Who Was the Wife of Cain?

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

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.
 


 
In the BAS DVD Bible Stories: How Narratives Work and What They Reveal, professor Ziony Zevit’s engaging lectures examine the art of storytelling and will have you reading the Exodus, the ten Commandments, the Book of Ruth and so much more in a whole new way.
 

 

Learn more about “Otherness” in the BAS Library

Mary Joan Winn Leith, “Biblical Views: Of Philistines and Phalluses,” BAR, November/December 2008.

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  1. nicky says

    I agree with Lee, Read Answers in Genesis, book 1 and 2, facinating truly Bible based teaching!!

  2. TDH says

    The Bible was not meant to be taken literally. The stories of the OT were meant to teach the faith, they didn’t have to actually have happened or happened that way. As one who is finishing a Masters in Pastoral Theology, I find Leith’s question and possible answer, interesting and worth considering, but I would not lose sleep over the “right” answer.

  3. Tian says

    TDH. If the Bible is not meant to be taken literally then I assume you also don’t believe in a literal God… Not sure why you bother becoming a Pastor if you start of with not believing the foundation of the Bible. Stop wasting your time and the time of others. You start off with being a false teacher. Stay away from pastoring.

  4. Tian says

    TDH, another thing. How can a story teach faith if it did not actually happen? Does the figurative god that you serve think people are stupid? Do what I say, don’t do what I do…which is nothing but tell false stories? Believe the story, no matter if it is true or not. How is that building faith? How powerless is your god? You know that you are sweeping the whole OT off the table and you are making God and/or all is servants and prophets in the OT out to be liars?
    Not sure why you mention your “Masters” in Pastoral Theology. It is meaningless and typical of people that think they are educated and now think they can question the Bible. As Jesus told the Pharisees. You don’t know the scriptures nor do you know the power of God. Again, why bother becoming a Pastor…

  5. kenneth says

    Man didn’t write the bible, God did, cain married one of his sisters, dont yall understand anything!

  6. mgsong says

    Some points to consider on “CAIN’S WIFE”. How do we know that Cain was not already married when he murdered Abel? It did not say they [Cain & Abel] emerged from the womb and immediately went out and offered their sacrifices. And It could be by that time because life was still quite pristine Adam & Even could have had several other children, daughters, perhaps, or even granddaughters that Cain might have married.
    Also, concerning who could possibly be those who would confront Cain to kill him, Humans lived on for centuries and centuries at that time so eventually there would be relatives and relations and shirt tail relatives who having moved to other regions might for some reason or other plot to kill Cain in the decades, centuries to come and not necessarily have to be another ” people” or “race” outside of the one the Bible describes.

  7. Marlouis says

    Adam and Eve weren’t the only ‘people’ existing in the Genesis story but they were the first parents of mankind, in my own understanding of the OT, there are others who weren’t mentioned in the narrative of the Genesis. For one reason, the author of the Genesis sought to trace the history of the ancestors of Israel; it is just that the Genesis stories were highlight on the lives of Adam and Eve as to the reference of the order and ancestors of Israel.

  8. Big says

    TDH writes, “The Bible was not meant to be taken literally.” Sez who? Also, By whom was it not “meant to be taken literally?”

  9. Victor says

    The bible says that Adam & Eve had other sons and daughters. All of them are not recorded. Cain had to have married either a sister or a cousin. And, since the offspring was only the 2nd to 3rd generation of man then the DNA was much closer to perfect than it is today so “incest” was not a concern then. The same scenario was repeated after the flood since there were only 4 couples to repopulate the earth.

