(From the Hebrew word for Vanity, "probably so called
from the shortness of his life"--Gesenius; Gr., Abel,
whence Eng. form).
Abel was the second son of Adam. Vigouroux and Hummelauer contend that the Assyrian aplu
or ablu, const. Abal, i.e. "son," is the same word, not a
case of orthographic coincidence, especially as Hebrew
and Assyrian are closely related tongues. Some, with
Josephus (Ant., I, ii), think it means "Sorrow" or "Lamentation".
Cheyne holds that
"a right view of the story favours the meaning
shepherd, or more generally herdsman"; Assyrian
ibilu (Ency. Bib., s.v.) "ram, camel, ass, or wild sheep."
Cain, the first-born, was a farmer. Abel owned
the flocks that lived upon the soil. The two were,
therefore, doubly brothers, by birth and by calling.
Abel is not mentioned in the Old Testament except
in Gen., iv. St. Augustine makes him a type of the
regenerate, and Cain of the natural, man. "Cain
founded a city on earth, but Abel as a stranger and
pilgrim looked forward to the city of the saints which
is in heaven" (De Civ. Dei, XV, i). The descendants of Cain were wicked, but, as nothing is said
about those of Abel, it is supposed that he had none;
or at least that no son was alive at the birth of
Seth, "whom God has given me for Abel", as Eve
expressed it (Gen., iv, 25). The Abelians, or Abelites,
a sect in northern Africa mentioned by St. Augustine
(de Haer., lxxxvii), pretended that they imitated
Abel by marrying, yet condemned the use of marriage. They adopted children who also married
and lived in the same manner as their foster-parents.
The biblical account of the sacrifices of the brothers
and of the murder of Abel states that Cain offered
"of the fruits of the earth ", Abel "of the firstlings of
his flock, and of their fat". Cain's offerings are not
qualified, Abel's show that he gave with generosity
and love, and therefore found favour with God.
Josephus says (Ant., I, ii), "God was more delighted
with the latter (Abel's) oblation, when He was
honoured with what grew naturally of its own accord than He was with what was the invention of a
covetous man, and gotten by forcing the ground."
St. John gives the true reason why God rejected
Cain's sacrifice and accepted that of Abel: "his own
works were wicked; and his brother's just" (I John, iii, 12). God said later, "I will not receive a gift of
your hand" (Mal., i, 10). The love of the heart
must sanctify the lifting of the hands. Cain offered
dans Deo aliquid suum, sibi autem seipsum (de
Civ. Dei, XV, vii), but God says to all what St. Paul
wrote to the Corinthians, "I seek not the things that
are yours, but you" (II Cor., xii, 14).
In Hebrew, Christian, and Arabic traditions and
legends it is said that God showed his acceptance
of Abel's sacrifice by sending fire to consume it, as
in III Kings, xviii, 38. Cain thereupon resolved to
kill his brother, thinking the latter would supplant
him as Jacob did Esau later; or because he thought
the seed of Abel would have the honour of crushing
the serpent's head (Gen., iii, l5.-Hummelauer, Curs.
Com. S. Sac.). St. Jerome (Com. in Ezech., VIII, xxvii, no. 316), following Jewish tradition, makes
the plain of Damascus the scene of the murder, and
interprets the name of the city sanguinem bibens
(blood-drinking). A traveller
quoted with approval by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould
(Legends of the Old-Testament Characters) places
the scene half a mile from Hebron; but there is no
such local tradition in the neighbourhood of Hebron.
The Damascus referred to is certainly the Syrian city.
The Koran (Sura v, 30, etc.) agrees with the Bible
in the main facts about the sacrifices and murder,
but adds the legend that God sent a raven which by
scratching in the earth showed Cain how to bury his
brother. According to Jewish tradition, Adam and
Eve were taught by the raven how to bury their son,
and God rewarded the raven by granting three
things: (1) his young were to be inviolable, (2)abundance of food (3) his prayer for rain should be granted
(Pirke Rab: Eliezer, XXI).
In the New Testament Abel is often mentioned.
His pastoral life, his sacrifice, his holiness, his tragic
death made him a striking type of Our Divine Saviour.
