The first murderer builds the first city

I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis and on Wednesdays I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve been reading. Today I’m going to keep going on with Cain’s story, picking up after the murder of his brother.

First of all I’d like to note that I think this story has some clues in it that show us that this story is not supposed to be understood as literal or historical. (I think it’s more like folklore or mythology.) In a couple of spots there is a presumption that there are other people living in the land, not just Adam and Eve and their small family. When YHWH marks Cain as a murderer, he’s afraid of other people seeing him and wanting to avenge him. We aren’t told where these other people came from, but in this part of the story it’s assumed that there are other people around. We also aren’t told where Cain’s wife came from, she’s just there (briefly) in the story. And we aren’t told who lives in the city that Cain builds, but presumably there would be other people in Cain’s primal city.


After Cain the vegetable farmer kills his brother Abel the animal herder, YHWH tells Cain his punishment will be that he can no longer work the land and that he’ll be forced to wander. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted, while Abel’s was. Now the land rejects Cain while it receives Abel’s body and blood and advocates for Abel.

However, I wouldn’t say that Cain cooperates with his punishment in the story. Cain and his wife have a child, Enoch, and Cain builds a city, which he also names Enoch. It’s as though Enoch’s response to YHWH’s curse is to exit the land a build a new kind of environment.

Cain is marked by YHWH so that people will know that he is a murderer, so Cain builds a city where he can hide from avengers. I wonder if the story is saying that cities are places where criminals go to hide? I wonder how Cain would tell the story? Do you think cities can proivide a shelter for people in trouble?

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