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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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CAIN . In Genesis 4:1 the name ( Qayin ) is derived from qânâh , ‘procure.’ This, however, is linguistically impossible. It is probably to be connected with a root signifying to ‘forge’ in metal (cf. Genesis 4:22-24 ).

1 . ( a ) Genesis 4:1-16 (J [Note: Jahwist.] ). Cain and Abel are represented as the sons of Adam and Eve. But it is clear that the narrative was at one time independent of Adam and Eve; it presupposes a much later stage in human progress. The distinction between pastoral and agricultural life ( Genesis 4:2 ), and between cereal and animal offerings ( Genesis 4:3-4 ), the custom of blood-revenge ( Genesis 4:14 ), and the large increase in the number of human beings implied in Cain’s fear of being slain ( Genesis 4:14-15 ), in his possession of a wife ( Genesis 4:17 ), and in his erection of a city ( ib .), all show that a long period must be understood to have elapsed since the primitive condition of the first pair. The meaning of certain passages in the story is uncertain; Genesis 4:7; Genesis 4:13; Genesis 4:15 must be studied in the commentaries. When Cain was condemned to be a fugitive and a wanderer, he feared death in revenge for his murder of Abel; but Jahweh ‘appointed a sign’ for him. This is not explained, but the writer probably thought of it as something which rendered Cain sacrosanct, so that, according to a deeply rooted Semitic conception, it would be a defilement and a crime to touch him (see art. Holiness). And he went and dwelt ( Genesis 4:16 ) in the land of Nôd (‘Wanderland’). The fact that the story appears to describe conditions long subsequent to those of the first pair has led many writers to hold that Cain is the eponymous ancestor of a tribe, and that the tradition was intended to explain the wild and wandering life of Arabian nomads. This kind of life, so different from the prosperous peace of settled agricultural communities, must have been the result of a primitive curse, incurred by some crime. And the narrative relates that the settled, agricultural Cainite tribe ruthlessly destroyed members of an adjacent tribe of pastoral habits; that the fear of strict blood-revenge was so great that the Cainites were obliged to leave their country, and become wandering nomads; and that some tribal sign or badge such as a tattoo, or incisions in the flesh was adopted, which marked its possessors as being under the protection of their tribal god. It is further conjectured, owing to the formation of the two names from the same root, that ‘Cain’ stands for the Kenites (cf. Numbers 24:22 , Judges 4:11 with RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). See Driver, Genesis , p. 72.

( b ) Genesis 4:17-24 seem to contain a different tradition, but incorporated also by J [Note: Jahwist.] . Cain’s erection of a city scarcely seems to harmonize with his being a fugitive and a wanderer in fear of his life. The purpose of the tradition was to explain the origin of early arts and social conditions e.g. the beginnings of city-life ( Genesis 4:17 ), polygamy ( Genesis 4:19 ), nomad life ( Genesis 4:20 ), music ( Genesis 4:21 ), metallurgy ( Genesis 4:22 ).

2 . The value of the story lies, as always, mainly in its religious teaching. We know not of how much crude superstition and polytheism the tradition may have been divested by the prophetical writer who edited it. But in its present form, the connexion of Cain with Adam and Eve suggests the thought of the terrible effects of the Fall: the next generation reaches a deeper degree of guilt; Cain is more hardened than Adam, in that he feels no shame but boldly tries to conceal his guilt; and the punishment is worse Adam was to till the ground with labour, but Cain would not henceforth receive from the earth her strength. The story teaches also the sacredness of human life, the moral holiness of God, and the truth that a result of sin is a liability to succumb to further sin ( Genesis 4:7 b).

3 . In the NT Cain is referred to in Hebrews 11:4 , Judges 1:11 , 1 John 3:12 . The latter passage must be explained by 1 John 3:9-10 . The children of God qua children of God cannot sin; and conversely the children of the devil cannot do righteousness or love one another. Cain, then, murdered his brother because he belonged to the latter category, and his brother to the former.

A. H. M‘Neile.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Cain'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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