The original article on this topic was done by Ziony Zevit and can be read at this link: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=41&Issue=5&ArticleID=2
It has come to my attention that I am a bit late in seeing this material. There has already been some backlash over the suggestion.
The Case For The Baculum (Penis)
The word used in Genesis to denote Adam’s rib is “צֵלָע“(tsêlâʻ) and it usually refers to the side of something. In this case it’s assumed the side of Adam. But here is the explanation below on why some are suggesting it’s actually Adam’s Baculum (penis bone).
In referencing the translation of צֵלָע the author states,
This Hebrew word occurs some 40 times in the Hebrew Bible, where it refers to the side of a building or of an altar or ark (Exodus 25:12; 26:20, 26; 1 Kings 6:34), a side-chamber (1 Kings 6:8; Ezekiel 41:6), or a branch of a mountain (2 Samuel 16:13). In each of these instances, it refers to something off-center, lateral to a main structure. The only place where tsela‘ might be construed as referring to a rib that branches off from the spinal cord is in Genesis 2:21–22.
But even here, the Hebrew word, whether rib or baculum, refers to something off-center, lateral, in the case of rib, to the spinal cord. Hebrew tsela‘ considered by itself, however, does not suggest the notion of “rib.”
The earliest translation of tsela‘ in Genesis as “rib” appears in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the mid-third century B.C.E. From the Septuagint, it entered Western culture via Jerome’s Latin translation and remains the accepted understanding of the word in standard translations of the Bible. But it is wrong.
The word in the context of the story should be rendered by a non-specific, general term—“one of his lateral limbs/branches/ appendages”—and understood as referring to limbs lateral to the vertical axis of an erect human body: hands, feet, or, in the case of males, the penis. Of these appendages, the only one lacking a bone is the penis.
Penile bones are common in the skeletal structure of male mammals, particularly carnivores and primates where they function anatomically as a stiffening rod. Lacking this bone, human males must rely on fluid hydraulics to maintain an erection. The ancient writer of our story asked himself a question: Why do human males lack this bone? His answer was that it had been taken from Adam to make woman.
Most of the episodes in the Garden of Eden story are etiological, that is, they are intended to convey information about the origin of a natural feature or a state of affairs in the world. Each piece of information is a response to an implied question: Why was the first human created? To care for God’s garden. Why were animals created? To keep the first human company because it was not good for him to be alone. Why was the first female created? Because no animal filled the role of proper companion for the man, and so on.
Genesis 2:21 refers to God closing the flesh beneath the tsela‘ that he took to make the woman. This, too, was likely intended to convey etiological information, but of what were people informed by the phrase “he closed the flesh” in verse 21?
We find the answer in a little-noticed physical condition in men. A slight seam of light flesh, referred to as a perineal raphé, exists on the underside of the human penis. When a male fetus is about ten weeks old, the edges of the urogenital groove on the underside of the penis begin to fold together over the urogenital sinus (cavity). This process leaves a scar where the two sides come together. Most men are unaware of it, but it is in fact visible after birth and throughout life as a straight line of scar tissue on the underside of the penis.
It appears that the Bible here ascribes the origin of this scar/seam to the “closing of the flesh” after the os baculum was removed from Adam’s penis to form the woman. It responds to the question: Where does that particular scar-like line come from?
If tsela‘ meant rib, there is another problem: If God took one of Adam’s ribs to make the woman, human beings, or at least men, would have one asymmetrical rib or a place on the skeleton where such a rib might have been situated before God took it to make the woman. This bone would have been gone. But of course this is not the case.
The man refers to the woman thus created as “bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), indicating that she was made from a bone. The Hebrew word translated as “flesh” in these verses isbasar, a word often used to refer to penis in Biblical Hebrew (Exodus 28:42; Leviticus 15:2–3, 16; Ezekiel 16:26; 23:20).
My argument in favor of understanding that the first woman was formed from a no-longer extant baculum in human males is based on an analysis of how the author of the Garden story used Hebrew.1 The same conclusion has been reached following a different line of reasoning:
In a published letter (BAR 41:01), University of Pennsylvania professor Dan Ben-Amos drew the attention of BAR readers, including me, to an article by the late Alan Dundes, a folklorist at the University of California at Berkeley, published 30 years ago, long before my book appeared. In his study, Dundes advanced arguments reaching the same conclusion about the formative bone as I made more recently but on very different grounds.2 Unfortunately, I never came across Dundes’s study during the two decades that I conducted research regularly and worked sporadically on my book.
