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Titian : Cain and Abel . (1570/76, Santa Maria della Salute , Venice )
The murder of Abel by Cain. Image field of the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck .

Cain ( Hebrew קַיִן, Arabic قابيل Qabil ), according to the biblical Genesis 1 and the Koran , the first son of Adam and Eve , the first people to God on earth created had. In the biblical account Gen 4,1-16  EU, Cain slew his younger brother Abel . The Koran tells the story of the brothers with a different accent and without naming them in Sura 5: 27–31.


The etymology of the Hebrew name קַיִן kajin Kain is not clear. Through Eve's saying in Gen 4.1 EU “I have acquired a man from the Lord”, it is associated with the folk etymology with the verb קנה qnh (“acquire / create”). Such an exclamation is not atypical, but is scientifically seen as a play on words, not as an etymology, as Renate Brandscheidt, as well as Derek Kidner and Claus Westermann show. The verb קנה qnh is translated as “create” in many places, but always with God as the subject of the action. Westermann describes that there are also attempts at interpretation (Borger, Vattioni, Hauret), the Eve's exclamation based on the Assyrian personal name itti-ili-ašāmšu with “I bought a child from the LORD” or “I have with the help of the LORD create a child ”, as many early Jewish interpreters did, but the preposition את used in the original Hebrew text is not translated“ with the help of ”anywhere else in the translation. Instead, the preposition עם should be used. Arguments that the prepositions can be exchanged in other places are invalidated by the fact that this never happens in a place that deals with God's help.

A connection to the reconstructed noun קַיִן * 1 (“lance / spear”, cf. 2 Sam 21:16) is possible, but not accepted by any interpreter . Procksch interprets the name via other West Semitic languages ​​as "blacksmith" or "metal worker" (cf. Arabic qayn ("blacksmith"), palmyrenic קיניא qaynāyā ("gold / silversmith") and others). Cassuto refers to the Arabic verb “design, form, form” means and interpret as “craftsman” (cf. also Ethiopian kin (“handicraft”)). Other connections exist to the Jewish-Aramaic קֶינָאָה qeynā'ah , Syrian qaynāyā , old South Arabic QYN ("Minister / Servant / Administrator").

In the Septuagint the name is also καιν kain .

Biblical representation

Cain kills his brother Abel, stained glass window by Hans Acker in Ulm Minster (around 1430)

In Gen 4.1 to 24  EU there is the biblical story about Cain and Abel, the eldest sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the farmer, was jealous of his brother Abel, the shepherd, because God preferred his sacrifice. As a result, he had bad thoughts, did not listen to God's admonitions and finally killed his brother. According to the Bible, this made him the first murderer. Cain was cast out by God for his deed, but given the so-called Cain's mark as a sign of further protection by God .

The story of Cain and Abel follows the story of the fall in the Bible . Both stories are designed in parallel. However, while in the first story a "vertical" offense is described (people offend against God), now a "horizontal" offense is described: people kill each other.

Cain moved east of Eden to the land of Nod , where he fathered a son, Enoch, with his - unspecified - wife. He founded a city which he named after his son ( Gen 4.17  EU ). The Book of Anniversaries names his sister Awan as his wife.

The depiction ends with the reproduction of the family tree of Cain, which illustrates the growth of humanity. Unlike the descendants of Set , the subsequent third son of Adam and Eve, the ages of these forefathers are not given. Since the descendants of Cain until the Flood only comprised seven generations - Enoch , Irad, Mehujaël, Metuschaël, Lamech and his children ( Gen 4,17–22  EU ) - instead of the nine generations according to Set ( Gen 5,6–32  EU ) , the Cainites must have fathered their named sons at a higher average age. Cain's descendants include Jubal , the progenitor of the zither and flute players, Tubal-Kain , the progenitor of the blacksmith, and Jabal , the progenitor of the shepherds, as well as their sister Naama .

