Cain and Abel

scriptures and legends
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2018

Contents

  1. Cain and Abel (Genesis).

  2. The Story of the Two Sons of Adam (The Quran).

  3. Can and Abel (Jewish Legend).

  4. Kabil and Habil (Palestine).

  5. Cain and Abel (Turkey, History of the Forty Vezirs).

  6. Cain and Abel (Turkey [Armenian]).

  7. Abel and Cain (Italy).

  8. The First Grave (Poland).

  9. Links to addtional texts.


Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Cain and Abel

The First Book of Moses, called Genesis

  1. And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
  2. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
  3. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
  4. 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:
  5. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
  6. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
  10. And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
  11. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
  12. 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.
  13. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
  17. 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.




The Story of the Two Sons of Adam

The Quran

Recite to them the story of the two sons of Adam; truly when they offered an offering, and it was accepted from one of them, and was not accepted from the other, that one said, "I will surely kill thee;" he said, "God only accepts from those who fear. If thou dost stretch forth to me thine hand to kill me, I will not stretch forth mine hand to kill thee; verily, I fear God, the Lord of the worlds; verily, I wish that thou mayest draw upon thee my sin and thy sin, and be of the fellows of the Fire, for that is the reward of the unjust."

But his soul allowed him to slay his brother, and he slew him, and in the morning he was of those who lose. And God sent a crow to scratch in the earth and show him how he might hide his brother's shame, he said, "Alas, for me! Am I too helpless to become like this crow and hide my brother's shame?" and in the morning he was of those who did repent.




Cain and Abel

Jewish Legend

The Birth of Cain

There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to show how long-suffering is the Lord, for all the generations provoked Him unto wrath, until He brought the deluge upon them. By reason of their impiousness God changed His plan of calling one thousand generations into being between the creation of the world and the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai; nine hundred and seventy-four He suppressed before the flood.

Wickedness came into the world with the first being born of woman, Cain, the oldest son of Adam. When God bestowed Paradise upon the first pair of mankind, He warned them particularly against carnal intercourse with each other. But after the fall of Eve, Satan, in the guise of the serpent, approached her, and the fruit of their union was Cain, the ancestor of all the impious generations that were rebellious toward God, and rose up against Him. Cain's descent from Satan, who is the angel Samael, was revealed in his seraphic appearance.

At his birth, the exclamation was wrung from Eve, "I have gotten a man through an angel of the Lord."

Adam was not in the company of Eve during the time of her pregnancy with Cain. After she had succumbed a second time to the temptations of Satan, and permitted herself to be interrupted in her penance, she left her husband and journeyed westward, because she feared her presence might continue to bring him misery. Adam remained in the east. When the days of Eve to be delivered were fulfilled, and she began to feel the pangs of travailing, she prayed to God for help. But He hearkened not unto her supplications.

"Who will carry the report to my lord Adam?" she asked herself. "Ye luminaries in the sky, I beg you, tell it to my master Adam when ye return to the east!"

In that selfsame hour, Adam cried out: "The lamentation of Eve has pierced to my ear! Mayhap the serpent has again assaulted her," and he hastened to his wife.

Finding her in grievous pain, he besought God in her behalf, and twelve angels appeared, together with two heavenly powers.

All these took up their post to right of her and to left of her, while Michael, also standing on her right side, passed his hand over her, from her face downward to her breast, and said to her, "Be thou blessed, Eve, for the sake of Adam. Because of his solicitations and his prayers I was sent to grant thee our assistance. Make ready to give birth to thy child!"

Immediately her son was born, a radiant figure. A little while and the babe stood upon his feet, ran off, and returned holding in his hands a stalk of straw, which he gave to his mother. For this reason he was named Cain, the Hebrew word for stalk of straw.

Now Adam took Eve and the boy to his home in the east. God sent him various kinds of seeds by the hand of the angel Michael, and he was taught how to cultivate the ground and make it yield produce and fruits, to sustain himself and his family and his posterity. After a while, Eve bore her second son, whom she named Hebel, because, she said, he was born but to die.

