Friday, August 12, 2011

Let's bone up on our mythology (or, when is a rib, not a rib?)

Just about everyone who's had any exposure to Christianity knows the story of Adam and Eve.  You know the one, where God decides Adam needs a "helpmeet" to do all that work in the Garden of Eden.  Of course, making the female human late like this doesn't exactly fit into the entire narrative, where God's already made male and female critters of all kinds, but somehow neglected to do the same for humans.

Anyway, my point is I don't think the story has it right.  No, I'm not going to argue for any sort of literal interpretation, but merely a re-translation of an important bit of the tale.  Obviously, I don't believe this is a true story, but I think the translations have gotten something wrong, and probably have for centuries.  It's got to do with that "rib" that Eve was created from.  I don't think it was a rib at all.

Let me explain.

One of the difficulties with claiming the part taken from Adam was a rib is, what happened afterwards?  Did Adam miraculously grow an new rib?  Did he live out his life without one?  Why is it that all humans, male and female, still have the same number of ribs?  And why a rib at all?  What's the point of taking such a superfluous bit of the body to make what is going to be Adam's mate and partner (junior partner, with no rights or claims to any property -- but that's for another post).

Instead of a rib, I think the part taken from Adam was something else - something that males of many other species have, but somewhat surprisingly humans don't.  And because Eve was created not just as a helper, but as a mate, this body part is directly connected to the act of reproduction - but isn't necessary in humans (hence, the lack of this part in human male anatomy).

Ancient people weren't stupid.  They probably had a better understanding of basic anatomy and skeletal structure than most anyone today.  So they would have definitely noticed where all the bones fit in an animal when butchering it.  Some were big bones (femurs, skulls, etc), others were medium sized (ribs, jawbone, etc), and a few were almost tiny (finger bones, toes, etc).  It's those medium- to tiny-sized bones that are most interesting.  Most people don't realize that all other primates have one more bone in their anatomy than humans -- the baculum.  In fact, almost all mammals have one, or at least the males of each species do. 

And that's where things get interesting.  You see, the baculum is the penis bone.  Yup, you heard that right.  At least for most mammals, "getting a boner" is a literal fact.  The baculum helps support and maintain an erection for those other species, but humans only use the blood pressure in the corpus spongiosum to keep it up.  One reason is that for many mammal species, the act of copulation goes on for a long time.  Other species mate many times in a very short span.  So they need the extra support to keep going, long after a human male would go limp and fall asleep.

So why is this little anatomy lesson important?  Because I think the body part taken by God to form Eve was originally the baculum.  Think about it.

  1. One of the key functions of the human female is reproduction, so shouldn't the part that created her have some sexual connection?
  2. No human male has a baculum, but every other mammal species that the ancient peoples would have encountered did.  They were trying to find a reason why we didn't have one.
  3. The text of Genesis 2:21 says "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."  When looking at the underside of the penis, it has the appearance of a healed over wound or scar.  Biologically, this is due to the fusing of the two urogenital folds during fetus development
  4. A story where God takes a singular part doesn't make sense for paired organs like ribs, but fits perfectly with a part that is only found in male animals, not found in human males, and is not part of a pair.
  5. The Hebrew term used for the part taken from Adam is "tsela".  This translates to "beam, board, chamber, corner, leaf, plank, rib, side chamber".  While "rib" is a definition, it's not the only one. And doesn't "board", "plank", or "beam" match what the baculum is?  
 I think the reason it was changed to "rib" in the story, and has remained that way for centuries, is because people began getting prudish about such things, and it was easier to tell kids a story about a man losing a rib (which they can all relate to, male and female) instead of a baculum, which none of the kids have.

What do you think?

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