…Our opinion is that Adam did not lose a rib in the creation of Eve. Any ancient Israelite (or for that matter, any American child) would be expected to know that there is an equal (and even) number of ribs in both men and women. Moreover, ribs lack any intrinsic generative capacity. We think it is far more probable that it was Adam’s baculum that was removed in order to make Eve. That would explain why human males, of all the primates and most other mammals, did not have one. The Hebrew noun translated as “rib,” tzela (tzade, lamed, ayin), can indeed mean a costal rib. It can also mean the rib of a hill (2 Samuel 16:13), the side chambers (enclosing the temple like ribs, as in 1 Kings 6:5,6), or the supporting columns of trees, like cedars or firs, or the planks in buildings and doors (1 Kings 6:15,16). So the word could be used to indicate a structural support beam. Interestingly, Biblical Hebrew, unlike later rabbinic Hebrew, had no technical term for the p3nis and referred to it through many circumlocutions. When rendered into Greek, sometime in the second century BCE, the translators used the word pleura, which means “side,” and would connote a body rib (as the medical term pleura still does). This translation, enshrined in the Septuagint, the Greek Bible of the early church, fixed the meaning for most of western civilization, even though the Hebrew was not so specific.
In addition, Genesis 2:21 contains another etiological detail: “The Lord God closed up the flesh.” This detail would explain…[read the rest of the letter.]
You’ve got to love biblical scholarship. This first appeared in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2001. Scott F. Gilbert, a professor at Swarthmore College, teaches developmental biology, developmental genetics, and the history of biology. Ziony Zevit is a professor at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.