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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Names

Cain & Abel

By Jeff A. Benner

The names Cain and Abel are Latin/English transliterations of the Greek names as found in the Septuagint (2,000 year old Greek translation of the Hebrew). In Greek, Cain is Καιν (Kain) and Abel is Αβελ (Abel). These are in turn Greek transliterations of the Hebrew. In Hebrew Cain is קין (qayin) and Abel is חבל (havel).

The word קין (qayin) means to acquire or possess something which is why Eve (chavah in Hebrew) said "I have gotten/acquired (qanah) a man" (Gen 4:1). The word חבל means to be empty, often translated as vain or vanity in the sense of being empty of substance.

In Hebrew thought ones name (Shem in Hebrew literally meaning breath or character) is reflective of one’s character. 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.

Another interesting fact about these two that is often overlooked is that Cain and Abel are the first twins. In normal Hebraic accounting of multiple births the conception then birth of each child is mentioned such as in Genesis 29:32,33 - And Leah conceived and bore a son... She conceived again and bore a son...

But notice how it is worded in Genesis 4:1,2 - she conceived and bore Cain... And again, she bore his brother Abel. 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.

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