Genesis 4:15 tells how God put a mark on Cain after he slew his brother Abel. I have been trying to research this mark lately. Jewish sources say it could have been leprosy, a dog, a horn grown out of Cain’s forehead or a letter of God’s Name on Cain’s forehead. What I am more interested in is what Catholic sources say. I read that according to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine the mark could have been circumcision but I have not seen any direct quotes on this. So if anyone knows more about the opinions of these or other saints or some additional Catholic interpretations on the mark all information would be much appreciated.
Instead of giving you citations I will give you a link that will allow you to consult numerous ancient Catholic and Jewish sources. sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/genesis
I learned in my seminary scripture class that it was probably a tattoo.
Just like baptism leaves an indelible mark on our soul, yet it’s not visible, likewise the sign was probably a metaphor, not something anyone could notice.
Not sure about that. If we’re going with the story being true, the mark has to be something that other people can recognize, something that says “This is Cain. Even though he is a murderer, God says don’t kill him or you’ll get seven times the punishment he got.”
It also has to be unique to Cain, personally, not something he passes on to his descendants. So, happily, speculation that he received the distinctive physical traits of a particular “race” that the speculator doesn’t like is completely at odds with the text.
St. Bede The sign itself, of course, that he would live, always trembling and groaning, and a vagabond and a fugitive, but reminded by this same affliction of his that he was not permitted to be killed at random by just anyone. For anyone who killed him would not only free Cain from great afflictions but by doing so would subject himself to a sevenfold penalty.
Bishop Richard Challoner Set a mark: The more common opinion of the interpreters of holy writ supposes this mark to have been a trembling of the body; or a horror and consternation in his countenance.
Theodoret of Cyrus God’s judgment was itself a sign which protected him from being killed. In addition the shaking of his limbs was enough to mark him out.
St. John Chrysotom God let him live a long time with that bodily tremor of his. The sight of Cain’s palsied limbs was a lesson for all that he met.
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia elsewhere on this website says that there is no reliable explanation in scripture of the mark of Cain.
Thank you for all the interesting answers.
In The World’s First Murder, Rabbi David Fohrman relates the life of Cain in a 16 part story. I don’t know how much is Jewish folklore and how much is his storytelling, but it is interesting. He relates that the sign was a unicorn horn.
I highly doubt that, as the verse clearly states he was given this mark, whatever it was, so people WOULD recognize it and thus know what it means…thats the whole point of God giving Cain the mark!!! LOL
Until recently Mormons thought the “mark” was black skin!
The fact that he lived was the mark, it can be interpreted as a sign, did he need another? Surely everyone who met Cain, “knew”, however that sign may have been projected. “whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” surely one would “know” by some “mark-sign” coming upon Cain this was for sure going to occur. How, is an unknown.
Was it just Cain that received the mark, or his descendents also? (I know it used to be interpreted as black skin, but that is so racist.) I would imagine it would have be something unusual and arresting since it was put on him to STOP people from killing him.
Since the purpose was to stop people from killing Cain, it would seem that the mark was unique to him and was not passed on to his descendents.
There is no indication that his descendants would also bear the mark. It wouldn’t make sense if they did. Cain was the one being punished, not his children or his children’s children.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of Cain’s lineage somehow living on to the future because of stuff like Beowulf, of all things. Grendel was of the seed of Cain and that’s why he was evil. But any descendents of Cain would have died in the flood.
In The World’s First Murder, which I referenced earlier, the rabbi says that Noah’s wife was Naamah, a descendent of Cain:
17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Me-huja-el, and Me-huja-el the father of Me-thusha-el, and Me-thusha-el the father of Lamech. 19 And Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20 Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22 Zillah bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
which would make us all descendents of Cain.
There seems no other reason why she should be mentioned at all.
I believe the bible did say it was also Cains descendents that inherited this mark as well. Im not sure what the mark could have been…I mean, what kind of mark/sign could someone be given so NO ONE would kill them? lol I cant think of anything.
Even if it was black skin, why would that stop someone from killing him or his relatives?
I dont think it was black skin, I have to assume it was something that did the job, as it came directly from God, so we know for a fact it would have worked!