Dundes reached his conclusion on the basis of two types of research: (1) folkloristic studies indicating that some cultures considered it odd, and therefore noteworthy, that the human penis is boneless; (2) studies by a few scholars of psychoanalytic theory who hypothesized that the story of the woman’s formation out of a bone taken from the male’s body reflected a concern of males to have a greater role in the birthing process of their own children. By somehow being the “fathers” of their own wives and/or by somehow being in charge of the birthing process, they guaranteed the paternity and character of their children.
On these grounds, Dundes wrote: “[I] believe there is some evidence to demonstrate conclusively that Eve is created from Adam’s penis …” What Dundes provides in this discussion is a hypothesis drawn from the psychoanalytic approach to folklore that he often used. His conclusion suggests why the ancient author/story-teller who first noticed the seam of light tissue on the underside of his penis may have written this part of the Garden of Eden story as he did.
Perhaps it is not serendipity that both Dundes and I—he first, then I—reached similar conclusions about this incident in the Garden Story. A Jewish tradition instructs one who, after much labor, has reached conclusions that he later discovers were reached by someone before him to recite the following: “Blessed is He who directed me to the idea of this one.”
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
How exactly do they become “one”? Most scholar and biblical commentators would rightly say that that happens as part of intercourse, or at least it does to the ancient thinker. Apostle Paul alluded to this is 1 Corinthians.
Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” (1 Corinthians 6:16)
But how does sex make them one flesh? Because the missing “bone” that was removed to create eve is missing from the make genital. But when he “enters” the woman that is symbolically restored. Meaning the anatomy of the male body that was missing is no longer missing because during intercourse they are one flesh.
I could go on about this concept but I feel it would get rather lengthy and I do not have time to do proper referencing. But know that there is more here than just trying to translate an old Hebrew word. In any translation, the culture and context matters. We also have to take into account that this creation idea developed before the Hebrew Language was being used. It is most likely of Akkadian origin. That discussion you will see below.
The Case For The Rib
Naturally there needs to be two sides of every coin. While I have not yet spent a significant amount of time delving into this translation issue, I would suggest that we might need some extra-biblical material to help resolve this translation issue. That is exactly what is presented below by a public news paper.
The first push back to this penis theory is from a Jewish news paper, Haaretz. Elon Gilad punches back writing these suggestions,
It is clear that the Genesis passage refers to something which Adam has many of, for example, which more closely fits the idea that Eve was made from a rib rather than a baculum.
In addition, the plural of ‘tzela’ – ‘tzlaot’ – would be a collective noun applicable for hands, feet and penises. But this doesn’t exist. And indeed, similar rib stories appear in other ancient religions, such as in Sumer. But the most significant counter argument is the fact that ‘tzela’ is still used in post-biblical Hebrew to mean ‘rib’.
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.
While I believe that this explanation stands on it’s own, I would also add that “צֵלָע“(tsêlâʻ) also always gets used to denote a specific location of the noun. It’s not just a lateral object. It’s a lateral object on the side of something. Some etymological research shows that it’s more probable that the original meaning was derived from the Sumerian culture which associated it’s cognate (ti) with life or flesh, mostly because of the Enki & Ninhursag creation myth.
The Akkadian culture (a subset of the Sumerians that arose during the later years of the empire) had also adopted a similar usage of the word ti. This Sumerian symbol is found twice on the 12th tablet telling the story, “Epic of Gilgamesh.” The symbol on the left shows up with the same meaning as it’s birth culture; the Sumerians. When used in this ancient epic is it used to denote the word life.
It is important to recognize that and Akkadian and Sumerian cognate of “צֵלָע“(tsêlâʻ) is older than the Hebrew word we are discussing. It’s much much older and it’s actually quite impressive that these words have been able to exist for so long without being drastically changed. I think it would be a misfire to think that the Adam and Eve story could be translated without also looking at it’s ancient origins.
It is hard to be conclusive on this issue since it was a short write-up but I lean towards the traditional meaning of rib. I think the historical and extra-biblical evidence is solid. While it’s possible that there is much more to this debate I am going to end the post before it becomes too long to actually read in one sitting. If you have any additional information that I missed please send it over to me so I can update.