When Hebrew words (like ʾādām) become names

@Marshall,

I think there is an awful lot of merit in the theme @christy explores above.

Humanity, according to the Kabbalists, was BOTH Male and Female… in one. And then the Female part was withdrawn and made separate.

That’s Genesis 1. Humanity as we know it arrives on Earth. This is the part that I think can be synced up with Evolutionary processes.

Genesis 2 is about the special creation of a special pair: Adam and Eve. “Adam” is the Hebrew version of calling him “Dusty” or “Dustin”. “Eve” is word play on the cuneiform for “Rib”… “Lady of the Rib”…or, for our purposes, “Riba”! - - which would require contact with the Babylonian priests to make that clever bit of punnery…

When Dustin and Riba fail, they are evicted from the field laboratory, and join up with the rest of humanity.

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I agree, and I hope to talk about that soon. But first about those names…

Two days ago I watched a talk with Scot McKnight talking about his half of Adam and the Genome. My wife can attest that I cringed each of the three times he called Adam “Dusty”. The name means Humanity – not Dust, not Earth, not Clay, not Red, not Ruby, not Blood, not Skin, not Leather. There are similar Hebrew words that mean most of those things (skin/leather is from cognate Arabic words), but they are not the word 'adam. That word means humanity, or sometimes any particular human considered individually (kind of like the English “one”).

And then there’s another bone I have to pick with some Bible translations: rib. There’s no mention of a rib in the Eden account. The NET Bible translators’ note gives a good short summary, “Traditionally translated ‘rib,’ the Hebrew word actually means ‘side.’” So why is it traditionally translated “rib”? As far as I know, it’s because in other languages closely related to Hebrew, a similar word means rib. But in Hebrew, at least according to biblical usage, the word never has that meaning.

In the over three dozen occurrences of this word elsewhere in Scripture, it always means “side” or something closely related. After the Eden account, the word next appears – twice – in the middle of building instructions for the ark of the covenant:

You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. (Exodus 25:12, NRSV)

Most occurrences similarly refer to the side of a building or structure (Exod. 25:14; 26:20, 26–27, 35b; 27:7; 36:25, 31–32; 37:3, 5, 27; 38:7; 1 Kings 6:34). The word is also used for beside a person (Job 18:12), beside an object (Exod. 26:35a), a hillside (2 Sam. 16:13), side walls (Exod. 30:4), side chambers (1 Kings 6:5, 8; 7:3; Ezek. 41:5–11, 26), and boards used for siding (1 Kings 6:15–16). That covers every occurrence in the Bible (save the ones under discussion).

Not only is the word never used in Scripture to refer to a rib or something like a rib, the meaning of “rib” doesn’t fit the immediate context. When the man first sees the woman, he exclaims that she is not only bone of his bones, but also flesh of his flesh (Gen. 2:23). She wasn’t just made from a rib. That’s a tradition as misleading as thinking the forbidden fruit was an apple. The woman was made from one side of the 'adam.

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I’m not sure if it was where I first encountered that reading, but chapter 4 of Phyllis Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality gives a pretty detailed exegesis of it. More recently, I appreciated Ian Provan’s defense of it in chapter 4 of Seriously Dangerous Religion. A few quotes from Provan:

"God created human beings in his own image … male and female he created them (v. 27). […] Where I have translated “human beings,” many Bible translations have “man.” It is important to underline that the Hebrew word ('adam) that lies behind this common translation does not have any connotation in terms of gender, as the remainder of verse 27 makes clear in defining “man” as both male and female. To be fair, the English word “man” has likewise not necessarily had any gendered connotation for much of its historical usage. It has, however, come to be regarded as intrinsically gendered in some modern discussions. This being so, it is wiser to avoid “man” in Genesis 1:26-27. “Human beings” is adequate. If it were not that science-fiction writers have already claimed the term for themselves, I would actually prefer “earthlings,” for in Genesis 2:7, the Hebrew itself plays on the fact that the “earthling” ('adam) came out of the earth ('adamah, often translated as “ground”). The same translation (human being/earthling) is preferable in Genesis 2:5, 7-8, 15-16, and 18-21 (many Bible translations notwithstanding). It is only when we reach Genesis 2:22-25 that we find gender differentiation within the earthling. It is at this point, when we have two human beings instead of one, that it becomes possible for the first time in verse 25 truly to refer to “the man” ('adam) and “his wife.” (p. 80)

