Who Was the Wife of Cain?

A closer look at one of the most enigmatic women in Genesis

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2013.—Ed.


Mary Joan Winn Leith explores the identity of the wife of Cain.

While there are many examples of strong and inspiring men and women in Genesis, the book is also packed with stories of dysfunctional families, which is evidenced from the very beginning with the first family—Adam, Eve and their two children, Cain and Abel. In no short amount of time—just 16 verses after announcing the birth of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4—Cain has murdered his younger brother and is consequently exiled from the land. In theory, this would have dropped the world’s population from four down to three. The narrative continues in Genesis 4 with Cain settling in the land of Nod and having children with his wife. Who did Cain marry? Where did she come from? Are there other people outside of Eden? In the November/December 2013 issue of BAR, Mary Joan Winn Leith addresses these questions and explores the identity of the wife of Cain in “Who Did Cain Marry?”

Given that the wife of Cain is only mentioned once in the Old Testament, she would not be counted among the famous women in Genesis. Nevertheless, her identity is still worth investigating. Who did Cain marry? Mary Joan Winn Leith first explores the traditional Jewish and Christian answers that contend that the wife of Cain was another daughter of Adam and Eve. According to this reasoning, Cain would have married his sister—one of Abel’s twin sisters no less, according to the Genesis Rabbah.

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s latest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldeans, the birthplace of Abraham.

A different answer emerges when Leith turns from the traditional responses about the wife of Cain and delves into modern scholarship. Looking at recent work done by sociologists and anthropologists, she notes that when forming a group identity, we tend to define ourselves by how we differ from other groups. In the ancient Near East, sometimes those outside of a particular group or society were considered less “human” by those inside of the group. An important factor that contributes to this mindset is geography. People in the ancient Near East typically stayed close to home, which affected their perception of the world. Surely they knew that other groups of people—potential enemies or allies—existed far away, but if they never came into contact with these groups, what did they matter?

Mary Joan Winn Leith suggests that while the Israelite storyteller knew that other men and women in Genesis existed outside of Eden, they did not matter to him or factor into his account. He was concerned with Adam and Eve and their progeny—not those outside of this group.

Who did Cain marry? There are many answers. For Leith’s explanation of the identity of the wife of Cain—one of the often-overlooked women in Genesis—see her full column.


BAS Library Members: Read the full column “Who Did Cain Marry?” by Mary Joan Winn Leith in the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on November 15, 2013.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

What Happened to Cain in the Bible?

Cain and Abel in the Bible
Bible Review’s Supporting Roles by Elie Wiesel

The Adam and Eve Story: Eve Came From Where?


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  1. STEPHEN says


  2. Lilith says

    Big letters don’t lend credence to obsolete tenets. Daughters before Seth are phoney, just as the rest of the traditional exegesis.

  3. Lilith says

    PS: There have already been named countries even in Adams times (Gen. 2.10-14). Pretty much every name has a meaning, including country names.

  4. Ben says

    Consider the FACT that today’s genetic diversity DID NOT begin with only Two individuals.

    You MUST either accept the existence of other Humans outside of Eden or abandon your faith and reason.

    There is no other option.

  5. Lilith says

    Thats right, so forget about all the creationistic crap about “kosher” genes and sibling incest and make friends with “unholy” preadamites, coadamites and “wicked” evolution (Gen. 2:4)!

    Mwahahaha 😉

  6. Margaret says

    Cains wife was and ape…

  7. JustJim says

    I’m a follower of Christ and love God. I’m definitely an advocate in the “case for God.” In His wisdom, there are some things a bit difficult to reconcile. So, I’m not sure I completely follow your logic, in all due respect. Seth and the host of Adam & Eve’s children were subsequent to Cain’s marriage–as in it couldn’t be possible that Cain married a sister. But I must add, “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man”–it would take us entering the raw presence of God to seek His counsel. Sounds too spiritual I know, but there is a greater reality in God we haven’t entered into yet.

  8. nice says

    Hello i want to know what language used by adam and eve? Im very curious about it.thank you.

