Cain and Abel, the Two Brothers, and What Their Names Tell Us

Cain and Abel #3

In this part of this discussion, we explore Gen 4:2 in which we are introduced to the two brothers, Cain and Abel, now adults.

ב  וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת, אֶת-אָחִיו אֶת-הָבֶל; וַיְהִי-הֶבֶל, רֹעֵה צֹאן, וְקַיִן, הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה
And she continued to give birthוַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת
to his brother Abel.
The word אֶת as discussed in a previous post, has no equivalent in the English language, and it is mostly used as an object marker. More on that in the following discussion.
  – אֶתאָחִיו אֶת
הֶבֶל
And Abel would becomeוַיְהִיהֶבֶל
רֹעֵה – Someone who takes animals to the field
צֹאן – is collective word for sheep and goats
רֹעֵה צֹאן
And Cain wasוְקַיִן, הָיָה
עֹבֵד – worker
אֲדָמָה – soil, land, earth
Putting the two words together is an expression meaning a farmer.
עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה
2. And she (Eve) continued to give birth to his brother, (and named him) Abel; and Abel would become a shepherd, and Cain would become a farmer.

Discussion

While the text of this verse is straight forward, I would like to highlight a few points:

a)

In a previous session, I was asked if – as suggested by some interpretations – וַתֹּסֶף (and she continued), means that Abel was Cain’s twin? This is an interesting point. However, while being twins may intensify the drama and make the jealousy between the brothers more palpable. There is nothing in the Hebrew language that suggests that one interpretation is preferred over the other. The word וַתֹּסֶף gives no indication of time frame, and either interpretation is in line with the text.

b)

We previously discussed the meanings of names: the first man, who we mistakenly call Adam, did not have a name; Eve was given by Adam the name חוה (Cha-va) as she was the mother of all people; In the previous post we also discussed the name Cain in detail. But now, for the first time, we have a person whose name is not explained. When there is an exception, the question WHY is called for.   

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of הֶבֶל (Abel, or as the Hebrew pronunciation He-vel). In the Bible the word appears with two meanings:

The common use is nothingness, meaninglessness as in Eccl 18:8

הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר הַקּוֹהֶלֶת הַכֹּל הָבֶל
Nothingness said the Kohelet all is nothingness

The other (and by far less common) use of the word, is wind, a movement of air, a breath, as in Is 57:13

בְּזַעֲקֵךְ יַצִּילֻךְ קִבּוּצַיִךְ וְאֶת כֻּלָּם יִשָּׂא רוּחַ יִקַּח הָבֶל 
When you shout you will be saved by those who had gathered, and wind shall carry all of them, a breath shall bear them off

So why did Eve call her second born הֶבֶל?

There is no explanation in the text, and we, who embrace questions more then answers, should take the opportunity to contemplate the omission.  And if your answer tomorrow is different than today’s answer than the text has achieved its goal, putting you on the path of the seekers.  

c)

When we discussed Gen 4:1 in a previous session, we highlighted the problematic interpretation of the verse because the object marker אֵת was followed by יְהוָה (God). Here, only a single verse later, we find the same sentence structure with the very same way of using אֵת.

Gen 4:2 ַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת, אֶתאָחִיו אֶתהָבֶל She continued to give birth to his brother to Abel
Gen 4:1 קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶתיְהוָה I bought a man אֶת God

However, as in Gen 4:2 אֵת is followed by the name הָבֶל (Abel) rather than the word יְהוָה (God),the interpretation is straight forward. Should the fact that in Gen 4:1 the word אֵת is followed by יְהוָה changes the way we should read the sentence?  For the full discussion look at this post.

Does this verse change, in any way, the way you now think about Gen 4:1? Do you think differently about the reason for the name Cain or who he really was?

If you want to take part in an active discussion, please join our free Zoom meetings on: https://www.meetup.com/pro/the-bible-in-hebrew And please feel free to ask questions and share your insight. Here, we are all learning from each other.

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David
David
10 months ago

This does not make sense to me at all. Everyone knows that Jesus was the son of God how can you dare to claim that Cain was and he was a killer total nonsense

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  David
10 months ago

Hi David, thank you for your comments. Let me start by saying that I do not know what the real interpretation is. But I know that reading the language Cain is the son of God is a possible interpretation. But can it be that God had other sons? Gen 6:2… Read more »

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10 months ago

[…] been a son of God. (you can also see my response to David’s disagreement at the bottom of this post)  But even if he was not, we will see as we move forward that God had a special relationship with […]

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8 months ago

[…] is it simply an irregular way to indicate that a long time has passed between the two brothers, Cain and Abel, becoming adults and the time of the […]