Triangulating Cain

January 13th, 2013   by   Andrew

This is a response to Sabio’s conversation on his post “Pre-Adamites“.

I thought this was too long to just leave on his site as a comment. Since it’s his conversation (and I’m not too active on this site these days), I’d prefer any further comments to be written on his site.


Re: The Mark of Cain

Interpretations abound. That’s literature. Genesis stories are particularly difficult because they are so tight and short. You can do anything you want with them. Here’s my fun with it (sorry this is long, but I hope it’s worth it to someone).

The last time you were so mad you yelled at someone, what did your face look like? Cain was so enraged, and so certain about being wronged, he killed his brother to prove he was right.

When you are deeply angry, do people want to look at you? People naturally don’t even want to be around angry people, let alone angry people that are always right. Some angry people feel so certain about how wrong the world is, they have to prove and argue and even willfully, violently demonstrate just how right they are.

Anger disfigures your face.

Let’s look at wikipedia – ” “mark” in Gen. 4:15 is ‘owth, which could mean a sign, an omen, a warning, or a remembrance. In the Torah, the same word is used to describe the stars as signs or omens.”

God (as a character in a story) marks Cain so that no one else will kill him, supposedly. It could also be a prediction – no one’s going to kill Cain, and maybe that’s because Cain is willing to quickly escalate his side of revenge to the point of taking life. He might even go further.

It could also be just a sign to others – don’t do what this guy did; it’ll get us nowhere. And don’t mess with him; it’s not worth it.

In Genesis it doesn’t explicitly say God was thinking about Cain’s best interests, or protecting Cain. He could very well have been thinking about everyone else that would have to deal with this dangerous individual.

When God finds what Cain has done, he first predicts Cain’s fate:

“When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”

Cain immediately casts himself as the victim in all this. He blames everything else but himself, and fears his vulnerability:

“My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”

God can’t believe his anthropomorphic ears. Are you kidding me? When you feel wronged, your wrath is not proportionate to what you think has been done against you. Anyone that kills you won’t just equally be killed, which is bad enough. Your line will want to destroy their whole family!

“Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.”

It does not say here the source of the vengeance. It does not say by My anthropomorphic hand. Let’s not put words into God’s anthropomorphic mouth.

Only after this does God “put a mark on Cain so that no one who came upon him would kill him.”

Cain’s anger and (self-)loathing made it almost impossible for anyone to be around him long enough to even want to talk to him, let alone kill him.

They would get the hell away from him as fast as possible. Haven’t you known people like this? Haven’t you avoided people like this?

One of Cain’s descendants is Tubal-Cain, a smith of bronze and iron. Tools. Weapons. Cain’s motivation to hurt others when he doesn’t get his way, and his descendant’s knack for war, create a dangerous cycle of willful and asymmetrical (unequal) revenge.  That leads to society-ending consequences. Even in a semi-nomadic society before legal systems and ‘governing authorities’.

One of Cain’s descendants is Lamech. Lamech tells his wives quite openly:

“I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.”

It’s now out of control. Lamech is even more wilful, more vengeful and more dangerous than Cain. Someone slaps him and he wipes out their village!

Some might say God ‘marks’ Cain to stop the cycle of revenge immediately. The forgiveness angle, maybe. I think it’s better to look at this as a prediction. Cain’s attitude and motivation ‘mark’ him. No magic needed.

Cain, supposedly, becomes both city-builder and cast-out wanderer. He just can’t get relationships with work and with other people right. Why’s that?

Well, look back at his sacrifice to God (as a character in a story). Cain puts in a half-ass effort to collect some twigs and berries. And this is to his God, supposedly.

Abel gives the best he had, and he was glad to do it. When measured beside his brother, Cain blames his brother for his own half-ass efforts, and takes out his hurt on his brother. How’s that for a sacrifice, God?

Well, it’s still a pretty bad sacrifice and doesn’t get him anything he really wants.

The signs are in the stars for Cain, supposedly. But he hasn’t set his sights on them. He can only blame them for being so far out of reach. Surprising really, since it’s all written right in the expression on his face.

God, I suck.


- – -


Genesis 4 -

Mark of Cain -

Some ideas from J. Peterson’s discussions of Genesis

- Redemption talk -

- the nature of evil –

One Response to “Triangulating Cain”

  1. Sabio says:

    good theological speculating
    or literature speculating