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Hebrew Scripture - Cain and Abel

The research for this post came from the actual Hebrew scriptures and the Ancient Hebrew Research Center. You will find a lot of copying and paste so that you get the actual context of Hebrew scripture and exactly the meaning.


We have all heard the story of Cain and Abel. Two brothers bring their sacrifices to God; Abel's sacrifice is accepted, but Cain's sacrifice is not. Out of jealousy, Cain take's his brother out into the field and kills him. Because of Cain's sin, he is branded with a mark and sent away. However, if we carefully study the text, we find that there is much, much more, to this story. Their Names Let's begin with their names. The names Cain and Abel come from the Greek Septuagint, a 2,000 year old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where their names are written as "Kain" and "Abel." These names are the Greek transliterations of the Hebrew. In Hebrew, Cain is קין (qayin) and Abel is הבל (havel). The word קין (qayin, from the root QN) means to acquire or possess something which is why Eve (chavah in Hebrew) said "I have gotten/acquired (qanah, also from the root QN) a man" (Gen 4:1). The word הבל (havel) means to be empty, often translated as vain or vanity in the sense of being empty of substance. The Hebrew word for "name" is shem and literally means breath or character. In Hebrew thought, ones name is reflective of one's character and the Hebraic meanings of the names of "Cain and Abel" are windows into their characters. Cain is a possessor, one who has substance while Abel is empty of substance. This may seem odd to us, because we have always assumed that Abel was the good guy and Cain the bad, but this is an oversimplification of the facts, as according to their names, a reflection of their character, Cain is what we would call "a man of character," but Abel is "vain." Their Births It is a well-known fact that Jacob and Esau were twins, but what is not commonly known is that Cain and Abel were also twins. In the normal Hebraic accounting of multiple births the conception then birth of each child is mentioned such as we can see in Genesis 29:32-33 where it states that Leah conceived and bore a son, and then she conceived again and bore a son. Note that there are two conceptions and two births. But notice how it is worded in Genesis 4:1-2.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain; And again, she bore his brother Abel. (RSV)


Notice that there is only one conception, but two births. The Hebrew word for "again" is asaph, meaning to add something, in this case the birthing of Abel was added to the birthing of Cain. Cain and Abel were twins. Their professions According to the Biblical text, Abel was a shepherd. The KJV uses the word "keeper," but the Hebrew word ro'eh means shepherd. Cain is a "tiller of the ground." The Hebrew word translated as "tiller" is o'ved, which literally means a "servant." The word o'ved, is the participle form of the verb avad and the verb avad is found in Genesis 3:23 where it states that when Adam was expelled from the garden he was sent to "till" (avad) the ground. Therefore, Cain, who is the older of the twins, takes on the profession of his father, a very common occurrence in the Hebrew culture. I should note that while Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel are not Hebrews by definition, they are the forefathers of the Hebrew people. Their sacrifices When the two boys brought their sacrifices to God, Cain, the farmer, brought fruit from the ground he worked and Abel, the shepherd, brought sheep from his flock. We are then told that God had respect for Abel's sacrifice, but not for Cain's, but we are not told why Cain's sacrifice was not respected. Something of interest that can be gleaned from this story is that we often assume the first commands by God were given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, but this is evidently not the case, God gave his commands, or at least some of them, to Adam and Eve and their children and it is apparent from the narrative that Abel obeyed those commands, but Cain did not. Because God did not respect Cain's sacrifice Cain was angry and sad. Then God gives him some instructions. The first of these is; " If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?" God is telling him that he can overcome this; all he has to do in the future is bring the correct sacrifice, and all will be well. Then God says, " and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." In other words, if you continue to bring me the wrong sacrifices, you will sin. Lastly God says, " And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him." It is assumed by most that the "his" and "him" in this verse is "sin," however, this is impossible. It is important to understand that in Hebrew all nouns are either masculine or feminine. For instance, the earth is feminine, but