Genesis 4:2


 וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת אֶת־אָחִיו אֶת־הָ֑בֶל וַיְהִי־הֶבֶל רֹעֵה צֹאן וְקַיִן הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה

Next, she gave birth to his brother Abel. In time, Abel became a shepherd of sheep and Cain a cultivator of the soil.


She gave birth to his brother: the form of this verse (i.e., in the absence of the formulaic phrasing of “she conceived and bore” which is the usual way to express the birth of an infant) suggests that Cain and Abel may have been twins.

Abel: unlike the naming of Cain, no explanation for this choice is given. In Hebrew the word הָ֑בֶל(/ha⋅vel/), Abel’s Hebrew name, connotes vaporous, nothingness, a thing or event with little or no effect. It is often used to express the futility of life (see, for example Jeremiah 2:5[1]Thus says the LORD, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me And walked after emptiness and became empty? (NAS). Perhaps the author wished to portray the transient and insignificance of Abel’s life. However, when we examine verse 4:10, we’ll see that Abel’s existence was far from insignificant.

In time, …: this is simply a paraphrase to account for the passage of time associated with the two brothers reaching young adulthood (in the ANE[2]ANE = Ancient Near East. shortly after puberty). Another indication that years may have passed since the actual birth occurs in the previous verse. Here is the relevant phrase from 4:1:

I have produced a man”

Here, the author quotes Eve using the Hebrew word for man as an adult male, אִישׁ (/eesh/). This is the only instance in the Hebrew Bible where eesh is used in a context in which it could also be interpreted as an infant. Everywhere else the appropriate word for infant, baby, or child is used. Scholars speculate that Eve’s exultant statement occurs when her sons have become [young] adults.

shepherd … cultivator: under the new conditions of life outside of Eden, mankind adopts a mixed, subsistence economy consisting of nomadic herding and agriculture. These two economies complement each other since, pre-flood, humans were supposed to be vegetarians. In this context, the farmers needed the herders for milk as well as skins to make clothes and shelters. At the same time, the herders needed the farmers for food.  More to the point, labor had become specialized and while Cain followed his father’s occupation, Abel took to animal husbandry. We’ll return to these two occupations in 4:5 after Abel’s offering is accepted and Cain’s is not.

Word-for-Word Translation

My translation conventions can be found here.

Next, she [was] to-bear his-brother Abel and Abel was a shepherd of sheep and Cain working of the ground.

Commercial Bible Translations

  • (nrs) Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.
  • (kjv) And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
  • (niv) Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
  • (net) Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.

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