In Hebrew earth is ‘adamah. This is the word used in Genesis 2, to describe the land from which man – ‘adam – came from. Verse 11 also echoes the curse of the ground after the transgression of Adam and Eve (see chapter 3). Here there isn’t the solidarity with the ungodly land. In fact, God’s curse removes Cain from solidarity with earth because the earth has drunk his brother’s blood.
Instead of seed, the earth is covered and entangled with the innocent blood of the brother, who – as we have seen in the previous verse – cried to God. Therefore, earth will no longer give Cain the fruit – though scarce – that he had previously given him. Blood is the life of a man and therefore contaminates the earth definitively. So the earth expells the man who has poured innocent blood. The earth is imagined here in human terms, because the Hebrew text says that earth opened its mouth to drink the blood of Abel. Symbolically, this means that relationship with the earth is a living relationship and not just with sterile soil. It is the mother earth that must be respected and cannot tolerate ingesting the blood of a human being.
Here is not just the man-mother earth relationship – as in chapter 3 – but also the brotherhood linking Cain to Abel. These are two relationships that are deeply tied one another. Man cannot cultivate the land if he doesn’t guard his brother. Indeed, the man who sheds the blood of his brother – of any brother – can no longer live on it. His destiny will be described in the following verse.