Having Left the Garden: Cain and Abel

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

Genesis 4

1 Now the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ 2 She then bore his brother Abel. And Abel became a shepherd, but Cain became a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4 and Abel, for his part, brought of the choicest firstlings of his flock. The Lord acknowledged Abel and his offering; 5 but Cain and his offering, He did not acknowledge. Cain was very angry and his face fell. 6 And the Lord said to Cain: ‘Why are you angry and why is your face fallen? 7 Surely, if you do well, there shall be reward, but if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door; and its urge is toward you, but you can rule over it.’ 8 Cain said to Abel his brother…and when they were in the field, Cain set upon Abel his brother, and killed him. 9 The Lord said to Cain: ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ But he said: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ 10 Then He said: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 Therefore cursed are you from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; a vagabond and wanderer will you be on earth.’ 13 Cain said to the Lord: ‘My punishment/sin is greater than I can bear. 14 Since you have banished me this day from the face of the ground and I will be denied Your presence, I shall be a vagabond and a wanderer on earth and whoever finds me might kill me.’ 15 So the Lord said to him: ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him.’ And the Lord placed a mark on Cain, to prevent anyone finding him from killing him. 16 So Cain left the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch; he founded a city and named the city after his son, Enoch.

The full story with all its lacunae

Genesis 4 contains the account of the first births as well as the first murder in human history and of the rupture of the three basic human relationships: with oneself, with others and with God.
This narrative is characterized by gaps, silences and fateful unexplained actions that provoke more questions than solutions. Both literary and visual commentators have tried to fill these gaps and answer the important questions.
The description is bare bones: not a word on physical appearance, few emotions. Beyond the mere report of the births, the names of the new born and their occupations, the name of the first born is explained, but the explanation hides more than it reveals: Does mother Eve claim that God is the father of her child or simply that the child was born with God’s help? Abel’s name is not explained: because its meaning clearly alludes to his fate (‘transient,’ ‘insubstantial’) or because this second child just didn’t get much attention?

In time, the two brothers, Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd, bring God offerings from their labors. The central question that arises regarding these offerings is why the Lord prefers Abel’s over Cain’s? Was it because of the content of the offerings themselves, or did it have to do with the brothers? Both Jewish and Christian commentary concludes that Cain’s offering was lacking compared to Abel’s. Does this conclusion derive from the descriptions themselves or from the desire to justify God’s preference? Perhaps the preference was capricious? Was this a contest from the outset, in which one had to win and the other to lose? And beyond these questions, the commentators ask how God’s preference was perceived?
In the continuation of the story, Cain is crushed by God’s rejection. God speaks to Cain in his distress, but the divine counsel is opaque.
Exegetical problems continue to abound. Cain says something to his brother, but what he says is missing from the text. Did Cain plan to kill his brother or was he provoked into an unintended outburst? God interrogates the hypocritical murderer and condemns Cain to perpetual exile. In verse 13, Cain cries out three ambiguous words. The 12th century Sepharadi exegete, Abraham Ibn Ezra, writes that the word avon can mean either ‘sin’ or ‘punishment’, both part of a single process. Thus one understanding of Cain’s words is as a protest against his punishment. In response, God reduces Cain’s punishment by placing on him a mark of protection. Rashi, Ibn Ezra’s Ashkenazi predecessor, understands Cain’s words as a question: Is my avon indeed too much to bear? Thus Cain is begging for mercy, by reminding God of His previous (midrashic) acts of mercy. The 13th century Sepharadi commentator, Ramban, insists that the correct understanding of the Cain’s words is as a confession:
Indeed, my crime cannot be forgiven. We conclude that human contrition can prevent Divine condemnation – a prophetic concept generally lacking in the Torah.
Finally, a sign or mark of some sort is put on Cain – what does this mark look like? What does this sign (that has become a stock phrase in western, as well as in modern Hebrew parlance) do?
To sum up: the biblical story of Cain and Abel is characterized by ambiguity and gaps that the lay reader and the theologian must fill, according to their inclination and imagination.

