Genesis and Gender: Biblical Myths of Sexuality and Their Cultural Impact

By William E. Phipps | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
A Bone of Contention

Due to the preeminence of European translations of the adamic creation story, no portion of the human skeleton has generated more theological consideration than the ribs. That part of the anatomy was especially intriguing because of the biblical literalists' belief that all sons of Adam inherit one less rib than the daughters of Eve.

The clash between biology and literalism began with Andreas Vesalius who boldly stated in 1543 that the rib cages of both sexes contain the same number of bones. The founder of modern anatomy wrote: "The ribs are twelve in number on each side in man and woman. . . . The popular belief that man is lacking a rib on one side and that woman has one more rib than man is clearly ridiculous, even though Moses, in the second chapter of Genesis, said that Eve was created by God from one of Adam's ribs."1 Vesalius was heavily criticized for stating an easily verifiable empirical fact. Along with other Gentiles, he wrongly assumed that a rib bone was explicitly referred to in the original Hebrew.

Now that the literal meaning of the Genesis creation story is generally rejected among educated people, the rib operation is popularly afforded little more than facetious comments. Ribald males may pun that woman is unfortunately not abreast of man, but only a side issue. Another offensive "joke" suggests that woman was taken from man's lower ribs, midway between his heart and his wallet, to symbolize that she was destined to control both.

-19-

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