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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Adam's rib

Addendum: In supporting a contrasting interpretation of Gen. 2:20-22, I am not attempting to prove that this is the only way to interpret it or even the best way, but merely suggest that it is one way. There are simply times when there exist two opposing interpretations and we don't know which is right. I think we have to live with that. It changes how we view inspiration and the perspicacity of scripture, of course.

Here are two other examples,

Gen. 3:16b
    Your desire shall be for[f] your husband,
    and he shall(Q) rule over you."

    f) Or against
Heb. 11:11
    Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

    By faith Abraham, even though he was past age - and Sarah herself was barren - was enabled to become a father because he F47 considered him faithful who had made the promise.
I think we have to have a category for passages whose meaning we simply can't resolve.


Original Post

Peter has picked a difference with the Inclusive Bible. Here is the translation for Gen. 2:20b-22 HT Iyov's blog,
    But none of them proved to be a fitting companion, so YHWH made the earth creature fall into a deep sleep, and while it slept, God divided the earth creature into two, then closed up the flesh from its side. YHWH then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one another.
I believe that the power of the English translation is so strong that the reader, even a reader who knows Hebrew well, has difficulty seeing past the typical Tyndale-KJ tradition to the original. Here is a more literal translation of this passage structured on the Tyndale-KJV tradition,
    but for earth creature (adam) there was not found an adequate protective companion for it.

    21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon earth creature (adam), and it slept: and [God] took one of its sides, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

    22 And made the side, which the LORD God had taken from earth creature (adam), a woman, and [God] made her come to the earth creature.

    23 And earth creature (adam) said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, (isha) because she was taken from Man (ish).

    24 Therefore shall a man (ish) leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

This is the bare bones of the passage. Here is what I notice first off.

1. "Fitting companion" is perfectly appropriate for ezer kenegdo, although "adequate protective partner" is closer to the use of the word elsewhere.

2. Adam is best described as a neuter "earth creature" since we do not know what it means beyond that. All else is conjecture. There is no reason to translate grammatical gender.

3. "Side" is a more appropriate translation than "rib." There is no information that this meant the literal rib.

4. There is no male (ish) until after woman (isha) has been taken from ish. It only says "from" not "out of."

5. This is the only translation that makes sense of why man and woman are "one flesh." Surely man does not miss one rib so much that he cannot feel whole without it. It is his "other half" that he misses so much.

I find that the Inclusive Bible rendering for this verse varies from the Hebrew in minor ways, but not as much as the Tyndale-KJ tradition. In fact, it is only by reading translations that vary from our favoured tradition that we can get new insight into the original text.

Now we can understand the force of the word "cleave." Man is not seeking to put his rib back in place, to absorb woman back into himself, but to attach himself back onto to his other half. It all makes so much more sense. Please tear this apart if I have misunderstood the Hebrew.

I suppose some may see this as a knee jerk reaction but there is a long tradition which argues for an androgynous earth creature. Don't be put off by the title - there is a good pedigree for the kind of interpretation which says that man and woman are two sides of earth creature, not a man and a lost rib.


At Tue Apr 15, 09:30:00 PM, Blogger Steve Lockhart said...

I think you may be reading too much into it. I don't think the Genesis account of creation was meant to be taken literally.

At Tue Apr 15, 09:34:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't think so either. But even on a metahpor level, it still has to be translated and it still has meaning, one way or another.

At Tue Apr 15, 09:34:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

Hi Suzanne,

Where do you get the idea that tsela' and tsela'ot refer to 'side' and 'sides,' respectively, in Gen 2?

Normally, when something comes in "twos" in Hebrew, it has a dual form. Thus 'oznaim, 'ears,' and so on. It seems that you understand tsela' here in a metaphorical sense not unlike the one it has in the semantic field of architecture, not the sense of 'rib' and 'ribs' (not two, but many) it has in the semantic field of anatomy.

Body part words get used in other semantic fields. Thus we refer to the legs of a stool or a chair (three or four, not two). But in Gen 2 the body part is meant, i.e., 'rib.'

For the rest, I don't think this passage lends itself very well to comp-egal disputes. Its focus, I would say, is nearer to the concerns of Jacques Lacan, and in particular, to the idea that our most formative relationships occur within the nuclear family (daughter - father, sibling relationships), not with an eventual spouse. This text runs contrarian to that basic reality, and insists on the creation of a new unity that involves an abandonment, and rupture with, the old unities. Psychologists like Lacan see that rupture as healthy and necessary, but how often does it actually and truly occur?

Gen 2 is counter-cultural in this sense, and Gen 3, by identifying negative aspects of the man-woman relations as an outcome of a curse, not God's ultimate will, is counter-cultural in another sense.

At Tue Apr 15, 09:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It seems that you understand tsela' here in a metaphorical sense not unlike the one it has in the semantic field of architecture, not the sense of 'rib' and 'ribs' (not two, but many) it has in the semantic field of anatomy.

