After leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve have their first two sons: “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain (קין; qayin), saying, ‘I have gotten (קניתי; qaniti) a man with the Lord. And again, she bore his brother Abel” (Gen 4:1-2a). Cain gets his name because it sounds like the Hebrew word for “to get” or “possess” (קנה; qanah). The astute reader might ask: Why does the Bible explain the rationale for Cain’s name, but not Abel’s? The reason is that the almost immediate death of Eve’s younger son will tell the reader why Abel gets his name.

In Hebrew, Abel (הבל; Hevel) means “vapor” or “breath” – something that is here today and gone tomorrow. According to Proverbs, “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor (הבל; hevel) and a snare of death” (Prov 21:6). Lamenting the brevity of a human life, the psalmist says to God, “My lifetime is nothing before you. Surely all humanity stands as a mere breath (הבל)” (Ps 39:5 cf. 39:11; 78:33; 94:11; 144:4). Similarly, Job states, “I loathe my life; I will not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are but a breath (הבל)” (Job 7:16).

In light of the meaning of Abel’s name, readers should not be shocked to see that a mere six verses after Abel’s birth, “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and murdered him” (Gen 4:8). Those who can read the Bible in its original language don’t need an explicit explanation for why Abel gets his name; when we hear that Eve has a son named הבל we know that, like a vapor, he won’t be around for long! Despite this tragedy, God’s love has the last word. Soon after Abel’s death, “Adam again knew his wife Eve and she bore a son and called his name Seth (שֵׁת; Shet), for she said, ‘God has appointed (שַׁת; shat) for me another offspring in place of Abel” (Gen 4:25-26). Although Abel leaves the world like a wisp at the hands of his brother Cain, God reinforces Adam and Eve’s family line by appointing Seth who, according to Jewish tradition, is one of the most virtuous people in all of biblical history.

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100 COMMENTS

  1. My question on this is why Jesus and Yeshua are the same person. I always thought that Jesus was for the greek side of his name but you have it here in Hebrew? My other question is how did Eve know that Abel was going to be killed by his brother?

    • Hi Sandra. Good questions. First, “Jesus” is the English translation for the Greek Yesoos and the Hebrew Yeshua; it’s all the same person, it’s just a matter of the language in which ones chooses to write his name. Second, the Bible doesn’t narrate Eve’s naming of Abel like it does with Cain (see Gen 4:1-2), so it’s not that Eve “knew” that Abel would die and named him accordingly, it’s that he ends up with a fitting name in light of his short stay within the biblical narrative.

      • Is it possible that, rather than Eve foreknowing the brevity of Abel’s life, the word may have come to mean vapour as a result of hi untimely demise?

  2. 1st – for Sandra – And the deeper meaning of HIS name, Yeshua is from the root of & with the meaning of Salvation! “You shall name HIM Yeshua because he will save HIS people…”, 2nd again building on Sandra Lee’s comments. Is there any way of knowing if Hevel was prophetically named at birth or was it given to him post his murder? I consulted the Chumsh – no help from there.

    • Thanks, Bruce. Abel’s name wasn’t given post-murder, since he’s called Abel upon birth (Gen 4:2a). I know of no rabbinic comment that says Abel was prophetically named in anticipation of his quick death (but it may well be out there somewhere). I’ll note that no one explicitly “names” Abel in the text; whereas Eve names Cain and explicates the reason for his name (Gen 4:1-2), the text just says “and she bore his brother Abel.” So for me, instead of thinking in terms of a “prophetic naming,” it’s enough to say that the author of Genesis highlights the appropriateness of Abel’s name in light of what happens to him in the narrative.

    • Thanks Bruce I will sometimes get confised over people some times I like to say Yeshua instead of Jesus, I know that they are both the same person. Thanks and to Dr. Schaser too, I feel that you are doing a great job here in tring to get us thinking on the right path. Excuse my spelling I am not a good speller even now that I am taking Hebrew for the third time. Plus when I went to colleage learning computer programing, we use to spell the word on perpus. (spelling againg). Just so you understand.

