Eve and the rib in Genesis 2

One of my favorite cultural contextualizers, Jackson Wu published a nice little article summarizing scholarship about the words translated ‘helper’ and ‘rib’ in Genesis 2. I think those of you who have wondered about sexism in the Bible might appreciate it.


Definitely look forward to reading it.

I can’t remember if it was John Walton or Tim Mackie, or maybe both, that mentioned a while back that the term for rib is side and that helper did not mean submissive. After all, part of the genesis curse was about something in their relationships changing. So if it changed to something less than fantastic it would mean that can’t be where it started off at. They were also saying that Adam was split in half, not just merely a rib, and that the other half when they came together became one. That they were both corulers and both were there to aid the other. Even Ephesians lines out how both are to hold the other in high view, contrary to many trying to use it as a way of saying one or the other is greater.

But tonight I’ll hopefully read this one.

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Great article! This part was new to me:

The verb’s direct object is tsela [again “side,” not “rib”]. When this verb has a direct object, that direct object is always the object being built, not the source material.

In other words, the rib “side” is the result, the thing God builds. It is not the material used to build something else.

Also, I wish he had more directly answered his excellent question, “Why then the long-standing use of ‘rib’?” From what I’ve read, it seems to be due to (1) prioritizing cognate terms in other languages over what the Hebrew term means in the Bible and (2) an ambiguity where a side can be translated by a Latin term that means a side of ribs which later gets understood as an individual rib. But I expect there’s more to that story. It’s got to be one of the most stubborn mistranslations in the Bible.

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Yes, I hadn’t seen that particular comment before either. Makes sense though.

Yes. And translators tend to prioritize “traditional” renderings even when they aren’t best because of acceptability concerns.

It’s interesting to me because I have done some work in the Mesoamerican language I study on prepositions. In Me’phaa and some other Otomanguean and Mayan languages of Mexico, they don’t really have prepositions as a word class, they have what are called body part locatives, where possessed nouns for body parts are used the way other languages use prepositions. So in Me’phaa you say “enter house’s stomach.” (But there is language acquisition evidence that the words have two separate sense, a body sense and a locative sense, so it means “Enter the inside of the house.”) The word for rib is also used as a body part locative for beside or next to. So it seems natural to me that in Hebrew there would be a semantic relationship between the body part and a more general spatial idea.


Another really cool thing in genesis concerning Eve that is often glossed over is that it says the messiah will come through the seed of a woman. Everywhere else in the Bible seed is associated with men. Genealogies are typically centered on the sons of fathers.

But in genesis, it mentions that the messiah will be the seed of a woman, not a man because Yahweh is viewed as the father of the messiah. So it instantly at the very beginning lifts women up as a central and necessary part of God’s plan to save mankind.

Great article, thanks for sharing. Also fully compatible with patriachy coming into play in Chapter 3 as part of the curse of sin:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

So, not God’s plan, but sin’s curse.

The word for seed in Hebrew is also the word for offspring or children or descendants. It’s not necessarily associated with men or sperm.

I thought this was the case too, but it turns out there’s an exception in the very next chapter with the very same woman:

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him. (Genesis 4:25)

The word “child” there translates the Hebrew zera which usually is “seed.” It’s the same word as in Genesis 3:15. I find it interesting that even though both Adam and Eve are mentioned, Eve claims the seed as “for me” and from God.

Yet all the genealogies are overwhelming associated with men and almost all the times you see someone mentioned as being the seed of someone it’s sons and fathers. Even with Adam and Eve only sons are named. All the descendants are just repeatedly names of sons for the most part .

Which is what makes the seed of Mary stands out highlighting the role women have in salvation.

And Seth was a metaphor for Christ just as much as Abel was. It’s the same exact play being carried out in the story. That’s why only Seth’s lineage in the following chapters have ages and not Cain’s and so on.

Believe me if anyone doubts just write out all the genealogies in the entire Bible and see how many are women and daughters, or sons of mothers. It’s very rare and those rare times tie into the point of Jesus being lord of lords , including gentiles. Like with Ruth.

Yeah, I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t focus on patrilineal genealogies, it does. I’m just saying the word in Hebrew just meant offspring, it didn’t mean ‘descendant of a man.’

I never said it meant descendant of man. It if only meant that it would have made my point pointless because it would be a contradiction. I even highlighted purposely seed with descendant, as opposed to semen.

My point is the exact point you just made.

Seed is always associated with men, because almost every single time you read of offspring it’s sons and it’s almost always sons of men. Very few exceptions. If it was outcomes in stats it would be statistically insignificant levels of outliers .

I’m not convinced the seed of the woman can be equated with Christ so quickly. Kind of like “out of Egypt I called my son,” there’s this complex interplay of earlier meanings that are then given thicker meaning with Jesus.

Genesis 3:15 introduces this idea of two seeds:

I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.

The very next chapter seems to depict these seeds in Eve’s children, both with Cain as the serpent’s seed and Abel (and then Seth) as the woman’s seed. This story also shows how these are not fixed categories (Cain has a choice!) and not determined by literal descent.

Later, Rebecca’s pregnancy receives a quite similar prophecy:

‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’ (Genesis 25:23)

What’s really fascinating is which of the twins is characterized as striking the other’s heel!

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I guess I don’t see any similarities between the stories of Cain and Abel and the seeds of the serpent and Eve. If anything it seems like Abel was the one crushed.

It seems far more likely that it’s a preview of a coming messiah.

As far as the younger getting one over the older that’s common in scripture. Isaac trumped
Ishmael. Jospeh trumped his brothers. Moses trumped Aaron. Even the new covenant fulfills “ trumps “ the old.

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Gen 25:26 says Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel. Jacob is the ancestor/symbol of Israel, Esau is the ancestor/symbol of the Amalekites, who were Israel’s enemies throughout the OT. Some interpreters think they were used literarily as a symbol of the battle against the sinful nature/flesh, since Esau put his desire for lentil stew over his desire for spiritual things of value when he sold his birthright.

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