Evidence #306 | February 7, 2022

Traditions of Cain

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon reports that Satan appeared to and conspired with Cain to kill his brother Abel. Support for this claim is found in early Christian traditions.

Book of Mormon

In his record of the people of Nephi, Mormon described a time of wickedness when men engaged in evil practices to murder and get gain, which he says were inspired by “that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known to the world” (Helaman 6:27).1 The Book of Moses provides further details about this topic (Moses 5:16–41), indicating that Satan spoke directly with Cain on several occasions (Moses 5:18, 29).2 While the Genesis version of Abel’s murder doesn’t contain these details (Genesis 4:1–16), they correspond with some Christian traditions which were unavailable at the time of the Restoration.

Satan’s Role in the Plot to Kill Abel

The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan is a Christian account dating to the 5th–6th Century AD.3 The work is a narrative of the lives of Adam, Eve, and their descendants before the Flood. An English translation of the work was first published in London in 1882. According to this version of the story, Cain and Abel were each born with a twin sister. Satan incited Cain to jealousy over the issue of marriage.

Satan came to him by night, showed himself and said unto him, “Since Adam and Eve love thy brother Abel much more than they love thee, and wish to join him in marriage to thy beautiful sister, because they love him; but wish to join thee in marriage to his ill-favoured sister, because they hate thee; Now, therefore, I counsel thee, when they do that, to kill thy brother; then thy sister will be left for thee; and his sister will be cast away.” And Satan departed from him.4

Satan subsequently promised Cain that if he would follow his counsel and kill Abel, “I will bring thee on thy wedding day beautiful robes, gold and silver in plenty.”5 He also promised him “‘if thou wilt receive my [words] and if thou wilt come unto me after thy wedding, thou shalt rest from the misery in which thou art; and though shalt rest and be better off than thy father Adam.’ At these words of Satan Cain opened his ears and leant towards his speech.”6 Later when Cain’s offering was rejected by God, Satan further incited Cain to kill his brother.7

God cursing Cain. Image via myjewishlearning.

Although marriage is not an issue in the Book of Mormon and the book of Moses, both the early Christian and Latter-day Saint version of the story indicate that Satan tempted Cain with material possessions, in one case his brother’s flocks (Moses 5:31–33), in the other, a more attractive wife, beautiful clothing, gold, silver, and greater prosperity than his father. Another significant correspondence is Satan’s direct relationship with Abel’s wicked brother. He appears to Cain, speaks to him directly on several occasions, and counsels him to kill his brother.

Satan Taught Cain How to Murder

Several other Christian accounts of Abel’s murder indicate that it was Satan who first revealed to Cain how to kill his brother. According to the Syriac text Book of the Bee, Satan appeared to him in the form of wild beasts that fight with one another and slay each other.”8 In the Armenian story of Abel’s death, “Satan came in the form of two ravens, and the one took a sharp stone, struck the other with it in the throat and killed him, and the stone was sharp as a razor.”9 A related Georgian version of the text states “two demons resembling Cain and Abel came. Now one demon reproached the other demon. He became angry with him and took a stone sword which was of a transparent stone.” After Cain saw the what the evil spirits did, he took up the sharp stone and killed his brother.”10

Cain and Abel, by Orazio Riminaldi. Image via fineartamerica.com.


Elements of the story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel described in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and several Christian traditions from Late Antiquity and Medieval times share common elements not found in the biblical version of the story. These include Satan’s direct, repeated, and personal interactions with Cain, his specific counsel to kill Abel, his tempting Cain with material wealth, and instructions on how to commit murder.

Joseph Smith, however, would not have been aware of these Christian sources which seem to echo those parts of the story. Malan’s translation of the Conflict of Adam and Eve was not available in English until 1882. The Book of the Bee was first published in English in 1886, and the obscure Armenian Christian stories about Cain and Abel were not known in the West until the last several decades when they were first translated into English. The common themes noted above support the conclusion that Joseph Smith, in his translation of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses, was restoring an ancient version of the Cain and Abel story that was significantly, albeit imperfectly, reflected in these Christian accounts.

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Ryan Dahle, “Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 305–374.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Getting Cain and Gain,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 15 (2015): 115–141.

Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1986), 91–301.

BibleGenesis 4:1–16Book of MormonHelaman 6:27Ether 8:15Ether 8:25Pearl of Great PriceMoses 5:18Moses 5:29Moses 5:16–41


Genesis 4:1–16

Book of Mormon

Helaman 6:27

Ether 8:15

Ether 8:25

Pearl of Great Price

Moses 5:18

Moses 5:29

Moses 5:16–41

  • 1 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Wordplay on Cain,” Evidence# 0267, November 8, 2021, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 2 The account of Cain and Abel in the Pearl of Great Price was dictated by Joseph Smith between June and October 1830. See Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: Religious  Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 57.
  • 3 S. C. Malan, trans., The Book of Adam and Eve also called The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882), v.
  • 4 Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve, 95.
  • 5 Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve, 97.
  • 6 Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve, 97.
  • 7 Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve, 99. A similar legend of Satan inciting Cain to violence can be seen in a Middle High German account of Genesis, written in the 13th century AD. Of Satan (called Belial) it declares, “whose own wickedness had driven him from heaven; who envied us that we should have eternal light which he had lost through his arrogance when he would liken himself to God; who also advised Cain to kill his brother.” Oliver F. Emerson, “Legends of Cain, Especially in Old and Middle English,” PLMA 21, no. 4 (1906), 986.
  • 8 Ernest A. Wallis Budge, trans., The Book of the Bee: The Syriac Text (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886), 26.
  • 9 W. Lowndes Lipscomb, The Armenian Apocryphal Adam Literature (Philadelphia, PA: Peeters Publishers, 1990), 273.
  • 10 Gary A. Anderson and Michael E. Stone, eds., A Synopsis of the Books of Adam and Eve, Second Revised Edition (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999), 30E–31E.
Traditions of Cain
Book of Mormon

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