BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, the Murder of Abel; c. 1084; ivory; Musée du Louvre, Paris

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What can be seen in this picture……

Cain and Abel are the first two children of Adam and Eve. The scene is divided into two or three parts, from left to right

The Offerings of Cain and Abel. Cain presents some cereals while Abel offers a lamb. The religious offering is made with respect; hands are covered according to the oriental custom. God’s hand coming out of the heaven shows the lamb and so God’s preference for Abel’s gift.

Abel’s murder is brutal; Cain kills his younger brother with his own hands.

Then Cain runs away while God asks him what he has done with his brother.



and in other pictures

The Offerings of Cain and Abel.

The offerings are often placed on an altar to be burnt as a sacrifice. Cain does not always offer cereals but they are the fruits of the earth for he is a tiller whereas Abel is a breeder, a pastor.


God’s preference can be represented by the fire of sacrifice rising towards heaven for Abel, whereas it goes down for Cain.

Abel’s murder. Cain can use a weapon: a wooden club, an ass’s jawbone or an iron dagger.





The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, the Murder of Abel; c. 1084; ivory; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 In secula




The Book of Genesis, chapter 4 

Adam and Eve had two boys, Cain then Abel. 

And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and their fat. And the LORD had respect to Abel and to his offering: But to Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth.

God warned Cain to beware of his anger."And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and killed him. And the LORD said to Cain: "Where is Abel your brother? " And he said: "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" And He said : "What have you done? the voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground ! (Genesis 4:2-10)



 Cain is exposed to the risk of revenge but God puts a “sign” on him: the murderer is protected even if he is obliged to flee as a wanderer and a vagabond.

This mythical narrative is fundamental since it corresponds to the irruption of violence, to the first murder whose account explains its circumstances and its consequences.

Cain is cursed and becomes a wanderer but he has a future for God protects him, which allows for the stopping of the spiral of violence.







The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, the Murder of Abel; c. 1084; ivory; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 In secula



The offerings of the two brothers: the flame of Abel’s sacrifice rises towards God, or the latter chooses Abel’s lamb by pointing to it.


The Offerings of Cain and Abel; illustrator of Pierre Comestor’s Bible, 1372; miniature, Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno



The History of Cain and Abel; Lorenzo GHIBERTI; c. 1435; bronze bas-relief; Museo dell”Opera del Duomo, Florence

 In secula



Five hundred years separate these two pictures; the combat is always a hand-to-hand fight with different weapons.


Cain and Abel; Marc CHAGALL; 1960; lithograph; Art Gallery, Chrudim, Czech Republic.




Cain killing Abel; TITIAN, 1542-44; ceiling painting; basilica Santa Maria della Salute, Venice.

CGFA - A Virtual Art Museum



The oldest representations show Cain armed with an ass’s jawbone for they point to the similarity with the one used by Samson to kill thousands of Philistines. The weapon in metal makes the scene more modern.


Cain kills Abel; illustrator of “Speculum Humanae Salvationis”; between 1400 and 1500; coloured drawing on paper; Manuscript MMW 10 C 23; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

 Museum Meermanno


The Murder of Abel (detail of the Nativity); Petrus CHRISTUS; 1445; oil on panel; National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 National Gallery Washington



Carolsfeld links the murder to the rejected offering while Doré associates darkness to the first murder.


Cain kills Abel; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1851-60; woodcut from “Bibel in Bildern“




Cain kills Abel; Gustave DORÉ; engraving from the Holy Bible.

Education Environnement






Violence and conscience

Unlike Abel, Cain plays an important role in our culture. The biblical story is moreover told from the point of view of Cain so that one can identify oneself with him, for violence is interior and each of us is responsible for his own violence.

Cain is the murderer par excellence and for Victor Hugo in The Legend of Centuries, History is born from this murder between two brothers, for it is the opportunity for an awakening of conscience.

Then, with his children clothed in skins of beasts,
Dishevelled, livid, caught in the storm,
Cain fled before Jehovah.
As night fell, the dark man reached
The foot of a mountain, in a great plain.
His tired wife and his sons, out of breath,
Said to him: "Let us lie down on the earth and sleep".
Cain, not sleeping, dreamed at the mountain foot.
Raising his head, in the funereal heaven,
He saw an eye, wide open in the night,
Staring at him in the darkness.
"I am too near," he said, and trembling,
He woke up his sleeping sons, and his tired wife,
And, sinister, he fled again through space.
He walked thirty days, he walked thirty nights
He went, silent, pale, shaking at every sound;
Watchful, not looking behind, having no respite,
No rest, no sleep, till he reached the shore
Of the seas in the land which since was Asshur.
"Let us pause here," he said, "for this shelter is secure;
Here may we rest, for this is the world's end."
And as he sat down, he saw, in the sad sky,
The eye in the same place on the horizon's verge...

  And the eye will pursue Cain even into the tomb. 
 The eye was in the tomb there and looked straight at Cain,       

(from The Legend of Centuries; translation adapted from the Project Gutenberg e-book of poems)



Cain and civilisation

Cain is a man of prehistory.

In the 19th century, with the discoveries on Prehistory and the age of mankind, the representations of Cain became more secular and changed whereas those of Adam remained fixed and traditional. Cain seems to be part of prehistory whereas Adam remains mythical.

Cain flying before Jehovah's Curse;
Fernand CORMON; c. 1880; oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Cain is a sedentary agriculturalist; he has vanquished nomad pastors whose representative is Abel. According to the biblical story, Cain sets up a family whose members create cities, use iron… because of the meaning of “blacksmith” that can be given to his Hebrew name. Cain is therefore the founder of civilisation and even of cities.


But Cain is also the wanderer, the one who flees from his murder and his responsibility. In the Middle-Ages, it gave birth to the legend of the wandering Jew (or “eternal Jew” in German). This image of the Jew always elsewhere present, bearing God’s protective sign has played an important role; at the same time it has fostered the hatred of Jews (or anti-Semitism) and Cain has also become the figure of the rebel against the unjust order of the world.



The Wandering Jew,
drawing, after a 19th century Epinal Image.




BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008