, Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14.

builded a city] It seems strange that we should have the mention of a city at a time when the inhabitants of the world were so few. But the purpose of this section is evidently to trace back to the Cainites, in the antediluvian period, the origin of early institutions. To the Hebrew the “city,” that is to say, a town community, represented the nucleus of civilized life, and hence the building of a city is ascribed to the father of the line from which emanated the various callings of civilization. It is needless to say that this tradition is devoid of scientific value for any enquiry into the progress of civilization in prehistoric times. Its interest lies in the record of the belief, that urban life could be dated back into the most primitive age. The site of the city is not indicated.

17–24. The Descendants of Cain: The Genealogy of the Cainites. (J.)

See the Special Note on “the Antediluvian Patriarchs,” see below. The traditions preserved in this section probably belong to a different J source from that of the verses immediately preceding. This will explain how it is that Cain, who has just been condemned to a nomad life and has withdrawn into the land of “Wandering” (Nod), is in Genesis 4:17 described as the founder of a city, and as the ancestor of men who originated the industries and callings of civilization.


According to chap. 5 (P), the interval of time between the work of Creation (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a) and the visitation of the Flood (Genesis 6:9 ff.) is occupied by a list of ten Patriarchs.

The chronological scheme of P, according to the Hebrew text, makes this period to consist of 1656 years (in the Samaritan text, it is 1307 years; in the LXX, 2242). The description given of the ten Patriarchs is precise and formal. It is limited in each case to the bare formulae narrating facts respecting (i) the age of the Patriarch at the birth of his firstborn, (ii) the number of his remaining years, and the fact that he was the father of other children, (iii) his age at the time of his death.

The account which is thus given furnishes an explanation of the great population of the earth which is overthrown in the Flood. The chapter, however, contains no mention of the growing wickedness of the race. And it does not appear that P takes any account of the Narrative of the Fall (chap. 3 J). Budde, indeed (Urgesch. 93–103), contends that the names of the Patriarchs are intended to symbolize the condition of their age, the names Jared (= descent), Methuselah (= the man of the weapon, or the man of violence) denoting its deterioration.

The ten names represented the history of the human race before the Flood. The distribution of these ten names over the period of 1656 years implies a minute and elaborate calculation by the chronologists and chroniclers, whose work has been employed in P.

I. Ten Babylonian Kings

It is impossible to resist the conclusion that there is some sort of connexion between the ten Antediluvian Patriarchs of Genesis 5 and the ten kings before the Flood in the Babylonian Legends. The names of the ten kings are as follows:

(A. According to Berossus.)  (B. According to cuneiform inscriptions.)

1. Alôrus.  1.   Arûru.

2.   Alaparos.  2.   Adapa.

3.   Amêlôn.  3.   Amêlu (= Man, ? = Enosh).

4.   Ammenôn.  4.   Ummanu (= Master-crafts-man, ? = Kenan).

5.   Megalâros.

6.   Daônos.

7.   Euedôrachos.

8. Amempsinos.  7.   Enmeduranki (?=Enoch).

8. Amel-Sin (= Man of the god Sin, ? = Methuselah).

9. Ôtiartes.  9.   Ubara-Jutu.

10 .  Xisûthros.  10.   Ḥasisatra (?=Noah).

In this list there may possibly be discerned some points of correspondence with the Hebrew. (a) In No. 3 Amelu (= Man) may be translated in Enosh=Man. (b) In (4) Ummanu (= Workman), in Kenan; and in (8) Amel-Sin (Man of Sin), in Methuselah (= Man of Shelah). (c) No. 7, Enmeduranki (king of Sippar, the city of the Sun-god, Shamash), who was the friend of the gods Ramman and Shamash, looks as if he must stand in some close relation to Enoch, whose life was 365 years and who walked with God. (d) The 10th in the list, Xisuthros or Ḥasisatra, the Ut-napishtim of the Epic, is the hero of the Babylonian Flood, and corresponds to Noah in the Hebrew list.