In order to begin to unpack the artistic answers to the many questions raised by the biblical account, we will first examine a work that illustrates all stages of the plot: a bronze relief produced for the doors of the Baptistery of Florence’s main cathedral in 1424, by the Italian artist Lorenzo Ghiberti.
recounts the story of Cain and Abel in two acts, each with three scenes: the first is found on the left side of the relief and proceeds from top to bottom, from the brothers’ childhood by their parents’ hut, to their years of labor at their chosen occupations; the second act, on the right side, also advances downward, from the offerings and the preference of Abel (signaled by God’s outstretched hand) at the top, to the murder, and ending with Cain’s expulsion at the bottom. In both acts, the relief becomes more three-dimensional as it descends.

Comparison of Ghiberti’s treatment to that of other artists reveals that few others relate to the exposition found in the first act. Most artists are interested mainly in the offerings and the murder, and somewhat less in the expulsion. If so, why did Ghiberti choose to pay so much attention to background, which even the Bible limits (2 verses)? It appears that Ghiberti’s intention was to emphasize the horror of the murder by contrasting it to the pastoral atmosphere of the first act, the point of reversal coming with the rejection of Cain’s offering. The contrast is also expressed in the transformation of Abel’s staff, from the scene of his watch over his flock to Cain’s murder weapon, still in his hands as he is banished by God. The meaning of God’s and Cain’s gestures in this last scene is unclear: Is Cain rejecting responsibility for his brother’s welfare (Am I my brother’s keeper?) or is he begging for divine reprieve?
Artists, like literary commentators, expressed their own and their culture’s interpretations of our story.

The offerings

Holkham Bible Picture Book (Add. 47682
Holkham Bible Picture Book (Add. 47682
Rohan Book of Hours (Latin 9471
Rohan Book of Hours (Latin 9471

Master of Rohan

Ghent Altarpiece (The adoration of the Lamb): The Offerings of Cain and Abel
Ghent Altarpiece (The adoration of the Lamb): The Offerings of Cain and Abel

Van Eyck Jan

Let us compare Ghiberti’s approach to those of three northern European artists, of the pre-Renaissance tradition. How do they explain the divine preference of Abel and his offering?

  • There is a very noticeable tendency to contrast the two brothers by their physical appearance: Cain is ugly, awkward, bearded and repulsive, compared to the handsome and refined Abel. Consequently even their dress is different, as can be seen in particular in the Rohan Book of Hours. Ghiberti has no such contrast.
  • In several cases, another difference lies in the body language of the two brothers: while Abel kneels in reverence, Cain either stands defiant or crouches slightly. Once again Ghiberti did not adopt this convention, but rather showed the two brothers kneeling on either side of the altar.
  • As for the offerings, Cain’s cereal offering is usually shown as blighted, in contrast to Abel’s well-fed lamb. Here, too, the Rohan Hours, representing the Gothic tradition, emphasizes this contrast.
  • A special component of the Holkham Picture Bible is the “hell mouth” under Cain’s altar.
Holkham Cain flip
Holkham Cain flip
Holkham Cain, Zoom-In
Holkham Cain, Zoom-In

This demon seems to swallow the smoke of Cain’s offering, while Abel’s rises in flame. While Ghiberti also clearly indicates a difference in the flames of the two offering, this is only to explain how God’s preference was perceived.
All of the components mentioned so far appear in the photograph below from a performance of “Cain and Abel” from the medieval York Mystery cycle.

Notice, in particular, the symbolic figures accompanying Cain (left) and Abel. These figures serve a similar function to the two faces of God in another medieval painting.
According to the preceding examination, interpretation of the offering scene changed during the Renaissance: Earlier, many artists portrayed Cain as the quintessence of evil, under the influence of normative Christian exegesis; Ghiberti and other Renaissance artists pictured the two brothers as essentially similar. As a result, God’s preference of Abel seems capricious. As we shall see, the changing interpretation of our story is even more striking with regard to the murder scene.

