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. It has been updated.—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.

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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

    GENESIS2 WAS AN ELABORATION OF GENESIS1VS26&28. WHEN SONS AND DAUGHTERS WERE BORNE, EMPHASIS WAS ALWAYS EXCEPT IN RARE SITUATIONS, ON SONS. EVE WOULD HAVE DAUGHTERS FROM WHOM CAIN AND SETH MARRIED. SO THERE WAS NOTHING LIKE PREADAMIC. GET KNOWLEDGE..

  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 😉

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