In the Babylonian list, the ten kings are assigned a period of 432,000 years.

II. Sethite and Cainite Genealogies

It is important to compare the two lists of the Sethite (P) and Cainite (J) Genealogies.

Sethite (chap. 5).  Cainite (chap. Genesis 4:17-24).

1.   Adam  1.   Adam

2.   Seth  

3.   Enosh  

4.   Kenan  2.   Cain

5.   Mahalalel  3.   Mehujael

6.   Jared  4.   Irad

7.  Enoch  5.   Enoch

8.   Methuselah  6.   Methushael

9.   Lamech  7.   Lamech

10.   Noah  " Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-Cain.

" Shem, Ham, Japheth.  


(a) The general resemblance in the names is very striking. (b) One list contains the perfect number ten, the other the perfect number seven. (c) Each list concludes in a family of three sons. We have to deal either with two variants of the same tradition; or with two distinct traditions, in which the same stock of primitive legendary names is found very closely repeated.

III. Different Chronologies

The Chronology of the Antediluvian Patriarchs varies in the three principal sources for the text, (1) the Massoretic (Hebrew), (2) the Samaritan, (3) the Septuagint. They are presented in the following Table.

  Massoretic Text  Samaritan  LXX  Year (Anno Mundi) of Death

  Firstborn  Remainder  Total  Firstborn  Remainder  Total  Firstborn  Remainder  Total  Mass. Text  Samaritan  LXX  

1.  Adam  130  800  930  130  800  930  230  700  930  930  930  930  

2.  Seth  105  807  912  105  807  912  205  707  912  1042  1042  1141  

3.  Enosh  90  815  905  90  815  905  190  715  905  1140  1140  1342  

4.  Kenan  70  840  910  70  840  910  170  740  910  1235  1235  1534  

5.  Mahalalel  65  830  895  65  830  895  165  730  895  1290  1290  1696  

6.  Jered  162  800  962  62  785  847  62  785  847  1422  1307  1923  

7.  Enoch  65  300  365  65  300  365  165  200  365  987  887  1484  

8. Methuselah  187  782  969  67  653  720  167*  802*  969  1656  1307  2256  

9.  Lamech  182  595  777  53  600  653  188  565  753  1651  1307  2204  

10.  Noah  500      500      500            

Till the Flood  100      100      100            

Year of the Flood  1656      1307      2242            

These different figures are not due to errors in the text. They seem to arise from the adoption of differing systems for the calculation of the chronology.

It has commonly been supposed that the Hebrew figures (1656) are part of a scheme which calculated 2666 years to have been the interval between the Creation and the Exodus, and that 2666 years represented two-thirds of a cycle of 4000 years.

The 2666 years are computed as follows:

1656  Creation to Flood

290  Flood to birth of Abraham

100  To birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:5)

60  To birth of Jacob (Genesis 25:26)

130  To Jacob’s descent into Egypt (Genesis 47:9-28)

430  Sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 12:40)


The Samaritan figure of 1307 is part of a system which calculated 3007 years to intervene between the Creation and the entrance into Canaan. The calculation was as follows:

Creation to Flood  =  1307  years

Flood to birth of Abraham  =  940  years

Birth of Abraham to descent into Egypt  =  290  years

Sojourn in Egypt  =  430  years

Wandering in Wilderness  =  40  years

    3007  years

Skinner (in loc.) points out, that, if the calculation be made in round numbers=3000, the entire period may then be divided into three decreasing periods of 1300, 940, 760 years, of which the second exceeds the third by 180 years, and the first exceeds the second by twice 180 years (2x180) = 360 years.

The LXX figure of 2240 is the equivalent of the Samaritan calculation from the Creation to the Flood (1300 years) + the Samaritan calculation from the Flood to the birth of Abraham (940 years). But whether this be the result of accident or design, it is impossible to say.

IV. Longevity of Patriarchs

The Hebrew tradition evidently assumed that human vitality, in the era immediately following upon the Creation, was at its highest point, and that, in consequence, immense longevity was to be expected in the lives of the Antediluvian Patriarchs.