There is continuity between the earth-being and the man, indicated in the fact that 'adam and 'ish can be used for both, but they are not identical. The earth-being, prior to gender differentiation, in fact “contains” both the man and the woman—they make up one body. This is their past, and this is also their future, in marriage. In Genesis 2:24, although they are now separate beings, their destiny is once again to become “one flesh.”

[…] In Genesis 2:17 it is the single earth-creature who is given the divine instruction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, this instruction is regarded in Genesis 3:2-3 as applying as much to the woman as to the man: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You [plural] must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you [plural] must not touch it, or you [plural] will die.’” The woman “heard” the instruction, even while she still “inhabited” the earth-creature. (p. 81)

It’s that last point that I see as the best confirmation of this reading. If Adam begins as a man and Eve is merely pulled out of his side, we’re left with a serious plot hole. God tells the 'adam that “You [singular] may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you [singular] shall not eat, for in the day that you [singular] eat of it you [singular] shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17). If this is only told to the man, we have no account of how the command reached the woman, nor of how she came to know that it applied to her equally. Yet the whole story (and God’s justice) rests on Eve knowing this command and knowing it applies to her. How could such a consequential detail be left unsaid? If the original earth-creature is split into man and woman, then as Provan says, both were “in” Adam originally and so both received the command and knew it applied to them.

As for how this reading fits with "She shall be called woman for she was taken out of man,” I think it fits fine if one takes that as the man’s perspective. Both characters would see themselves as continuous with the original Adam (just as they both understood God’s command to the unsplit Adam as applying to themselves), so both see the other as taken out of themselves. The account, though, generally follows the man’s perspective.

As for the grammar, I think this reading fits when one realizes that Hebrew is a highly gendered language with no neuter where the masculine doubles as the generic. Like in English up to a few decades ago, men have practically no words for themselves: all the words for men do double-duty as words for a person or people of mixed, unknown, irrelevant or no sex. Women, on the other hand, have a bunch of words that are exclusively their own. It’s just not fair! So in Hebrew, as far as I know, you refer to a man using the masculine, you refer to a woman using the feminine, and you refer to a human being with no sex or both sexes or unknown sex using the masculine.

And then there’s the way 'adam is grammatically masculine but does not specify the gender of its referent. There is no female version of the word 'adam the way the word for man (ish) pairs with woman (ishah). The introduction to a law in Numbers 5:6 shows the nuances of 'adam and ish and ishah: "When a man [ish] or a woman [ishah] wrongs another ['adam]” (NRSV). The words ish and ishah show that the law to follow applies to both sexes. The word 'adam shows that it deals with wronging any other human, regardless of sex. (Or, given another reading reflected in some translations, it deals with any wrongs that humans tend to do, not wrongs specific to men or women.) Similarly, when the Eden account needs to be clear about the sex of the characters, it temporarily switches from 'adam to ish and ishah (Genesis 2:23-24).

So the grammar fits, it plugs a plot hole, and yes, it undermines readings that see women as inferior to men.

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@marshall,

The ancient mind was an extremely superstitious one. If 2 different ideas or concepts used the same sounds… or used the same consonants… they were driven to the conclusion there was some mystical connection between them.

There is a reason why there is only ONE person named Aaron in the thousand years of the Old Testament. There is a reason why only ONE person is named Adam… and so on.

These names represent a constantly evolving prism of word play in Hebrew.

There are at least THREE (3) viable (in 2 of these cases, each is obvious) etymologies for the origin of the word ISRAEL. Each period had its own perspectives. Sometimes the word play is proposed to veil the more likely historical origin of a word or pronunciation.

