Bible Study Resource – Old Testament
Cain and Abel
Paintings and artworks by Cornelius van Haarlem, Jan van Eyck, Tintoretto, Gandolfi, Vidal, Bouguereau and Ghiberti
BIBLE TEXT OF THE STORY
1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”
2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.
4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.
14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Paintings and artworks about Cain and Abel are not all that common, perhaps because the subject matter is so sombre. Conflict, violence and death are the themes of this story. There is no happy ending for anyone.
Cornelius van Haarlem’s ‘The First Family’ is perhaps the most palatable, showing Adam, Eve and their sons in happier days.
The Ghent altarpiece has Cain holding a sheaf of wheat almost as if it is a weapon, his face twisted in hate.
‘The First Mourning’ by Bougeureau speaks to every parent’s worst fear.
Only Ghiberti’s panel shows the whole story.