CAIN, the eldest son of Adam and Eve according to the narrative of the Jehovist (Gen. iv.) Various derivations of the name have been suggested, the most probable being from r9i?, "to obtain," the word used in Gen. iv. 1 : "Eve bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord." According to the Biblical narrative (Gen, iv.) Cain was a tiller of the ground, while his younger brother, Abel, was a keeper of sheep. Enraged at the acceptance of Abel's offering by the Lord, and the rejection of his own, he slew his brother in the field. For this a curse was pronounced upon him, and he was condemned to be a "fugitive and a vagabond" on the earth, a mark being set upon him "lest any finding him should kill him." He took up his abode in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden, where he built a city, which he named after his son Enoch. The narrative presents a number of difficulties, which commentators have sought to solve with more ingenuity than success. On the reason for the preference of Abel's offering to Cain's some light is thrown by the references in the New Testament (Hob. xi. 4; 1 John iii. 12). The phrase "the Lord set a mark upon Cain" is perhaps more accurately rendered " the Lord gave a sign to Cain," and has been variously explained as referring to some pledge of safety given to Cain personally, or to some sign of warning and prohibition to mankind in general. There is an apparent contradiction between the condemnation of Cain to lead a nomadic life (ver. 12) and his subsequent settlement in a city, which it has been sought to reconcile by making the doom refer to the natural restlessness of the criminal and estrangement from the Adamic home. The endeavours that have been made to fix the precise locality of the land of Nod are based upon mere conjecture. The implied existence of a considerable population on the earth (ver. 14) furnishes another difficulty, of which no explanation that has been offered seems completely satisfactory. The parallelism between the list of Cain's descendants (Gen. iv. 18) and the list of the descendants of Seth (Gen. v.) has led several critics to identify the two, though it is denied by others that the mere similarity of the names gives any reasonable ground for doing so.
A Gnostic sect of the 2d century were known by the name of Cainites. They are first mentioned by Tremens, who connects them with the Vdentinians. They believed that Cain derived his existence from the superior power, and Abel from the inferior power, and that in this respect he was the first of a line which included Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and Judas Iscariot.