  10. Edoardo Shmuel says

    Reading carefully the Genesis in Hebrew, we have to point out that God says to the earth (aretz) to produce all the living creatures (1:24) which has to include mankind. Then God created Adam in His resemblance (1:26) from the ground (adama) which is quite a different raw material than aretz. Moreover, the Hebrew grammar shows that all the living creatures represent categories, while Adam is one only of his kind, evidently because he is the only one to receive God’ breath (2:7).
    When Cain hears of his punishment, after the murder of Abel, he protests the severity, because “God has moved him from the adama and anybody meeting him in the aretz will kill him (4:14).” Therefore, Cain had no problem in finding a wife among the daughters of the aretz. Dr. Edoardo Shmuel Recanati

  11. MARK LAJOIE says

    Asking about Cain’s wife is like asking about Cinderella’s hairdresser. This is the 21st century.

  12. Bob says

    The Books of Adam & Eve,(VITA ADAE ET EVAE) From “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament”, R.H. Charles – Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913 says: that Seth had 30 brothers & 30 sisters alive, at the burial of Adam (6)…And the angels Michael and Uriel buried Adam and Abel in the parts of Paradise, before the eyes of Seth and his mother (7) [and no one else], and Michael and Uriel said: ‘Just as ye have seen, in like manner, bury your dead.’ xlix (1) Six days after, Adam died; and Eve perceived that she would die, (so) she assembled all her sons (2) and daughters, Seth with thirty brothers and thirty sisters, and Eve said to all, ‘Hear me, my children, and I will tell you what the archangel Michael said to us when I and your father transgressed the command of God (3) On account of your transgression, Our Lord will bring upon your race the anger of his judgement, first by water, the second time by fire; by these two, will the Lord judge the whole human race.xlix (1) Six days after, Adam died; and Eve perceived that she would die, (so) she assembled all her sons (2) and daughters, Seth with thirty brothers and thirty sisters, and Eve said to all, ‘Hear me, my children, and I will tell you what the archangel Michael said to us when I and your father transgressed the command of God (3) On account of your transgression, Our Lord will bring upon your race the anger of his judgement, first by water, the second time by fire; by these two, will the Lord judge the whole human race.
    In the book of Jubilees, chapter4, verse 1 & 9, (it tells us that Cain married his sister, Âwân bint Adam); verse 1 says “And in the third week in the second jubilee [64-70 A.M.] she gave birth to Cain, and in the fourth [71-77 A.M.] she gave birth to Abel, and in the fifth [78-84 A.M.] she gave birth to her daughter Âwân. ” & verse 9 says, “And Cain took Âwân his sister to be his wife and she bare him Enoch at the close of the fourth jubilee. [190-196 A.M.] And in the first year of the first week of the fifth jubilee, [197 A.M.] houses were built on the earth, and Cain built a city, and called its name after the name of his son Enoch. “

  13. Bob says

    P. S. As for the death of Cain, The Book of Jubilees, chapter 4, verses 29-31 tells us of Adam’s and Cain’s death, “And at the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year [930 A.M.] thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth.
    And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: ‘On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.’ For this reason he did not complete the years of this day; for he died during it.
    At the close of this jubilee Cain was killed after him in the same year; for his house fell upon him and he died in the midst of his house, and he was killed by its stones; for with a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone was he killed in righteous judgment.

  14. John says

    Were Adam and Eve the only couple who were created in the manner described in the Book of Genesis? Apparently not if you read Adam & Eve Only Once – available on Amazon – based on biblical evidence it now seems there is completely new way of looking at the Book Of Genesis:

    It is proposed in the series of pamphlets that make up this book (there are eight in all) that the special manner in which God created Eve from the side of Adam (as described in chapter two of the Book of Genesis) continued for a number of other blessed couples up to the time of Abraham, at which time it ended. In other words, the unique nuptial blessing granted the first couple in the Garden of Eden did not end there but was also gifted to others. The pamphlets will examine the biblical evidence for this. For this chosen group, the husband did not choose his bride or the bride her husband. They, like the first couple, were also formed together as one body and then became two. In some real, but mysterious, manner the bride was formed from the side of her husband. Many, if not all of us, will find this proposition as almost beyond belief. “How”, we might respond, “could this be?” It overturns our way of thinking. “Could this be possible?” If, on the other hand, God had created the first couple (Adam and Eve) in this manner could he not have repeated his masterpiece? Are we to restrict what God can do? Of greater significance, however, is that the biblical evidence for this ‘nuptial state’ “in the beginning” (Gn. 1:1; Jn. 1:1) is compelling. It is this evidence (largely found in a series of events and dialogues recorded in the Book of Genesis which, it is proposed, has been somewhat neglected or overlooked in biblical scholarship) that is examined in this book. In this early state of marriage, as indicated above, the female bride was not born from her mother’s womb but, rather, was formed at some providential time from the side of her husband. This unique marital state once graced the world and, as proposed above, continued to the time of Abraham, after which it ended. This state might be described as a partial legacy of the Garden of Eden, pointing to the first love which God had originally intended for the first couple he created in Paradise. It was this form of love that Christ not only restored but elevated on Calvary in the blood and water that flowed from his side, which the Early Church Fathers (see commentaries by St. John Chrysostom 347-407 A.D. and St Augustine 354-430 A.D.), described as the New Eve flowing from the side of the New Adam. For, by his death on the cross, Jesus not only restored this fallen state outside the Garden of Eden but elevated this state of love to that which God had originally intended for the first couple (and for every couple) for all eternity within Paradise. Speaking to all of us from the cross through the repentant thief Jesus promised, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise”.

    If you would like to leasrn more about this fascinating new book – check it out on Amazon – Adam and Eve Only Once?

  15. Sara says

    Adam& Eve Only Once. I do not find on Amazon. Fascinated by idea!

  16. DDC says

    Its easy Cain married one of his sisters, just because they are not mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Adam and Eve lived 900 years and only had three children, your a fool if you believe that. the reason Cain and Abel are written in there is because of the sin Cain committed, before the event of Cain killing his brother Abel, no man had ever taken a life. this is a truth that shows just how far man can fall into sin…. o and if you are going to believe in God and the Bible you cannot go and find your white-out and remove the bits you don’t like.., it is in there for a reason and it is all true, not just bits and peices

  17. Gail says

    After they disobeyed God he told eve you shall have great pain giving birth this tells me she had given birth before without the curse of pain since they lived so much longer I believe they married each other in some way

  18. anthony says

    Cain married his sister because Adam & eve had more children .

  19. Carol says

    Yes, I do believe Adam and Eve had more children. We have no way of knowing the number of years had passed when they were removed from the Garden. We have no way of knowing if Cain was the first child. There could have been several children before or even after Cain and after Able even. The story is only concerned with these two and then with Seth later. Look at how long everyone lived. Cain and Able probably were not young boys, especially since they labored and knew what God required with sacrifice. And we do know that girls/ daughter/sisters are rarely named. There was a city in Nod, people had to build it, it didn’t just happen and Cain was concerned that someone would kill him, so there were more people around. The Bible only concerns it’s self with God’s people and the line through which Christ is brought into the world.

  20. Dennis says

    This goes to the heart of some of the misunderstandings about who Adam and his line was.

    Adam was the son of God, Eve the flesh of his flesh and his wife.

    Adam and his offspring was a new creation….

    אדם
    ’âdam
    aw-dam’

    While man and mankind

    איׁש
    ’ı̂ysh
    eesh

    Could have already been here and that is where Cain’s wife came from….

    It requires no mystery nor does it require incest…

  21. Dennis says

    To continue, this is why the Adamic blood line, through Seth, had to remain unmixed all the way down to Jesus who was the Christ. In that the failure of the son of God, Adam, all fell, through Jesus, the unfallen son of God we are redeemed.

  22. ghie says

    Watch youtube.com/theoldpath or go to http://www.esorianoblogspot.com

  23. Rachel says

    That doesn’t make much sense because male DNA is a mutation of female DNA. Facts before speculation.

  24. Lilith says

    There are other books that were not included by Constantine in the modern bible. If you want to resesrch you cannot exclude all other ancient texts.

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