Cain’s Marriage: Who Did the Biblical Killer Marry?

Genesis tells us that Cain, one of the first humans, moved away from his family and settled in Nod. But who was his wife?

Jun 19, 2024By Eben De Jager, PhD New Testament, MTh Christian Spirituality

cain marriage biblical killer


According to the Biblical narrative, Cain moved to the land of Nod, and settled there, and had a son with his wife. Before this mention of his wife, Eve was the only woman the Bible mentions.


Where did Cain’s wife come from? Who was she? Were there more people other than Adam and Eve created by God? Did God create other women? Or did Cain commit incest with a sister, which the Bible forbids? These are questions deserving of answers, so let’s work through them.


Did God Create Other People Besides Adam and Eve?

Lilith, by John Collier, 1892,


One possible answer to the Cain’s wife dilemma is that God created other people besides Adam and Eve. If so, Cain could have married one of these people; the myth of Lilith may support this possibility.


Jewish folklore surrounding Lilith is not well known among Christians. According to lore, Eve was not the first woman—Lillith was. Unlike Eve, God created Lilith “of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7), just like Adam. The story goes that Lilith was unwilling to submit to Adam for she was created just like him and regarded herself as on equal footing with him. She left Eden and had relations with the archangel Samael and refused to return to Eden.

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This story is a much later development in Jewish culture, and scholars have recognized possible links between it and other Near Eastern traditions that relate to spirits and demons. The account of Lilith and her escapades feature in works from late antiquity, such as the Babylonian Talmud and the Zohar, which refers to Lilith as “a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man.”


Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh’s Palace, by James Tissot, 1896-1902, Source: Wikimedia Commons


In the Bible, however, the term lilit (lilith) is a hapax legomenon, which means the term appears only once in the whole book and no other references cast light on its use and meaning of the word. In Isaiah 34, which deals with the fate of Edom, the word lilit has been translated as “screech owl” (KJV), “night bird” (ESV), “night-monster” (ASV), “night-spirit” (BBE), and “night creature” (WEB), in various Bible translations. None of these are positive reflections on the nature of the being. There is no basis for the Lilith-myth in the Bible narrative itself.


So, why mention Lilith in search of Cain’s wife? Well, it shows as some have suggested that God created more people than just Adam and Eve. So, is it possible that God created other women and that one of them became Cain’s wife?


Abimelech rebuking Abraham, by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1607–1677, Source: The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library


Biblically speaking, no. The Bible emphatically states: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” The Hebrew word Eve means “lifegiver.” So, if all human life after the creation of Adam and Eve comes from Eve, no other woman could have been created and given Cain a son.


Furthermore, the genealogies in the Bible trace the beginning of humanity to Adam, never to some other person (see Genesis 4, Genesis 5). Enoch, the seventh in a line from Adam through Cain, was the first person to take more than one wife, so we know that Adam never had another wife. It is safe to conclude that God did not create any other women, so she was the mother of all human descendants.


Did Cain Commit Incest?

Abraham’s Servant Meeteth Rebecca, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1896-1902, Source: Google Arts & Culture


If Eve is the mother of all human descendants, that would imply that Cain had to marry a sister or a niece. But that would mean Cain committed incest, would it not? Was marrying sisters or nieces even allowed? If so, why were these other people not mentioned? Let us consider these issues.


There are references to patriarchs who married their sisters before the exodus from Egypt. Abraham, for instance, tells his wife Sarai to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister, which is not a lie, but he omits that she is his wife too (Genesis 12:11-13). Abraham later describes his relationship with his wife, saying: “she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife” (Genesis 20:12). So, Abraham and his wife were half-siblings.


The union between Abraham and Sarah carried God’s blessing, for He said: “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:15-16).


Rebecca Meets Isaac by the Way, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902, Source: Wikimedia Commons


Abraham’s son Isaac also married a close relation of his, Rebekah, on God’s direction (Genesis 24) and later he even claimed that she was his sister (Genesis 26).  The idea of a marriage between brother and sister, or close relations such as nephews and nieces being incestuous or taboo, came many years after Isaac’s time.


A marriage between siblings, half-siblings, or nephews and nieces, like the ones discussed thus far, was expressly forbidden in Leviticus 18:9 after the exodus of Israel from Egypt. The new law indicates a significant change from earlier times. Leviticus 18 details which relations were too close for intercourse, and by implication, marriage. God cursed those relations in Deuteronomy 27:22, and the nation of Israel had to expel people who engaged in incest, according to Leviticus 20:17.


