Cain's Paranoia

I wanted to write about a topic that doesn’t really get discussed a lot, but nonetheless still fascinates me.

Namely, what is the justification for Cain’s paranoia over being killed? Genesis 4:14 says “… and it shall come to pass that anyone who shall find me [Cain] shall slay me.” Up until this point of the narrative we are only informed of three other people living on earth: Adam, Eve and Abel (whom Cain just slew). The text doesn’t quite “gell” that Cain would be indicating “anyone” to meaning specifically his parents. If Cain’s paranoia is irrational, then why does God affirm his statement in the next verse: Genesis 4:15 “And the Lord said, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold. And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest any that finding him should kill him.” The other question is where does Cain get his unnamed wife? To this last question, I will only get too later.

To study up on this question I’m going back to Eve’s comment that she made after bearing Cain: Genesis 4:1 “And Adam knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.” I’ve read many commentators on this verse, and the vast majority interpreted Eve’s comment to imply that this is her very first child.

  1. I have gotten a man…” this implies surprise, and joy, at her capability of producing life. Would this comment make sense if this was already her tenth child being born?
  2. By the word “man” it implies that Eve didn’t have yet the need for verbiage to distinguish the difference between “man” and “child”, so she said “I have gotten a man”.

Commentators are also in general agreement that she is referring back to what happened in the Garden, when God promised Eve that her seed would “bruise the head of the serpent”… i.e., vanquishing evil. This is indicative of the last phrase, “from the Lord” or rather “with the help of the Lord”. If this is the case she will sorely be disappointed.

Next I will read Eve’s other comment, referring to the birth of Seth: Genesis 4:25 “And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed, instead of Abel, whom Cain hath slew.” used in conjunction with Genesis 5:3 "And Adam lived 130 years and begot a son … and called his name Seth."

This knowledge tells us two important things:

  1. Cain and Abel are both born prior to the birth of Seth, which took place in year 130 YAA (years after Adam)

  2. Abel’s death took place prior to the birth of Seth, as well as Cain’s paranoia over being killed by other people.

Here we start to have a timeline for events. All these events took place sometime prior to year 130. Using the Genesis genealogies as our model we can infer that people were most often, bearing children in ages 65 - 500 years old (youngest breeders being Enoch and Mahalaleel, oldest breeder being Noah). The average time for begetting children would be 157, if you include Noah, or 119 if you don’t include him. If we are optimistic about Adam and Eve, then we can say Eve started bearing children, somewhere around the neighborhood of 65 years old — the youngest age recorded in Genesis 5.

If you accept my arguments in point #1 and point #2, then odds are Cain is Eve’s first child, and he was born somewhere around the neighborhood of year 65. If we are being optimistic yet again for “the case of Cain’s paranoia”, let’s say that Abel’s murder took place when Cain was 65, in the year 130 (the oldest possible age Cain could be before Seth was born in year 130). If we assume that after the birth of Cain and Abel, Eve is pumping out babies as fast as humanly possible (i.e., 1 baby per 9 months) then at the very most amount of people we can expect living at this time , excluding Adam and Eve, are 86 (or (65 x 12) / 9), all of whom are younger than him.

However all of these are optimistic assumptions and are constructed in the favor of supporting Cain’s fear of being killed by other people. No one really imagines that the Cain & Abel Episode took place when they were in their sixties. A more realistic picture is them in their 20s or, at most, 30s. So that number drops down significantly to around 26 (or (20 x 12) / 9) other people out there in the world, all of whom are, again, younger than Cain, many of whom would be toddlers.

Reading Adam and Eve’s comment yet again, let’s analyze further: “And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain hath slew.

Nothing in the language of this verse, or in Eve’s detailed description, would imply that Eve had any children between the time she bore Cain&Abel to the time she bore Seth. God hath appointed me “another seed” instead of Abel (i.e., to replace Abel), whom Cain slew. As it to say her seed were few and far between. One might say she could have had a few children in between that time. But does her comment make sense if she, say, had 10-20 children in between that time? Possibly… but that explanation seems forced to me.