The immense duration of life assigned to these ten Patriarchs has always been the occasion of difficulty. Attempts have been made to explain away the figures. (a) It has been suggested that the names of the Patriarchs represent dynasties. But the mention of the first-born and of other children obviously refers to personal history. Nor does the transference of these enormous figures to the duration of dynasties greatly diminish the improbability of their literal historicity. (b) It has been suggested that the Hebrew word for “year” (shânah) is used in this chapter to denote a shorter period of time. But this arbitrary solution is devoid of any evidence in its favour. Familiar Hebrew words, like “years” in this chapter, or like “day” in chapter 1, must not be supposed, because of our difficulties in interpretation, to require new meanings.

There is no reason not to interpret the statements respecting the longevity of the ten Antediluvian Patriarchs quite literally. The account of them belongs to the domain of primitive tradition. It would be strange, if the primitive unverifiable tradition were not accompanied by the exaggerations which popular legend weaves around prehistoric names.

It is instructive to compare the ages of the Antediluvian and Postdiluvian Patriarchs with those of the famous Israelites of more historic times.

Adam, the first of the Antediluvians, lived  930 years

Seth, the second of the Antediluvians, lived  912 years

Noah, the tenth of the Antediluvians, lived  950 years

Shem, the first of the Post-diluvians, lived  600 years

Arpachshad, the second of the Post-diluvians, lived  408 years

Terah, the tenth of the Post-diluvians, lived  205 years

Abraham  lived  175 years

Isaac  lived  180 years

Jacob  lived  147 years

Joseph  lived  110 years

Moses  lived  120 years

Joshua  lived  110 years

David reigned  40 years  

Solomon reigned  40 years  

Rehoboam lived  58 years  (2 Chronicles 12:13)

Hezekiah lived  54 years  (2 Chronicles 29:1)

Manasseh lived  67 years  (2 Chronicles 33:1)

It is clear that this descending scale, in the duration of life, corresponds to the stages of transition from legend to history.

There is no evidence to shew that the earlier phases of civilization were more favourable to longevity than the later.

And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.
18. And unto Enoch, &c.] The genealogy of Cain is a framework of names, each of which may have been connected with traditions that either had been forgotten, or were not deemed suitable for preservation in this context. It is a mistake, into which some commentators have been betrayed, to endeavour to extract meanings from the proper names of the antediluvian patriarchs. It is very doubtful, whether the original names would have conveyed the same thoughts which their later Hebraized pronunciation has suggested to devout, but fanciful, imagination. The facts of history are not to be spelt out from the obscure etymology of primaeval proper names. These well-meaning endeavours have sometimes been based on the assumption that Hebrew was the original language.

The most that can be said is that these names preserve the recollection of legendary persons, and that they have received a Hebraized form which rendered them easier of pronunciation and facilitated a symbolical interpretation.

Irad] The name occurs in 1 Chronicles 4:18; see note on Jared, Genesis 5:16.

Mehujael] Cf. Mahalalel, Genesis 5:12. If a Hebrew word, it may mean “blotted out by God.” Cf. Genesis 6:7, where “destroy” is in the marg. blot out.

The LXX Μαίηλ must have read Mahyiel = “God maketh me to live.”

Methushael] Cf. Methuselah, Genesis 5:21. Assyriologists say that the name means “Man of God,” and is the same as Mutu-sha-ili.

And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
19. Lamech] The seventh of the Cainite line has three sons, as Noah, the tenth of the Sethite line, has three sons.

two wives] Lamech is the first recorded instance of polygamy. The custom, prevalent in patriarchal times and in the days of the kings (e.g. David, Solomon), was recognized in the Law of the Pentateuch and placed under restrictions, Deuteronomy 21:13-23, Leviticus 18:6-20.

On the ideal of monogamy, from which Israel fell far short, see note on Genesis 2:24. Lamech, the Cainite, is its first transgressor.

