Genesis 4:8

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 slew him.

καὶ εἶπεν Καιν πρὸς Αβελ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πεδίον καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ πεδίῳ καὶ ἀνέστη Καιν ἐπὶ Αβελ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτόν.

Philo of Alexandira appears to be flagging ambiguity in the LXX Greek translation of the Hebrew concerning Genesis 4:8 in his work Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat, 47-48.

Of course, αὐτοῦ is the conventional rendering and helped greatly by context. But I believe that Philo was aware of that, and he was just simply pointing out that, in a strictly philological sense, ἀπέκτεινεν ἑαυτόν would make sense in a vacuum.


Is Philo justified here? Even if the context precludes such a reading, would his point still stand in a strictly philological sense?

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    I am struggling to understand what you are asking. The text is straight forward in both the original Hebrew and the LXX. What is the problem? Are you asking about the LXX text or Philo's understanding? If the latter, that is outside the scope of this site.
    – Dottard
    Aug 22, 2023 at 3:23
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    I agree with @Dottard. This is a matter of opinion (about what was in the mind of a translator) not a matter of fact about the Hebrew (original) text and the concept of the original author.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 22, 2023 at 4:13
  • This shows the importance of context. Readers of the Bible ignore context at their peril (and modern readers of the Bible do it too often). Aug 22, 2023 at 5:49
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    Philo was quite adept, I'm just surprised that we won't be giving him the benefit of the doubt. The only way I could think of to improve the question is to place his hermeneutic in-line, but I'm now getting paywalled for Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat. Aug 22, 2023 at 6:04
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    "here" must refer to his work Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat, 47-48., which I have quoted below. It seems to me Philo's allegorical interpretation does not rely on the LXX, but it's probable that he used it. Aug 22, 2023 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


Philo is justified if the text is understood (as Philo understands it) as an allegory of what goes on in the internal world of Cain-type and Abel-type principles, not what happened physically between Cain and Abel. The OP refers to the following:

(47)..."Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew Him." For according to the first imagination, he suggests the idea that Abel has been killed. But... we ought to read it thus: "Cain rose up and killed himself," and not the other. (48) And very reasonably may we attribute this to him. For the soul, which destroys out of itself the virtue loving and God-loving principle, has died as to the life of virtue, so that Abel (which appears a most paradoxical assertion) both is dead and alive. He is dead, indeed, having been slain by the foolish mind, but he lives according to the happy life which is in God.

A somewhat clearer expression of Philo's idea about Cain "killing himself" is found here:

(78) Every one who is a lover of self, by surname Cain, should learn that he has destroyed the namesake of Abel... not the archetypal pattern.... Let any one then say to him, reproving and ridiculing him, What is this that thou hast done, O wretched man? Does not the God-loving opinion which you flatter yourself that you have destroyed, live in the presence of God? But it is of yourself that you have become the murderer, by destroying from out of its seat the only quality by which you could live in a blameless manner.

What Philo tries to express is the idea that Cain-type attitudes and actions are futile. Abel-type principles are eternal, and the person who attempts to destroy them harms only himself. Philo does not intend to say that the historical Cain killed himself, only that God's ultimate purpose, expressed in Abel, lived on; and thus the Cain-type principle defeated itself. Philo is thus justified morally and philosophically but obviously not in terms of the literal sense of the text.

  • That makes sense, but I was under the impression there was also a language clue in favor of "himself". I could be mistaken, you've provided the Det. excerpt, which is fabulous. Thanks! Aug 23, 2023 at 2:26

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