Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cain's Killing of Abel

An 11th-century ivory relief from Salerno, Italy (now in the Louvre).

"Cain [Kan] spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field [sadeh in Hebrew; gan in Akkadian], Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him." (Genesis 4:8)

Alice C. Linsley

Several mid-20th century commentaries on Genesis pose the murder of Abel as a sociological conflict between shepherds (represented by Abel) and farmers (represented by Cain). However, this approach ignores important point. In Genesis, Cain is described as a city builder and in the ancient world, city builders were rulers.

The descendants of Cain are described as metal workers. Cain’s association with metal work is indicated in Genesis 4:20-22 which speaks of Tubal-Cain the ancestor of metalworkers.

Today the metalworking clans of west central Africa perform all these tasks. For example, the tent-dwelling Inadan keep herds and are responsible for metal work, circumcision, and music at special events. Their chiefs maintain two wives in separate households on a north-south axis (as did Abraham and his forefathers). This suggests that the author’s identification of Jubal, Jabal and Tubal with trades is about the role of a group of clans within a larger society, not about the origin of technologies or a conflict between shepherds and farmers.

What does the murder of Abel have to do with these early clans? The story must be understood in the context of the relationship of the 3 clans. In Genesis 4:2, we are told that Cain is a tiller of the soil, but his name means metalworker. Seth’s trade is not mentioned but his name is that of the jealous son who kills his favored brother in ancient Egyptian mythology. Abel's name could mean El (God) is father, which aligns with the deeper significance of the Cain and Abel story and with the Egyptian myth of Seth and Osiris.

Cain's killing of Abel has parallels to Set's killing of Osiris, the preferred son who the Lord of Creation chose to be Pharaoh. Seth was condemned by the Lord for the murder of his brother. Osiris rose from the dead, married and had a son, Horus, who is called the "son" of God. The Horite Hebrew were his devotees. The Son's Akkadian name was Enki.

It is significant that in both stories there are three sons: Seth, Osiris, Horus, and Cain, Seth, Abel. Seth kills the chosen son who rises to life and Cain kills the chosen son, who is the son of the father (ab El) . Abel might also be rendered as ha Bel, meaning “the God”.

That there are three sons is important since in Genesis one of the three sons - usually the hidden or cut off son - represents the Son of God. Abel is a type or shadow of Jesus Christ, the one whose blood cries to the Father for justice. The context is secondarily Nilotic. The original context (minus the Talmuci elements of accepted and rejected sacrifices), is Akkadian. This is evident in the play on the Akkadian word kan which means both field and blood.

Note that God's punishment of Cain is mixed with mercy, just as Jesus prayed that the Father would show mercy to those who put Him on the Cross.

When people hear the names Cain and Abel, they rarely consider the other brother, Seth, yet Seth's descendants intermarried with Cain's descendants. Abel is the son who was cut off from the earth. Likewise, when people think of Abraham and Nahor, they rarely remember that there was a third brother, Haran, who was cut off from the earth. Typically where two sons are named, there is a hidden or cut-off third son. Cain's punishment of being cut off from his land reflects his crime of cutting off Abel from the earth.

Related reading: Cain as Ruler; The Killing of Abel; The Mark of Cain


Georgia said...


This subject has been on my mind since reading your other post about the two sons and in relation to current the church and world.

You wrote: "Cain is a tiller of the soil, but his name means metalworker."

Metalworkers also dig and till the soil to get their ore.

In addition, the word for tiller or worker in Hebrew 'abad' (H05647) also means to serve, worship, submit, become subjects, bow down, honor.

Therefore the meaning of the phrase 'of the soil' could also be expanded to denote serving and worshipping the earth and the works, objects made by one's own hands or the fruits of the earth, the natural earthly mind (one's own ideas, unbiblical philosophies, false religions).

I came upon Psalm 10:18 today which uses the phrase 'man of the earth' to describe those who are unjust, and mistreat the fatherless and oppressed. The contrast between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom in James 3 also comes to mind as well as the phrase, 'the carnal (natural unregenerate) mind is at enmity with God' - Romans 8:5-7

The story Cain and Abel contains a number of contrasts between good and evil. (more of your binary opposites?)

There are given only two opposite objects for worship:
Holy God (God's way) or the earthly realm (world, flesh, devil).

Two opposite conditions of the heart:
Abel has an obedient heart, that owns and acknowledges sin and offers the right sacrifice (a substitutionary blood sacrifice) that prefigures the Cross and the crucifixion of the flesh that we undergo in repentance and sanctification (Galatians 5:25).
Cain's heart is hard, disobedient, rebellious. He opposes God's word, will and model for worship, denies and does not own his sin (since he did not offer a substitutionary blood sacrifice), and thus rejects God's plan for forgiveness of sin. Cain prefigures all works of evil that oppose God, deny Christ, ie, liberalism, false religions, idolatry...

Two opposite positions of the will:
Cooperation and submission to God or rebellion and opposition to God. Jesus said, 'you are either with me or against me, gathering with me or scattering.' 'I wish you were either hot or cold...'

Two opposite consequences of each choice of worship:
Worship of God in the Way God has made for us bring God's pleasure, blessing, righteousness, peace, contentment and good will.
Worship of earth/world, flesh, devil brings shame, guilt, rejection, envy, competition, separation and destruction of relationships, malevolence, murder, death.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Some wonderful observation here, Georgia! You certainly have been thinking about the binary opposites.