Yes, but anatomical words are notoriously difficult to translate. Not the ones on the face, but the ones inside the body, kidneys and bowels and so on.

I understood that there was another word for rib. How much evidence is there for "rib" vs "side?" I did read a a few other opinions on this - but clearly not ones that you share. What is the evidence for tsela' - rib. This may be my misunderstanding.

I certainly do not think that there is an egalitarian point to be made, but just wondering if we get used to one particular translation tradition which shapes our expectations of a certain text.

There is, as I pointed out, a long tradition to the androgynous adam notion. Not that I think there was an actual androgynous adam, far from it, but rather that metaphorically, this could be what the passage proposes. Do you completely dismiss this tradition?

At Tue Apr 15, 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I linked to the article where I got these ideas. Here is an excerpt from the article,

Rabbi Jeremiah son of Elazar Hatanai (i.e., the Mishnaic scholar) in Bereshit Rabbah (8:1) said that "Adam was created as androgynous." And Rabbi Samuel Son of Nahman added (there) that "when God created the first human, he gave him two faces, connected back to back," and the two sexes were separated in order to enable them to face one another and to relieve their loneliness.

Rashi, the great medieval exegete, accepts the androgynous (or hermaphrodite) view, while Nahmanides (13th century), accepts the "rib" view. Abraham ibn Ezra, the linguist and Biblical commentator (in the Golden Era in Spain), avoids the issue, saying only that: "becoming one flesh" is written in the past tense (vihayu), to emphasize about every union between man and woman: "Let them be as Adam and Eve once were." Similarly, Rabbi Jacob the son of Asher, author of the law code, the Tur (14th century), says that "they should be of one flesh as they were at the beginning of creation." Both scholars use the idiom, "one flesh," which may mean that the woman was taken out from a rib or side. Isaac Abravanel (the 15th century commentator, a refugee from the Spanish persecutions), reads it literally. He writes that, when man was created, he had an additional "side" that was not vital for the functioning of his own body, which God turned into the woman.(6)

The 19th century commentator, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, referring to Genesis 1:27, says that "Only the two sexes together form the complete [human] conception." Woman must join in man's efforts for her direction and sphere in life ... Man chooses his own profession; the woman receives it in joining her husband. Referring to Genesis 2:21, Rabbi Hirsch says that God formed (later) one side (not rib) of man into woman. Man was divided from one individual into two "and thereby the complete equality of women was forever attested."

My purpose on this blog is not to promote a so-called egalitarian rendering especially in places there that is not relevant. However, it is rather to demonstrate that more than one interpretation may underly a translation.

This is not about establishing one interpretation as correct but rather to show that the Inclusive Bible does rest on a tradition, although it departs from the literal, I won't deny that.

You may be right about the narrative trying to establish the primary relationship as that between spouses rather than parent and child, or siblings. However, let's not forget that Abraham and Sarah were half-siblings, and Rebekah and Rachel were first cousins of their husbands.

I would have to do a fair bit of thinking before agreeing that Gen was contrasting husband and wife with other relationships, rather than simply about the creation of the two sexes.

At Tue Apr 15, 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The NET Bible says that the word tsela' means "side" and not "rib." My point would be that "rib" is not well established. I think this calls for a discussion of evidence.

At Tue Apr 15, 10:35:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

There is another word, tsad, that is used in reference to an anatomical 'side,' but in an imprecise way, like 'side' in English, and w/o a clear implication that human beings are two-sided.

Maybe someone has argued that tsela' means 'side' in Gen 2, or generally. I haven't run across that myself. I've never thought of it as a mysterious word. It has a constant core set of usages in all periods of the language.

As for an androgynous Adam before a rib was removed from him, I don't see much point in speculating on that myself, and I don't see the text as inviting us to do so. But of course that's just me. There is a long tradition of thinking of Adam as originally androgynous, and it appears that the Inclusive Bible is inclusive indeed in inserting that reflection into its translation. The Targums do this sort of ting on occasion, so there is precedent for it. However, I think it's fair to say that Peter's reaction - and my own - will be typical. Leave that kind of thing to a commentary.

I find it interesting to trace the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh language elsewhere, and make comparisons. For example, when the man says, "bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh," that's innocent and sincere here. On the lips of Laban in Gen 29, the same words are somehow foreboding. It's hard not to read them without anticipating the way Laban will exploit the fact that Jacob is kin to him.

Further on, in 2 Sam 5:1, the same language is used in the context of people placing themselves under the authority of David. Note also Judges 9 and 2 Sam 19.

At Tue Apr 15, 11:06:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

I went through the examples that Jastrow gives of tsela' in later Hebrew, and the use of cognate terms in Akkadian, Aramaic, and Syriac as illustrated in the dictionaries on my shelf. tsela' and cognates of a human or an animal is very well-attested. It always means 'rib.' In Akkadian you can speak of a tselu of a liver, a ship, a building, a sword, and then it refers to a side, or an edge, or similar. The use of the cognate in Dan 7:5 is unusual, but the three 'il'in there, in any case, hardly support the thesis that this word, used in the semantic field of anatomy, means 'side.'

