Original Research

Does the Genesis 4 narrative suggest some knowledge of psychopathy?

Gert J. Malan
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 45, No 1 | a3124 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v45i1.3124 | © 2024 Gert J. Malan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 February 2024 | Published: 08 July 2024

About the author(s)

Gert J. Malan, Department of New Testament and Related Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


The depiction of Cain and his descendants in the Genesis 4 narrative aligns with the key characteristics of psychopathy and its hereditary nature. The purpose of this study is to examine whether this narrative reflects our current understanding of psychopathy. Cleckley’s description of the best-known traits of psychopathy includes a lack of conscience, empathy and social controls, which ultimately lead to deviant antisocial and criminal behaviour. These traits can be seen in Cain’s murder of Abel, as well as in his reaction when confronted. They may have also been present in his descendants, such as Lamech and those involved in the implied prostitution of Naäma. In this study, the narrative characters are assessed using Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist: Shortened Version, which is examined within the context of Cleckley’s observations and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-V). The mark of Cain and the Kenites, as well as their nomadic existence at the fringe of the desert, are also explained, as well as how society safeguarded itself by setting strong boundaries.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The PSL-SV is proven to be an effective diagnostic model when applied to narrative characters in a literary text. Its effectiveness becomes apparent when considering the broader context of the DSM-V and Cleckley’s description. Sufficient information about the text and relevant reference works is necessary to utilise this model successfully. This diagnostic approach can be useful for any discipline interpreting narrative texts, for example literary analysis of characters in novels, historical studies of texts about characters in history, and criminal investigation and law, when interpreting narrative accounts of witness statements.


psychopath; psychopathy; Cain; Abel; Genesis 4; Kenites; Hare; murder; PCL-SV; nomadic.

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