The connections each day in this 40 Days Of Blogging exercise continue to amaze me. I laughed when I saw that today’s topic was vanity, because I had mentioned it in a previous post and also thought of the word recently while watching my daughter play with my old Smurf figurines – Vanity Smurf being prominent among them with his ever-present hand mirror. The word vanity pops up in scripture a lot. Of course, the English word vanity is a translation and therefore an interpretation of different Hebrew and Greek words. In the Book Of Ecclesiastes the word appears often and is the translation (in most versions) of the Hebrew word hevel, which means a vanishing breeze. It is easy to see the association with vanity, which is a fleeting thing in the end. The h sound in hevel is the voiceless glottal fricative rather than the rougher voiceless pharyngeal fricative h we find in words like ruaH, the Hebrew word for wind. The correspondingly harder h sound for wind separates it from the light h sound in the word for breeze.
Hevel is also the Hebrew name that we know as Abel, from the Cain killed Abel story in Genesis. The name – and names are always important in scripture – is fitting, for Abel is indeed a vanishing breath, as are all humans. Abel is only on the scene very briefly, he never speaks, and he is murdered. And that is pretty much it for Abel. This is like Psalm 103: “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
But Abel does indeed make a reappearance in Orthodox tradition. The Resurrection icon shows him as a beardless young man standing on the side of Christ’s descent in Hades. Abel was the first victim of sin and Christ has saved him.