Abel

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God fiercely opposes revenge, defending Cain from retaliation by Abel's descendants. It seems that Abel is, in a way, the stone guest of this epochal drama. He is not simply dead (May 2009 [1]); his restless soul continues to disturb, and the "voice of his blood" can be heard call vengeance and only with the intervention of God, Cain and his people will not suffer it. It is easily forgotten, though, that the Sethites are the first to threaten, anticipating the Cainite Lamech, who will stand out as an explicit promoter of revenge. Their bellicosity has not yet been understood, nor have the affinities between the Sethites and Anatolian mythology ever been investigated. As already suggested in other entries, a promising path to explore is the affinity between the story of two brothers, Abel and Cain, and the myth of the Curetes or the Cabiri, with a special attention to what may survive of the Hittite religion in the Classical age. One aspect of the Biblical drama that is still puzzling is when Abel sacrifices the fat of his lambs, triggering a fatal series of consequences that are not completely understood. The second son makes a highly symbolic gesture, which can be compared to Hittite rituals and to the title given to the Dactyls in Classical times: analuontes, that is "liberators" from the Greek ἀναλύω, because they are supposed to be able to free from charms (Schaaf 2014 [2]). They are also called pharmakeis, because they can dissolve the spells hanging on the head of the unsuspecting victim. With such a sacrifice, Abel usurps the role of the right-hand Dactyls. According to a distinction advanced in the 5th century B.C. by the historian Pherecydes (Blakely 2007 [3]), the Dactyls would be distinguished into goētes,"those on the left" (Johnston 2013 [4]: 102ff.), which bind with magic and "those on the right", which free from these magical bonds (Faraone 1993). An ancient example of magical liberation is found in the so-called Soldiers' Oath (CTH 427, Arroyo Cambronero 2010 [5]; Miller 2010 [6]; Beal 2001 [7]), where a term such as appala- "trap", helps to reinterpret the character of Abel (hbl), who remains a usurper compared to the eldest Cain, despite the preference given to him by God. He should have left the power to free from spells to his brother, but he goes on nonetheless and finally gains God’s sympathy, according to a well-known pattern in Genesis, but let’s listen to Hittite sources: "Then he puts wax and sheep fat in their hands, then throws them into the flame (49-51) and says as follows: 'How this wax melts and how fat melts, even the one who breaks this oath, / (II 1-4) and «sets traps» to the king of the land of Hatti, as the wax melts, as the fat melts’. And they say, 'So be it.'" (Torri 2003 [8]: 92). As Abel's sacrifice is pleasing to God, we might think he is among those "at the right", the liberating Dactyls. As a matter of fact, the final message is the opposite. In other words, when Abel dissolves that fat, he is invading Cain’s territory (Arroyo Cambronero 2010 [5]: 371 and n. 140). He is the trap himself – that is, the pit – and in fact from there he will make his voice heard after death. In the Bible too this duality between binding and dissolving can be found (Davies 1994 [9]: 121ff.) and the distant roots of such a magical distinction are of course Mesopotamian, in the Babylonian rites of Šurpu (Pettinato 2001 [10]: 196ff., 309; Archi 2015 [11]: 289).

Originally Published: April 23, 2021

Last Updated: April 23, 2021


1.  May, N.N., "In Order to Make Him Completely Dead": Annihilation of the Power of Images in Mesopotamia. La famille dans le Proche-Orient ancien: réalités, symbolismes, et images. Proceedings of the 55th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Paris, 6-9 July 2009, 2009: p. 701-726.

2.  Schaaf, I., Magie und Ritual bei Apollonios Rhodios Studien zur ihrer Form und Funktion in den Argonautika. 2014, Berlin: De Gruyter.

3.  Blakely, S., Pherekydes' Daktyloi : ritual, technology, and the Presocratic perspective. Kernos, 2007: p. 43-67.

4.  Johnston, S.I., Restless dead : encounters between the living and the dead in ancient Greece. 2013, Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

5.  Arroyo Cambronero, A., Some Remarks on Hittite Rituals: The Relation between Word and Object. Altorientalische Forschungen, 2010. 37(2): p. 353-376.

6.  Miller, J.L., Practice and Perception of Black Magic among the Hittites. Altorientalische Forschungen, 2010. 37(2): p. 167-185.

7.  Beal, R.H., Hittite Military Rituals, M. Meyer and P. Mirecki, Editors. 2001, Brill: Boston-Leiden. p. 63-76.

8.  Torri, G., La similitudine nella magia analogica ittita. 2003, Roma: Herder.

9.  Davies, G.I., An Archaeological Commentary on Ezekiel 13. Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King, 1994: p. 108-125.

10.  Pettinato, G., Angeli e demoni a Babilonia. Magia e mito nelle antiche civiltà mesopotamiche. 2001, Milano: Mondadori.

11.  Archi, A., Remarks on Hittite Augur Rituals and Rituals from Arzawa. BiOr, 2015. 72: p. 282-294.