Cain, the eldest son of Adam and Eve, made a sacrificial offering of his harvest to God as did his younger brother Abel. His offering to God was unacceptable in contrast to his brothers, which was accepted. In revenge Cain murdered his brother. Cain’s offering of the first harvest of his crops, according to John 3:12, speak of a regenerate believer, the natural man, who worship was lacking any sin of the need for the atonement for sin, which caused his sacrificial offering to be unacceptable to God; whereas his brother’s offering recognized the need for the atonement for sin.

After murdering his brother God asked him where his brother was; Cain replied, with the now famous phrase, «Am I, my brother’s keeper?» God told him his crime, or sin, was known. That he, the Lord, would place a curse upon him and the ground which he should cultivate. Cain would endure the torments of conscience for his brother’s voice would cry from the earth. Fearful that others should know of his crime, Cain pleaded with God who assured him that vengeance sevenfold would be taken on anyone who should kill him. God also gave him «a sign.» Some believe this was the assurance that he would be spared, while others say it was the «mark of Cain,» which the aggadah describes as a pair of horns which caused other creatures to fear him, and caused Cain eventually to be killed by his blind grandson Lamech. However, Cain was condemned to become a fugitive, and journeyed into the land of Nod, where he built a great city which he named after his son, Enoch. His descendents reached to the sixth generation, and are claimed to have achieved proficiency in music and the arts.

It was Cain whom the Gnostics made the archetypal outlaw. Cain was no longer seen as an accused fratricide, but linked by the Gnostics with the similarly persecuted Redeemer. Their reason was not just to defy Orthodoxy, but rather to defend and honor those who had disobeyed the cruel Creator-God whom they referred to as the demiurge. Cain was the beginning of a radical reversal of historical judgments which later was to include Judas Iscariot, who was justified because he betrayed Jesus only in order to bring about the redemption. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 185
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, p. 3, 161
Nigg, Walter, The Heretics, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1962, pp. 34-35