God gave these laws to Israel while many of the nations that surrounded them continued with the practice. In fact, marriages we consider incestuous today were common among many nations for thousands of years after Israel received these Levitical laws. The Egyptians present a notable example. Cleopatra married a brother twice, though it is unclear whether these were merely ceremonial marriages to resemble Isis and Osiris. Many of the gods in ancient pantheons married their siblings, which seems to have set the example for their worshippers.


The Motivation For a Law Against Incest

Rebecca and Eliezer, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1660, Source: Museo del Prado


It is a scientific fact that the problem with siblings marrying and procreating is one of genetics. When close relatives have children together, some genes are identical and are likely to cause defects in the offspring, such as blindness, physical abnormalities, mental deficiencies, and a compromised immune system, among many other effects.


So, how does Christianity deal with the problem of full siblings procreating? In general, two approaches prevail. First, many Theologians believe that Genesis 1-11 is a myth. None of the content therefore needs to make scientific sense or needs to conform to scientific principles. This applies to the creation narrative, the ages of men detailed in the genealogies, the worldwide flood, and the idea of procreation between siblings.


The second is a creationist approach. Creationists believe Genesis 1-11 relates historical events. They do not base their argument about procreation between siblings on science, but rather on a creationist viewpoint. From creation to the fall, the world was free from any defect, and no disease or death existed. Adam and Eve had no genetic defects that carried over to their children. It would, therefore, not be a problem for their sons and daughters to marry. Furthermore, Adam and Eve’s children would have had no choice but to marry their siblings.


The creationist argument continues that, as genes deteriorated, genetic defects developed over time. According to this narrative, as soon as genetics became a problem, God intervened and forbade such relations. After all, with many generations, there was a larger gene pool and many more options, so marrying siblings or kin was no longer the only option.


The Family of Cain, by Peter Oliver and Paolo Veronese, c. 1638–47, Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art


According to Genesis 5:4, Adam lived for 800 years after he had his third son, Seth, and had many more sons and daughters. Cain would, therefore, have had several sisters and likely many nieces to choose from. The lists detailing genealogy in Genesis 4 and 5 seldom mention women, and it is likely that Adam and Eve had daughters even before Seth was born. In the Bible narrative, Cain could have married a sister or close relation, like a niece, without genetics presenting a problem. The Bible, however, does not specify whether he took a sister or a niece as his wife.


The Bible also does not detail how much time passed between Cain’s leaving his original home to live in Nod and having a child with his wife. Considering that at least one, and likely several decades, passed between Genesis 4:1-2 and verse 3, several decades could have passed between Cain’s moving to Nod and starting a family. It would not be impossible that Cain did not marry one of his sisters but a niece instead. The Bible does not provide enough information to make a definitive determination. The only logical conclusion would be that whether or not it was a sister or a niece, Cain married his kin.


It is imperative to recognize that the Bible presents a narrative unencumbered by contemporary science. It is not written to be read from a scientific perspective. It is a book of faith, not a scientific handbook. The supernatural and miraculous are taken in stride and where conflicts between science and the Biblical narrative are identified, it is explained from a position of faith, not science. The conflict between faith and science has been ongoing for many centuries and is not likely to be solved any time soon.


Conclusion: The Fate of Cain

Cain Slaying Abel, by Pier Francesco Mola, 1650-2, Source: The Met Museum


Sticking to the Biblical narrative, it is impossible that Cain married a woman who was not a descendant of his mother, Eve. As such, he must have married a sister or a niece. At that time, marrying a relative was the only option because everybody was somehow related. It does not pose a challenge for Creationists, however, who believe that the genes of earlier generations were pure. Later, when genes became a problem, God set a law for Israel that prohibited marriage among kin, and the idea of incestuous relations came into being. It did not exist in Cain’s day.


The Lilith myth is a late development in Jewish culture and does not present a true reflection of the Biblical narrative. As a hapax legomenon there is no grounds for reading the Lilith myth into the Biblical text. Scholars have traced it to related terms in ancient Near Eastern tradition that refer to spirits and demons.

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By Eben De JagerPhD New Testament, MTh Christian SpiritualityEben is a theologian, presenter, author, and public speaker with more than a decade of experience in Christian apologetics. His fields of interest are the gift of tongues and eschatology, especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. He holds a PhD from North-West University, a MTh (Christian Spirituality) from the University of South Africa, a BA(Hons) in Theology from the University of Johannesburg, and a BA in Theology from the Rand Afrikaans University.