    • You can find the meaning of Hebrew roots at Abarim-publications.com. It provides a very good explanation of the Hebrew roots. The best way to access the meanings is by googling it like this: the amazing name Hevel (enter)
      Regards!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Raymond. I once heard a church sermon in which the Abel-hevel connection was mentioned, so some churches would be able to relate this kind of material to their congregations. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer seminaries require their graduates to learn the biblical languages (for various reasons), so many pastors come out of school unable to makes these kinds of connections. I think it’s a problem with the seminary system more so than the Church. Thank you again for your response to the post!

  3. The emphasis on males.How did these sons have children? Were they hermaphrodites? Why is one a Jew only through a female Jew?

    • Hi Winston. On the sons having children, we often assume that Adam’s family was the only one around, which then leads to the question: if its only Cain and Abel, how are they reproducing? But the Bible explicates that there are other people around than the primordial family, since “Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Gen 4:17). So there’s nothing in the biblical narrative that precludes other people being around, but the authors don’t narrate their stories. Female (or matrilineal) descent for Jewishness is a rabbinic development; descent was patrilineal (male) in the the biblical period.

  4. This is fascinating.. I wonder if Eve named him such because, in her mind, Cain was primary. Did she see him as the One spoken of to the serpent, the offspring, that would crush the serpent’s head? I think the language is so interesting here: ” ‘I have gotten (קניתי; qaniti) a man with the Lord.” Wait, wasn’t Adam part of the process? But no, she says she got a man “with the Lord.” So, if she sees Cain as the One, then what is Able but a breath, an afterthought..

  5. And again she bore Able ? Is not the text ” And THEN she bore ABLE ” Then and again have to compete different meaning ?

  6. Good day Sir thanx for your wonderful teachings I really enjoy it. One question that arise from so many people out of Gen 4:17. Cain had a wife and she bore him a son. Where is she comming from. Can you give me a little bit of clarity please. Thanx very much

    • Hi Louis. A great question, but unfortunately I can’t give a whole lot of clarity because they Bible doesn’t tell us 🙂 What we often assume is that Adam’s family constitutes the only humans on earth at the time of Genesis 4, but the Bible doesn’t align with this thinking since, as you note, Gen 4:17 says that Cain “knew his wife” — clearly, there are other people around other than just Adam’s line. Where did they come from? The Bible doesn’t tell us! Wish I could be more helpful on this one, but we just don’t know.

  7. Re the name Abel being prophetically given, I have experienced that God somehow brings His prophetic intents to pass by being intimately involved with mankind. As a Biblical example Abraham in KJV Gen 22:7-18, when asked “where is the sacrifice?” He responds “God will provide himself a sacrifice” which can mean either an animal or prophetically “Himself” as the sacrifice. Also if you take the first 10 names in Gen the 5 listing you get prophetically: Hebrew/English Adam/Man, Seth/ Appointed, Enosh/Mortal, Kenan /Sorrow, Mahalalel/The Blessed God, Jared/Shall come down, Enoch/Teaching, Methuselah/His death shall bring, Lamech/The Despairing, Noah/Rest or comfort.

  8. Helpful Information! Thank you for making it available for all who are desirous to know what The Scriptures teach.

  9. Havel havalim, amar Koheleth; havel havalim, hakol havel. – Vapor of vapors, says Koheleth; vapor of vapors, all is vapor. – “Futility of futilities/Vanity of vanities,,” says the Teacher, “futility of futilities/vanity of vanities,! Everything/All is futile/vanity!”

    • Hi Urmas. “Vanity” is alternate option for the Hebrew hevel in many English translations — and it’s good in the context of Qohelet because it expresses his angst about the apparent meaninglessness of life. But the word hevel in this context could just as easily be translated “vapor” or “wisp” — i.e., life lasts for such a short time, you work for no reason, and then you die (which is Qohelet’s worldview in a nutshell).