The Persians believed the first humans were made from something OTHER than “dust”… they thought they were made from clumps of RHUBARB! - - because the striking red veins so strongly suggested the human circulation of blood!

[ For the Persians… it was RHUBARB, not dust, that made humans special! ]
image

I can truly understand your resistance to the idea that these words slid around alot. But word play was a beatufiul way to spend an evening or a day … in one’s amusement… and in one’s religion!

For me, the day came when I suddenly saw that the “Sons of Aaron” could also be the “Sons of the Ark”… and when a Rabbi agreed completely (to the extent of saying, “We will never know what his real name was, but he was named “Aaron” in the story for a reason!”) - - I knew my study of the Old Testament would become doubly interesting … and doubly challenging!

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@Marshall,

That’s a solid treatment right there… and then of course there is the fascinating suggestion that yet another editor of the story tried to make the same words carry TWICE the load!: while one perspective carried the “side of a body” meaning… there was another level of meaning that I think is plausible … but not necessarily mandatory.

I’m sure you’ve read it before … the idea that the story was explaining something that any animal handler may have wondered over and over … how is it that of all the mammals in the world, why are human males born with ONE LESS BONE?

It would not be surprising if someone was trying to imply why there was a “side” (aka, appended) bone put to good use somewhere else!

What is sometimes not well appreciated is where this idea of JOINED-GENDER human origins first came from! - - and it wasn’t from the Semites.

In Plato’s work, the Symposium, there is a scene where stories are told in an air of competition … to tell the most beautiful … or at least the most amazing… of stories. And Plato tells the story of Aristophanes telling the story of the origins of human love!

Aristophanes says that at the beginning of the world human beings looked very different:

“Primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike… He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.”

These weird, fused humans had three sexes, not the two we have today. Some were male in both halves, some were female in both haves, and others had one male half and another female half. According to this tale, they were more powerful than today’s frail human creatures. Aristophanes says, “Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.”

The gods met to discuss how they would deal with these circular attackers. Several suggested all-out slaughter. But Zeus said that humanity simply needed to be humbled, not destroyed. The gods decided to sever the humans in two. “And if they continue to be insolent and will not be quiet,” said Zeus, “I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single leg.”

The gods halved the humans. And so now, in this new age of split selves, the two halves roam the face of the earth searching for one another. Male searching for male, female searching for female, and male and female searching for each other – it is all part of the same story, according to the playwright. And finding that other, original part of yourself… That is love. As Aristophanes concludes,

“After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one.”

To answer the question implied already… where did this story first come from? It comes from the origin myths of the Persians (who may have received them from the Hindu, or from a common source for both) … which Plato apparently thought was at least plausible.

[ Click on the image to enlarge for better viewing. ]

You are basically on the right track, though I don’t think that Adam is named in Genesis 4 (nor Genesis 2-3), despite the rendering of some translations. Here is footnote 12 from my published article, “From Primal Harmony to a Broken World: Distinguishing God’s Intent for Life from the Encroachment of Death in Genesis 2–3.” Chap. 7 in Earnest: Interdisciplinary Work Inspired by the Life and Teachings of B. T. Roberts, ed. by Andrew C. Koehl and David Basinger (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 145–173.

There are four places in the narrative of Genesis 2–3 where ’ādām appears without the definite article, but none of these is a proper name. According to 2:5, “there was no-one [lit. no ’ādām] to till the ground.” In Gen 2:20, 3:37, and 3:21 we have lĕ’ādām (to/for the human); here the preposition lĕ (to or for) is appended to ’ādām) without the vowel change that usually indicates a definite article (lā’ādām). However, in the first case (2:20), the same verse also uses ha’ādām (the human); and it should be remembered that there would have been no distinction in the original Hebrew consonantal text (so the vowel pointing that the Masoretes introduced, which we have in our current Hebrew Bibles, may be idiosyncratic). Gen 4:25 is the first clear use of ’ādām without the definite article (“Adam knew his wife again”). Yet Gen 4:2, which first mentions the man knowing his wife, has ha’ādām. In Gen 5:1, which begins a genealogy, we finally have the proper name Adam clearly intended.

