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Cain and Abel

god art shown genesis

The brothers Cain and Abel were the first children of *Adam and Eve. Their stories are recounted in Genesis 4, and they feature frequently in medieval art in illustrated Genesis cycles and typological programs. The firstborn, Cain, became a farmer; Abel became a shepherd. They are often shown in art presenting offerings to *God: Abel holds a sheep, and Cain offers a sheaf of wheat or corn. The hand of God is directed toward Abel, indicating preference for his offering (interpreted by medieval theologians as a prefiguration of the sacrifice of *Christ as Lamb of God; . Sometimes an *angel will be shown accepting Abel’s offering. In Romanesque and Gothic examples the two offerings may appear placed on one or two altars, and a *demon may accompany Cain. Cain was very angered by God’s rejection and later murdered his brother Abel, which deed is often illustrated. The murder weapon (not specified in the text) is frequently shown as a club or bone (e.g., a jawbone of an ass, as wielded by *Samson), or it may be indicated as a stone, an ax, a hoe, or some other agricultural tool. This first murder in human history is often correlated with the later *death of Jesus. God rebuked Cain for his deed (which subject also appears in art), banished him from the place—to wander the earth, and Cain was later accidentally slain by his relative Lamech, who mistook him for a wild animal and shot him with an arrow. The death of Cain is also depicted in medieval sculpture and manuscripts although the event is not specifically described in the Genesis text and derives from later legends. Adam and Eve’s mourning of the death of Abel is another apocryphal episode occasionally illustrated in art.
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