Hebrew In Israel | Adam And Cain; Like Father, Like Son – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Adam And Cain; Like Father, Like Son – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi 3 comments

In several cases we find in the Hebrew Bible stories use repetitive motifs to illustrate the ideas and messages of the stories. These motifs are used in a scheme which the author uses to move the story forward, and comment on different ideas. In Genesis 4:1-16, we find the story of the struggle between Cain and Abel, which led to the death of Abel and Cain’s expulsion. When comparing the story with the act of sin and punishment of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:4-3:24 we find analogous points that could indicate dependency between the stories.

The Similarities

Contact points are expressed as follows:

The story in Genesis 4 is located immediately after the story of Adam and Eve and opens it; the connection linking the current story with previous story. The story of Cain is a direct continuation of the story of Adam and Eve.

Both are stories of sin. It is however important to note that there is a difference between the two stories. One story is about sin against God, while the second is about sin against another person. It is also important to note that the reason for each sin is different in each story. The story of Adam and Eve‘s sin is driven by a snake, while the story of Cain and Abel is driven by an unclear, or unexplained reason for the envy. Though we are told Cain‘s sacrifice was not accepted, we are never told why.

After the sin there is a dialogue between God and the sinner where God uses the form of the question ”Where are you?“. The question is rhetorical, and is understood as a designed mechanism to strike up a conversation with a human figure and allow him to defend himself against the accusation.

In the dialogue we find an attempt to evade responsibility by the person and the person trying to transfer responsibility to others. Adan blames Eve, and Cain denies his responsibility for the safekeeping of his  brother. In both cases the punishment is similar: God banishes the sinners from their place, and the earth is cursed because of sin. Cain‘s departure before God is similar to that of Adam, but differs in that Cain was banished and leaves cursed and becomes an outlaw.

Both punishments follow the Talion law where generally in both stories of sin the punishment is proportionate to the act. Adam‘s sin is related to soil, and was expelled from it, and in Cain the earth takes the blood of Abel. The earth appears in the context of concealing the blood / body of Abel, and so he had to stay away from it.

It is common, as Zakovitz has demonstrated, to have a connection between stories throughout the Hebrew Bible. Hence, we can have between two existing stories a linguistic connection through the use of key words. In the case of curses in Genesis we find the question of “where are you?”.   

These points show the conceptual and linguistic connection between the stories. It would seem, based on the linguistic tools used by the writer, that the story format of Cain is based on the previous story of Adam who was asked “where are you?”, and in fact is a direct continuation to both, chronologically, and in terms of human acts deteriorating as we advance in the stories of mankind.

The Differences 

It is important however, to point out also some difficulties in comparing the stories. Cain’s argument “all who will find will kill me” does not fit the reality of a second generation of humanity. The question must be asked: Who can be the avenger of Abel‘s blood spilled by Cain? If only Cain and Abel were born at that time, no other people can take revenge. It can be argued that Cain was talking about the future when people will multiply and then he would be in danger. Another possibility is that the story is here to argue against blood feuds which were prevalent among the various tribes of Israel.

The author of the narrative creates an anachronism to express his opposition to this practice by utilizing the first act of murder and revenge, and presenting an opposition to the blood avengers act from an early stage of humanity, from antiquity. In other words, in the message being sent it does not matter whether or not there were more people, the point is the objection to the act of revenge.

In the story of Cain there are several key differences in narrative flow, leaving question marks about the behaviour of the characters.

The Gaps in the Story 

Besides the above differences, readers of the Hebrew Bible are left with many gaps in the story. The gaps which can be found are as follows:

The birth of Cain is highlighted while Abel is mentioned in passing. In addition, an explanation of the name of Cain is given while Abel’s name has no explanation attached in the birth story. Only after he is murdered we get a hint to the idea of how the Hebrew root hbl is used to indicate nothingness. 

What was the difference between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel? The text distinguishes the type of sacrifice and emphasizes the nature of the sacrifice of Abel, without specifying the nature (not type) of Cain’s sacrifice. Many commentators have attempted to explain why Cain‘s sacrifice was rejected, but the narrator deliberately left this detail out as part of the mechanism of obscurity used in the story.

