2010-06-20

Which “Bone” Was Eve Made From?

by Neil Godfrey

Bawdy BibleThe creation and Adam and Eve narratives are often said to be nice moral tales that convey spiritual truths. Being myth does not disqualify them from containing meaningful messages for modern readers.

So at wedding ceremonies and in sunday school classes bible-believers are regaled with the “beautiful story” of the God practising a bit of psychic surgery as his hand penetrates Adam’s side to pull out a rib which he used to create Eve. And since this story is not something that has been uncovered in modern times among cuneiform tablets alongside myths of sea-monsters and sky-gods, but is one we have been as familiar with as our soft pillows and teddy bear toys since childhood, we call it a “beautiful metaphor” of the marriage relationship.

And I suspect many theologians would prefer to keep it that way. Meaningful myth or symbol is sophisticated. Literal images of God taking the penis bone from Adam and using it to create Eve, thus explaining both marriage and the reason males of humans alone (almost) lack this bit of anatomy would probably go a long way to discrediting not only a “beautiful and meaningful story”, but opening up a few more people’s minds to the irrelevance of the Bible in an enlightened age.

I’m probably the last to know this little tidbit of trivia, but thanks to chance I recently discovere in a bookshop The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book by John Kaltner, Stephen L. McKenzie and Joel Kilpatrick. John Shelby Spong calls it “a terrific book!”; Jonathan Kirsch, “smart, savvy, scholarly, and funny, all at once”; and Jonathan Reed, “Based on the best contemporary scholarship of the Bible — but funny as hell!” How could I resist it?

Which “Bone” Was Eve Made From?

So what’s wrong with the rib meaning the rib?

First, the Hebrew word used for rib is tsela (צְלָעֹת), but this word never means ‘rib’ anywhere else in the Bible

It usually means ‘side’. In architecture, it is used of a side-room or cell, or of rafters or ceiling beams. “The common idea in all these different meanings seems to be that of a tangent or branch extending out from a central structure or body. Given this basic sense, Adam’s tsela would seem to refer to a “limb” or “appendage” — something that jutted out from his body.”

Second, the image of a rib does not fit with the etiological agenda of the larger story. This is a narrative chock full of origin-myths — tales explaining how things began: where humans came from, why snakes crawl, why people wear clothes, why women have labor pains, why marriage. But removing a rib from Adam and using it to create Eve explains nothing like this. Men don’t have one less rib than women.

Third, the story is full of allusions to human sexuality (being naked and unashamed; recognizing they are naked; covering their genitals), but the rib detail does not relate to any of the sexual differences between men and women. It stands out as something of an anomaly for this reason, too.

Fourth, the rib story does not leave us with being able to make very much of what is meant by God “closing up” the flesh afterwards. Genesis 2:21:

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof

“Again, considering the etiological (explanatory) nature of the story, this statement seems intended to explain the existence of some suture- or scar-like mark on the torsos of human males that is not found on females. But there is no such mark on males – at least not near their ribs.” (p.5)

Hebrew Bible scholar, Ziony Zevit, suggests that the Hebrew tsela might really refer to the baculum. From that Wikipedia article:

In another, non scientific, context, it has been speculated that Adam’s “rib” mentioned in the Eden narrative of Creation really refers to the baculum. The Hebrew term translated as “rib” (tsela`) can also mean “side”, “chamber”, as well as any strut-like supporting structure, e.g. a beam or a tree trunk. The existence of the baculum is unlikely to escape the notice of pastoralisthunter-gatherer cultures . . . . , but there is no specific term for it – nor for the penis itself – in Biblical Hebrew.

The benefit of this explanation is that it matches the etiological nature of the Genesis story. We have an explanation for why humans, unlike just about all other male animal, lack a penis bone. It was removed by God in order to make Eve from it.

And the Genesis account says God “built” Eve. “The image seems to be that of piecing together bones and other body parts to create Eve rather than forming her out of clay, as in the creation of the man and the animals.” (p.8)

Further, the penis bone is taken from the generative organ, and thus, unlike the rib, suits the idea of the production of a new being.

