Is that all Eve was, just a rib?

Christian tradition still likes the idea (a lot) that the first woman was made from the first man’s rib. Unfortunately, that tradition is much closer to an ancient Sumerian myth than it is to the correct Hebrew meaning of ‘rib’ in Genesis 2:21.

In the Sumerian myth the goddess Ninhursag creates a beautiful garden paradise and charges her half brother, the god Enki, to tend the garden and control the wild animals. When Enki then eats several forbidden plants in the garden, Ninhursag blows a gasket and curses eight of Enki’s body parts, including a rib. 

Enki is now near to death, so a strong appeal is made to Ninhursag to spare his life. In response, she creates several new gods and goddesses, one of whom is Ninti who heals Enki’s rib. The name Ninti is a clever Sumerian pun, meaning both “Lady of the rib” and “Lady who makes live,” since in healing Enki’s rib she also helped save his life.

There are several parallels between this story and present Christian tradition, because in Christian tradition Eve takes on both Ninti’s titles. In Genesis 3:20, for instance, Eve is called the “Mother of all living,” and in Christian tradition she’s also become the “Lady of the rib,” based on the English translation of the Hebrew word tsela (say-la)in Genesis 2:21 as “rib.” Which is unfortunate, because tsela is not translated as a human rib anywhere else in the Old Testament.

In Genesis and Exodus tsela always refers to a “side,” not a rib, suggesting that God divided the man into two equal sides (the splitting of the Adam!) – with one side being crafted into a woman, and in the space she left behind God then filled with new flesh to make the man whole again. It certainly gets the concept across a whole lot better that woman is man’s equal from top to toe, rather than just a rib.

And Philo Judeaus, the great Jewish philosopher alive at the time of Jesus, would agree with that, because in his description of Genesis 2:21 he wrote: “The letter of this statement is plain enough; for it is expressed according to the symbol of the part, a half of the whole, each party, the man and the woman, being as sections of nature co-equal for the production of that genus which is called man.”

Whether God literally anesthetized the man and surgically sliced him in two to create a woman, or it was simply a vivid vision Adam had – either way the point is made clear in Adam’s joyous cry in Genesis 2:23, “she’s bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” that, anatomically and structurally, she was the same as him. 

She was his co-equal, in other words, NOT just a rib.

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