  9. Pier says

    Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varazze, Historia Scholastica in Gen 4:1 (PL 198, 1076) by Peter Comestor, Seder ha-Dorot: Cain married his sister Calmana and Abel married another sister Delbora

  10. Mohamed says

    In the Islamic tradition that comes from prophet’s sons , Shia , there is another view regarding Cane’s wife . She is Nymph . And it is not only Cane who got married but also other sons of Adam ,peace be upon him , like Sheeth and Yafeth who also got to another nymphs .

  11. geovanni says

    Remenber thatgod cursed cain by putting a mark on his face ,no one could kill him ,no one else ,had more people edens surroundings

  12. dustin says

    Why does BAR continually post heretical articles? Suggesting there were other people groups implies the reason for the suffering and death is not mans sin. Jesus appears to believe Genesis literally since He quoted from the book nearly 30 times. Please be fearful of adding to the Bible, especially when your opinion arrogantly dismisses the Bible in error.

  13. RABBI says

    Why can we not accept and understand that our Jewish-Hebrew Creation Myths are no less sacred, nor more sacred, no less historical, nor more so, than the Creation Myths of Native American Indians or African Tribes.

  14. Ken says

    My Chinese friend, a civil engineer there who was raised atheist & became an ardent follower of Jesus & Bible student after her wakening experience with Him followed by a vivid dream of Him summoning her to faith, had no problem with this question. She looked rather nonchalant & answered, obviously Cain’s wife came from the people God created in His image in Genesis 1.

  15. kenny says

    I’ll want to respond to some comments. First, both Genesis one and two have one male and one female. In Gen. 1 man is told to subdue and rule over the earth and that he plants and that animals also ate plants. So, he was to take care of plant life for he and the animals. In Genesis 2 God puts Adam to work with plants. In Gen. 1 God tells man to rule over the animal life and in Gen. 2 God puts him in charge of naming animals (an act of dominion). Genesis 5:1-3 combines the name Adam (Gen. 2) with the creation language of Genesis 1. Lastly, Jesus in Mark 10:6-8 combines the language of Genesis 1 and 2. Thus, these are the same two humans in both chapters of Genesis.

  16. kenny says

    There is nothing in Genesis to indicate that Cain married some unknown female. The ending of Genesis 5:4 does not indicate the timing of the birth of sisters anymore than “and was evening and was morning” at the end of each creation day, means that they occurred after the events of the day. All Genesis 4:17 says is that after leaving the land of Eden, Cain and his wife had children. It says nothing about when or where they met. The best answer is he married a female relative.
    Cain is worried about someone finding and killing him, so God gives him a protective mark. Who would and why would someone look for Cain to do him harm? Who would know the meaning of the sign? The context indicates that someone who knew Cain and what what he had done would seek him out. To know the meaning of the mark indicates someone familiar with Cain and what God had done for him. This seems to foreshadow the blood avenger, who was usually a family member. So, there is no indication of people beyond his family.

  17. kenny says

    As far as population genetics ruling out just two original humans, there have been a number of studies on sheep, horses, etc. which started with a known population and then many generations later, their genetic diversity was evaluated. Consistently, the calculations overestimated the size of the founding population. Over the years the estimates of the founding human population has been falling, from millions to just hundreds. We also have no Biblical date for Adam. Moses skips 6-9 generations between Kohath and Amram. There are about 13 generations missing between Obed and Jesse, even though Obed begat Jesse. If we compare the description of the land of Eden with recent research of the middle east, during the last ice age, we find a match. The Persian Gulf did not exist, because of lower sea levels. This left the area as a lush oasis surrounded by dryer regions. There are radar images of two massive river systems that met in the gulf area along with the Tigris and Euphrates. One flowed out of the mountains of western Arabia where there is gold and trees which produce a myrrh like resin. This matches the descriptions of the land of Havilah. The other flowed from Oman and Yemen. This fits Cush, originally populated by dark skinned people. So, Adam and Eve date back about 100,000 years.