An additional change occurs in artistic treatments of the offering scene in modern times, with growing focus on the brothers’ emotions rather than on their sacrifices.
In Dore’s engraving, the highlight is on the rejected brother (contrast van Eyck). Sophisticated use of light and shadow convey that all is not “black and white”. The success and failure of the offerings has changed: the hands of Abel, the “winner”, are relaxed and open, he is smug and satisfied, indifferent to his brother, self-absorbed. Cain, exposed and beaten, turns both toward his brother and to the viewer; his hands are clenched in anxiety. While the two altars are close to one another, they are also worlds apart. A gloomy forest is behind Abel’s offering, as if to stress the dire consequences inherent in God’s grace. Cain’s rejection is in the light foreground. The smoke that didn’t rise to the heavens curls and crawls at his feet. In the center of his altar, we see the unappealing remains of withered stalks, almost reminding us of the monstrous hellmouth of Holkham.
Hans Thoma, a German contemporary of Dore, depicts the one conversation between the two brothers. They have gone out to the fields to talk. “And Cain said to his brother Abel….” Perhaps Cain only needed to get things off his chest, to speak to someone, to confide in his brother? How did Abel react to his brother’s pathetic confusion over his rejected offering? Did he look into Cain’s eyes and see how distraught he was, how envious? Did he care? Abel did not yet understand how dangerous it is to be God’s chosen one. His self-assurance knew no bounds.

La Sainte Bible: Cain and Abel offering their sacrifices
La Sainte Bible: Cain and Abel offering their sacrifices

Dore Gustave

Abel's sacrifice
Abel's sacrifice

Thoma Hans

The murder

The murder is the scene that has always elicited most artistic interest. As mentioned above, the question of intent is central. Artists weigh in on this issue, and on Cain’s character in general, through their portrayal of his facial expressions, his dress, his body language and the murder weapon. While Ibn Ezra writes that the identity of the weapon is insignificant, one can draw conclusions here regarding Cain’s intentions.
For example, in Meister Bertram’s Grabow altarpiece, we see a satanic Cain, dressed in red, wielding the jawbone of an ass toward the coup de grace against an already bleeding Abel. His blue robe identifies him with Jesus, according to medieval artistic convention; his gestures, too, identify Abel as the ultimate martyr, beseeching mercy. Cain even tramples Abel, apparently in accordance with the literal interpretation of “vayakom Cain” “Cain stood up on his brother Abel and killed him” (v. 8). But the portrayal of this scene in the Duke of Alba’s illustrated Bible is even more violent: Cain bites Abel neck! This unusual modus operandi is apparently based on the Zohar’s account. And among the few Muslim depictions of the murder, a manuscript from 1300 in New York’s Morgan Library has Cain about to crush the sleeping Abel with a large stone. This artist seems to have understood vayakom as “surprised,” similarly to the interpretation of most Jewish commentators.

Duke of Alba Bible: Cain and Abel
Duke of Alba Bible: Cain and Abel
Grabow Altarpiece: Cain slaying Abel
Grabow Altarpiece: Cain slaying Abel

Meister Bertram

The Benefits of Animals by Ubayd Allah Ibn Bakhtishu (M.500
The Benefits of Animals by Ubayd Allah Ibn Bakhtishu (M.500

As already mentioned, until the Renaissance, most depictions of the murder were based on its christological interpretation as a prefiguration of Jesus’ murder by the Jews. It is fascinating, therefore, to note the absence of this story from Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling. Apparently the theological interpretation did not attract Michelangelo. And while the story continues to appear after the Renaissance, its depiction has usually changed dramatically. It is no longer seen as a condemnation of the Jews, but as a metaphor for human-political struggle and competition. For example, Titian painted the two brothers as equally muscular and similarly clothed men.

Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel

But stereotypical interpretation reappears at the end of 19th century, in a statue of the German Reinhold Begas, who sculpted numerous portraits of Bismarck and other German nationalist figures. Here Cain is cast as a muscular African native, cautiously guarding his prey—Abel’s limp, pale body hanging on a severed tree stump. Thus the biblical story is reinterpreted as a warning against the threat of the “inferior races.” Begas’ iconography is based on Michelangelo’s pieta—which profoundly impressed Begas during his sojourn in Italy—but here any hint of pity has disappeared.

Michelangelo, Pieta, 1498-99
Michelangelo, Pieta, 1498-99
Murder of Abel
Murder of Abel

Begas Reinhold

The expulsion and the mark

After the murder, there is a lengthy dialogue between Cain and God, consisting of interrogation, accusation, response and partial reprieve. Neither God’s intentions nor Cain’s responses are entirely clear, as already indicated. Once again, artists express their varied interpretations of these issues through facial expressions, gestures and stances.

