What Happened to Cain in the Bible?

Did Lamech kill Cain?

DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.

DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.

What happened to Cain in the Bible? In the Book of Genesis, we are told about Cain’s birth, his violent act of fratricide and his subsequent exile. We learn that he married and had descendants, but the Bible is strangely mute about his death.

How did Cain die? If he did not die naturally, who killed Cain? In the Bible, do we have any clues? John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, tackles these questions in his Biblical Views column “Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” which appears in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.

Byron explains that ancient interpreters were not afraid to change the story of Cain in the Bible to fit with their sense of justice, ensuring that he was adequately punished for killing his brother Abel. One of the most popular interpretations credits Lamech—Cain’s great, great grandson—with killing Cain.

Lamech admits to having killed a man in Genesis 4:23–24. Ancient interpreters believed that this passage sheds light on who killed Cain in the Bible, and they identified the man Lamech killed in verse 23 with Cain.
 


 
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.
 


 
How and why did Lamech kill Cain? According to the Lamech legend—which was based on Genesis 4 but which evolved over the centuries—Lamech accidentally killed Cain while he was hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. In the legend, Lamech is a blind but skilled hunter, and Tubal-Cain accompanies him to direct his bow and arrow. Hearing a noise in the bushes, they shoot what they think is a wild animal. Upon investigation, though, they discover that Lamech’s arrow has killed Cain.

In this version of events, how did Cain die? Like an animal. Justice is served.

However, the Lamech legend is just one of the ways ancient interpreters sought to answer the question: How did Cain die? Did Cain die in the flood? Did he die naturally? Did Lamech kill Cain? If Lamech did not, then was there someone else who killed Cain? In the Bible, we will not find a definitive answer.

To find out more about the Lamech legend and other interpretations that seek to explain what happened to Cain in the Bible, read the full Biblical Views column by John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.

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Subscribers: Read the full Biblical Views column “Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” by John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.
 


 
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.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Who Was the Wife of Cain?

Cain and Abel in the Bible

The Adam and Eve Story: Eve Came From Where?

Evidence of Historical Blood Vengeance Found in Jerusalem Cave
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on April 28, 2014.
 


 

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  • Q says

    Was vain and his descendants larger than average humans? I say this because it is plausible that arrow head was the very top of the spear of destiny. Just pondering

  • DAVID says

    I read the same in The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. Everyone is just too literal in interpretation of these ancient texts! These are highly metaphoric works, as is most all of very ancient histories/myths. They all have deeper meanings if you have the eyes to see them and ears to hear them that relate very universal truths. For example… when it says that Adam and Eve began “wearing animal skins”, it means when they became more fleshly and less astral, or spirit in form. Another example, when it says that “Abraham went into his tent to pray”, it is saying that he went into himself, his mind, for there is our dwelling. We need to also remember that many very popular and highly esteemed works and books at the time were excluded from the canonized versions of what we call “the Bible”(s), resulting in these works becoming marginalized and lost to us.

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