I would like to see a couple of examples of this term, in Hebrew or a cognate language, used to refer to a 'side' as opposed to a 'rib' in the semantic field of anatomy.

At Tue Apr 15, 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I will keep an open mind about this but I had the impression that there were no other examples in the Bible where tsela' meant "rib" and I am not aware of the other examples. Maybe you could share some of them. Clearly someone thinks this word is ambiguous.

I don't actually fancy the thought of an androgynous Adam. However, my main point is that the major English translations have biased the audience against accepting the possibility that there is another interpretation.

At Wed Apr 16, 12:38:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

There are no other occurrences of tsela in the Bible in the semantic field of anatomy. For more examples of the latter, you have to read post-biblical Hebrew texts, or examine the use of cognates in other languages.

Any appeal to the use of tsela in the Bible or elsewhere in the sense of 'side' in a semantic field outside of the anatomy of a human or animal to establish its meaning in Gen 2 would be methodologically unsound.

I haven't seen any evidence yet that the unanimous witness of the native lexicographical tradition with respect to tsela might somehow be in error.

The terms for 'rib' in Greek and Latin, pleura and costa, used by LXX and the Vulgate in Gen 2, can in some contexts mean 'flank' or 'side.' But, so far as I know, the Greek and Latin exegetical traditions resolved the theoretical ambiguity of the usage of the term in Gen 2 in favor of 'rib' and 'ribs.'

Did you know that in rabbinic Hebrew, the expression 'you are my tselai' is used in the context of bethrothals? That the cognate in Syriac sometimes simply means 'wife'? Both Hebrew and Syriac represent languages that have been in continuous use since antiquity. There has not been, so far as I know, any doubt that 'you are my tselai' means 'you are my rib.'

I could be overlooking something, it's true. But so far, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that tsela and tsela'ot, and the phrase 'one of his tsela'ot' should mean anything other than what it has normally been understood to mean, 'one of his ribs.'

At Wed Apr 16, 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

Hey, Suzanne, don't be a wimp and just give in with a big ol' weasel-worded addendum. You gotta stand by your guns (I know they are illegal in Canada, but it's a figure of speech.) If you start let Americans pushing you around there will be no end of trouble.

Now it is true, John has an argument, but you do too. And there is a long, long tradition in Biblical and post-Biblical exegesis of translating tsela as "side". And the Bible is in our hands.

So when John cites witnesses, cite witnesses back at him. And even more more witness. If he starts talking about the continuous tradition of Hebrew as a living language, go get an Israeli to help you out. (My pal Danny Matt can help you find one, no problem.)

And, remember, you can fight street-style too. Point out that John himself has been known to praise the occassional jab to the, err, metaphorical side when it comes to translation. That medieval interpretation quote threw him on the ropes, and he nearly went down for the count, muttering about Lacan (what a non-sequitur!) Go for the knock-out blow.

PS: The IB translates 3:16b as "You will desire union with your man, but he will be bent on subjugating you."

At Wed Apr 16, 04:33:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

In Texas, at the barbecue restaurants, we order a whole "side of ribs." And then we watch the wait staff get into snarky arguments over whether the customers are reading too much into it. What troubles them most is when our friends from Georgia visit and order the "pecan" pie with the wrong accent, and when our friends from England declare that biscuits, originally, are less leavened. Someone once commented that the Garden of Eden never had bar-b-q, and they threw us out of the place.

At Wed Apr 16, 06:21:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

Iyov is right of course.

Every passage in scripture has 70 meanings, according to the sages, and history proves they misunderestimated. Even if many of those meanings are superimposed rather than drawn out, they usually have some basis in another text. That's the beauty of a canonical hermeneutic.

At Wed Apr 16, 08:03:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


In my books, asking John to "present his evidence" was NOT being a wimp. Thanks for more evidence.

I have a busy day and a dentist appt. later, so I can't take the time now to defend my argument further. See you all later, most likely on the topic of boxing. A big welcome to Dave Ker.

At Wed Apr 16, 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

As I clearly stated above, it was the weasel-worded addendum that was wimpy. You never actually bothered to ask John for his evidence, he just volunteered it.

It looks like a concession to the orthodoxy police. But then, again, Christianity is one of the few religions where one can be assigned to damnation for a thought crime. I guess it is safer for Christian posts to all have a disclaimer saying "But then again, maybe I don't really mean what I am saying."

At Wed Apr 16, 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


You wrote,

You never actually bothered to ask John for his evidence

However, in comment #4 I wrote,

What is the evidence for tsela' - rib.

Where are your reading glasses?

At Thu Apr 17, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It looks like a concession to the orthodoxy police.

That's worth considering.


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