For example, in this scene from the 12th century mosaics of Monreale, Sicily, Abel’s blood is personified in the little man, whose voice cries out from the earth. Conventional Byzantine art, shows God, without emotion, gesturing Cain toward his exile, while Cain lamely lifts a hand in defense.

Similarly, Muslim illuminations seldom express emotion. However, in the story illustrated here, Cain is overcome by guilt after the murder and not knowing what to do with Abel’s body, he carries it on his back for days until the merciful Allah, sends two birds to teach Cain about burial. A similar story is found in several Jewish midrashim. Thus, in both Jewish and Muslim sources, a modicum of understanding is accorded Cain’s emotional condition.

This empathetic approach toward Cain grew in modern times, as in English poet William Blake’s painting of 1826. The painting is suffused with anguish: Adam’s face and hands reveal his helplessness as the horrified Cain flees. Eve mourns her son with bowed head and body. In the very same period, the English playwright, Lord Byron, cast Cain as a tragic hero.

Interest in the emotions of the story’s characters can be seen in the twin statues of Ambrosie Gustinus, a 20th century Austrian sculptor. The statues can be understood in various manners. Is the statue on the left the contrite Cain or the injured Abel? Is the statue on the right the reverent Abel, after his offering has been accepted, or is it the rejected Cain, trying to understand his rejection. Victim and criminal seem to be aspects of the same individual.


Ambrosi Gustinus

The offering of Abel
The offering of Abel

Ambrosi Gustinus

Genesis Rabba 22:6
God acknowledged Abel and his offering – was satisfied with it

But did not acknowledge Cain and his offering – was dissatisfied with it

Cain became very angry and his face fell – became like fire

And God said to Cain..if you do well, lifting… – a blessing, as it is written (Lev 9) and Aaron raised his hands to the people and blessed them

And if you do not do well – also refers to lifting, a curse as is written (Lev 22) and they will incur (lit., lift) iniquity

Rashi Genesis 4:7
at the entrance sin is lying – At the entrance of your grave, your sin is preserved.

and to you is it’s longing – of sin, i.e., the evil inclination, which constantly longs and lusts to cause you to stumble.

but you can rule over it – If you wish, you will overpower it.

Ibn Ezra Genesis 4:7
hold high – Many commentators understand this to refer to “your guilt”, meaning to bear the consequences. But I believe that it refers to “face, head”, since earlier it was written “his face fell”, indicating shame, as in the phrase “how shall I hold my head high” (II Sam 2:22). Thus its meaning is: If you do well, you will be able to be proud, similarly to “Then, free of blemish, you will hold your head high” (Job 11:15)

sin crouches – Some say that the word “sin” here is instead of “punishment”. Others explain: at your graveside your sins will crouch on the judgment day; these explain the vav in “his urge” as referring to Abel. Thus the reference in “why are you angry?” is: that I accepted Abel’s offering, because he obeyed you, so you are like his master. Others say it refers to the evil inclination, but this is not written. These explain: By the door of your house your sin crouches and accompanies you. And others say it is the opening of the mouth, as in “guard the opening of your mouth” (Micah 7:5). But I believe that the word “sin” refers to human instinct, which crouches within him.

Ramban Genesis 4:7
If you do well, elevation – Most refer this to “your sin”; Ibn Ezra explains it as “hold high your face”, as opposed to “why has your face fallen”, because the shamed lower their faces and “the light of my face will not fall” (Job 29:24), so that when one respects someone, it is as if he holds high his face. And this is the meaning of “perhaps he will hold my face high” (Job 32:21) and “you shall not hold high the face of the poor” (Lev 19:15); but I believe it means: if you do well you will outshine your brother, since you are the older. This is the meaning of “why are you angry?” – because when he was ashamed because of his brother, his status fell and when he became envious of him, he killed him. God said to him “why are you angry” – at your brother – and “why is your face fallen,” because of him; “if you do well” you will outshine your brother, “but if you do not do well” – evil will not only come to you from him, “but by the door of your house your sin crouches – to foil you in all you do. “And its urge is toward you” – it will desire to cling to you always, but “you will rule over it” – if you want, you will improve your ways and get him off your back. Thus God instructed him on repentance, that he was capable of repenting any time he wanted and He would forgive him.

