The name has been identified with the Assyrian ablu, son, but this is far from certain. It more probably means herdsman (compare the name "Jabal"), and a distinction is drawn between the pastoral Abel and the agriculturist Cain. If Cain is the eponym of the Kenites it is quite possible that Abel was originally a South Judaean demigod or hero; on this, see Winckler, Gesch. Israels, ii. p. 189; E. Meyer, Israeliten, p. 395. A sect of Abelitae, who seem to have lived in North Africa, is mentioned by Augustine (De Haeresibus, lxxxvi.).
There are several references to Abel in the New Testament. Jesus speaks of him as "righteous" (Matthew 23:35). "The blood of sprinkling" is said to speak "better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24); that is, the blood of Jesus is the reality of which the blood of the offering made by Abel was only the type. The comparison is often seen as that between the sacrifice offered by Christ and that offered by Abel, but some believe it compares the blood of Christ calling for mercy and the blood of the murdered Abel calling for vengeance. It is also said (Hebrews 11:4) that "Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." This sacrifice was made "by faith;" this faith rested in God, not only as the Creator and the God of providence, but especially in God as the great Redeemer, whose sacrifice was typified by the sacrifices which, no doubt by the divine institution, were offered from the days of Adam downward. On account of that "faith" which looked forward to the great atoning sacrifice, Abel's offering was accepted of God. Cain's offering had no such reference, and therefore was rejected. Abel has been viewed as the first martyr, as the first human to die.
Abel lamentation (1 Samuel 6:18), the name given to the great stone in Joshua's field whereon the ark was "set down." The Revised Version, however, following the Targum and the LXX., reads in the Hebrew text ’ebhen (= a stone), and accordingly translates "unto the great stone, whereon they set down the ark." This reading is to be preferred.