The justification for Cain being fearful that his siblings would murder him are built off the premise that in Genesis 5 it says that Adam and Eve had other children. But the text does not, however, say that these children were born between the birth of Cain and the birth of Seth, nor before the birth of Cain. In fact, the text implies just the opposite… that Seth was, in all likelihood, Eve’s third child. Secondly, the text does not say “my siblings will kill me”, being something that he was familiar with, but it says “anyone that finds me”, implying a general fear of being killed for the crime of murder.

Next we will be discussing the idea of “where did Can get his wife?” and “who is Cain’s wife?”

To the first question I will present two possibilities.

Option #1) He got his wife before he went into exile.

Option #2) He got his wife after he went into exile (presumably the land of Nod).

To Option #1, I have some serious difficulties. To say Cain got his wife before he went into exile, means that Cain brought his wife INTO exile with him. But Cain says "Anyone that will FIND me shall slay me". God then puts a mark on him saying, "Lest any that should FIND him shall slay him." This doesn’t seem to make room for an exile of Cain (plus his wife), but rather indicates that Cain alone went into exile. Secondly, Cain’s unnamed wife is mentioned immediately after his exile into the Land of Nod — implying that that’s the place where he got his wife.

But this makes problems more difficult. Now we seem to have two separate civilizations, when I just demonstrated that we can only optimistically expect 86 other people in the world given the data of Eve’s comment concerning Seth, and the data from the Genesis 5 genealogy. Did society break off into two groups at the very early stages of 80 people? worse, yet, a more likely scenario of 20 people?

The other question was “who was Cain’s wife?”. The most frequent answer is that Cain married his sister. But this answer is not an obvious one, and is the only reasonable answer you can expect, given the presumption that Adam and Eve are the first two people, and Cain (and his wife) are both first-generation people, from that original pair.

My first objection to this explanation is based off of Option #2 “He got his wife after he went into exile (presumably the land of Nod)”. If Cain married his sister in the land of Nod, then how did his sister get there in the first place? My other objection is why doesn’t the text explicitly say he married his sister? In verse 2 of the same chapter, it bothers to mention the relationship between Cain and Abel (they were brothers), and just 5 verses after Cain "knowing his wife" the text bothers to says “… and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.” Naamah’s whole entire role is inside this one little verse. She’s arguably the least significant character in all of Chapter 4, but we still know what her name was, and the fact that she was a sister to Tubalcain. With Cain’s wife we get none of that.

So let’s recap:

The premise is that Adam and Eve are the biological parents of humanity. The problem’s with this is, first of all, incest (which is called wicked in Leviticus 20:17)… would God purposely bring about humanity in this fashion? (I’ve discussed this already in previous posts). Second, according to Cain’s statements, and God’s subsequent affirmation of Cain’s statements, they’re other people out there in the world, that would wish to kill Cain, but according to my collected analysis of the Genesis 5 numbers, and Eve’s comments, we can only (very optimistically) expect there to be 86 other people in the world, all of whom are younger and related to Cain. A more reasonable amount of people would be somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty; and much less then that, depending on how realistic you think Eve’s comments are concerning the birth of Seth. Third, we can see quite plainly that there are two different civilizations going on in the very early stages of humanity… but how can this be if there are only, optimistically speaking, about a hundred people in existence, and realistically speaking, probably more likely 20 people? Fourth, Cain’s wife does not imply familiarity on Cain’s part. Unless one wants to say that Cain’s sister left early on to join this “other civilization”, when Cain was too young to remember her, and thus the unfamiliarity is justified.

I hope that I’ve demonstrated that in order to keep the premise alive, it requires heavy inferences, distortions, on the text, to make the scenario “work”. And even then, what you end up with is a unrealistic scenario of humanity breaking off into two separate groups, when there’s only so few people anyway, and for some unexplained reason.

Is it really a bigger leap in logic to simply say, that the scenario being painted in the early chapters of Genesis are mainly theological? rather than a literal-chronological history, that must be inferred (extrapolated), broken-down, put back together, just to keep a view of Genesis that is 100% literal?