Since according to ( GenEU ) all people except Noach and his family perished in the flood , the question arose how the sons of Lamech could become the founders of important professional groups. This was answered in the Jewish tradition by declaring the women of Noah and his three sons Shem , Ham and Jafet , who are named in the Bible , to be the female descendants of Lamech. However, the “daughters of man” who begat the Nephilim with the “sons of God” , the giants and heroes of prehistoric times, were also traditionally identified with the female descendants of Cain, who either led the angels to apostate from God or the pious descendants of the Set to idolatry seduced.

Even in the time of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah there was a tribe of the Kenites , apparently a clan of nomadic wandering blacksmiths. These were traced back to Cain ( Num 24.21  EU ).

Koranic representation

In the Koran, the Jewish tradition of the two-brothers motif is described differently: Both sons of Adam each made a sacrifice, of which only that of the younger was accepted. When the older brother threatened the younger one with murder because of this, the latter replied that he would not object, since only God was to be feared. The wages of the unrighteous are hell, and as a murderer the brother must serve the sins of both there. Unimpressed by this, the elder slew the younger (sura 5, 28–31).

The elder was looking for a way to hide his brother's body. God sent a raven to paw in the earth, which meant burying the murdered man . Only now did the elder regret the deed (sura 5:32). Three subsequent verses classify the gravity of a murder in Islamic law, but promise God's mercy if there is genuine repentance.

This retelling with the addition of burial and repentance follows a Jewish interpretation of the text ( midrash ) in which God sent two birds to Cain, one of which killed the other and then buried it. Sura 5 does not name the brothers. However, since the said midrash ( Tanchuma , Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer ) date from the 8th and 9th centuries, a definitive dependence of the Koran (7th century) on these midrash is questionable from a chronological point of view.

According to non- Quran tradition, Kabil (also Qabil ) kills his brother Habil . The later Islamic interpretation weaved the deed into a larger story, in that the descent of all people from Adam and Eve (according to Sura 4, 1) is derived as follows: All children of Eve (depending on the interpretation, a number between 20 and well over 100) are , each sister and brother, were born as twins to be cross-married . While the younger Habil agreed with Kabil's twin sister, Kabil refused to marry Habil's sister. In order to clarify the situation , offering sacrifices to Allah awaiting judgment from God . Habil sacrificed his best animal, while Kabil offered the worst part of the harvest. Only accepting Habil's sacrifice, Allah judged Kabil.


Legend has it that Cain's bloodshed happened in a grotto on Jabal Arbain , northwest of Damascus (Syria), where a small mosque is now located for this reason . The alleged tomb of Abel is located on today's highway between Damascus and Beirut, which connects Syria and Lebanon, about 30 km from Jabal Arbain.

Early reception history

Gioacchino Assereto : Cain and Abel (after 1640)

In his Antiquitates Judaicae , the Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus describes how Cain made the simple order of life created by God complicated by having cities built with walls and, for example , supposed to have invented the measure . Flavius' portrayal of Cain partially coincides with the biblical account and communicates oral Jewish tradition. Furthermore, Flavius ​​Josephus describes Cain as a very bad person and his descendants as murdering, raping and enriching themselves. Abel's murder was seen by early Christians as the forerunner of all crimes against the innocent. The crucifixion of Jesus is also included in this context (cf. Mt 23.35  EU ; Lk 11.50f.  EU ) as well as the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire . In the New Testament letter from Jude EU , Cain becomes a symbol of man on the wrong path. According to 1 Jn 3:12  EU , Cain is descended from “evil”, which is the case with Jewish legends that make not Adam, but Satan the father of Cain.

These views differ from those in the Bible, according to which God protects Cain despite homicide.

According to the Church Father Epiphanius von Salamis, the Gnostic grouping of the Cainites referred to Cain as the bearer of knowledge in the first centuries after Christianity .

In the Apocrypha , Cain can also be found under the name Adiaphotos .