Fratricide

The slaying of Abel by Cain did not come as a wholly unexpected event to his parents. In a dream Eve had seen the blood of Abel flow into the mouth of Cain, who drank it with avidity, though his brother entreated him not to take all.

When she told her dream to Adam, he said, lamenting, "O that this may not portend the death of Abel at the hand of Cain!"

He separated the two lads, assigning to each an abode of his own, and to each he taught a different occupation. Cain became a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep. It was all in vain. In spite of these precautions, Cain slew his brother.

His hostility toward Abel had more than one reason. It began when God had respect unto the offering of Abel, and accepted it by sending heavenly fire down to consume it, while the offering of Cain was rejected.

They brought their sacrifices on the fourteenth day of Nisan, at the instance of their father, who had spoken thus to his sons: "This is the day on which, in times to come, Israel will offer sacrifices. Therefore, do ye, too, bring sacrifices to your Creator on this day, that He may take pleasure in you."

The place of offering which they chose was the spot whereon the altar of the Temple at Jerusalem stood later. Abel selected the best of his flocks for his sacrifice, but Cain ate his meal first, and after he had satisfied his appetite, he offered unto God what was left over, a few grains of flax seed. As though his offense had not been great enough in offering unto God fruit of the ground which had been cursed by God! What wonder that his sacrifice was not received with favor! Besides, a chastisement was inflicted upon him. His face turned black as smoke.

Nevertheless, his disposition underwent no change, even when God spoke to him thus: "If thou wilt amend thy ways, thy guilt will be for given thee; if not, thou wilt be delivered into the power of the evil inclination. It coucheth at the door of thy heart, yet it depends upon thee whether thou shalt be master over it, or it shall be master over thee."

Cain thought he had been wronged, and a dispute followed between him and Abel.

"I believed," he said, "that the world was created through goodness, but I see that good deeds bear no fruit. God rules the world with arbitrary power, else why had He respect unto thy offering, and not unto mine also?"

Abel opposed him; he maintained that God rewards good deeds, without having respect unto persons. If his sacrifice had been accepted graciously by God, and Cain's not, it was because his deeds were good, and his brother's wicked.

But this was not the only cause of Cain's hatred toward Abel. Partly love for a woman brought about the crime. To ensure the propagation of the human race, a girl, destined to be his wife, was born together with each of the sons of Adam. Abel's twin sister was of exquisite beauty, and Cain desired her. Therefore he was constantly brooding over ways and means of ridding himself of his brother.

The opportunity presented itself ere long. One day a sheep belonging to Abel tramped over a field that had been planted by Cain.

In a rage, the latter called out, "What right hast thou to live upon my land and let thy sheep pasture yonder?"

Abel retorted: "What right hast thou to use the products of my sheep, to make garments for thy self from their wool? If thou wilt take off the wool of my sheep wherein thou art arrayed, and wilt pay me for the flesh of the flocks which thou hast eaten, then I will quit thy land as thou desirest, and fly into the air, if I can do it."

Cain thereupon said, "And if I were to kill thee, who is there to demand thy blood of me?"

Abel replied: " God, who brought us into the world, will avenge me. He will require my blood at thine hand, if thou shouldst slay me. God is the Judge, who will visit their wicked deeds upon the wicked, and their evil deeds upon the evil. Shouldst thou slay me, God will know thy secret, and He will deal out punishment unto thee."

These words but added to the anger of Cain, and he threw himself upon his brother. Abel was stronger than he, and he would have got the worst of it, but at the last moment he begged for mercy, and the gentle Abel released his hold upon him. Scarcely did he feel himself free, when he turned against Abel once more, and slew him.

So true is the saying, "Do the evil no good, lest evil fall upon thee."

The Punishment of Cain

The manner of Abel's death was the most cruel conceivable. Not knowing what injury was fatal, Cain pelted all parts of his body with stones, until one struck him on the neck and inflicted death.

After committing the murder, Cain resolved to flee, saying, "My parents will demand account of me concerning Abel, for there is no other human being on earth."

This thought had but passed through his mind when God appeared unto him, and addressed him in these words: "Before thy parents thou canst flee, but canst thou go out from My presence, too? 'Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?' Alas for Abel that he showed thee mercy, and refrained from killing thee, when he had thee in his power! Alas that he granted thee the opportunity of slaying him!"