I leave that for you to decide.


Really, never seen this discussed on the news, in the public square. Is it really a subject of a lot controversy? Between who?

A lot of discussion on this site has been about the genetics showing the impossibility of a single human couple as the progenitors of all mankind. A lot of discussion on how to reconcile Adam and Eve to that fact. Now you want to discuss events in Adam and Eve’s children’s lives. Do you first have to establish some authenticity of their reality first given the various ways A&E are reconciled to the genetic science?


Okay, Patrick. You’re correct. It’s not “controversial” to most people, but it is controversial to a very select group of people (e.g., biblical literalists).

Cain and Abel are still part of the Bible, and thus are typically important to most Christians. Also keep in mind that all sorts of people visit this site that don’t accept any of the science, but are simply interested in the Bible.

By talking about Cain and Abel it’s another way of expressing the difficulty of accepting Adam and Eve as biological parents of humanity (biblically speaking). But again, this is only a problem for those Christians of the young-earth variety — of which I’m really writing too.

I hope that clears things up (perhaps I will edit my first line there)…

Peace, my friend


Thanks for your understanding.

Yes, Cain and Abel are part of the Bible. And the same hard scholarship needs to go into figuring out what it means, especially what it means to you. How it impacts your life’s purpose and meaning. Biologos has a lot of excellent resources for that. I suggest getting your view of A&E solid first before going on to Cain and Abel or your head might explode. :wink:

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@TimothyHicks The only thing that I would add to your analysis is the implication that whoever found Cain wouldn’t recognize him or know that he is not to be touched. This doesn’t seem to hold water if Adam and Eve’s ‘clan’ are the only other people on Earth. In other words, Adam Jr. is going to know EXACTLY who that loner is living apart from the camp. Furthermore, he couldn’t have wondered far for his younger sister to classify him as ‘misunderstood’ and marry him.



I read this verse a long time ago, I have the same questions as I did years ago:
God punished A&E for eating fruit from a tree of knowledge with death and disease to all of humanity hence. Now Cain comes along and kills his brother, A&E’s son. And God won’t let vengeance be taken on Cain. What kind of a criminal justice system was God running then?

I question that biologically. Doesn’t mammals/primates/humans have fermones (?) that tends to push off mating with siblings? Does anyone know the science about this?

Why restrict this to two options? That does not make these passages easier to understand. An explanation (not necessarily true but reasonable) is that A&E were the first and only of the many thousands of Homo sapiens to receive the gift of conscience–a brain transformed into mind. A&E could then transmit this ‘programming’ verbally and non-genetically–not only to their children but to the other Homo sapiens living at that time–the people of Nod, according to Genesis. No reason to accuse Cain of incest, and so reason to wonder why his wife was not given a name. After all, that author of Genesis 2,3,&4 considered Eve as God’s afterthought.
Al Leo

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Congratulations on this comprehensive and thorough post. I have had a few discussions with Biblical literalists, who demand that Genesis 1 be taken “literally” but somehow manage to insert a lot of interpretation into the Cain story (which otherwise makes no sense at all).
I think Albert Leo has it right, (as do many scholars and thinking Christians). A and E were the first two humans who had a relationship with God. They might represent the first Hebrews (as Dick Fisher suggests) or the first farmers (as I have proposed) or the representatives of a “federal headship” The recent book Four Views on the Historical Adam, is a great summary. Three of the papers argue against a biological first human couple, by authors well known to folks here. :

Well, if there were many humans alive when this occurred, then it is highly unlikely that I am a decedent of A&E. I also don’t that any responsibility for anything that they did as it is they and their decedents that have original sin.

Actually, that isnt quite correct, Patrick. According to pedigree collapse, everyone alive today is descended from everyone who lived that long ago if they had offspring. As an example, all Europeans, (and many Asians) are direct descendants of Charlemagne, and all Europeans, many Africans and Asians would have been direct descendants of Jesus if he had had children. Sorry, Dan Brown, but your entire plot is based on ignorance.

