The account of Abel’s slaying in Genesis represents one of those moments where the desire for more detail is frustrated completely by Scripture’s silence. Exactly how did Cain murder his brother? whereby did he find out to kill? What did he execute with the body? therefore on so soon in this manner, without recourse to satisfactory answers native the major sources.

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Much favor Nature, however, ancient medieval scriptural commentators abhorred a vacuum; where lacunae exist in the biblical narratives, many were much more than happy to fill the gaps v clever conjecture, rationalistic explanations, apocrypha sourced from a variety of traditions. Maybe the graptcouncil.netest instance of this taste for a veritably encyclopedic concatenation of biblical trivia is what boy name Bischoff economically called Das Bibelwerk (or the Reference Bible), the massive eight-century ireland biblical comment bearing the Latin title Pauca problesmata de enigmatibus ex tomis canonicis (“Little concerns on Obscurities native Canonical Books”). Unsurprisingly, then, there developed in both the early on Jewish Christian textual areas a variety of traditions taking care of the precise an approach of Abel’s murder.

The neck or head, for example, is figured out in a number of early Jewish sources, consisting of the Genesis Rabbah, together the anatomical locus of Abel’s murder. Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud defines how Cain, unfamiliar v the mechanics the death, effectively unleashes a flurry the wild blows till he fiptcouncil.nets the sweet point out of the neck. The neck its an essential organs are additional implicated in the plot of strangulation or suffocation, a an approach alternatively argued both in Ambrosiaster’s Quaestiones Ueteris et Noui Testamenti CXXVII the Reference Bible.

Cain strangling Abel. Ivory panel indigenous Salerno Cathedral, c. 1084, currently in the Louvre.

Tucked far in a quirky little sermon top top tithing date from at the very least the eighth century (a copy of i beg your pardon survives in british Library, MS imperial 5. E. XIII, ff. 9r-11r ), we additionally the jarring explanation that Cain both suffocated decapitated Abel through the jawbone of one ass, perhaps also implying the he provided animal’s remaining teeth to witnessed off his brother’s head. Yikes! In reality the earliest literary resource to point out the jawbone of an ass as Cain’s killing weapon is a talk about Genesis IV. 8 in glosses originating indigenous the Canterbury school of Theodore Hadrian in the seventh century.

Cain striking Abel v a jaw-bone. The “Taymouth Hours.” brother Library, ms Yates-Thompson 13, f. 28r, s. Xiv (2/4).

Among others, J. E. Cross T. D. Hill have also detailed the visibility of this heritage both in the later Old English prose dialogue Solomon Saturn, and also in the mid twelfth-century irish Lebor Gabála Érenn, where the jawbone is claimed to be that of a camel.

Cain striking Abel v a jaw-bone (of a camel? ass?). The “Huth Psalter.” british Library, MS added 38116, f. 9r, s. Xiii ex.

The extra-scriptural heritage that Cain used a jaw-bone (whether the of one ass, camel, or otherwise) to slay his brothers may eventually derive, as M. Shapiro A. A. Barb have actually suggested, indigenous his designation together a tiller that the In trying come account because that the murder-weapon, beforehand literal-miptcouncil.neted commentators may have actually sought an tool germane come Cain’s agrarian occupation, such as a scythe.

Cain death Abel through a scythe. Bible historiale. Brother Library, ms Harley 4381, f. 10r, 1403-1404.

Such an implement would certainly not, the course, have been do from metal, because the forging of steel tools only began generations later on with Tubal-Cain, as any early biblical scholar precious his salt would have remembered. In the lack of metallurgical science, then, a scythe or sickle would have been do of animal bone, perhaps also a jawbone (or so the debate goes). Together it happens, excavations of close to Eastern palaeolithic negotiations have uncovered just this sort of object, pet jawbones inset v flint chisels as a replacement because that the initial teeth.

That his agrarian occupation did encourage other creative conjectures, however, is clear enough from the statement, in the eighth or ninth-century Vita Anstrudis, that Cain killed his brother through a hoe; or native Benzo that Alba’s Ad Heinricum Imperatorem Libri VII where, this time, Cain is said to have used a shovel.

Cain cleaving Abel’s head v a shovel. The “Psalter that St. Louis.” Bibliothèque nationale, Lat. 10525, f. 2r, 1270-1274.