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Not familiar with that assertion.( I presume you mean at adulthood, as bones fuse etc. and also vary between individuals; also number of bones vary considerably in mammals so far as I know, though have never really studied it) What bone would that be?
Oops, never mind. I see that it was more rhetorical and for effect than serious, George. I need more coffee.

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I think George is referring to a bone other animals have in a region more unique to males than the ribcage. :grinning:

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Ziony Zevit has written an article (2015) on the woman created from the man’s (now missing) penis bone (baculum) in Biblical Archeology Review; and his interpretation can also be found in What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? (2013). He earlier co-authored an article on this missing bone for the American Journal of Medical Genetics (2001).

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learn something new every day. Now if I would just stop forgetting stuff…

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@Marshall

Your excellent discussions last night made me start to think about rival viewpoints, and how the story of the creation of Eve may well be a brilliant collision of two views, sketchily arranged and veiled within a unified narrative.

^ Lots of fancy talk for “a compromise was reached”… or maybe more precisely, “a compromise was attempted!”.

Let’s go back to your observation:

I went to the LXX; I was not able to satisfactorily assure myself that the Greek term is a common one for “rib”: plevrón . All the Greek/English sources I could search said the word could mean “rib” or “side”.

But let’s assume that by the time of the Hellenistic period, the idea of “rib” had emerged.

Up until last night, I thought this notion of “rib” was indigenous to the Hebrew language. But now I have to be more tentative. But let’s say we are asking the question: "What gave a Jewish scribe… or perhaps a Greek-speaking Jewish scribe… the idea that there is a rib involved?

Conventionally, this is where I would assert that the Jewish priestly scribes made contact with Babylonian (aka Sumerian) mythology … and where we encounter an origin story that refers to a primordial “Lady of the Rib”!!!

This is where my “Word Play” commentary on Eve (or, aka, Riba) was derived.

The Garden of Eden story is compared to the Sumerian myth in which the goddess Ninhursag created a beautiful garden full of lush vegetation and fruit trees, called Edinu, in Dilmun, the Sumerian earthly Paradise, a place which the Sumerians believed to exist to the east of their own land, beyond the sea.[27][ page needed ] Ninhursag charged Enki, her lover and half brother, with controlling the wild animals and tending the garden, but Enki became curious about the garden, and his assistant, Adapa, selected seven plants (eight in some versions) and offered them to Enki, who ate them. This enraged Ninhursag, and she caused Enki to fall ill. Enki felt pain in his rib, which is a pun in Sumerian, as the word " ti " means both “rib” and “life”. The other deities persuaded Ninhursag to relent. Ninhursag then created a new goddess (seven or eight to heal his seven or eight ailing organs, including his rib), who was named Ninti, (a name composed of " Nin ", or “lady”, and " ti ", and which may be translated both as “Lady of Living” and “Lady of the Rib”), to cure Enki.[28] Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve as “the mother of life” and lady of the rib, created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis.[29]

Cuneiform TI or TÌL (Borger 2003 nr. ; U+122FE 𒋾) has the main meaning of “life” when used ideographically. The written sign developed from the drawing of an arrow, since the words meaning “arrow” and “life” were pronounced similarly in the Sumerian language.
[End of Section]

In the Wiki article specifically on the cuneiform word “Ti”, we read:

With the determinative UZU 𒍜 “flesh, meat”, UZUTI, it means “rib”. This homophony is exploited in the myth of Ninti (𒊩𒌆𒋾 NIN.TI “lady of life” or “lady of the rib”), created by Ninhursag to cure the ailing Enki. Since Eve is called “mother of life” in Genesis, together with her being taken from Adam’s צלע tsela` “side, rib”, the story of Adam and Evehas sometimes been considered to derive from that of Ninti.

