James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Abel

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James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Abel

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ABEL.—Gen_4:2-10. The Heb. form Hebhel denotes ‘vapour’ or ‘breath’ (cf. Ecc_1:1, EV [Note: English Version.] ‘vanity’), which is suggestive as the name of a son of Adam (‘man’). But it is perhaps to be connected with the Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] aplu, ‘son.’ Abel was a son of Adam and Eve, and brother of Cain. But the narrative presupposes a long period to have elapsed in human history since the primitive condition of the first pair. The difference between pastoral and agricultural life has come to be recognized for Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground (see Cain). The account, as we have it, is mutilated: in Gen_4:8 Heb. has ‘and Cain said unto Abel his brother’ (not as AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). LXX [Note: Septuagint.] supplies the words ‘Let us pass through into the plain,’ but this may be a mere gloss, and it cannot be known how much of the story is lost.

Nothing is said in Gn. of Abel’s moral character, or of the reason why his offering excelled Cain’s in the eyes of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ; cereal offerings were as fully in accord with Hebrew law and custom as animal offerings. Heb_11:4 gives ‘faith’ as the reason. In Heb_12:24 the ‘blood of sprinkling’ ‘speaketh something better than the blood of Abel,’ in that the latter cried for vengeance (Gen_4:10).

In Mat_23:35 || Luk_11:51 Abel is named as the first of the true martyrs whose blood had been shed during the period covered by the OT, the last being Zachariah (wh. see). In Joh_8:44 it is possible that Jesus was thinking of the story of Abel when He spoke of the devil as ‘a murderer from the beginning,’ i.e. the instigator of murder as he is of lies.

A. H. M’Neile.

ABEL.—A word meaning ‘meadow,’ and entering as an element into several place-names. In 1Sa_6:18 a reference in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] to ‘Abel’ is in the RV [Note: Revised Version.] corrected ‘great stone.’ Elsewhere the name is found only with to qualifying epithets.

R. A. S. Macalister.