  10. A-ha, this is not so inconsequential an issue, the first of human creation. • Nagina – June 29, 2018, point of incest in the first family is the traditional Christian teaching. Can you share how this Christian story/belief came to be? • If there were other humans than Adam and Eve, were they also created, by whom or how? • Adam names the animals Gen. 2:20 and sees no one else of his human kind. • I heard stories of Lilith, Adams first wife and always discounted them as works of satan. Like McDonald’s… I’m lovin’ it! J.

  11. I like the way this is expressed. I have never heard anything like it! It is straight forward and simply to understand. Life is but a vapor. Here today and gone tomorrow. We can be gone in an instance…the twinkling of an eye! Come LORD JESUS! Thank you!

  12. I like the way this expression. I have never heard anything like it! Life is but a vapor. Here today and gone tomorrow. We can be gone in an instance…the twinkling of an eye! Come LORD JESUS! Thank you!

  13. I have met other understanding of word hbl, Habel. For me the best is: weak. That fits well to the story of first brothers (Habel was killed because he was weak; it is difficult to kill a man when it is one against one). Also His mother gave that name naturally as she saw that he was weak child since birthday.

  14. Abel’s name, meaning “vapor” also reminds me of the smoke that went up toward God when he sacrificed his lambs showing that God accepted the sacrifice. Pleasing prayers are like an “incense” or smoke, or a vapor before God so that could be another way to take the name. Perhaps Eve had prayed for a second son and so she named him Abel because she felt her prayers had been heard upon conceiving him. It is just a thought…

  15. Habel is often translated as weak, low quality, not worth too much. According to me, that translation fits the best to that Biblical story of the first brothers. Shallom.

  16. But Abel’s prayers rose upward and were pleasing to God because he gave God the best of his flock, I do not think that is weak or worthless. I think Abel was an early “type” for the Savior, Christ, who ultimately was killed because others were jealous of his miracles, all the signs and especially because it was clear his prayers were heard by God, His Father. Joseph, son of Jacob, was also betrayed and sold to Egyptians because he was favored by his Father Jacob, and that is a clear typology for Christ sold by Judas.

    • You’re right on all of this, Mary. It’s not to say that Abel’s actions or heart were “weaker” than Cain’s, but rather that Abel only spent a short time on the earth, hence the meaning of the name. Your note on Abel being a type of Christ is 100% correct (cf. Heb 12:24), and there are certainly lots of parallels between the lives of Joseph and Jesus.

  17. Yes, I would like to agree with Dr. Schaser and others. When I took a Hebrew Bible, I have found mistake in my opinion. Thanks for saving me from my mistakes. But maybe I have found reason of his name. He could be a twin brother and there was a longer brake in birth, and he appeared unexpectedly when everybody were thinking that it is finished on one baby.

  18. It seems to me that Eve thought that Cain was “The Seed” promised toward the end of chapter 3. Cain’s name has a lot of overtones of permanence and substance to it. One definition given in Strong’s concordance is “fixity, also a lance (as striking fast)”. The similarity of Cain’s name to something tangible that can be bought or acquired is along the same lines. In English, the word “purchase” sometimes carries the meaning of “having a grip on something”. Mechanics and plumbers speak of using the proper wrench to get more “purchase” on a stubborn nut or pipe. Abel’s name is just the opposite, since it is impossible to “get a grip” on a vapor or breath. Why would a mother give a child a name synonymous with “transitory vapor, vanity, etc.”? Maybe Eve was confused by Abel.
    In some ways, Eve seems to have two sides to her. At times she seems to typify “Babylon”. She is often “confused” which is one thing scripture also points out about Babylon (first she is confused about what God had commanded about the fruit of the tree, and then she is confused about Cain being the promised seed). She also glories in her own works. Eve makes herself the subject of her proclamation at Cain’s birth. “I have gotten”… “From the Lord” is added as a detail. Another similarity to Babylon is found in her derision towards true righteousness, as found in Abel. She sees it as vain, undependable, etc. To her credit, she does repent and get it right when Seth is granted to her as “another seed”. This time around, she makes the Lord the subject of her proclamation. “The Lord has appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew”. The account of Abel and Cain just begs for a ton of questions to be asked. Why did Abel choose an occupation that seems to be a refusal of what the Lord said to Adam (and presumably to his descendants) about getting food by the sweat of his face in tilling the ground? Being a shepherd doesn’t seem to be as much work, though it would require being ready to fight off predators. And what did Abel do for food? At this point the only things the Lord had given to man as food were plants, grain and fruit. Nothing had been said about milk and cheese from goats and sheep. Meat wasn’t given to man as food til after the flood. Maybe Abel foraged while he tended the flocks?