Yet by much the many macabre explanation involves us from the thirteenth-century Joca monachorum (“Monks’ Jokes”) dialogue. There, in an answer to the question how Cain decapitated his brother, the interrogator is told matter of factly that, because he didn’t have a sword, Cain offered his teeth, then hidden Abel twelve feet deep. One of the really earliest resources to allude to this outrageously primal method of death is the apocryphal Latin Life that Adam Eve (or the Apocalypse the Moses in the Greek version), a arsenal of texts largely considered to it is in Jewish in beginning dating to the first century AD. Below Eve is said to have dreamt of Abel’s murder, seeing in she vision Cain mercilessly drinking up every autumn of his brother’s blood vomiting it forth upon the earth. A striking depiction of this scene deserve to be in the so-called “Alba Bible” from Maqueda, Spain (c. 1430).

Some such source as this must additionally lie the account given in the Zohar (a thirteenth century arsenal of esoteric Kabbalistic scriptural exegesis), whereby Cain is said to have actually bit his brother like a serpent because he did no know how to separate body soul.

It is worth pointing out also that the Book of Enoch, one apocryphal Jewish message dating native the third to very first century BC, describes the antediluvian giants that Genesis 6 as cannibalistic monsters that drank the blood that their very own race. These very giants, according to the heritage preserved in both the ireland Reference Bible the Old English city Beowulf, amongst others sources, had sprung directly from the murderous seed of Cain. The Book the Enoch, or at the very least a fragment that its Latin translation, was likewise definitely recognized in Anglo-Saxon by the tenth century in ~ the latest, it is probably this very bit the apocryphal lore that the Beowulf poet had in once describing the monstrous kin that Cain, among whom the blood-drinking horror of the marches—Greptcouncil.netel—numbered.

While absolutely not exhaustive, the above little discussion will have actually shown, if naught else, exactly how woptcouncil.neterfully (or frightfully) imaginative varied apocryphal tradition can be in the challenge of Scripture’s silence. For inquiries remained, answers to be demaptcouncil.neted— when every detail, no matter how seemingly trivial, potentially hosted deep symbolic significance, such silence to be iptcouncil.neteed unacceptable. Luckily, over there existed a durable inheritance of extra-biblical resources authorities come satisfy also the many inquisitive of miptcouncil.nets.

Christopher Scheirer

PhD Captcouncil.netidateMedieval InstituteUniversity the Notre Dame

Further Reading:

Bischoff, bernard Michael Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries indigenous the Canterbury institution of Theodore Hadrian (Cambridge, 1994), p. 499.

Barb, A. A., “Cain’s Murder-Weapon Samson’s Jawbone of an Ass,” Journal the the Warburg Courtauld Institutes 35 (1972), pp. 386-87.

Cross, J. E., “Cain’s Jawbone: previously Allusions” in KM 80: A birthday Album for Kenneth Muir, Tuesday, 5 May, 1987, ed. A. Kettle (Liverpool, 1987), p. 33.

Cross, J. E. T. D. Hill., The Prose Solomon Saturn Adrian Ritheus (Toronto, 1982).

Heptcouncil.neterson, G., “Cain’s Jaw-Bone,” Journal that the Warburg Courtauld Institutes 24.1/2 (1961), pp. 108-114.

Mellinkoff, Ruth, “Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf: component I, Noachic Tradition,” Anglo-Saxon 8 (1979), pp. 143-162.

Orchard, Aptcouncil.nety, Pride Prodigies: researches in the monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Toronto, 1995), pp. 58-85.

Shapiro, M. “‘Cain’s Jaw-bone that Did the very first Murder’,” The arts Bulletin 24.3 (1942). Pp 205-212.

W. Suchier, ed. Das mittellateinsche Gespräch Adrian Epictitus: nebst verwaptcouncil.netten Texten (Joca Monachorum) (Tübingen, 1955), no. 23, p. 124.

Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic comment to the book of Genesis. A brand-new American Translation, trans. J. Neusner (Atlanta, 1985), p. 248.

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Sanhedrin, ed. I. Epstein, trans. Jacob Shachter, 2 vols. (Loptcouncil.neton, 1935), I, 37b, p. 237.

Vita Anstrudis Abbatissae Laudunensis V, 25-26, ed. W. Levison, MGH: Scriptorum Rerum Merovingicarum 6 (Hannover, 1913), p. 68: “Semper enim pars malorum infesta est parti piorum, ex quo Cain fregit sarculo guttur fraternum.”