Adah] The name appears in Genesis 36:2 as that of one of Esau’s wives. If of Hebrew origin, possibly connected with the word meaning “adornment,” but also possibly derived from a root = “brightness,” found in Arabic and Assyrian, and, if so, may mean “the dawn.”

Zillah] Probably from the Heb. ṣêl = “shade” or “shadows,” implying “comfort” and “coolness” in the glare of a day in the desert.

And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
20. Jabal] The meaning of this name is doubtful. Dillmann conjectures “a wanderer.” Jabal, like Abel (see note, on Genesis 4:2), is a founder of the shepherd’s and herdsman’s life.

father of] i.e. the founder, or originator, of nomad life. To the Hebrews, to live in tents was the alternative to life in the village or the town. It is strange to find that tent life is here placed later than the building of a town (Genesis 4:17).

such as dwell in tents, &c.] Literally, “such as dwell in tents and cattle”; i.e. those who wander about, occupied in the care of flocks and herds, and pitching their camps at different places. The eldest brother represents the Bedouin chieftain, the second brother represents the arts of primitive pastoral life, the third brother represents the most necessary industry.

And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
21. Jubal] The originator of musical instruments. Music is thus regarded as the most ancient art. For the name, compare the word “Jubilee”; yôbêl is “the ram’s horn.”

harp and pipe] i.e. the simplest of stringed and wind instruments used by shepherds. LXX ψαλτήριον καὶ κιθάραν: Lat. cithara et organo.

And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.
22. Tubal-cain] The double name is strange, and presumably means “Tubal of the family of Cain.” Tubal is traditionally supposed to have given his name to the people mentioned in Genesis 10:2 (see note). “Tubal” in Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 32:26; Ezekiel 38:2; Ezekiel 39:1 is associated with Javan and Meshech as a community whose traffic included “vessels of brass.” The Assyrian inscriptions record a people called “Tabal,” apparently living to the S.E. of the Black Sea.

the forger] Heb. “the sharpener.” The expression is intended to denote the first smelter of metals. LXX τὸν Θόβελ, καὶ ἦν σφυροκόπος χαλκεὺς χαλκοῦ καὶ σιδήρου. Lat. Tubalcain qui fuit malleator et faber in cuncta opera aeris et ferri.

The R.V. marg. = A.V. “an instructor of every artificer,” is a conjectural rendering of an obscure passage, and does not follow the original.

22. brass] Better than copper. The metal, like the Gr. χαλκός, was probably our “bronze,” for which “brass” was the equivalent in all early English literature. “Brass” is an alloy of copper and zinc; “bronze” of copper and tin. Copper-mining (not “brass”) is referred to in Deuteronomy 8:9; Job 28:2. Our English word “bronze” is derived from “Brundusium.”

It should be noticed here (1) that Hebrew tradition realizes how important an epoch in the progress of civilization is marked by the discovery of the use of metals; (2) that in this verse the mention of bronze precedes that of iron; (3) that no knowledge is shewn of a stone age, which archaeology has demonstrated to have preceded.

Naamah] meaning “pleasant.” The mention of her name, concerning whom nothing else is recorded, implies the existence of legends or traditions which have disappeared. Perhaps she symbolized luxury, as Jubal symbolized art and Tubal-Cain industry. The juxtaposition of Naamah and Tubal-Cain reminds us of Venus and Vulcan, more especially as Naamah is said to have been the Phoenician title of the Semitic goddess Istar. It is the name borne by the mother of Rehoboam, an Ammonitess (1 Kings 14:31).

And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.
23. a man for wounding me] Lamech boasts that he has slain a man who had wounded him and a young man who had bruised him. Whether “a man” and “a young man” are the same person, or whether they mean a man and his son, cannot be decided. Lamech has exacted the vengeance of death for the insult of a blow2[11].

[11] See for an explanation by Jewish tradition Appendix B.

It is, however, possible that the poem only describes an imaginary instance in which Lamech had retaliated in self-defence, and boasts that with the assistance of metal weapons Lamech’s capacity for revenge is increased elevenfold.