Questioned by God, "Where is Abel thy brother?" Cain answered: "Am I my brother's keeper? Thou art He who holdest watch over all creatures, and yet Thou demandest account of me! True, I slew him, but Thou didst create the evil inclination in me. Thou guardest all things; why, then, didst Thou permit me to slay him? Thou didst Thyself slay him, for hadst Thou looked with a favorable countenance toward my offering as toward his, I had had no reason for envying him, and I had not slain him."

But God said, "The voice of thy brother's blood issuing from his many wounds crieth out against thee, and likewise the blood of all the pious who might have sprung from the loins of Abel."

Also the soul of Abel denounced the murderer, for she could find rest nowhere. She could neither soar heavenward, nor abide in the grave with her body, for no human soul had done either before. But Cain still refused to confess his guilt. He insisted that he had never seen a man killed, and how was he to suppose that the stones which he threw at Abel would take his life? Then, on account of Cain, God cursed the ground, that it might not yield fruit unto him. With a single punishment both Cain and the earth were chastised, the earth because it retained the corpse of Abel, and did not cast it above ground.

In the obduracy of his heart, Cain spake: "O Lord of the world! Are there informers who denounce men before Thee? My parents are the only living human beings, and they know naught of my deed. Thou abidest in the heavens, and how shouldst Thou know what things happen on earth?"

God said in reply: "Thou fool! I carry the whole world. I have made it, and I will bear it" -- a reply that gave Cain the opportunity of feigning repentance.

"Thou bearest the whole world," he said, "and my sin Thou canst not bear? Verily, mine iniquity is too great to be borne! Yet, yesterday Thou didst banish my father from Thy presence, today Thou dost banish me. In sooth, it will be said, it is Thy way to banish."

Although this was but dissimulation, and not true repentance, yet God granted Cain pardon, and removed the half of his chastisement from him. Originally, the decree had condemned him to be a fugitive. and a wanderer on the earth. Now he was no longer to roam about forever, but a fugitive he was to remain. And so much was hard enough to have to suffer, for the earth quaked under Cain, and all the animals, the wild and the tame, among them the accursed serpent, gathered together and essayed to devour him in order to avenge the innocent blood of Abel.

Finally Cain could bear it no longer, and, breaking out in tears, he cried: "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?"

To protect him from the onslaught of the beasts, God inscribed one letter of His Holy Name upon his forehead, and furthermore He addressed the animals: "Cain's punishment shall not be like unto the punishment of future murderers. He has shed blood, but there was none to give him instruction. Henceforth, however, he who slays another shall himself be slain."

Then God gave him the dog as a protection against the wild beasts, and to mark him as a sinner, He afflicted him with leprosy.

Cain's repentance, insincere though it was, bore a good result.

When Adam met him, and inquired what doom had been decreed against him, Cain told how his repentance had propitiated God, and Adam exclaimed, "So potent is repentance, and I knew it not!"

Thereupon he composed a hymn of praise to God, beginning with the words, "It is a good thing to confess thy sins unto the Lord!"

The crime committed by Cain had baneful consequences, not for himself alone, but for the whole of nature also. Before, the fruits which the earth bore unto him when he tilled the ground had tasted like the fruits of Paradise. Now his labor produced naught but thorns and thistles. The ground changed and deteriorated at the very moment of Abel's violent end. The trees and the plants in the part of the earth whereon the victim lived refused to yield their fruits, on account of their grief over him, and only at the birth of Seth those that grew in the portion belonging to Abel began to flourish and bear again. But never did they resume their former powers. While, before, the vine had borne nine hundred and twenty-six different varieties of fruit, it now brought forth but one kind. And so it was with all other species. They will regain their pristine powers only in the world to come.