I agree with Lévi-Strauss that every culture’s mythology and cosmology is built around binary oppositions: life-death, night-day, hot-cold, raw-cooked, male-female, dark-light, etc. Recognizing these distinctions enables us from childhood to make sense of the world. Just as you have done here.

Georgia said...

It is not written, but would not be too far afield to conclude that the metalworker, Cain, had made for himself an idol of metal fashioned like a creature of the earth (pre-figuring the golden calf and idolatry in general) and that his offering to God was only a formal detached ceremonial act rather than an act of whole-hearted love and gratitude for God's mercy and forgiveness of sin.

Georgia said...

PS - Alice, I do realize that reading between the lines is not good theology. Using that same tactic, I also see the circumcision as God's redemptive solution to the consequences* of sin in Eden that prompted the fig leaves.

*(shame, guilt, pain, loss of attachment, identity and connection to God usually results in a compulsive, addictive behavior like acting out sexually. Joseph Nicolosi, PhD seems to agree, as per his last book, Shame and Attachment Loss. There are other Christian therapists who have discovered these same components in their work with people wounded in childhood.)

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'm cautious about the application of modern psychological approaches to the subject of male and female circumcision. I haven't read anything by a psychologist that reveals knowledge of the cultural context of this blood ritual.
Feminist label Pharaonic circumcision a crime. It is not a crime in the cultural context in which it is practiced. Labeling it as such is a form of western modernist imperialism.

Read first-hand conversations that express the respect and gratitude felt toward circumcised mothers in Africa here:

Also read Anthropologist Janice Boddy's essay on Pharaonic circumcision which appeared in American Ethnologist (Nov. 1982). The essay is titled "Womb as Oasis: The symbolic context of Pharaonic circumcision in rural Northern Sudan" (Vol.9, pgs. 682-698). Here Boddy sets forth her research on Pharaonic circumcision among the Sudanese.

To understand the cultural context of the practice you may want to read this:

Georgia said...

To be sure, I am not in favor of female circumsion, since in Scripture, it was commanded for males only.

It seems like overkill, a product of the natural mind trying to achieve righteousness by works or getting extra points for effort - like all those extra laws and customs the Jews had added by the time Jesus appeared.

Jonathan said...

You wrote: "His name [Cain] means metalworker." I do not seem to be able to find any great confirmation about this interpretation in the usual sources. An approach that is taken with some frequency, though, is to relate the name Kayin [qoph-yodh-nun] to the Hebrew "kana" which means "get" or "acquire". Some other sources say that the name [qoph-yodh-nun] means "spear", which I think would come pretty close the association with metalworking that you are wanting to show. I am also thinking that another way we might get there would be going letter-by-letter beginning with the Hebrew letter qoph which means "sun on horizon" and nun which means "seed"; so that, if iron meteorites are the seeds of heaven (?), a topic that you have covered elsewhere:,
then the man whose hand (yodh) works with them, is Cain/Kayin.

AlDahir said...

Cain means metal smith. Abel means camels. The Biblical conflict between Cain and his brother Abel is an iconic story of the conflict created by the copper mining operations in the Negev. Copper was mined and smelted on site using local brushwood as fuel. The mining operations denuded the area where the Bedouin and caravaneers grazed their goats and camels causing a conflict between the miners and the shepherding Bedouin and camel herders. The conflict is represented in the Cain and Abel saga in which Cain represented the mining interests and Abel represented Bedouin pastoralism as well as the caravaneers in the frankincense trade.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, the line of Kain included a metal working sub-caste. These were in service of the ruler. Kain is the iconic first ruler in the Bible.

Abel represents the shepherd caste, also in service of the ruler-priests.

The more important story, I believe, is the relationship between the lines of Kain (Genesis 4) and his brother Seth (Genesis 5). These ruler lines intermarried.

AlDahir said...


The Kenites (Qynites) were the Judeans. Some of the clan gods of the Kenites/Cainites (Gen 4) were included as the sons of Seth (Hyksos/Egyptian god of desert storms and foreigners) and the ancestors of the Judeans. The clan gods included Qyn/Qynn, Semitic god of smiths, Lamech (shiny one or copper god) and Methusaleh (god of weapons). The Judean authors of the Torah drowned their Kenite gods and their offspring in a great flood so that they became exclusively the sons of Yhwh thru Shem (Isa 63:16). However, they believed the goyim were the children of other gods thru the wives of Ham & Japheth. It is all explained in Deut 32:18,32-31 where the word 'tsur' or rock is substituted for the word 'god'. Gen 4 explains how the 'bnwt ha adam' or daughters of Adam married the 'bny ha elohim' sons of gods and begat the nephilim. This bloodline survived thru the wives of Ham & Japheth. Their offspring are referred to as goyim in the OT.
BTW,both Moses & Aaron are described as master smiths who knew how to fashion molten idols (Ex 32 & Num 21:8,9) Judeans were Kenites!

Alice C. Linsley said...

The lines of Cain and his brother Seth intermarried, so Moses and Abraham are descendants of both rulers. The metal workers among them were in service of the ruler-priests who were called "Habiru" in ancient texts. The word "Hebrew" is derived from Habiru or Hapiru.