Excerpt from the book "What was the Mark of Cain?" by Samuel Martin
When I think of this, I go right back to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain did not murder Abel.
We are not told precisely in the book of Genesis when this event happened, but may we make speculations in this regard? We are told that Cain and Abel were the first children of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1,2). The births of these two children preceded the birth of Seth who was born in the 130th year of Adam’s life (Genesis 5:3). This same Seth, the Scripture teaches, produced his first child. Enoch, at the age of 105 (ibid., 5:6) We are not told precisely, but could it be that Cain and Abel were born sometime just after Adam passed his 100th year? We are not told when Cain was born, but if Cain was born when, for example, Adam was, say 105 years old, then Abel for the sake of this example, was born at least a year or perhaps two or even three years later. You would have Cain becoming 12 in Adam’s 117th year and his brother, Abel, becoming 11 or 10 (or perhaps 9) in Adam’s 118th or 119th years (or 120th year if there was a three year gap between the children).
One of the interesting things about this issue concerning the ages of Cain and Abel is that we have a source that seems to indicate this. In the Midrash Rabbah it quotes Lamech, a descendant of Cain, who says the following: “Did ‘I’ slay Abel who was a man in height, but a child in years, that my descendants should be exterminated on account of this sin (the sin of Cain who killed Abel).” It is interesting that we do find some evidence that seems to point to the youthfulness of Abel (and also by extension of Cain himself).
Since we do not have a clear statement in the Bible about the number of years between these children, we have to look to other sections of the Bible that might help us to better understand this issue. One thing that can help us perhaps is to look at other figures in the Bible, particularly in these earlier sections and look at families and see if we have any clues about the normal spacing of children in these earlier periods.
Much of the data is very terse and short, but if we will pay close attention to the information that we do have, we might just find some clues to help us better understand what was happening here in this early section of Genesis.
Since Moses was the writer of this section, perhaps it makes good sense to look at his life. We are told in the Bible that Moses had a brother named Aaron and that his brother was three years older than he was. In addition, a careful study of the life of Moses’ older sister Miriam will show that she was born at least six years before Moses was. We find some evidence in the Bible, which indicates that there may have been a tendency among the ancient Hebrews to space their children about three years apart. This is because of the ancient custom of weaning children from the breast finally at age three. We find this indicated in other sections of the Bible as well where the tendency to wait until one child was weaned before seeking to get pregnant again is referenced. Note what is spoken of the wife of the prophet Hosea:
“Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son.”
The idea of weaning as the chosen method to “complete” or “ripen” a child is something that is found in the Hebrew verb (gah-mal) that the word “to wean” comes from. Strong’s Hebrew Concordance defines this word as “A primitive root; to treat a person (well or ill), that is, benefit or requite; by implication (of toil) to ripen, that is, (specifically) to wean: - bestow on, deal bountifully, do (good), recompense, requite, reward, ripen, serve, wean, yield.” There is a strong tendency to believe that in the Biblical period, God initially passed down the idea to Adam and Eve that once you had a baby, it was preferred to “ripen” that child through breast feeding for just over two years and then a family could think about adding another child after the previous one had been “ripened.”
Now, since we are not told, can we, with the information we do have, make some reasonable speculations regarding the age of Cain when he committed this killing? Naturally, Cain must have been at least one year older (probably three years is more likely) than his younger brother Abel, but we are not told precisely how old they were when the killing took place. Can we, however, make some educated guesses from the Biblical text? Perhaps.
It is interesting that in the time of Moses that the death penalty applied to numerous situations. For example, there was a man who suffered the effects of capital punishment for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. (Numbers 15:32) This individual, who died in the book of Numbers, is called a “man” (Hebrew: ish). In light of this issue, it is seemingly very uncharacteristic (under the circumstances where Cain did kill Abel) of the LORD that the death penalty was not assigned to Cain. How was it that this man who committed the crime of working on the Sabbath suffered the death penalty, but Cain who took a life, did not? Why was this? His offense seemingly was greater than that of the man who lost his life for picking up sticks on the Sabbath? After all, he did kill his brother.
We also have the story of Uzzah at the ark. Uzzah lost his life for reaching out to steady the ark in violation of the Law, but once again Cain took a life and received a punishment that does not seem congruent with the crime? Or did he?
We have another story in the Bible in this regard. Scripture tells us that the LORD brought a retribution of capital punishment on Onan due to the fact that he failed to perform the legal obligation to continue the name of his departed brother. Onan, due to his ability to perform this act of “raising up seed to his brother,” was clearly physically able to perform this task (and there is every indication from the text that he understood the legal obligation), but failed to do so, thereby coming under the divine retribution. Now, let us look practically at how this matter relates to the issue of Cain and the taking of Abel’s life.
Is it possible though that Cain did not commit a premeditated murder, but rather in an episode of youthful rage, his anger got the best of him and he killed his brother? As sad as this story is, we in the modern world hear horrible stories of young people who, for one or a hundred reasons, kill one another, but malice aforethought is absent. These cases today are called “manslaughter.” We in the modern world are even familiar with terms related to degrees of manslaughter, which are found in courtroom parlance. Manslaughter is a very different thing than premeditated murder. Could it be that Cain’s sin, while a death did indeed take place, was looked on differently by the LORD?
One thing that is for certain is the fact that Abel was at least about a year younger than Cain. In this regard, we ask is it possible that both of them were under the age of 13? The age of 13 is the time in the life of a young Jewish male when that “boy” begins the process to becoming a “man” and then he is obligated to begin keeping all of the commandments (Hebrew: mitzvot) of God. Could it be that what we are reading here is an incident involving what we today would call “teenagers? Perhaps the reason the LORD did not demand the death penalty of Cain was that he had not yet reached the age of accountability, or, was this a case of negligent homicide or manslaughter? We cannot say 100% for sure, but we can say this: Cain killed his brother.
Regarding the age of Cain, the Bible does make one fact clear. All of the events associated with Cain and Abel took place prior to the time that Cain married and had his own children. Of this we can be certain because of the indications mentioned directly in the Biblical text.
 Adam and Eve probably had about an equal number of female children, which must also be considered here.
 Note: We have to have Cain and Abel at least reaching to these ages when we consider the information in the texts about their taking on the responsibilities of work in tending a field and in taking care of flocks. Children smaller than these ages could not, under normal circumstances, take on these duties.
 Bereshit Rabbah 23 in Rosenbaum & Silbermann, “Rashi's Commentary on the Pentateuch,” p.21. Shapiro & Valentine & Co. London, 1946.
 See Luke 24:44,45
 Exodus 7:7
 See Bullinger’s Companion Bible Appendix 50, Chronology Charts.
 Mc’lintock & Strongs: Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological & Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. II, pg. 243, article. ‘child,’ which refers to Genesis 21:8; Exodus 2:7,9; I Samuel 1:22-24; II Chronicles 31:16 and Matthew 21:16
 Hosea 1:8
 II Sam. 6:3 CBTEL vol. X, p. 689 says Uzzah’s sin was he wasn’t an Aaronic priest and ineligible to touch the ark.
 Genesis 38:11
 http://www.law.ua.edu/colquitt/crimmain/crimmisc/jurymur.htm – This link points to two degrees of murder and two degrees of manslaughter.
 For information on 13 being the age of accountability, see Encyc. Judaica, “Bar Mitzvah” v. 4, p.243.)
 Genesis 4:17
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