Many English translations of Genesis 3:21 tell us that God took one of Adam’s ribs and made it into a woman. The Hebrew word is tsela’, but it never carries the meaning ‘rib’ elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. It means ‘side’, and is used for the sides of hills and buildings etc. The translation ‘rib’ is an attempt to come up with a ‘suitable’ word to fit the context.
The up-to-date New English Translation (the NET Bible – which , as it happens, is freely available on the internet at netbible.org) gives us this rendering – “the Lord God .. took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man.”
The literal meaning of the Hebrew is, “he took one from his sides”, which could equally mean, “he took one side of him”. In other words, one half of the man was refashioned to become a woman, making her an entirely equal counterpart. And an entire “side” of the man, rather than just a “rib” bone, makes better sense of the woman being called “flesh of my flesh” as well as “bone of my bones”.
Bearing in mind that these early chapters of Genesis are mythical, I’m reminded of the myth told by the Greek philosopher, Plato. He wrote about the first human beings as being both male and female, male and male, and female and female – with four hands and feet, and heads with two faces. They “could walk backwards or forwards .. and also roll over and over at a great pace .. terrible was their might and strength .. and they made an attack upon the gods”. The gods dealt with this by splitting them in two. Each of the halves, now giving their full attention to getting back together again, conveniently forgot all about attacks on the gods!
We can please ourselves which myth, if either, we prefer. What matters is that they both make men and women equal counterparts, whose jointly shared functioning, in whatever combination, offers the world (and the gods as well) the best chance of love, harmony, peace and wellbeing.
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