  19. Genesis 5: 4 explains how the other women, after Eve was made by the Almighty, first came into existence and therefore a supply of women began to be available for all of Adam’s “sons’, and that included wives for the line starting with Cain. and the line starting with Seth, and for Adam’s other sons.

    • I think that the biblical narrative is certainly alluding to this fact, Stephen (similar to what Ecclesiastes says about life). Thanks for your note.

  20. There are 2 creation stories of Man. The 1st says He created them male & female. The 2nd says He created Adam and put him in a garden and then created Eve from Adam. I have always thought these were 2 separate creations. This 1st creation could be the group from which Cain takes a wife. Shalom

  21. Cain offered his best production from the fields.How could it not stand in equality with Abel’s offerings.He offered from his profession/work.Why should God show partiality between the two.

    • Great question, Felix. The truth is, the Bible doesn’t tell us why God had favor for one sacrifice and not the other. As frustrating as this lack of detail can be, it also foreshadows God’s choosing of Israel as a nation; God just has a special love for the Israelites (in Hebrew that love is called “hesheq”), but God’s love has nothing to do with what Israel does or doesn’t do. God’s choosing of Abel’s sacrifice, “just because,” might foreshadow God’s similar choosing of Israel.

    • The LORD says if he did well… we don’t do well at all w accursed things like what the ground produces & like things dedicated to idol even the gold & silver on them. We do well after what God do for us like sacrifice to God of innocent cattles like to cover the shame of the first couple & like killing a lamb to the LORD for omitting of sins at the temple. I had struggle w it also for decades & thought hard about it, finally at peace w it. Peace to you as well!

  22. Apologies for the redundancy. Bad internet connection. My post kept dropping.

    Happy Yom Kippur to all. May Hashem have favor for us all with a good year to come. Life, Health and Prosperity to all.

    May we all be inscribed for He promised that He would pour out from Heaven all the Blessings we need.

  23. In those early days men lived close to a thousand years. Caine probably married at close to a hundred years. His must have come from Adam and Eve. To argue otherwise would be questioning the entire creation story.

  24. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and pnamed him Seth. 4 qThe days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, rand he died. –Genesis 5:3-5. Notice verse 4 says “he had other sons and daughters”.

  25. Why did God find Abel’s offering acceptable but found Cain’s unacceptable and why did that make Cain so angry that he killed his brother?

  26. In one of my bible which is the tanakh it states “She then bore his brother Abel”. i was told that in jewish believe cain and Abel are twins. But it is not clear like Esau and Jacob are. thanks

  27. I humbly caution all the contributors to tread very, very lightly on the question of ‘where did the wives come from?”. We are drifting from the “WORD” given, to focusing on filling in the blanks where it is not required of us; as a result we are beginning to focus on personalities and events, and this is dangerous ground. I’m not suggesting that we should not, but we must also be aware of the purpose and purity of the scriptures. 1 Cor 4:6, 2 Cor 4:13, Gal 3:10, Rev 1:3 warn “not to go beyond what written”.

  28. A question about Cain; if Cain was a child of Adam and Eve, what was the reason he was not even mentioned in the genealogy or lineage of Adam in the Bible Luke 3:38? Why? If I may ask.