23, 24. The Song of the Sword. These verses are written in a poetical style, with the parallelism of clauses characteristic of Hebrew poetry. It is the first instance of Hebrew poetical composition in the Bible1[10]. It contains (1) the address of Lamech to his wives; (2) the announcement of a recent exploit; (3) the boast of confidence and security against injury or insult. It is generally supposed that Lamech’s Song is intended to represent his exultation after the invention of metal weapons by his son Tubal-Cain. The new possession inspired primitive man with confidence and eagerness for savage retaliation.

[10] See G. Adam Smith’s Early Poetry of Israel, p. 21 (Schweich Lectures, 1910).

The substance of line (or stichos) 1 is repeated in line (or stichos) 2: “Adah and Zillah” correspond to “Ye wives of Lamech,” and “Hear my voice” to “Hearken unto my speech.”

In line (or stichos) 3, the word “I have slain” gives the note to the whole distich; but “a man for wounding me” is repeated in greater detail in line (or stichos) 4, “a young man for bruising me.” Line (or stichos) 5 mentions the traditional vengeance promised for Cain; line (or stichos) 6 boasts of a vengeance tenfold greater than this for Lamech.

If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.
24. seventy and sevenfold] Cf. Genesis 4:15. Lamech boasts that seventy and seven deaths should be the penalty of revenge if he were slain.

The first note of warfare is sounded in this fierce exultation in a deed which has exceeded the limits of self-defence and passed into the region of the blood-feud. The possession of new weapons and the lust of revenge are here recorded as the typical elements of the war spirit. “Although, technically, the law of Vengeance was satisfied by a ‘life for a life,’ yet in practice the avenging of blood was often carried to the utmost length of ruthless ferocity. For one life many were taken, the murderer and his kinsfolk together.” (Gordon, Early Traditions of Genesis, p. 204.)

And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.
25. called his name] Here, as in Genesis 4:1 (see note), the mother gives the name.

God] Elohim (not Jehovah, as in Genesis 4:1), probably because of Genesis 4:26.

hath appointed] Heb. shath. As was pointed out in the note on Genesis 4:1, the resemblance to a Hebrew word in the sound of a proper name does not supply its strict etymology. The name “Seth” (shêth) = “setting” or “slip,” resembles in sound the Hebrew verb for “appointed” or “set” (shâth), and it is to this assonance that Eve’s words refer.

It is an instance of a play on a word, viz. paronomasia, of which there are many cases in the O.T. But assonance is a delusive element in etymology.

another seed] We are not to infer that no other children were born to Eve, but that Seth was “appointed” to take the place of Abel, and his seed to form a righteous counterpart to the unholy seed of Cain. In Sir 49:16 Seth is united with Shem as “glorified among men.”

25, 26. The Line of Seth

These two verses begin the line of Seth which is parallel to that of Cain. The more complete genealogy, found in ch. 5, comes from a different source (P). But it is not unlikely that they are derived from the same materials as the previous section.

And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.
26. Enosh] This word, used in Hebrew poetry, means “man,” and is thus to be compared with Adam.

then began men] In the Hebrew it is impersonal, “then was a beginning made.” The origin of Jehovah worship is here connected with the line of Seth, and is probably intended to be contrasted with the origin of secular callings in the line of Cain.

to call upon] “Properly, as always, to call with, i.e. to use the name in invocations, in the manner of ancient cults, especially at times of sacrifice; cf. Genesis 12:8, Genesis 13:4, Genesis 21:33, Genesis 26:25.” (Driver.)

the name of the Lord] i.e. the name of Jehovah. This statement by J, who uses this title by preference, is in conflict with the statement that the name was first revealed to Moses (E), (P), Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:2. But in view not only of this text, but also of recent cuneiform decipherments, shewing the probability that a form of the name was known in Babylonia before the time of Moses, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the name belongs, as the tradition of J evidently taught, to prehistoric antiquity.

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