Religious readers of a popular biblical archaeology magazine were shocked recently when Ziony Zevit, a respected professor of biblical studies, suggested that Eve was not created from Adam’s rib but from his “penis bone” or baculum. The suggestion sparked a debate, with Haaretz publishing a rebuttal of Zevit’s theory by one of its contributors Elon Gilad.
Ziony Zevit, distinguished professor of biblical literature and northwest Semitic languages at the American Jewish University in California, sparked anger among Christian readers of the Biblical Archaeological Review when he published an essay in the magazine defending a theory he put forward in his new book titled, What Really Happened In The Garden Of Eden?
Zevit argued that the Judeo-Christian belief that God created Eve from Adam’s rib was due to a mistranslation of the text of Genesis 2:21-22.
“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man…” (Genesis 2:21-22, NIV).
The Hebrew word rendered as “rib” in modern translations of the Hebrew scriptures is “tzela.” The Hebrew word “tzela” was first translated as “rib” in the third century BCE Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Hebrew text.
Zevit pointed out that the word “tzela” occurs 40 times in the Hebrew scriptures and that Genesis chapter 2 is the only place where translators rendered the word as “rib.”
He noted that the pattern of use of the word “tzela” in the Hebrew scriptures indicates that it was used generally in reference to anything that sticks out or grows out from the side of a body or structure (that is, a lateral appendage), such as limbs, or any part of a building protruding from its side.
Thus, with reference to human anatomy, “tzela” could refer to a “limb” or any protruding appendage, such as an erect penis, that sticks out of the body.
While many scholars have doubted that “rib” is the most accurate translation of the Hebrew word “tzela,” Zevit was probably the first to suggest that it should be translated as “penis bone” or baculum.
Zevit’s theory is based on the argument that the ancient Hebrews must have had a reason — based on observation of human anatomy — for suggesting that Eve was made from a “tzela” or lateral appendage derived from Adam’s body.
Thus, to identify the anatomical “tzela” extracted from Adam, we should look for an anatomical “limb” structure apparently missing in the human male.
In the essay published in the Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR) titled, “Was Eve Made From Adam’s Rib Or His Baculum?” Zevit argued that his “penis bone” theory was consistent with two related observations. The first observation is that men do not have an uneven number of ribs; the second observation was that men do not have fewer ribs than women, as one would expect if Adam had one rib missing.
The most conspicuously missing “tzela” (lateral appendage) in the human male anatomy, Zevit argued, is the penis bone or baculum.
Most mammalian species have a penis bone which helps to keep the penis erect and makes copulation possible.
According to Zevit, the Genesis story could be interpreted as an attempt to explain why human males are missing a penis bone or baculum — God extracted the bone from Adam and used it to create Eve.
The fact that the penis bone is the most conspicuously missing “tzela” in human males suggests that it was the anatomical observation behind the Genesis theory that Eve was made from a “tzela” taken from Adam’s body, according to Zevit.
The biblical passage which says that God “closed up the place” from which the “tzela” was taken with flesh makes a direct contrast that indicates that “tzela” is a bone structure as distinct from a fleshy anatomical structure.
According to Zevit, the passage which says that God “closed up the place with flesh” makes sense only when we understand it as referring to the fact that human males have a fleshy structure in place of the bony baculum found in other species of mammals.
“… then he [God] took one of his [Adam’s] ‘ribs’ and closed up its place with flesh.” (Gen 2: 21, NIV).
The fact that the baculum is the only bony structure conspicuously missing in the human male — compared with other mammals — forces the conclusion that the biblical narrator was thinking of the penis bone when he was describing the creation of Eve, Zevit argued.
“Of these appendages, the only one lacking a bone is the penis,” he said.
However, in an article published by the Israeli Haaretz, Elon Gilad dismissed Zevit’s “penis bone” theory, arguing that the Genesis passage which says that God “took one of his [Adam’s] ribs…” shows that the Bible was referring to something that Adam had many of. And since the biblical text does not say that Adam had many penises, “rib” could be considered a better translation of “tzela.”
