Emil Sinclair’s exemplary coming-of-age, as portrayed in Demian, requires the disruption of the well-ordered world of Christian morality. One of the narrative ploys used by Hesse to this end is the counter-reading of passages from the Bible. Though there is hardly a page in the novel which does not show a Biblical allusion of some kind, three extended passages from Holy Writ provide the central focus for three whole chapters, respectively. These are the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4: 1-18), the story of the Good and Bad Thief (Lk 23: 32-43) and the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Gen 32: 22–32, Hos 12: 3-5).
Here is the story of Cain and Abel, as told in the New Revised Standard Version:
“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.’ Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’
Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
Already a fallen world, in which Sin has reality, the world of Cain and Abel is still a primordial one, in which the spiritual state of an individual corresponds well to the observable reality of his life. Cain, the archetypal firstborn who finds himself inexplicably out of favour, could no doubt have kept Sin from him by welcoming God’s invitation to reflect with Him on his predicament. Indeed, the blow to Cain’s flattering vision of himself had, for the first time, made possible the God-given task of mastering the vulnerability to Sin. When Cain refused, Sin took the form of Envy, which led to the treacherous murder of Abel. The murdered one, however, did not go away. Cain began to live in the expectation of a retributive murder about to be done to him. In an undeserved act of mercy, God placed a protective mark on Cain, who eked out his days in exile far from the innocent state of justice he had known prior to his crime.
The retelling of the story of Cain and Abel is given to Max Demian in the second chapter of the novel, which, aptly enough, bears the heading ‘Kain’. It forms a part of Sinclair’s account of how he first met his daimonic alter-ego and came under his influence. At this time, he is still caught in his abusive relationship with the bully, Kromer.
Having heard the story of Cain and Abel in that morning’s class on biblical history, Sinclair and Max Demian are walking home from school together. Following a train of associations set off by the sparrowhawk on the coat of arms of Sinclair’s home, Demian proposes that he and his friend free themselves from their teacher’s interpretation of the Biblical story and look for a deeper meaning.
In the conversation which follows, the truth of the story of Cain and Abel, as of all ‘very old stories’, is affirmed, but is declared to be occluded due to the dominance of a false interpretation. To uncover the truth, the moral values ascribed to the main figures are inverted. Cain replaces Abel as the hero and becomes the representative of the strong. The boldness, fearlessness and unusual power of Cain and his descendants are praised. The faithful docility of Abel, the representative of the weak, is condemned. The mark of Cain, which usually signifies the abjection of the punished evil-doer, is refigured as a sign of honour. Also refigured is the meaning of fratricide. Because the killing of the weak by the strong is a natural feature of life, and because all men are brothers, Cain’s act of fratricide does not deserve the nimbus of horror with which it has been surrounded.
As scholars have noted, Hesse’s overturning of the traditional interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel bears a close resemblance to the critique of Christian morality as ‘slave-morality’ given by Friedrich Nietzsche.  The natural superiority of the strong goes hand with greater freedom, stronger individuality, more vital cultural values and a clear ethical superiority. The weak are exposed as dishonest users of cultural means to mystify their relationship of inferiority to the strong. In the words Hesse gives to Max Demian, the weak, being too cowardly for the act of killing, and at the same time, unwilling to admit their cowardice, invented a mandate of God which made it unlawful to kill the stronger man but at the same time excluded him from the community. By such means, the weak plausibly claim for themselves the innate superiority of the strong while the challenge posed to their self-deception is kept out of sight.
Hesse’s Nietzschean retelling comes at a considerable cost to the integrity of the passage in the Bible. Cain’s act of murder is downgraded to the status of a merely possible act, which deprives it of its factuality and its essentiality to the outcome of the story. The voluntary nature of the murder together with Cain’s motivating Envy, abhorrent, but credible, are shifted towards the inevitable, the absurd and the incredible. Most strikingly, Hesse makes God completely disappear from the story. His retelling loses sight of Cain’s interactions with God and can make nothing of their profundity.
 Especially in Jenseits von Gut und Böse. A useful summary of the literature on Nietzsche’s influence on Demian is provided by Emil Bigsten (2012). Die Herrenmoral des Demian. Sprachen- und Literaturcentrum. Universität Lund.