In verse 8 Cain turns to Abel, but the dialog is not delivered and the characters are suddenly transferred to the field.  The Samaritan Pentateuch places a dialog between the two, but this is probably a harmonisation common in the Samaritan text.    

Despite the severity of the murder, very little space is given to the actual act. One would assume that the act should be much more highlighted, but once again the narrator is focusing the reader’s attention to the main message and not the details.

God gives Cain a sign to protect him, but the quality of the mark is not mentioned. 

Various attempts have been made in the Midrashic sources to fill the gaps:

The nature of Cain‘s sacrifice is explained by arguing it was a lesser sacrifice, or even an unacceptable one. The dialogue which took place between Cain and Abel in the field was about the marriage of their sisters and was the source of the dispute. Others argue that the dialog was a fight over grazing rights, or Abel and Cain’s right to wear wool. Details of the fight are also given describing that Abel overcame Cain and Cain tried to kill him in different ways before he discovered how a person dies. This explanation is used to also explain the plurality of the word ”blood“ used in the Hebrew in 4:10. These gap compilations change Cain’s character from a sinner to the image of a person under attack, and it no longer paints Cain as a sinner but as a victim.  In addition, this section added to the text in the SP, increases the presence of Able in the story by adding words to the text, and balancing the appearance of the characters and thus distracts the reader from Cain who is the original centre of the story.

The phenomenon gap in the story is explained by the idea that the author cannot and does not wish to report all the actions in detail, but to highlight the important points to the message that he is trying to convey. It does not matter why the sacrifice of Cain was rejected, but that it led to murder. Abel does not speak at all because the goal is to introduce the main character, Cain, who ends up speaking with God, and the criticism of the murder. The shaping of the presentation of the characters is motivated by wanting to stress Cain and the act of murder. As a result several messages are sent: criticism of revenge, thoughts on freedom of choice and human deterioration.

The Messages 

To understand what is actually being done in the text, the reader must look for clues placed in the wording of the text. There are several words which guide the story of Cain and Abel, and stress some of the messages in the story. Words such as: brother, land and killed are central. It seems that the words brother and killed are used to highlight the gravity of the act of Cain. By using these words in conjunction with one another, the discussion moves away from just murder to the murder of a loved one. It seems that the text is trying to emphasize the closeness between the brothers as an illustration of the brotherhood between humans and criticizes violent practices. The murder of any human is murder in the family because they came from a single source–Adam. Highlighting the earth as a symbol associates the sin of murder with the destructive force of the curse placed on man after the sin in the garden. The word “land” then serves as a link to the story before, while emphasizing soil and land.

Hence the reader is forced to associate the two stories with one another, and see the problem not only with sin, but also with human behaviour and nature. Man was created in the image of God, but the abandonment of God‘s laws brings man to a point where man has no respect to his fellow human. Lack of respect to a being which is the same as you makes the reader wonder if man can get back to God when he is unable to respect his fellow human. However, these stories are also followed by man joining together in the tower of Babylon to act in a manner which rebels against God, leaving a warning that the goal is respect which leads to a God-fearing culture, and not just mankind joined together as a group, but a group which remembers where they came from, and to whom they owe their lives.  


Enrique Jr Rodriguez

October 25, 2019 at 2:32 am

Wow amazing. Love the last paragraph. It hits a huge homerun. Once u abandon Torah u begin to lose respect for brotherhood. Thank you Yoel

Rocky Jackson

October 26, 2019 at 4:07 pm

This is an absolute truth.

Man was created in the image of God, but the abandonment of God‘s laws brings man to a point where man has no respect to his fellow human. Lack of respect to a being which is the same as you makes the reader wonder if man can get back to God when he is unable to respect his fellow human.

Wilfredo Canlas,MBA

September 11, 2021 at 7:45 am

In any man’s conscience which is the light of Christ tells anyone to kill is a grave sin. Cain has no right whatsoever or anyone to kill another person in coldblood. Although, we have the free agency to choose good from evil let us choose good by all means.- Willy Canlas

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