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.

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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.
 


 
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. Rob says

    The story was about Cain and Abel, and it is only said they were children of Adam and Eve. It is obvious that there were other children. The pre-flood earth atmosphere shielded better against cosmic radiation permitting less genetic erosion and much longer lives. Original near-perfect genetics permitted intermarriage of siblings. It is so easy to understand that it is beyond me why people want to complicate things. Making themselves look interesting, maybe?

  2. Kenneth says

    Why don’t people read Genesis 5:4 which reveals that Adam begat sons and daughters. Case closed. Cain married a sister or niece.

  3. Lilith says

    Very simple: Gen. 5.4 says that the other sons and daughters of Adam have been born after seth. Cain hadn’t had any sisters at the time of his marriage. Cains wife only could come from the land of Nod (I remind Gen. 1.26-31).

  4. francois says

    According to the book of Jubilees there was a sister born, Awan, after Abel.
    Chapter 4: 1 And in the third week in the second jubilee she gave birth to Cain, and in the fourth she gave birth to Abel, and in the fifth she gave birth to her daughter Awan. And in the first (year) of the third jubilee, Cain slew Abel because (God) accepted the sacrifice of Abel…
    Chapter 4:9 …And Cain took Awan his sister to be his wife and she bare him Enoch at the close of the fourth jubilee. And in the first year of the first week of the fifth jubilee, houses were built on the earth, and Cain built a city, and called its name after the name of his son Enoch.)
    Adam had many children, so marriage was not a problem as mutations only appeared in the time of Leviticus 18:6 (2500 year later) where God prohibited inter-family relations.

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