Targum Jonathan Genesis 4:8
Cain said to Abel his brother, “Come, let the two of us go out to the field.” And when the two of them went out to the field, Cain spoke up saying, “I perceive that the world was created on the basis of Mercy, but it is not conducted in accordance with the quality of one’s deeds and justice is prejudicial – why was your sacrifice accepted and mine wasn’t?” Abel answered him saying, “The world was indeed created on the basis of Mercy, and it is conducted in accordance with the quality of one’s deeds and justice is not prejudicial – because my deeds were better than yours, my sacrifice was accepted.” Cain responded, “There is no justice and there is no judge; there is no world to come and the righteous are not rewarded nor the evil punished.” Abel said, “There is justice and there is a judge; there is a world to come and the righteous are rewarded and the evil punished.” Out of these words, they began to fight in the field. And Cain pounced on Abel and sank a stone into his forehead and killed him.

Genesis Rabba 22:7
And Cain said to Abel his brother – About what did they quarrel? ‘Come,’ they said, ‘let us divide the world. One took the realty and the other the movables. The former said, ‘The land you stand on is mine,’ while the latter said, ‘What you are wearing is mine.’ One said, “Strip’; the other retorted, ‘Fly.’ Because of this quarrel, Cain rose up against his brother Abel…

Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in R. Levi’s name: Both took realty and both took movables, but about what did they quarrel? One said “The Temple must be built in my area,’ while the other claimed, ‘It must be built in mine.’ For thus it is written, “And when they were in the field” – “field” is nothing other than the Temple, as you read “Zion shall be plowed as a field” (Micah 3:12). Because of this argument, Cain rose up against his brother Abel…

Judah b. Ami said, ‘Their quarrel was about the first Eve.’ Said R. Aibu, ‘The first Eve had already returned to dust.’ Then what was their quarrel about? Said R. Huna, ‘An additional twin was born with Abel, and each claimed her. The one claimed, ‘I will have her, because I am the firstborn.’ And the other said, ‘I will have her, because she was born with me.’

Genesis Rabba 22:8
And Cain rose up against his brother Abel…R. Johanan said, ‘Abel was stronger than Cain, for the expression ‘rose up’ can only mean that he [Cain] lay beneath him. He [Cain] said to him, ‘We are the only two in the world: what will you tell our father [if you kill me]?’ At this he was filled with pity for him; immediately he rose up against him and killed him.

With what did he kill him? R. Simeon said, ‘He killed him with a staff, since ‘and a young man for my bruising’ (Gen 4:23) implies a weapon which causes a bruise. And the Rabbis said, ‘He killed him with a stone,’ since ‘for I have killed a man for wounding me,’ designates a weapon which inflicts wounds. R. Azariah and R. Jonathan in R. Isaac’s name said, ‘Cain watched closely where his father butchered the bull, as is written, ‘It shall please the Lord more than a bull’ (Ps 69:32), and there he killed him, by the throat and its organs.’

Rashi Genesis 4:8
And Cain said – He entered with him into words of quarrel and contention, to find a pretext to kill him. There are Aggadic interpretations on this matter, but this is the plain meaning of the verse.

Ibn Ezra Genesis 4:8
And Cain said – Most likely he told him all that God had admonished him. And there are sophists born on a cold day who ask how he could have killed him without a sword? This is an absurd question – he could have killed him by choking him with his hands, or with the thousands of sticks and stones that were available.

Ramban Genesis 4:8
And the meaning of And Cain said to his brother Abel – He entered with him into words of quarrel and contention, to find a pretext to kill him, in Rashi’s words. And Ibn Ezra said that most likely he told him all that God had admonished him.. But I believe that these words are connected with the words “when they were in the field,” because he said to him “let us go out into the field” and he killed him there in secret. Perhaps he intended that by killing him, the world would descend from him, since he thought that his father couldn’t have any more children, and he also feared lest the major part of the world [humanity] descend from his brother, since his offering had been accepted;

Sforno Genesis 4:8
And Cain arose. Without prior conflict, similarly to “he ambushes him and pounces on him” (Deut 19:11).

Zohar I, 54b
Rabbi Isaac said: Come and see. When Cain killed Abel, he didn’t know how the soul leaves the body, so he bit him with his teeth, like a viper.

Genesis Rabba 22:11
And Cain said to the Lord: My iniquity is too great to bear – You bear the upper and lower worlds, yet can you not bear my crime?

Rashi Genesis 4:13
Is my iniquity too great to bear – This is a question. You bear the upper and the lower worlds, yet can you not bear my crime?

Ibn Ezra Genesis 4:13
My punishment is too great to bear – All the commentators agree that he admitted his sin and that the meaning of “bear” is similar to “forgive”, as in the phrase “forgiving iniquity” (Exod 34:7). But in my opinion, Hebrew refers to the result as “reward” and the punishment that comes as a result of iniquity is called “sin”. Similarly, “for the punishment of the Amorites is not yet complete”, or “no punishment will be exacted on you” or “the punishment of the daughter of my people is greater”. The meaning therefore is that this punishment is too great, I cannot bear it – and the correctness of this interpretation is borne out by the continuation.

Ramban Genesis 4:13
My iniquity is too great to bear – This is a question. “You bear the upper worlds and the lower worlds, and my iniquity is impossible for You to bear?” in Rashi’s words, from Genesis Rabba 22:11; But the correct meaning of the peshat is a confession – he said, it is true that my sin is too great to be forgiven, and you Lord are righteous and your judgments are correct, although you have punished me severely “surely you have banished me this day from the face of the ground. Because as a vagabond and a wanderer, I will never be able to settle in one place, I am banished from the land and have nowhere to rest, and I am excluded from your presence, because I cannot stand before you to pray or make sacrifices or offerings, for I am ashamed and disgraced, for I bear the shame of my youth. But what will I do if anyone who finds me can kill me, and you in your great grace have not condemned me to death. So the matter is that he said to God “Behold my sin is great and you have punished me severely, but protect me so that I not be punished more than you designated; because I will be a vagabond and a wanderer and I will not build a home and fences anywhere, animals will kill me, since you no longer protect me.” He admitted, then, that man is not exalted and able to flee on his own, but only with the help of his Superior.

Midrash Tanhuma (Warsaw) Genesis, Ch. 9 -10
In the course of time, Cain brought, etc. – “the course of time” can mean one year, two years, days and 40 years. The sages say: Cain and Abel were 40 years old.

Cain brought of the fruit of the ground – What is meant by this? He brought the leftovers of his food. And the Sages said, It was flax seed.

While Abel brought firstlings from his sheep and their fatty parts – In accordance, mixture of wool and flax is forbidden, as it is written (Deut 22) You shall not wear shatnez….

And the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: It is unbecoming that the offering of a sinner be combined with the offering of a virtuous man. Hence it has been forbidden.

Cain said to Abel his brother – What did he say to him?

Let us divide the world between us, and as eldest, I will take a double portion.

Abel said to him: A deal.

Cain said to him: In that case, I will take, in addition to my own portion, the place in which your offering was accepted.

Said Abel: No you won’t. And over this began their quarrel, as it is said: As they were in/on the field. And below it is written (Micah 3): Zion will be ploughed like a field.

And some say that Cain said to Abel: Let us divide up the world. And he said: Yes. Abel took his flocks and Cain his land to till and they stipulated that this would be a quit claim. But after Abel took his flock, he began to graze them (on Cain’s land) and Cain began chasing him/them from hill to valley and from valley to hill, until they grabbed one another. Abel was overpowering Cain, who fell beneath him. When Cain saw this, he began to plead: Abel, my brother, do me no harm. Out of pity, (Abel) freed him, but when he stood up, he killed him, as it is said: And Cain arose – from having fallen.

After killing him, he thought: I will flee from my father and mother, who will ask only me about him, since there is no one else in the world.

At once, the Holy One, Blessed be He appeared to him and said:

You can flee from your parents, but not from Me, as it is said (Jer 23:24) Can a man hide anywhere that I will not see him?

He said: Where is Abel, your brother? As if to say woe to him who pitied you and didn’t kill you when you fell beneath him, so you could get up and kill him.

And how did he kill him? He wounded and bruised him over and over with a stone, using his hands and his feet, since he didn’t know where the soul leaves the body – until he got to the throat.

When the Holy One, Blessed be He asked him: Where is Abel your brother?, he said: I don’t know, am I my brother’s guardian?

You are the Guardian of all creatures and yet You are asking me about him?

What is this like? It is like a thief who stole equipment at night without being caught. In the morning, the watchman seizes him and says: Why did you steal this equipment? He says: I am a thief and was just doing my job, but you are supposed to be a watchman, why didn’t you do your job? And now you’re blaming me?

Likewise, Cain said: Yes, I killed him – You created me with an evil inclination – You are supposed to guard all, but You allowed me to kill him. So You killed him, You who are called Anokhi (I); if You had accepted my offering as You did his, I wouldn’t have been jealous of him.

Immediately He responded: What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood(s) is calling.

From this you learn that he wounded and bruised him all over.

Is calling out to Me – Is calling out against Me.

For example, if two men fight and one kills the other while a third looks on and doesn’t interfere – who is blamed, if not the onlooker. Therefore we may understand “is calling out to Me” as “is calling out against Me.”

Said Cain: Lord of the Universe, I didn’t know (I would kill him) never having seen a dead person; how could I have known that if I hit him with a stone he would die?

God immediately answered him: You shall be more cursed than the ground, etc.. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its bounty to you.

He said before Him: Lord of the Universe, do You have spies that report the doings of Man to You? My father and mother are on earth, yet they do not know that I killed him – and You are in heaven – how do You know?

He said; Fool! I bear the entire world, as its is said (Is 46:4) I was the Maker, and I will be the Bearer; I will bear and rescue (you)

He said: If, indeed, you bear the entire world, why can’t You bear my sin? Is my sin too great to carry?

He said: Since you have repented, be exiled from this place, as it is said, And Cain departed from before God and dwelled in the land of Nod After Cain departed, everywhere he went, the earth would tremble beneath him and the animals would tremble saying: What is this?

And they would say: Cain killed Abel, his brother. The Holy One, Blessed be He, has condemned him: You shall be a wanderer and vagabond.

And they said: Let us go and eat him. And as they would gather around him, he would shed tears and say (Psalms 139): Where shall I go from Your Spirit and where shall I flee from You Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there. Though my bed be in Sheol, there You are. If I take the wings of dawn or dwell in the furthest sea, even there Your Hand will alight upon me, Your right hand hold me.

Indeed, you have exiled me, etc. The Lord said to him: Therefore, anyone who kills Cain, etc.

Some say that God sealed/imprinted the Sabbath before him/on his face, as is written (Ex 31): Between Myself and Israel, it is an eternal sign

Just as the Sabbath came to Adam’s defense, so it came to Cain’s defense

And some say He placed a horn on his forehead, whereby when Cain killed Abel and his body lay abandoned, since Cain didn’t know what to do (with it), the Holy One, blessed be He, selected two clean birds – after killing his companion, one dug with its claw and buried him. From this Cain learned, dug and buried Abel. In accordance, the birds were rewarded by having their blood covered.

Koran 5:27-32
27 And relate to them the story of the two sons of Adam with truth when they both offered an offering, but it was accepted from one of them and was not accepted from the other. He said: I I will most certainly slay you. (The other) said: Allah only accepts from those who guard (against evil). 28 If you will stretch forth your hand towards me to slay me, I am not one to stretch forth my hand towards you to slay you surely I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds: 29 Surely I wish that you should bear the sin committed against me and your own sin, and so you would be of the inmates of the fire, and this is the recompense of the unjust. 30 Then his mind facilitated to him the slaying of his brother so he slew him; then he became one of the losers 31 Then Allah sent a crow digging up the earth so that he might show him how he should cover the dead body of his brother. He said: Woe me! do I lack the strength that I should be like this crow and cover the dead body of my brother? So he became of those who regret. 32 For this reason did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men