    • Thanks for your question, Xolani. Biblical genealogies are very selective; they are not meant to provide an exhaustive generational list, but rather to present a limited picture of descent in order to make a theological claim. More, we shouldn’t expect Cain to be included in the NT genealogies, since he is understood as an unsavory character (cf. 1 Jn 3:12; Jude 1:11), and therefore the NT writers wouldn’t want to associate him with Jesus.

      • Thank you for replying. I understand. Please explain to me Genesis 6:2. How can sons of God be fallen angels (demons) that came down to earth and mated with the daughters of men? (according to Josephus). The Bible says that Adam was the son of God, so since every seed must produce out of its own kind Gen1:11, what comes from Adam is like Adam. These sons of God in Gen6:2, are they not the righteous seed line From Adam, to Seth etc who lusted after the beauty of the daughters of men, As it is today Luke17:26-28?

        • Thanks, Xolani. Adam is called God’s son in a metaphorical sense in Lk 3:38, and it was common to call certain human beings “sons” of God (e.g., Exod 4:22; Ps 2:7). However, the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are God’s divine creations — i.e., the celestial beings that God creates in the heavenly realm, just like God creates humans in the earthly realm (cf. Job 38:1-7; Psalm 82). These “sons of God” are lesser deities who seem to rebel against God somehow (the text doesn’t give us much information).

  29. Friendly good day, thanks for its illustrations that respect, sim impeded the most ancient rabbinical illustrations, they seem to be more explicit and I would like he will extend why the tanak must not be read of maneraa literally and that understands himself for literal in the concept yehudita. thanks

  30. Is it possible that Adam and Eve had girl children before Cain? That would explain her ‘profound’ gratitude in getting ‘a man, from the Lord’. The coming of Abel was not much celebrated seeing as he did come after ‘the man’ Cain

    • Thanks for your question, Ben. Since the text never explicates that Adam and Eve had female children before Cain, we don’t have a textual basis for the theory. Eve’s exclamation that she has “gotten a man from the Lord” is a way for the biblical writer to make a wordplay on Cain’s name (to explain why Cain get’s his name), because “I have gotten (קניתי; qaniti)” echoes the name, Cain (קין; qayin). Eve doesn’t need to make the same exclamation after Abel (הבל; hevel) is born, because the reader already knows that his name means “vapor.”

  31. love your background and insight! I feel it is conjecture to suppose the existence of other people independent of the posterity of Adam and Eve – I think that description of others is simply the notation that Adam and Eve had many other children and were fulfilling God’s command to ‘mulitply and fill the earth’ as most translations describe and that the purity of their state, tho fallen, allowed for brother and sister to continue fulfilling that command without the issues of biological incest that have come about thru greater biological specialization and greater impurity over time.

  32. Also, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that Adam and Eve as all of mankind are literally the spirit offspring of God in the pre-mortal world so that in reality all mankind are children of God, beginning with Adam. This is further corroborated by the Bible’s description of Jesus being the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, meaning all are begotten as spirits before coming to the mortal world where everyone else has a mortal set of parents. This is what literally makes us all brothers and sisters as children of God.

  33. Our Lord Jesus is the seed who crushed the head of the devil, isn’t it? (I am just out of the the hospital I believe w a medical miracle.) Why is Cain expected to be the seed? Is Noah & the Lord from his line? What reasons could Eve have to name her sons like them, it must be repercussion from & out of Eden. It sounded like to me the first couple were so very young that they had given to the trick of the snake; they are “egg eaters”. It’s my experience though I did not give in!

    • Thanks for your question. The New Testament writers do not cite Genesis 3:15 (Eve’s offspring bruising the serpent’s head) with reference to Jesus. Noah comes from the line of Seth (cf. Gen 5:6, 28-29).

  34. There has been a lot of speculation on Cain’s wife. It is certainly true that Adam and Eve had daughters and the Godly line came through them. However that was another line that we call Neanderthals mentioned in chapter 5 that can account for this. See next post

  35. Of course twisted due to a lack of words in the language to accurately define the event. The Godly line intermarried with the Neanderthals and this is what caused the need for the flood in the first place. They were not suitable mates for Adam.

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