The Offering Of Abel (Gen 4:4): A History Of Interpretation -- By: Jack P. Lewis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:4 (Dec 1994)
Article: The Offering Of Abel (Gen 4:4): A History Of Interpretation
Author: Jack P. Lewis


The Offering Of Abel (Gen 4:4):
A History Of Interpretation

Jack P. Lewis*

The name Hebel (Gen 4:2, 4, 8–9, 25; pausal Hābel, 4:2) is unexplained in the OT, but a substantive hebel occurs seventy-three times in the MT signifying “breath, vapor, vanity.”1 Whether there is a connection between the name and the substantive is debated. The Great Bible, the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible spelled the name “Habel,” but the Douay used “Abel” as did the KJV and the major English Bibles since.

The story of Abel’s offering, presupposing without narration the practice of sacrifice, is told simply. Abel is a keeper of sheep: “Abel brought the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (4:4). A hiphil form of bôʾ a verb that is by no means limited to sacrificial contexts but occurs too often in them to need listing,2 describes the “bringing” of both Cain’s and Abel’s offerings. The Greek renders both cases by an aorist form of phēro, while the Latin uses different forms of offero in each case.

The Hebrew narrative uses two key words describing Abel’s offering not found concerning Cain’s offering of “fruit of the ground.” They are “firstlings” (b•ĕkōrôt cf. Exod 34:19; Deut 12:6; 14:23) and “fat” (ḥēleb; cf. Num 18:17). Both, joined by a conjunction that possibly is explanatory,3 are significant words in later Torah sacrificial instructions. The narrative has a double chiastic arrangement, beginning and ending with mentioning Cain (Gen 4:1–5).

The verb s̆āʿâ (“gaze intently”) occurs fifteen times in the OT with God as the subject (Job 7:19; 14:6; Ps 39:14; etc.).

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