If this doesnt make sense to you, try going back in generation time using 2^n as the number of your ancestors. You will reach the entire population of the earth after a few hundred years. This means that the web of relatedness increases exponentially as you go back in time. There are exceptions, such as for isolated populations, but for most people with any European ancestry, we are all cousins

You are correct. My mistake. I am descendant from every human long ago, even a few Neanderthals and Denosivans. Thanks.

But I still don’t take any responsibility for any of my ancestors crimes or debts :grinning:

Yes, and if we look back n generations, more than likely were are nth degree cousins.


Concerning A&E, their commandment and judgement. When God created Adam, he told him that he could of all the fruit of the garden (except for that one). When Adam disobeyed God gives out his judgement. Most people when they read Adam’s judgement they think the focal point is the cursing of the earth… But actually the focal point is Adam. God says “in sweat and toil shall you fruit of the ground” (before hand is access to food was plentiful and easy) “in bread thou shall eat all the days of thy life”… Now Adam has to till the ground to get his food. “cursed be the ground because of you”…

In Cain we see a similar trend, when he casts judgement “when you till the ground it shall not henceforth yield her strength” <<< a continuation of Adam’s curse… But there’s more to it also. Remember with the case of A&E God told them “don’t eat of that one tree”… But in the case of Cain he doesn’t tell him “don’t kill Abel” but rather He tell him to control his emotions. “Sin lieth at the door”, as it says… A personification of sin as a crouching beast, ready to devour, if you let him in. That part of the message, is talking about what leads to killing (what’s inside your heart). In Cain’s case it was jealousy.

When he puts the mark on him, it’s actually a more-or-less protection for him. At the end of Cain’s line, Lamech says “I’ve killed a man for my wounding, and a young man for my hurt. If Cain be avenged sevenfold then surely Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” <<< for me this is talking about blood feuds and how they escalate, and it also an interesting parallel with the New Testament. One of Jesus’ disciple asks him, “How many times shall I forgive my brother, till seven times.” And then Jesus replies, “I tell you a truth you shall not forgive your brother seven times, but seventy times seven.” The same phrase is used but the meaning is the opposite.

Lamech teaches radical vengeance, while Jesus of Nazareth taught radical forgiveness.

When Cain went into exile and to live in the Land of Nod, many take it literally, but I have trouble doing so. In Hebrew Cain is cast as a vagabond (translated nād) and then gets sentenced to the land of Nod. A Hebrew word apparently derived from the same Hebrew root. Vagabond means “wanderer”, so the land of Nod is really “the land of Wondering”… This makes sense because in the same verse it says “And he left the presence of The Lord.” … It’s get more metaphorical and figurative with this interpretation… And even more so when you read what happens next.

“And Cain built a city…” One might ask how a person can build a city (which implies stability) in a place that’s called the land of Wandering! An almost paradoxical statement. This might be because “the land of Wandering eastward of Eden (which means delight), away from the presence of The Lord” is talking about Cain’s mental state after having killed his brother, and given into his emotions. Outwardly he’s building a city, but inwardly he’s unstable.

In regard to the doctrine of Original Sin, I’m really not sure why every church seems to teach that our sinful nature is inherited biologically from the original sinners, hence inheriting another person’s guilt. The definition of sin is knowing too do good but choosing not too… It’s a personal choice. Paul says “In Adam all die, but in Christ all shall be made alive” <<< this is saying if you believe and follow Jesus you’ll be saved, but if you follows the ways of Adam then you’ll die. It’s not saying you “inherit his guiltiness”.

I believe the reason why so many demand that A&E be the biological first parents, is because of this doctrine of “sin inheritance”…


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@Patrick These kinds of questions are both challenging and endless and so I’m not sure I’ll prove an adequate ‘sparring’ partner here. Mostly in that I don’t know what the absolutely correct answer is. First, a general observation…

We can never underestimate the cultural context of a historical setting, especially when assessing a group’s morality as it compares to our own. I have a strong hunch that things we consider morally upright the fleeing Israelites would have serious problems with. What I’m trying to get at, is that there is a cultural context here in which this ‘discrepancy’ makes sense. This is not an area that I have much specialized knowledge in, so I won’t bumble around trying for an imperfect example. Now, concerning the text you cited…

A couple things jump out to me that I think are relevant. First, many commentators infer that the punishment of ‘death’ likely referred to spiritual death, or separation from whatever unique communion they had previously experienced with God. I think it is also relevant that God’s first action in the text is to provide them with clothing to ease their shame. (I’ll connect back to this in a bit). It strikes me that Cain’s punishment is remarkably similar in that he is driven from the community he grew up in. Furthermore, we see God providing for Cain by protecting him from vengeance (his greatest concern) In both circumstances God responds to the action with a similar punishment (loss of community )and grace (providing their most immediate concern).


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Thanks Jim. That’s an excellent point — I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that! The Mark of Cain would be rather superfluous, with everyone in the “Adam clan” already knowing each other.


Thanks for your insights! But I think you misunderstood. I wasn’t accusing Cain of incest… I was interpreting Genesis 4 as literally as I could and showing that if one wants to keep the premise alive of A&E being the biological first parents, then you have no choice but to say Cain committed incest (and so would Adam’s other children, and by in large, all of humanity). But Genesis 4, when analyzed closely, has a lot of problems for that premise (incest is also another big problem).

As far as the creation of the woman in Genesis 2 I find it interesting that right after “the rib being taken out to form the woman” it says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

  1. it’s connecting a word-picture (the rib from Adam being made into Eve) with a theological point: the role of marriage and the role of family.

  2. if A&E are biological first parents then the phrase “Shall a man leave his father and mother…” Seems extremely odd. There is no mother and father at this point. Nor is there any family. Adam and Eve are the examples of the “one flesh” in the analogy — did A&E leave there father and mother? Just some thoughts…


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Thank you Sygar! Adam and Eve definitely play a huge role in the Bible, no matter which of those interpretations you go with. I think some of the problems are when literalists see you taking away from A&E their status of first parents, then you’re making A&E into a myth, or making A&E no longer matter. But that isn’t true. A&E are fundamentally apart of the Bible and Christianity — but it doesn’t mean they have to be the original parents.

Like you I see a lot of agricultural references in these early chapters… “… And there was no man to till the ground” “bread thou shalt eat all the days of thy life” (bread being a “processed food” not found in nature, but only through a process) “And God drove out the man to till the ground” “Cain was a tiller of the ground” “When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield her strength”… Etc. The list goes on…

A&E being a chosen people is also quite biblical too.



I think you’re onto something there! A&E both say “I was afraid because I was naked” then God makes them coats of skin. Cain says my punishment is more than I can bear, so God puts a mark on him for protection. Along with their punishment of being driven out, both also have to do with agricultural-based toil.

Hi Tim

I know you weren’t accusing Cain of incest. It’s bad enough that he was guilty of murder. Personally I have found it difficult to discern which parts of the Old Testament should be taken literally (and historically) and which taken as allegorical. It seems to me that Genesis 2-4 was the product of a committee. I love the passage that says that when a couple makes love, it is as if they become ‘one flesh’. But creating Eve from Adam’s rib–only after none of the newly created animals were found suitable to be his mate–well, it is difficult to put any sort of ‘spin’ on that, and I wonder how it got committee approval for inclusion, ultimately to become ‘Holy Scripture’.

In this Biologos forum, I have presented a reasonable solution to the Adam & Eve ‘problem.’ For biological purposes, humans appeared about 200,000 years ago as Homo sapiens, probably in what is now Ethiopia. For theological purposes, which what the BioLogos debates are about, humans appeared about 40,000 years ago in what Jared Diamond dubbed The Great Leap Forward. By some as-yet-unknown epi-genentic mechanism, brains were transformed into Minds–humans acquired a conscience. One piece of evidence for this sudden GLF is that these humans started to bury their dead with ‘grave goods’, clear evidence that they had a belief in an afterlife. So, in the area of acquisition of knowledge, religion is the older brother and science is the ‘smart-ass’ kid brother. No reason they can’t work together, though.
Al Leo

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