Nature was modified also by the burial of the corpse of Abel. For a long time it lay there exposed, above ground, because Adam and Eve knew not what to do with it. They sat beside it and wept, while the faithful dog of Abel kept guard that birds and beasts did it no harm. On a sudden, the mourning parents observed how a raven scratched the earth away in one spot, and then hid a dead bird of his own kind in the ground. Adam, following the example of the raven, buried the body of Abel, and the raven was rewarded by God. His young are born with white feathers, wherefore the old birds desert them, not recognizing them as their offspring. They take them for serpents. God feeds them until their plumage turns black, and the parent birds return to them. As an additional reward, God grants their petition when the ravens pray for rain.




Kabil and Habil

Palestine

Kabil and Habil, or Cain and Abel, with their two sisters, were the first children born to Adam and Eve. Adam, by Allah's direction, ordered Cain to marry Abel's twin sister, and that Abel should marry Cain's, for it being the common opinion that marriages ought not to take place with those very near akin, such as their own sisters, it seemed reasonable to supose that they ought to take those of the remoter degree, but this Cain refused to, because his sister was the handsomer.

Hereupon Adam told them to take their offerings to Allah, thereby referring the dispute to His determination. Cain's offering was a sheaf of the very worst of his corn, but Abel's a fat lamb of the best of his flock.

Allah having declared His acceptance of the latter in a visible manner, Cain said to his brother, "I will certainly kill you."

Abel was the stronger of the two, and would easily have prevailed against his brother, but he answered, "If you stretch forth your hand against me, to slay me, I will not stretch forth my hand against you to slay you, for I fear Allah, the Lord of all creatures."

So Cain began to consider in what way he should effect the murder, and as he was doing so, the devil appeared to him in human shape, and showed him how to do it, by crushing the head of a bird between two stones.

Cain, having committed the fratricide, became exceedingly troubled in his mind, and carried the dead body on his shoulders for a considerable time, not knowing where to conceal it, till it stank horribly. And then Allah taught him to bury it by the example of a raven, who, having killed another raven in his presence, dug a pit with his claws and beak and buried him therein.




Cain and Abel

Turkey

It is related that when our mother Eve bare Cain and Abel, she bare a daughter along with each. God Most High commanded the Messenger Adam, saying, "For the sake of their offspring, give to Cain the girl born with Abel, and give to Abel the girl born with Cain." The Messenger Adam did so.

Now the girl born with Cain was exceeding fair; and Cain said, "O father, let the girl born with him be his, and let the girl born with me be mine."

Adam answered, "God Most High commanded otherwise." But Cain loved that girl exceedingly; so he went and slew Abel. Thus because of a woman was blood first shed upon the ground.




Cain and Abel

Turkey (Armenian)

One day Eve called to her Cain and Abel, who, still little children, were playing on the grass.

She held out to her firstborn her right arm, and to her second son her left, and said, "Bite them, I command you."

The elder boy bit till he drew blood, but Abel merely imprinted a long lingering kiss on his mother's arm.

Then said Eve to her husband, "Our Cain will be a wicked man."

Adam and Eve loved Abel dearly. Cain was jealous of their partiality. He wished to kill his brother, but knew not how. Satan took the form of a raven, picked a quarrel with another raven, and in Cain's presence cut his opponent's throat with a pointed black pebble. Cain picked up the stone, hid it in his girdle, proposed to his brother a walk on the mountain, and there cut his throat with the pebble. The peasants of Armenia to this day call flints "Satan's nails," and conscientiously break every pointed black one they may find.

Cain, after his crime, dared not return to his parents; the blood of his brother still adhered to his hands. In vain did he hold them all day long immersed in a neighboring spring; the stain was still there. Night came on, and, not being able to sleep, he wandered long and far, seeking a waterfall. Guided at last to one by the noise of its waters in the still night, he lay down on the bank and held his reddened hands under the cascade. There he held them, day and night, summer and winter, during a whole year, without sleep and without food, but at the end of that time they were still as crimson as on the day of the crime.

And so long as Cain lived, he was never able to get rid of the proof of his fratricide.




Abel and Cain

Italy

They were two brothers. Abel greatly loved Cain, but Cain did not love so much the brother Abel.

Cain had no great will to work.

Abel, however, on the contrary, was greatly disposed (si ingegnava) to labor, because he had found it profitable. He was industrious in all, and at last became a grazier (mercante di manzi.