  18. Angeeikyaa says

    It’s so difficult to answer this question,but let’s be honest that the Bible was written by God’s own prophets whom were filled with the Holy Spirit to pass a short, brief but concise massage. By this I believe that God wanted us to know that for every innocent blood shed, you must not
    go unpunished. Cain really got married from the descendants of Adam and Eve but not Immediately he was sent on exile, although he knew that Adam must fulfill the rule to born and fill the world so he went wandering waiting for her soul mate who the spirit of God never cared about as He was not pleased with his devilish act. Note, marriage can go irrespective of age difference, a man can marry a girl young enough to be their daughter.

  19. Lilith says

    To answer this question isn’t difficult at all. Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit, Gen. 1 isn’t telling about ONE male and ONE female. Zakar & neqebah are generic terms. Numbers aren’t called until Gen. 2-3, which tells from one man (isch) and one woman (ischah). Please note that isch & ischah have different meanings as zakar & neqebah.

    100,000 years ago, there were only preadamites. With the help of the biblical Genealogie, Adam and Eve can be dated 5500 b. C., the middle of Neolithic period. The Persian Gulf were created by Noah’s flood, an aftermath of the last glacial period.

  20. kenny says

    In Genesis one both male and female are singular in Hebrew. That’s two people. Again, Genesis 5:1-3 shows us that Adam of Genesis two is the male of Genesis one. I also pointed out why you can not just add the numbers to get to a date for Adam. For example, Moses skips generations in his own genealogy. Only by comparing other Biblical genealogies from the same time period do we figure it out. Luke 3:36 tells us of a Cainan which Genesis 11 leaves out. There is no way to tell how much time is involved in Genesis 5 and 11. Humans have been around for about 100,000 years. You said preadamites, are you a gap-theorist? If so, you might want to check out Genesis 1:2 which uses a waw disjunctive. This means that verse two is further explaining what earth looked like at its creation. It rules out a gap between verses one and two. Lastly, there was no global flood. The flood of Genesis could not be global, because God said that on day three He set a boundary for the waters, so that the earth would not return to Genesis 1:2 (Job 38:8-11; Psalm 104:5-9; Proverbs 8:27-29). Each of these are talking about the creation week. They establish that earth was covered by water at its creation and that God set a boundary, the land masses, which the water could never again cover over. This is also referred to in Jeremiah 5:22. Not until after the Tower of Babel did humans migrate outside of the Arabian peninsula.

  21. Steve says

    WOW, I don’y know who is right or wrong on this stream, bit it is wonderful to read so many knowledgable people discussing this important issue. My hat’s off to all of you for this informative reading.

  22. Lilith says

    In Gen. 1.26-27, “ādām” is mentioned in singular AND plural. It’s an appellative name for the entire mankind, as already explained repeatedly. The preadamites have nothing to do with a “gap theory”. They’re just the human beings from the first chapter. The gap theory is unnecessary, because the creation “days” are already long periods, so it don’t need another one in Gen. 1.2.
    The genealogy numbers reveal a rough timeframe, but you can’t elongate that to 100,000 years. Especially since Adam and Eve don’t belong to the ultimative beginning of mankind.
    Of course, Noah’s flood was local. It restricted to the Near East, like almost everything from Gen. 2:5 on. So it couldn’t harm the rest of the World (population).

    It’s easy to verify, who’s right and who’s wrong. Every dictionary can be Testament to it

  23. kenny says

    Hi Lilith,
    I see we agree on a lot, but adam is singular in verses 26 and 27. It is understood as plural, because the verb “to rule,” in verse 26, is plural “let them rule.” Why would it be plural? Because, two people are more than one. Two people equals mankind. Like I said earlier, male and female are each singular as well.
    Genesis 5:1-3 links the male of chapter one with Adam of chapter two. So, yes, Adam and Eve are Biblically linked to the origin of humanity.
    As far as dating Adam, there is no way to limit gaps in the genealogies. We find genealogies where father and son are literal father and son. Others, including in Moses’ line, where they are 6-9, even 13 generations apart. Here we must rely on general revelation.

  24. kenny says

    I would also add that the descrptions of the land of Eden, its garden and the surrounding lands only make sense during the last ice age.