In Christian art, the murder of Abel by Cain is often used as a symbol of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Modern reception

Cain on the run from Yahweh's curse by Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon ca.1880 , Musée d'Orsay , Paris
  • The relief of the Cain and Abel chimney in Essen, created in 1577, takes up the motif.
  • Pietro Metastasio wrote an oratorio libretto in 1732 under the title La morte d'Abel , which was set to music many times.
  • Lord Byron wrote a dramatic adaptation of the biblical material in 1821 under the title Cain .
  • Charles Baudelaire wrote the anarchist poem Abel et Caïn in 1857 as part of his cycle of poems Les Fleurs du Mal , in which Cain, the ancestor of all the outcasts, the damned and especially the rag proletariat , is called to storm the sky and hurl God to the ground, just like this one once did it with Lucifer - to overturn any existing system of rule.
  • The composers Eugen d'Albert ( Kain , 1900), Felix von Weingartner ( Cain and Abel , 1913) and Rudi Stephan ( The First People , until 1915) arranged the material for the opera stage.
  • John Steinbeck put the main features of biblical history in his novel Jenseits von Eden in the context of California in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Karl Edward Wagner's fantasy character Kane is based on the biblical Cain.
  • The villain Kane in the computer game series Command & Conquer was named after the biblical Cain, the name of his organization "Brotherhood of Nod" alludes to the biblical Nod , into which Cain went into exile.
  • Kain is a song by the band Subway to Sally from the album Foppt den Demon! .
  • Kain & Abel is a song by the German-Swedish band Protector from the 1987 debut album "Misanthropy".
  • Ich bin Kain is a play by the German playwright Jens Raschke and a speculation about what could have happened between the fall of man and fratricide. (World premiere on January 14, 2016 at the Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar - Director: Jakob Fedler).
  • In the pen & paper role-playing game system Vampire: The Masquerade , Cain is the mythical progenitor of the vampires. His descendants call themselves a. a. “Cain children” or “Cainites” and, like the first murderer Cain himself, are cursed to feed on the blood of other living beings.
  • Kain is the protagonist in the computer game series Legacy of Kain , whose story borrows loosely from the mythology of Vampires: The Masquerade . Here, too, Cain is a cursed original vampire.
  • In the Antarctic, two nunataks are named as Kain-Nunatak and Abel-Nunatak .
  • Cain plays a role in the American series Supernatural and Lucifer (TV series) .


Web links

Commons : Cain and Abel  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Cain  Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. Online Quran Project (OQP): Al-Mā'idah (Sura 5)
  2. Brandscheidt, Renate: Cain and Abel. Retrieved April 25, 2018 .
  3. Kidner, Derek: Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (=  The Tyndale Old Testament commentaries ). Inter-Varsity Press, Chicago 1967, pp. 74 .
  4. ^ A b Westermann, Claus :, Genesis 1-11 (=  Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament . Volume 1.1 ). Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1974, p. 394 ff .
  5. ^ Gesenius, Wilhelm: Hebrew and Aramaic concise dictionary on the Old Testament . 18th edition. Springer, Heidelberg / Dordrecht / London / New York 2013, pp. 1165 .
  6. Günter Stemberger: Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash . S. 356, 357 (section: Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer).
  7. Joseph Jacobs, Schulim Ochser: Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved in 2019 : “Haggadicmidrashic work on Genesis, part of Exodus, and a few sentences of Numbers; ascribed to R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and composed in Italy shortly after 833 "
  8. ^ Berman, Samuel (1996). Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu: An English Translation of Genesis and Exodus from the Printed Version of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu With an Introduction, Notes, and Indexes. Pp. 11-12.
  9. ^ Joel Duman: The Treatment of the Cain and Abel story in Midrash Tanhuma . 2007: "If we accept a dating of Pirke deRabbi Eliezer to the 8th century and of the Tanhuma to the 8th or 9th century, the present redaction of neither book could have served as the basis for the 7th century Quran."
  10. Flavius ​​Josephus: Antiquity , page 10, section (53) to (66) (PDF; 447 kB)