If God removed the penis bone from Adam then we also see an explanation for God “closing over” the flesh afterwards. This detail explains the “surgery scar” or raphe, the seam joining the two parts of the organ.

Zevit also thinks that the “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is another clue.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. (Gen. 2:23)

There is no single word for penis in biblical Hebrew. Various euphemisms are used instead. Tsela may be one of these; bone another (the bone would have been observed in other animals and its absence in human males noted); and flesh yet another. Elsewhere the Bible uses “flesh” to refer to the penis: Ezekiel 44:7, 9 speaks of “uncircumcised in flesh”; Exodus 28:42, of undergarments required to cover the naked “flesh” of priests; Leviticus 15:2-3 refers to “the running issue” of “flesh”. Ezekiel 16:26 and 23:20 are famous for describing the penises (“flesh”) of Egyptians as very large, as large as those of asses and horses.

So, the advantages of translating tsela as baculum instead of as rib are:

  • it conforms to the basic meaning of the word (“side”)
  • it is based on obvious differences between men and women
  • and between human males and those of other species

Zevit’s interpretation therefore fits both the sexual content and the etiological nature of the story perfectly. Moreover, it explains the “place closed up with flesh,” which other interpretations ignore. And it affords a fuller and more practical sense to the reference to the woman as “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.

Whether you find Zevit’s proposal convincing or merely provocative, it is hard to deny its interpretive advantages . . . . His explanation is not bizarre, outrageous, or unreasonable. To the contrary, it solves  long-standing problems with the text and its interpretations and fits the etiological context. (pp.10-11)

But will Sunday Schools dare to teach something so “reasonable”?

Penis bone (Os penis) of a dog, arrow shows th...

Image via Wikipedia

צְלָעֹת

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15 Comments

  • Pingback: Gospels and Genesis as historical documents « Vridar

  • Gina
    2010-12-09 06:53:08 UTC - 06:53 | Permalink

    The Hebrew word for rib is actually the penis bone (baculum). And, this would stand to reason that Adam now does not have a penis,as it was ripped from him so that he could give birth to Eve, and has been giving birth ever since! If Adam needed help in the garden and with the animals, then why would God create a weaker person to do the job????? Adam was not as strong as Eve, nor was he as beautiful. (Males in ALL species, including humans, are the prettier ones!!!!!)

  • David Marjanović
    2010-12-14 10:23:11 UTC - 10:23 | Permalink

    And, this would stand to reason that Adam now does not have a penis

    What?

    The bone is in the penis. It is not the entire penis. The English term “boner” is not meant literally.

    Males in ALL species, including humans, are the prettier ones!!!!!

    Stop projecting your personal preferences. Not everybody is a gay man or a straight woman.

  • Pingback: Eve fashioned from Adam's penis bone - Religious Education Forum

  • Pingback: Which bone was Eve made from?

  • 2012-12-02 12:18:44 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

    Look: I’ve looked this up to death and even talked to language teachers and an expert in Hebrew. Eve was created from one of Adams ribs. God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, extracted one of ribs and used it to create Eve. I know, it sound stupid but understand this: surgeons remove ribs and use that bone to reconstruct sensitive areas like the skull… and you know what, the rib parts removed regenerate and create a replacement. This is a fact: human ribs are the only bone that can regenerate itself if surgically removed– so call the bible stupid if you want; but you can’t say they observed that because you can’t yank the bone out it has to surgically removed. Rib in Hebrew does about side, but later another word is use which renders the first to mean rib: so I don’t think this should be overlooked, but you probably will.

    • 2012-12-02 12:25:15 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

      Thank you. Most interesting. So do you think God chose to remove a rib from Adam because he had programmed its regeneration (to fool nonbelievers) and to serve as the raw material for Eve’s skull? What were the other parts of Eve made from?