And Cain also, being moved by jealousy (per astia), wished to become a grazier, but the wheel did not turn for him as it did for Abel.

And Cain also was a good man, and set himself contentedly to work, believing that he could become as rich as his brother, but he did not succeed in this, for which reason he became so envious of Abel that it resulted in tremendous hate, and he swore to be revenged.

Cain often visited his brother, and once said to him, "Abel, thou art rich and I am poor. Give me the half of thy wealth, since thou wishest me so well!"

Then Abel replied, "If I give thee a sum which thou thyself couldst gain by industry, thou shouldst still labor as I do, and I will give thee nothing, since, if thou wilt work as I do, thou wilt become as rich."

One day there were together Cain, Abel, and a merchant, whose name I forget. And one told that he had seen in a dream seven fat oxen and seven lean. And the merchant, who was an astrologer or wizard, explained that the seven fat oxen meant seven years of abundance, and the seven lean as many years of famine.

And so it came to pass as he foretold -- seven years of plenty and seven of famine.

And Cain, hearing this, thought, "During the seven years of plenty Abel will lay by a great store, and then I will slay him, and possess myself of all his goods, and thus I will take care of myself, and my brother will be dead."

Now, Cain greatly loved God; he was good towards God, more so than Abel, because Abel, having become rich, never spoke more unto the Lord; and Abel would gladly have become a wizard himself.

Then Cain began to think how he could slay Abel and become a merchant in his place, and so went forth to cut wood.

One day he called his brother Abel, and said to him, "Thou art so rich, while I am poor, and all my work avails me little." And with that he gave Abel a blow with a knife, and dressed himself in his garments, and took a bundle of thorns on his back, and thus clad he took Abel's place as a merchant, believing that no one would recognize him as Cain.

And while thus buying and selling he met the merchant-wizard who had foretold the seven years of famine and of abundance. And he said, "Oh, good day, Abel," to make Cain believe that he was not discovered. But the oxen who were present all began to chant in chorus:

Do not call that person Abel;
It is Cain, do you not see it?
Cain who, for the greed of money,
Treacherously slew his brother,
And then clad him in his garments.
Now, O Cain! thou wilt be summoned
Speedily unto the presence
Of the Lord, who had condemned thee
Unto death for thy great avarice.

Cain came before God.

O great God of endless mercy,
Thou who art so good and mighty,
Grant, I pray thee, grant me pardon
For the good I did while living!
Truly once, but for an instant,
I forgot myself, but deeply
I since then have long repented
That I slew my brother Abel.

But God replied:

A punishment thou shalt have because thou didst slay thy brother from a desire to become rich. Likewise thou didst meddle with witchcraft and sorceries, as did thy brother. And Abel made much money and was very rich, because he did not love God, but sorcerers. Albeit, ever good he never did evil things, and many good, wherefore God pardoned him. But thou shalt not be pardoned because thou didst imbrue thy hands in human blood, and, what is worse, in thy own brother's blood.
The punishment which I inflict is this:

The thorns which thou didst put upon thy brother are now for thee.

Thou shalt be imprisoned in the moon, and from that place shalt behold the good and the evil of all mankind.

And the bundle of thorns shall never leave thee, and every time when anyone shall conjure thee, the thorns shall sting thee cruelly. They shall draw thy blood.

And thus shalt thou be compelled to do that which shall be required of thee by the sorcerers or by conjuring, and if they ask of thee that which thou wilt not give, then the thorns shall goad thee until the sorceries shall cease.




The First Grave

Poland

Adam and Eve were standing on the bank of a brook, and before them lay the corpse of Abel, who had been killed by Cain. As they sat there, not knowing what they should do with the corpse, suddenly a little bird fell from a nearby tree. The little bird was still very young and could not fly. The fall killed it. Adam and Eve looked at the dead bird and saw that it was a raven. Soon the old raven flew by, and when he saw that his young one was dead, he scratched a hole in the ground with his feet, and laid it inside. Then he scratched the hole full and flew away. Adam and Eve observed all this and followed the raven's example. They made a hole in the earth, laid Abel's corpse in it, and covered it with earth. This was the first human grave.




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Revised April 15, 2018.