“… he took one of the man’s ribs (plural: tzlaot) and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib (singular: tzela) he had taken out of the man…” (Genesis 2:21-22, NIV).
However, going by Zevit’s argument that the word “tzela” simply means a “limb” or a lateral appendage protruding or “sticking out,” Gilad’s argument could be countered by pointing out that Adam had many “limbs” and that his erect penis was one of them.
Gilad’s countering argument that the use of a collective term for “hands, feet and penis” is not found in any language is tenuous. The use of euphemisms, slang, literary metaphors, and figurative expressions extend human vocabulary beyond formally set terms for literary purposes. For instance, the American slang term “boner,” which expresses the notion of the erect penis as “limb-like,” is only a step away from nicknaming the erect penis a “limb.”
While adoption of the word “limb” as an informal term for an erect penis does not compel an anatomist to classify a penile erection among the human limbs, nothing stops a writer (including the writer of the Book of Genesis) from doing so in the deployment of figurative speech, euphemism, or slang as literary device.
Zevit notes what he considers the significant fact that the idea of generation of Eve’s life from a “penis bone” is more consistent with the widely recognized symbolic association of the phallus with the divine act and power of creating life in folklore and myth.
But Gilad counters by pointing out that in Sumerian mythology the mother goddess Nihursag gave birth to two gods from her ribs. The name of one of the gods, Ninti, according to Gilad, was derived from the common root of Sumerian words for “rib” and “life.” He argues in support of his position that “tzela” means “rib” in Genesis chapter 2 by pointing out that in post-biblical Hebrew “tzela” means “rib” and that there are cognate terms meaning “rib” in nearly all Semitic languages.
However, to understand why Zevit may have been right and Gilad wrong, we would need to consider an aspect of ancient Egyptian mythology that incidentally throws light on the subject.
Students of ancient Egyptian mythology recognize that the ancient Egyptian ritual of the setting up of god Osiris’ “backbone” in the form of the Tet or Djed pillar embraces a metaphor of erectile function, Osiris being a typical dying-and-resurrecting phallic (“penis”) deity.
The “raising up” of the Tet or Djed was a ceremonial ritual representing the reconstitution of the phallic deity’s missing baculum which guarantees an eternal erection — a symbolic representation of divine-spiritual life and and creative potency.
When one takes note of the representation of the baculum in Osirian ritual as a spinal column with ribs sticking out laterally, one could come to appreciate better how Gilad’s observation of an association of “rib” with “life” in Semitic languages could have arisen from adoption of the word “rib” in figurative reference to a “boned penis” — the “boned penis” being figuratively an “extra rib” lateral to the vertical axis of the human body formed by the spinal column.
Regardless of the merit of arguments for or against Zevit’s “penis bone” theory, Christian readers of the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine were clearly upset by it.
The Daily Mail quotes a few angry reactions from Christian readers of the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine.
“I write to express my disappointment with your magazine. I wish to cancel my subscription.”
“Come on now, Eve being created from Adam’s penis bone, rather than his rib?”
“That is plainly not a Bible teaching. I do not need and will not read articles that damage my faith or attempts to cause me to doubt what I know is the truth from the Bible.”
“How does Ziony Zevit’s article have anything to do with Biblical archaeology? I have never purchased a tabloid magazine in my life – and I have no intention of ever doing so. I certainly didn’t realize that was what I was doing when I subscribed to BAR.”
An angry Reverend Brubacher from Canada dismissed Zevit’s theory as “unconvincing,” “laughable,” and “outlandish,” saying, “As Jesus scathingly said: ‘You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.’ (Matthew 23:24).”
But the uproar sparked by Zevit’s “penis theory” of the creation of Eve inadvertently highlights the prudish outlook of the Judeo-Christian culture that makes even more compelling the notion that “tzela” might have been used in Genesis in veiled reference to Adam’s penis bone as the “extra rib” that was the source of Eve’s life.
[Image via Web Gallery Art/Wikimedia/Public Domain]