  • John
    2013-01-01 09:46:52 UTC - 09:46 | Permalink

    I think “penis bone” is far too sophisticated for the times. To me, “bone” is clearly phallic – I don’t know about the deep sleep part of the story, but it seems clear to me Eve was Adam’s actual daughter conceived in the normal way with Adam’s first wife (perhaps a la Lot and his daughters). I think the whole lesson of this story is incest is a no-no.

  • Nick Black
    2013-06-01 22:08:16 UTC - 22:08 | Permalink

    Eve was neither formed using a rib nor the “penis bone” think guys………………. Adam was first made with everything. Genesis 1:27 says, “So Elohim created man in His image, in the image if Elohim created He him; male and female created He him. This proves that Adam was made both male and female because he was made with a womb. So this is what was taken out of him when he was put in a deep sleep hence, Eve was called “womb-man” over time the “b” was removed from the word wom-b and there was no need to say wom-man so the other “m” was removed, hence the word “woman” was formed, maybe for easier spelling or just to lead the world astray, who knows ? But doesn’t this make more sense ?

  • lucy
    2014-03-08 12:40:12 UTC - 12:40 | Permalink

    So, if there’s no bone in a human penis (that is, after God Himself took it out of Adam) how will anyone know what this bone was supposed to look like, seeing that all men are “missing” this one bone found in animals. How will any wise-ass know that there was even supposed to be such a bone inside a human male? According to Genesis Adam searched amongst the animals to find a mate. Clearly all the male animals would be having some kind of penis with a “firmer” look because of a bone present in their penisses and therefore be the perfect sexual match for a female animal. Adam should have been able to work out that his “dangling”, less firm penis would never match a female animal, unless he is aroused by the them and the fact that he “could not find a mate” amongst them tells me that he neither saw a “perfect match”, nor had any desire after or arousal because of these female animals and he most probably didn’t have the bone you suckers believe he had. By the way, since when is scarring tissue congenital (the so-called scar on men’s scrotum)? I didn’t see any duplicate scars from my husband and I on either of my children. If you want to debate something, debate it according to intelligence and not according to idiotic presumptions, please!

  • 2014-04-09 02:46:18 UTC - 02:46 | Permalink

    As an intersexed person, engaged to another intersexed person, and knowing 211 other intersexed persons world wide, I stand to say that it was the VAGINA that Eve was created from.

    “WHY?” you ask?

    Because since even in nature there are hermaphrodites, and besides, how logical is it to create a human fully INCAPABLE of reproducing and ONLY THEN as an AFTERTHOUGHT think, “OOPS! I GOOFED! I better make this thing able to reproduce!”, there is only one place a “hole” in the flesh would be, and that would be where a VAGINA would have been.

    Just as some flowers are self pollinating and others are not, humanity MAY have begun fully capable of unlimited self propagation as well.

    I personally [as a matter of personal faith] believe that Yahweh is in fact neither male nor female, but if gender inclusive, a hermaphroditic being, which, when you think about it “Yahweh our father is ‘one’” that in and of its self fully supports this on its own, as well as many scriptures delineate Hir nature showing the FEMININE side where there is emotions of love, compassion, motherly tenderness and the likes.

    You may disagree, but you can’t disprove me either.

  • tovah
    2014-09-23 06:20:32 UTC - 06:20 | Permalink

    Why do you spell tsela with a tav at the end? It makes your knowledge of Hebrew rather suspect. Besides, arguing from silence is no argument at all. It’s simply your interpretation (or imagination). The only thing thing that’s unenlightened is not the Bible but your rather alarming ignorance of correct hebrew and correct exegesis.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-23 07:18:14 UTC - 07:18 | Permalink

      I am very sure my knowledge of Hebrew IS rather suspect. I’m glad you have spotted that before advising anyone to use my posts as a reference. Even more embarrassing some kind souls regularly alert me to spelling and grammatical errors in my use of the English language, too, for which I am always grateful. I have no recollection now how the tav came to be in there now but it appears someone at some point copied mindlessly from a line in a concordance entry: http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6763.htm

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