Biblical Archaeology Review 40:3, May/June 2014

Biblical Views: Did Cain Get Away with Murder?

By John Byron

Was Cain punished for killing Abel, or did God let him get away with murder? Most readers of the Bible would identify Cain’s punishment as being cursed and exiled from the ground (Genesis 4:11–16). But while this sentence seems to have satisfied God, not everyone was content. Readers often noticed that a significant detail was missing in the Genesis 4 narrative. At no point do we read how or when Cain died. We are told about Abel, and the deaths of Adam and Seth are both recorded (Genesis 5:3–8)—but not Cain’s. While there are many people in the Bible whose deaths are not mentioned, the silence over Cain’s death might suggest that he lived a long life and died naturally. Not only does Cain escape capital punishment, but he is even able to marry, raise children and build a city. Unlike Abel, Cain’s story has a happier ending, which seems wholly unjust.

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