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St. Abel the Just

“Cain and Abel Offering their Sacrifices” by Gustave Dore

We tend to think of saints as all having been Christians who lived after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is not necessarily the case. Even in the Bible, there is a list of what could be called Old Testament saints (Heb 11). One of these Old Testament saints is Abel. The story of Cain and Abel is widely known, even among those who aren’t religious.

According to the biblical book of Genesis, Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous that God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected his. Not only is it the first recorded instance of murder, it is also the first recorded instance of a person dying. (It is theoretically possible that someone else, not mentioned in Scripture, could have died before this. The Bible is not intended as a history book so we cannot expect it to include everything.)

Considered to be one of the Old Testament patriarchs, St. Abel the Just, was the second son of Adam and Eve mentioned in the Bible. (At the time genealogies were not all-inclusive. Not everyone was necessarily included and generations were often skipped. The Hebrew word usually translated ‘son of’ actually means ‘descendant of.’)  His murder at the hands of his brother, Cain, is described in Genesis 4:1-16. Cain was upset because his sacrifice was refused by God while Abel’s sacrifice was accepted. Abel is called the just (or the holy) and the first martyr because Jesus described him as such in Matthew 23:35.

Abel’s feast is commemorated on 02 Jan. He is the patron of dying people, murder victims and  shepherds.

Depiction in Art

In medieval art, particularly in anti-Semitic 16th century Germany, Cain is depicted as a stereotypical ringleted, bearded Jew, who killed Abel the blonde, European Gentile symbolizing Christ.

Text© 2018 Gary J Sibio. All rights reserved.

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Written by Gary J Sibio

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19 Comments

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  1. Very interesting article! I’ve always been so fascinated with Cain and Abel’s story, particularly the method of Cain killing him. It was never described in the Bible as to how he killed Abel, and we could only just speculate about it. Great read though!

    • In English we are fortunate to have a variety of translations, some of which are very readable and others, not so much. There’s a website called Bible Gateway that has a lot of different translations in many languages. Life Church also has a smartphone app called Bible that also has a lot. Maybe you can find a better translation for you there. (Both are free.)

      Also, I don’t recommend starting at the beginning and trying to read straight through. Start with the gospel of John.

  2. Thank you for this. I am always glad to get explanations from Bible stories. I have read the Bible several times and often look back to read the parts people refer to educate myself further. I will look this up in the Book of Genesis,. Amazing artwork.

  3. It is always a mistake to look to Genesis for accurate history! This is a book of myths, much like those of the Greeks and other ancient people, that consists of stories told to answer questions asked by people in past centuries. The value of myth lies in its symbolism, and that is the level on which it makes most sense.

      • It has been said that a myth is a religion which nobody now believes. There was a time when the ancient Greeks actually believed that the gods lived on Mount Olympus and made everything happen that they saw around them. They no longer do so!

        The parallels between the myths of ancient Greece and those presented in the Old Testament are so strong that there is absolutely no reason not to put them in the same category. However, I have always said that myths have power, and this power is only fully realized when they are properly understood as such.

        Myth has to run alongside science if we are to gain a true understanding of Genesis and learn what it can teach. When people say that every word of Genesis is absolute truth, to be taken as literal fact, then they are doing themselves a huge misfavour.

          • Well, that really does open a can of worms! Given all the inconsistencies that the Bible contains, there are a lot of faces to choose from! All efforts to reconcile the conflicting elements have only led to some very odd conclusions.

            I am not saying the Bible does not have value – of course it does – but the true value is only gained when it is seen through the correct lens, just as one must do with any ancient text.

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