Rib theory of Creation prevails: Ancient linguistics provide no support for the theory that Eve was fashioned of man’s mysteriously absent penis bone.
he Creation of Eve, from the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. What body part did God use to fashion Eve? Painted by Michelangelo in 1509-1510, the picture shows a red-haired Adam lying somnolent, a blonde Eve importuning God, and God, the only one garbed, looking down at her.
The Creation of Eve, from the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo: Was it from Adam’s rib, as the story tells, or his baculum, as Ziony Zevit theorizes? Rib maybe not, baculum definitely not. Credit: Sailko, Wikimedia Commons
Eve was not created from Adam’s rib but from his baculum, meaning, his penis bone, argues a distinguished professor. Ziony Zevit’s theory is, however, even more unlikely than the original story.
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The famous story of how God created Eve from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2 was all a misunderstanding, suggests Zevit, a professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the American Jewish University in California, in a recent article in the Biblical Archaeology Review (“Was Eve Made from Adam’s Rib – or His Baculum?”).
Men do not have an uneven number of ribs, Zevit reasons. Nor do men have less ribs than women – none seem to be missing. Why would the ancient Hebrews come up with a story that so plainly fails to correspond with reality?
Ziony’s conclusion was that there must be another solution: If man is missing a missing bone, he reasoned, it is the baculum, or penis bone.
For one thing, most mammals have a bone in their penis. Dogs do, whales do, raccoons do, but actually, humans do not. Genesis 2, says Ziony, explains how man lost his baculum – to Eve.
Baculi in the mammalian world, shown not in proportion: The walrus is one of the longer ones known, at about two feet and counting. The raccoon has a rather large os penis – about as big as a medium-sized dog’s – considering that the animal is rather small.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, elaboration by Haaretz
According to Ziony, translators of yore were led astray by the tricky word the Bible uses for the contentious bone – tzela.
The word tzela appears about 40 times in the Bible, but nowhere does it mean rib – except in Genesis 2.
Elsewhere, it refers to the side room of a building, or the side of an object. Ziony posits that in ancient times, tzela in anatomy referred to organs protruding outward from the body: hands, legs and penis.
While this makes an interesting hypothesis, it is very unlikely. For one, studying the verse in question, it is clear that God is taking something from Adam of which he has many: “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” (Genesis 2:21).
Ziony’s explanation that these many tzlaot (plural of tzela) are the collection which includes hands, legs and penises is unconvincing. It might be more persuasive if a collective noun for hands, feet and penis could be found in any language, but it doesn’t exist.
Ziony also argues that ribs are not related to giving life, while penises are. Indeed, to us, associating ribs with generating life seems preposterous, but it didn’t seem so to the ancients.
The Sumerian myth Enki and Nihursag (a central god and his wife, a mother goddess), which predates the Hebrew bible, actually tells a story of life been generated from a rib. Enki becomes sick and his mother cures him by giving birth to two gods from her ribs in order to heal him. One is Ninti, whose name is a pun on the double meaning of ti in Sumerian – the noun “rib”, and the verb “to make live.” Thus Ninti’s name means “Mrs. Rib” and “Lady who give life.” Eve too is called “Mother of all life.”
But the clearest evidence that tzela is biblical Hebrew for “rib” is linguistic.
Not only is tzela “rib” in post-biblical Hebrew, it has cognates meaning rib in practically every Semitic language we know. That powerfully indicates that tzela meant “rib” thousands and thousands of years before proto-Semitic split up into the different Semitic languages: Aramaic has ala, Arabic has dhala, Akkadian has tzela. All these and other cognates are exactly in the form we would expect if the original proto-Semitic word slowly morphed into different words for rib as the different Semitic languages drifted apart.
It seems that for ancient Hebrews, the fact that men and women had the same even number of ribs was not enough to kill a good story. Or perhaps they never bothered to count the ribs in the first place.