  25. Jae says

    According to Genesis 6, sons of God married to human girls. They have the same body. But their souls were different. Cain was the son of God. His wife was human. Afterall, Cain went to hell and appeared within the body of Anneliese Michel.

  26. Lilith says

    Adam and Eve arise in a completely different way than the humans of the 6. “day” of creation. The preadamites descend from the terrestrial animals, as the verb asah in Gen. 1.26 proves. Their creation in God’s image in Gen. 1.27 refers to the typical human Features like intelligence. The appellative Form is also used for the other creatures and plants, without any creationist ever demanded only two individuals at the beginning of each kind.
    Adam grew out of natural reproduction. The same verb in Gen. 2.7 is also used in Jer. 1:5, where it descripts the arising of Jeremia.
    Not only that zakar & neqebah have different meanings as isch & ischah, the preadamic way of life is also different from the adamic. The preadamic rulership over the earth isn’t agriculture like in Gen. 2.15 (arets ≠ adamah). The preadamites were transient hunters-gatherers.
    The gaps in the genealogies are already limited by elongating the life ages. A human can’t live over 900 years, that’s obviously impossible. The beginning of Gen. 5 is just a summary from the preadamites (Verse 1-2) to Adam (verse 3) and so on. Once again the Focus is on the naming of the entire mankind, in the first two verses. No woman got the male name Adam.
    The Garden of Eden was in South Mesopotamia, at the end of the last glacial period, that’s right.

  27. Lilith says

    PS: The expulsion from Paradise refers to the Neolithic passage from hunters-gatherers to agriculturalists.

  28. kenny says

    First a couple of internal contradictions in what you wrote:
    “Adam and Eve arise in a completely different way than the humans of the 6. “day” of creation. The preadamites descend from the terrestrial animals…”
    “Adam grew out of natural reproduction.”
    In the first statement you propose evolution which, like the last statement uses natural reproduction. So, Adam would have come from the animals as well. So, where is the difference in your model?
    Later you say:
    “PS: The expulsion from Paradise refers to the Neolithic passage from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.” But, earlier you said:
    “The preadamic rulership over the earth isn’t agriculture like in Gen. 2:15…”
    So, which is it? Did agriculture begin in Paradise (Gen. 2:15) or after the expulsion?
    I do not hold to an evolutionary model.

  29. kenny says

    What does an appellative form verses a proper name have to do with what I have said?

    I have written a longer response to what you said in your last post, but here I want to stick to the single pair discussion. In Genesis 1:26 we have man without the article which virtually everyone agrees, here, refers to mankind/humanity. But, in verse 27 we find “God created THE MAN” and then it says “He created HIM, male and female He created THEM.” In Genesis 1-5 “ha adam” always refers to either “the man” (the individual named Adam) or the proper name Adam, in other words a single individual. The “HIM” always refers to an individual. So, just like Genesis two, we have a single man created first, and then a single pair of individuals (one male and one female).

    Genesis 5:1-3 and Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8 agree that Genesis one and two are referring to the same two individuals.

    Lastly, we find zakar and neqebah and ish and ishsha are used interchangeably for the individual mating pairs which entered the ark. Both refer to single pairs, not groups of male and female animals. Therefore, there is no reason to assume they the words refer to different humans in chapters one and two.

  30. Lilith says

    It’s easy to understand, after all. The preadamites descend from the terrestrial animal by being prepared from them (yes, we call this evolution nowadays) and via his parents Adam is connected with both the (non-human) animals and the preadamites. Natural reproduction is both a coefficient and a product of evolution.

    Isch & ischah are used for humans only, while zakar & neqebah are used for humans AND non-human animals. That’s another meaningful evidence for the animalistic origin of the first humans. In the Flood Report, it’s pointed out, that It’s about two individuals of each kind. In the creation Report, that is not the case. Him and them are both plural, him is just a formal singular. In many languages they talk about “the man”, the mankind understood, no special individual. In Hebrew, ādām is even more often understood as mankind than as a male name. Gen. 1:27 and 2:7 both content “ha”, but 2:7 uses it immediately, which implies that it isn’t the ultimate arising of an new kind.
    Jesus notabene never had insisted or confirmed, that Adam and Eve were the first two humans.