His just works are referred to in I John, iii, 12; he
is canonized by Christ himself (Matt., xxiii, 34, 35)
as the first of the long line of prophets martyred for
justice' sake. He prophesied not by word, but by
his sacrifice, of which he knew by revelation the
typical meaning (Vigouroux); and also by his death
(De Civ. Dei, XV, xviii). In Heb., xii, 24, his death
is mentioned, and the contrast between his blood and
that of Christ is shown. The latter calls not for
vengeance, but for mercy and pardon. Abel, though
dead, speaketh (Heb., xi, 4), Deo per merita,
hominibus per exemplum (Piconjo), i.e. to God by
his merits, to men by his example. For a rabbinic interpretation of the plural
Hebrew word meaning
"bloods", in Gen., iv, 10, see Mishna San., IV, 5, where it is said to refer to
Abel and to his seed. The Fathers place him among
the martyrs. Martyrium dedicavit (St. Aug., op.
cit., VI, xxvii); he is associated with St. John
the Baptist by St. Chrysostom (Adv. Judaeos, viii,
8); others speak in similar terms. In the Western
Church, however, he is not found in the martyrologies
before the tenth century (Encyci. théol., s.v.).
In the canon of the Mass his sacrifice is mentioned
with those of Melchisedech and Abraham, and his name is placed at the head of the list of saints invoked to aid the dying. The views of radical higher
criticism may be summed up in the words of Cheyne:
"The story of Cain and Abel is an early Israelitish
legend retained by J as having a profitable tendency"
(Encyci. bib., s.v.). The conservative interpretation
of the narrative differs from that of the radical school
of critics, because it accepts the story as history or
as having at least a historic basis, while they regard
it as only one of the legends of Genesis.
Patristic references in P.G. and P.L.; GEIKIE, Hours with
the Bible; ID., The Descendants of Adam; ID., Creation to
Patriarchs (New York, 1890); HUMMELAUER, Cursus Scrip.
Sac. (Paris 1895); PALIS in VIG., Dict. de la Bible. FOR
LEGENDS SEE: The Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud, tr. from
the Germ by WEIL (London, 1846), 23-27; STANLEY, Sinai
and Palestine; Id., Legends about Cain and Abel, 404, sqq.;
BARING-GOULD, Legends of the Old Testament Characters (London 1871) I, 6; GUNKEL, The Legends of Genesis (tr., Chicago,
1901). For a strong presentation of the HISTORICITY of the
Old Test., against the claims of the critical school, consult
ORR, The Problems of the Old Testament (New York, 1906);
DRIVER, Genesis (1904).
JOHN J. TIERNEY
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Name of several places distinguished by additional words:
(meadow of the house, or family, of Maacha). In
Vulgate also "Abeldomus and Maacha," "Abeldomus
Mancha", "Abela and Maacha"; identical with Abel-Maim (meadow of water), II Par., xvi, 4. It was a,
city in Upper Galilee, a little west of Dan.--II K., xx.
14-19; III K., xv, 20; IV K., xv, 29; II Par., xvi, 4.
(2) Abel-Keramim (meadow of vineyards), a village
of the Ammonites, about six miles from Philadelphia.
Jud., xi, 33. (3) Abelmehula, Abelmeula (Abelmechola, "a meadow of the dance"), in the Jordan
valley near Bethsan.--Jud., vii, 23; III K., iv, 12;
xix, 16. (4) Abel-Misraim (Vulg. "the mourning
of Egypt"), according to St. Jerome identical with
the "threshing floor of Atad." Gen., 1, 10 sq. (5)
Abelsatim, Settim, Setim, Hebr. abhel hashshittim
(meadow of acacias) is a place in the plains of Moab.
Num., xxv, 1; xxxiii, 49; xxxiv-xxxvi; Jos., ii, 1; iii,
1; Mich. vi, 5. (6) The great Abel in I K., vi, 18, is
a misreading for the great ebhen (stone).
Vigouroux, in Dict. de la Bible (Paris, 1895) HAGEN, Lex.
Bibl. (Paris, 1905); HOLZAMMER, in Kirchenlex. (Freiburg,
1882); CONDER, in Dict. of the Bible (New York, 1903).
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia