Sei sulla pagina 1di 3

Abel

57

Abduction
/Kidnap, Kidnapping

Abecedary
/Alphabet

Abednego
/Azariah: Abednego; /Shadrach, Meshach,
Abednego

Abeille, Pierre-Csar
Abeille was a French composer (1674after 1733).
He composed settings of all the Psalms of David (in
two volumes) for the use of the convent of St Cyr.
Especially the later part is complex and subtle, with
instrumental accompaniment in a concertante style
featuring expressive declamation.
Bibliography: G. Bourligueux, Abeille, Pierre-Csar,
Grove Music Online (www.oxfordmusiconline.com, accessed
July 3, 2008).

Nils Holger Petersen

Abel
I.
II.
III.
IV.

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament


Christianity
Literature
Visual Arts

I. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament


Abel was the second son of the primeval couple,
Adam and Eve (Gen 4 : 2). The first murder victim
in the Bible, Abel (a shepherd) was killed by his
older brother Cain (a farmer) in a jealous rage because God inexplicably favored Abels offering of
firstborn animals but not Cains offering of grain
(Gen 4 : 116). The name Abel is related to the Hebrew word hebel, breath, nothingness, signifying
the transitory character of human life (Isa 57 : 13;
Ps 144 : 4).
Dennis T. Olson

II. Christianity
This entry considers the character Abel himself,
and not his relationship to Cain, in ancient and medieval Christianity, especially in the West.
1. Literal Interpretations. Most of the authors
base their exegesis on the interpretatio (translation) of the name Abel. Jerome (Nom. hebr.,
CChr.SL 72, 60) proposed several possible meanings for the name: mourning [Heb. he bel], vanity, breath [Heb. hebel], miserable; these terms
are in the Aaz apprehendens collection of interpretationes (attributed to Stephen Langton), widely diffused
in the 13th century. Josephus had another interpre-

58

tatio, this is nothing, repeated, among others, by


Hugh of St. Cher (Postilla on Gen.).
Certain details in the biblical narrative about
Abel aroused questions among interpreters. Peter
Comestor (Hist. Schol., PL 198, 10761077) reconstituted the chronology of the lives of Cain and Abel.
He surmised that Abel was born at the same time
as his sister Delbora, 15 years later than Cain, and
he concluded that Cains murder occurred one hundred years after that. A standard question is how
Cain could know that Abels sacrifice was accepted
by God. Jeromes answer referred to Theodotion,
who translated the phrase, And the Lord had regard
for Abel, in this way: And the Lord burnt upon
Abel. This explanation was frequently repeated;
an example is Andrew of St. Victor. The nature of
the offering was sometimes specified. Quoting Josephus, Peter Comestor suggests that the offering
consisted of milk and first-born lambs. Peter of
John Olivi wondered how Abel was a shepherd, as
humans did not yet eat any meat (not until Gen
9 : 13). Olivis conclusion was that Abel raised
sheep only for the wool and the milk and not the
meat. Against the Jewish Midrash, several Christian
authors suggested that Abel died as a virgin.
The New Testament grants to Abel the epithet
righteous (Matt 23 : 35), repeated in the liturgy
of the mass. Augustinus Hibernicus, in his De mirabilibus sacrae Scripturae, describes the triple righteousness of Abel: virginity, priesthood, and martyrdom. This trilogy of righteousness associated with
Abel appeared frequently in the Middle Ages. Several medieval authors quoted the Jewish historian
Josephus and his assertion of Abels righteousness.
For instance, William of Alton noted that according to Josephus, [Abel] honoured his righteousness
and believed that God was always by him.
Some authors praise Abels faith. The most remarkable text is one by Rupert of Deutz (Comm. in
Gen), which refers to Heb 11 : 4, By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than
Cain. Rupert inferred that Abel had offered first
his heart and then his goods, his heartfelt faith
thereby making his sacrifice greater and more worthy. Abel believed that one (Christ) would come
who would bruise the head of the ancient serpent
and remove the flaming sword (weaponry) which
keeps the way of the tree of life (Gen 3 : 1415, 24).
On the basis of these literal interpretations, authors of the patristic era and Middle Ages provided
additional spiritual interpretations, tropologies or
allegories.
2. Spiritual Interpretations. The allegorical interpretations are the most frequent ones. Abel is a
figure of the Christ and of the Church. His sacrifice
announces the Eucharist. An interesting precision
can be noted in Rupert of Deutz: everything that is
related to Abel is a parable or a figure of the Christ.
If the figure (figura, typus) denotes an almost auto-

Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception 1 ( Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2009)

59

Abel

matic application, the parable implies a hermeneutical effort. Both aspects are found in the Fathers
and in medieval exegetes.
Almost all the authors make use of the typology
of Abel as a figure of Christ. The typology is built
on a series of analogies which are summarized, for
example, by Richard of St. Victor. Abel was
righteous and innocent in a manner similar to
Christ who committed no sin and whose mouth uttered no meanness. Abel was the first righteous human, chronologically speaking and foreshadowed
Christs supreme righteousness and holiness. Abel
offered to God the flesh of a sheep, pointing to
Christ who offered his own flesh as the Lamb of
God. God had regard for the offering of the righteous Abel, a precursor to Gods regard for the passion and sacrifice of Christ.
Additional analogies between Abel and Christ
appear in other texts. Abel the shepherd portends
the coming of the Good Shepherd (John 10 : 11).
Abel was killed by his brother, as Christ was killed
by his carnal brothers (the Jews). For Gregory the
Great (Moral. xxix.31.69), rather than a figure of
Christ, Abel is the announcement of the coming of
Gods Lamb, foreshadowing the role of John the
Baptist who testified to the coming of Christ (John
1 : 29). As Isaiah predicted the coming of Jesus (Isa
53 : 7), so Abel foretold it by his offering. The
theme of the Good Shepherd appears also in Isidore
of Seville.
Several texts of Saint Augustine expound the
idea that the Church began with Abel (Ecclesia ab
Abel). This theme is linked to the two cities (Augustine, Civ. xv). The conflict between Abel and Cain
foreshadowed the opposition between the Synagogue and the Church and the opposition between
good and evil. Another form of the theme Ecclesia
ab Abel can be found in Gregory the Great: he asserts that the limbs of our Redeemer, i.e., the
righteous saints throughout history, have existed
since the beginning. Abel is one of them, not only
because his sacrifice had been accepted by God, but
also because he died without uttering a word
(Moral. iii.17.32). For Rupert of Deutz, Abel represented all the righteous saints, but he is also the
type for those who perished in internal or civil
wars. Rupert suggests another curious allegory,
equating Abel with the saint Hippolyte, who was
killed by Decius. Rupert called Hippolyte the Abel
of the Nations (De sancto Spiritu vi.19).
A link was often seen between the story of Abel
and the sacrifice of the Mass or Eucharist. However,
there is an ambiguity in some texts, because Abels
offering as well as his own martyrdom were often
considered as a lesser prefiguring of the eucharistic
sacrifice. Abels martyrdom announced Christs future Passion which was the highest of sacrifices,
and the Eucharist was the reiteration of Christs
sacrifice which exceeded all previous sacrifices, in-

60

cluding Abels sacrifice. There is a mention of Abel


the Righteous in the Canon of the Mass, and also of
Abraham and Melchizedek, whose sacrifices were
accepted by God. Rupert of Deutz notes that the
time of day when Abel gave his offering, the evening, corresponds to the time when the ritual of the
ancient Jewish Passover was observed.
The tropological or moral interpretation of
Abel was less common, but some examples appeared already in the patristic period (Ambrose).
Abel represented those of humble or righteous
character. Guibert of Nogent saw in him the virtue
of the inner human, Adam of Dryburgh viewed
Abel as the man who mourns the exile of present
life. Master Eckhart, in a series of oppositions in
relation to Cain, understood Abel as the rational
side of humanity and the humans inner life.
Bibliography: D. Cerbelaud/G. Dahan (eds.), Can et Abel
(CEv Supplment 105; Paris 1998). Y. Congar, Ecclesia
ab Abel, in Abhandlungen ber Theologie und Kirche, FS Karl
Adam (Dsseldorf 1952) 79108. G. Dahan, Lexgse
de lhistoire de Can et Abel du XIIe au XIVe s. en Occident, RThAM 49 (1982) 2189; 50 (1983) 568.

Gilbert Dahan

III. Literature
In western literature Abel, the first murder victim,
is separately a vehicle of Christian typology and the
counter to whatever Cain represents.
Within medieval drama, the Anglo-Norman
Mystre dAdam most fully draws out the significance of Abel as a type of Christ, here offering himself as a willing sacrifice. The Ludus Coventriae was
singular in making Abels lamb the image of the
Christ destined to suffer on the Cross. The Rouen
Shepherds Play has an excursus on great shepherds
which refers to Abel alongside Moses, Jacob and
David.
Typifying the Romantic revolt, Grard de
Nervals Tale of the Queen of Morning and Solomon, the
Prince of Genii (1844) portrays Abel as a lazy shepherd, neglecting his flock. But he is part of the
God-transcending future vision in Leconte de
Lisles Quain (1869). In the more conventionally
moral world of Dickens the descendants of Abel
prevail persistently over those of Cain.
Jewish poetry of the 20th century focuses more
on the intrinsic qualities of Abel, as in Else LaskerSchlers Abel, part of Hebrische Balladen (1913).
Holocaust poetry took this further. In one of Uriel
Birnbaums sonnets Cain visits Abels grave and
discovers that his brother had a much happier life,
dying young.
In Christopher Frys play A Sleep of Prisoners
(1951), Private Peter Able is a Christ-figure, resisting his brothers violent outlook. In Sergeant Musgraves Dance (1960) by John Arden, the skeleton of
Billy Hicks plays the role of Abels blood, crying
out for justice. More recently the poetry of Hans

Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception 1 ( Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2009)

61

Abel, Felix-Marie (Louis Felix)

Magnus Enzensberger and of Walter Helmut Fritz


has revived the question of Abel.
Bibliography: S. Liptzin, Biblical Themes in World Literature
H. Matthews, The Primal Curse
(Hoboken, N.J. 1985).
(London 1967). L. R. Muir, The Biblical Drama of Medieval
Europe (Cambridge 1995). A. Welsh, The City of Dickens
(Oxford 1971).

Anthony Swindell

IV. Visual Arts


The majority of artistic images of Abel focus on his
murder at the hand of his brother Cain. Thus Hubert van Eyck, for instance, on the upper rounded
corner of the 1432 Ghent altarpiece painted a
splendid grisaille piece appearing as if it were relief
sculpture and shaped it to fit the awkward space to
which it was consigned. Cain leans over his prostrate brother with a sickle-like weapon which he
no doubt had used to harvest his fields. Albrecht
Drers 1511 woodcut presents the back of a
curved, horizontal Abel to the viewer and an angular, vertical, frontal Cain with an axe-like weapon
raised above his head. Tintorettos ca. 1550 image
presents a splayed Abel, his limbs together with
Cains creating the dynamic pinwheel configuration for which the artist is famous, and contrastive
flesh tones underscoring the difference in personas
between the two brothers. That sort of difference is
simplified and emphasized in the contemporary
ink drawing by Henri Lindegaard, whose The
First Murder reduces the two figures to a stylized
explosion of perpetrator anger and victim anguish.
Less frequently Abel is shown with his brother
in the act of making their offerings to God (see
/plate 2). Hubert Van Eyck balances the previously-noted murder scene with such an image on
the opposite corner of that altarpiece, in which an
already-angry, bearded Cain looks up from his
sheave toward his benignly preoccupied and beardless brother. Rembrandt van Rijns ca. 1650 drawing presents the scene in a low-lying landscape, in
which the billowing smoke of Abels offering to the
left contrasts with the empty skies to the right and
a subtle progression of line descends from Abels
upstretched praying body to Cains unkindled offering to the crouching figure of Cain to the horizon line.
Still more unusual is the scene of Adam and
Eve discovering and mourning over the body of
Abel for which there is no actual biblical discussion. William Blakes ca. 1826 small pen and ink
and tempera image presents Eve hunched over her
rigid son, her arms encircling his head, her hair
flooding over his chest, as Adam looks up in dismay, his eyes following the figure of Cain fleeing
from the grave into which Abel will soon be placed.
William-Adolphe Bougueraus 1888 The First
Mourning presents a pinwheel of Abels splayed
arms and legs as his corpse lays across Adams

62

knees, who clutches his heart with one arm while


comforting a distraught Eve with the other. A decade later, sculptor Louis-Ernest Barrias represented
Adam and Eve carrying the body of their fallen son
in a similarly academic style that emphasizes body
weight and textural surface contrasts between hair
and flesh and between male musculature and female softness.
Bibliography: W. Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of
William Blake (New Haven, Conn. 1981). C. D. Cutter,
Northern Painting (New York 1968) G. Dor, The Dor Bible
Illustrations (Mineloa, N.Y. 1974).

Ori Z. Soltes
See also /Cain (Person); /Cain and Abel, Story of

Abel, Felix-Marie (Louis Felix)


Born at St-Uze, France, on 29 December 1878, Felix-Marie Abel came to Jerusalem as a novice in the
Dominican Order in 1900. After his ordination as
a Roman Catholic priest in 1905 he joined the faculty of the cole Biblique et Archologique Franaise as professor of Greek, history, and geography.
He remained at the school until his death on 24
March 1953.
Although he made significant contributions in
other domains, Abel is certainly remembered as the
geographer of the Holy Land. In addition to numerous travel reports in the Chronique of the Revue Biblique, he published systematic studies on the
Dead Sea, the Jordan valley, the Mediterranean
coastline, central Samaria, and Transjordan. These
were supplemented by articles on such diverse topics as the sacred geography of Cyril of Alexandria,
the list of places in the Zenon papyrus, the topography of the Maccabean campaigns, the distance from
Jerusalem to Emmaus, the geology of Palestine,
Gaza in the 6th century, the boundaries of Ptolemaic Palestine and Egypt, the topography of the
Roman siege of Jerusalem, and the location of the
city of Ara. These he eventually synthesized in his
epoch-making Gographie de la Palestine, which deals
in exemplary detail with all issues of physical, historical, and political geography from earliest times
to the Byzantine period. The ten maps have served
as the prime, but often unacknowledged, source of
much subsequent topographical identification.
It was his interest in geography that drew Abel
to write a major commentary on 1 and 2 Maccabees
(1949), which still retains its authority because of
the quality of its erudition, and this in turn inspired him to fill out the historical context by publishing his Histoire de la Palestine depuis la conqute
dAlexandre jusqu linvasion arabe.
Subsequent research into the Greek sources for
the history and geography of Palestine has only
served to emphasize Abels uncanny ability to identify the key issues in the documents and to confirm
the vast majority of his proposed solutions. A by-

Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception 1 ( Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2009)