    Agriculture even began before Adam and Eve, 10,000 ago. The point isn’t that Adam and Eve are the ultimate first agriculturalists ever, but the first biblically recorded ones. They are examples, models, typical Exemplars of Their day.

    You “do not hold to an evolutionary model”?
    Ok, that explains everything…

  31. Lilith says

    Edit: contain, not content

  32. kenny says

    Your claim that ish and ishshah are only used for humans is wrong. I told you that in the flood account it is also used for animals (Genesis 7:2).
    You try to reinterpret Genesis 2:7 by using Jeremiah 1:5. Sure they both use yatsar (form), but one is from the dust and one is in the womb. Adam was formed from and therefore made up of dust (elements of the earth), and we are likewise made up of dust (Gen. 2:7, 3:19; Job 10:9, 34:15; Psalm 103:14; Eccl. 3:19-20, 12:7). The Bible reminds us that we return to dust when we die. They clearly saw this in tombs. We do not return to the womb.
    There is also the fact God had to breathe life into the newly produced body of Adam (Gen. 2:7). This was not breath after birth, for the Bible refers to humans as alive in the womb (Genesis 25:26; Hosea 12:3). Likewise, Exodus 21:22-23 makes no distinction between death coming to the woman or the prematurely born child. The breath of life, in the nostrils, is found in both man and animals (Genesis 2:7 and 7:22). See also (Genesis 6:17, 7:15, etc.). It refers to physical life (Job 27:3; Ezekiel 37:4-9; Revelation 11:9-11). I say this, because some try to claim it was God giving man a spirit. There are many more verses dealing with the divine breath.
    “Him” and “them” in Genesis 1:27 are translations of et. The first is singular form (him) and the second is plural form (them). Him refers to one person, unless you have other Biblical passages which use the singular of et to refer to more than one person. By the way the Greek translation (LXX) agrees and uses a singular personal pronoun for “him” and a plural personal pronoun for “them.”
    As far as ha adam (the man or Adam), it is used throughout the first three chapters to refer to a particular individual (Gen. 1:27; 2:7, 8, 15, 16, 18, 19,…; 3:8, 9, 12, 20, 22, 24). Combined with the singular form of et, you have one individual.
    To say, as you did earlier, that erets and adamah cannot or do not equate is ridiculous (see Genesis 7:21-23, 8:7-8, 13 and 9:2, etc.).
    Did you read the quotes from Jesus (God in the flesh)? He is quoting the two texts as a single unit meaning that He saw no distinction.
    The majority understanding for the last 2,000+ years has been that Adam was the first man and Eve the first woman, and that God started with just two people (Genesis 1:27, 2:7, 22-24, 3:20; Book of Tobit 8:6; Book of Jubilees 2:14, 23; Antiquities Bk. 1, Ch. 1.2; Acts 17:26; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47; Against Heresies Bk III, Ch. 23.1).
    There is no Biblical, exegetical, case for separating the male and female in Genesis one from Adam and Eve in Genesis two.
    Evolution is the reason you try to reinterpret the scriptures. You can hold to old-earth creationism without evolution. Evolution has not presented anything which cannot be explained by old-earth creation. Maybe you would like to check out Reasons to Believe (Hugh Ross’ organization).
    P.S. Of course Adam was the first Biblically recorded agriculturalist, he’s the first man. You originally claimed that the expulsion from Paradise referred to the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists, not that this was its first recording of agriculture in the Bible. Agriculture has been going on for at least 20,000 years.
    What exactly do you see as different between your “preadamites” and “Adamites?” Homo sapiens sapiens (we humans) have been around for about 100,000 years. We have DNA for humans (not referring to Neanderthals, homo erectus, etc.) going back over 30,000 years and they are us. Direct evidence for agriculture is over 20,000 years old, domestication of animals over 40,000 years, art (statues, musical instruments, paintings) around 40,000 years and stitched clothing and needles for making it are over 30,000 years, metallurgy is at least 12,000 years and large stone structures were being built at least 10,000 years ago. Modern humans prior to 5,000 years ago are no different from those afterwards.

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