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The Uncensored Bible
Which "Bone" Was Eve Made From?
As famous as some Hollywood couples are, nobody can approach the fame of Adam and Eve, Earth's original celebrity couple. Almost everybody knows about Adam and Eve, even if they know nothing else about the Bible.
But a lot of people, Bible readers included, don't know that Eve's origins may have been quite different from what many of us learned in Sunday school. In fact, the true explanation for where Eve came from may be as scandalous as a tabloid headline ("Eve's Shocking Past!"). We'll get to that, but first, let's have a look at the traditional story most people know.
The biblical account of creation is told in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, which describes how God made the earth and heavens and then planted an idyllic, tree-filled nature park—the Garden of Eden. This Garden apparently was the "it" place on planet Earth. Adam and Eve would hang out there, as would an assortment of amazing creatures, including a talking snake. God would even drop by in the evenings to liven up the party. In fact, Adam and Eve had a pretty good deal overall. They owned an entire planet (and paid no property taxes on it). The only requirements God placed on them were to (1) have sex and (2) hold down fairly easy gardening and animal husbandry jobs. They blew it, of course, but that's another story.
Let's go back a little further, to Adam's origins. God created the Garden of Eden, then formed the first man, Adam, from the ground, as a potter would form a vessel out of clay, and placed him in the Garden to take care of it. But at some point Godappears to have decided that having one human being around, and nobody with whom that human could share his silly little observations, was a recipe for loneliness and depression. "It is not good for the man to be alone," God said, according to Genesis, so God took some mud, as he had done with Adam, and created other dirt creatures to be the man's companions. But these newbies were animals, not humans. God organized them into a pet parade, brought them before Adam, and invited him to name them. But as entertaining as this exotic animal collection no doubt was, none of the creatures suited Adam's need for a soul mate, a colleague, or even a drinking buddy. He was stuck with his loneliness problem, and no MySpace, eHarmony, or Prozac to turn to. He had a dog (and a lion, and a giraffe . . .), but he still didn't have a best friend.
So God administered the world's first anesthesia and put Adam into a deep sleep so God could perform surgery. While Adam was under, God removed one of his ribs, as the traditional story goes. From that rib, God then made the first woman, Eve, and brought her to the man. Adam's response upon seeing her, according to the Bible, was, "Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," which can also be translated from the Hebrew as, "Va-va-va-voom!" He called her "Wo-man," a play on words, because she was taken from man and was a lot like him except in some key, very attractive regards. The story adds a postscript, explaining that this is the reason why a man leaves his parents and is united with his wife so that they become one flesh. Keep that postscript and that word "flesh" in mind. They will help us to see what this passage really might be saying.
Problems with the Traditional Interpretation
The traditional version of the story is accurate to the text except for one important detail. Though for centuries the term "Adam's rib" has been used in sermons, commentaries, and film titles (see "Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, films of"), the original Genesis story does not necessarily mention a rib. The Hebrew word for the body part that God takes from Adam is tsela. But this word never means "rib" anywhere else in the Bible. It usually means "side," as in the side of a hill1 or the side of a structure like the ark of the covenant,2 the tabernacle,3 or an altar.4 In architecture, it refers to a side room or cell.5 It is also used for the planks or boards in a building wall6 and for rafters or ceiling beams.7 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.
So where did the "Adam's rib" interpretation come from? The answer is the Septuagint. The Septua-what? The Septuagint (sep-too-a-jent) is the name of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was done in the third century bce. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew word tsela with the Greek word pleura, which means "side" or "rib." (It's the word from which we get "pleurisy," an inflammation in the lining of the lung. Isn't that pleasant?)
Another problem with the traditional translation of tsela as "rib" is that it doesn't serve the etiological agenda of the Genesis passage. Yes, we just used the word "etiological." We're not smarter than you, we just hang around words like this for a living because we're college professors. An etiology is simply a story that explains the origin of something. It may explain a biological fact, a geological formation, a social custom, or the like. The story of Adam and Eve is full of etiologies. The very name "Adam" means "man/human," and "Eve" means "life." The story explains where humans came from. It also explains such things as why snakes crawl, why people wear clothes, and why women have labor pains. The reference to a man leaving his parents to join with his wife is an etiology for marriage.The Uncensored Bible. Copyright © by John Kaltner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.