@Marshall,

Do you know what I see here? When I see a word, even a Sumerian word, that means “rib” and “life” … I don’t see a coincidence… I see a Sumerian PUN!!!

Quote from above: "Ninhursag then created a new goddess (seven or eight to heal his seven or eight ailing organs, including his rib), who was named Ninti, (a name composed of " Nin ", or “lady”, and " ti ", and which may be translated both as “Lady of Living” and “Lady of the Rib”)…"

For a BONE to be equal to LIFE … I have to wonder how bawdy the Sumerians were! And the reason we see the awkwardness in the Hebrew is for the plain reason the Jewish scribes were trying to capture the Sumerian word play using the Hebrew language.

If this is true … I think they did an awfully good job of it !

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On reflection, I really tend to doubt this as the etiology of the bone from which Eve was made. Anatomic dissections were not really a thing at that point, especially in Jewish culture. Later, when collecting bones from tombs to put in ossuaries, perhaps someone might have noted the absence, but unlikely. Also, I suspect not a lot of animal anatomy known either.
So, my thought is that “side” is the best and most likely translation.

Thanks, I was able to access the 2001 letter to the editor he co-wrote, but the 2015 article is newer than my access allows. I’ll add it to my growing list of articles to check the next time I’m at a university library. From the letter to the editor:

Our opinion is that Adam did not lose a rib in the creation of Eve. Any ancient Israelite (or for that matter, any American child) would be expected to know that there is an equal (and even) number of ribs in both men and women. Moreover, ribs lack any intrinsic generative capacity. We think it is far more probable that it was Adam’s baculum that was removed in order to make Eve. That would explain why human males, of all the primates and most other mammals, did not have one.

(Scott F. Gilbert and Ziony Zevit, “Congenital Human Baculum Deficiency: The Generative Bone of Genesis 2:21-23,” American Journal of Medical Genetics 101: 284)

Then comes the part I would quibble with:

The Hebrew noun translated as "rib’’, tzela (tzade, lamed, ayin), can indeed mean a costal rib. It can also mean the rib of a hill (2 Samuel 16:13), the side chambers (enclosing the temple like ribs, as in 1 Kings 6:5,6), or the supporting columns of trees, like cedars or firs, or the planks in buildings and doors (1 Kings 6:15,16). So the word could be used to indicate a structural support beam. (Ibid.)

I think it works better to say 2 Samuel 16:13 speaks of a hillside rather than the “rib of a hill,” but perhaps it can go either way. As for 1 Kings 6:5-6, this portion seems to use tsela to describe a structure containing several supporting beams, not just one of the beams on its own. This is especially clear when it is used in the singular in 2 Kings 6:8. The NRSV calls these parts of the larger structure “side chambers.” As for the later verses in 1 Kings 6:15-16, here the plural form of tsela is not used to describe structural beams, but paneling and floorboards – one could also say siding.

Interestingly, Biblical Hebrew, unlike later rabbinic Hebrew, had no technical term for the penis and referred to it through many circumlocutions. When rendered into Greek, sometime in the second century BCE, the translators used the word pleura, which means side, and would connote a body rib (as the medical term pleura still does). This translation, enshrined in the Septuagint, the Greek Bible of the early church, fixed the meaning for most of western civilization, even though the Hebrew was not so specific. (Ibid.)

My medical knowledge is practically nonexistent, but doesn’t this mean the Septuagint used a term that means ribcage, not an individual rib?

@jpm

Horses, cows, goats, sheeps… they all have THE bone.

Every time it was feast time… some patriarch somewhere would no doubt wonder … why do these creatures have this bone… I know I don’t… kinda wonder if I should… why do all the “alpha males” have this… but I don’t ?

I think the more important question, @marshall, is why did the Sumerians equate the word “life” with the word they used for “rib”?

Did even the Sumerians REALLY mean “rib”? Or was that term a euphemism?

You are familiar with the verses in the Old Testament where “THIGH” doesn’t really mean “THIGH”, right?

Oh yes. In Job 40, after God tells Job to gird his loins like a man (v. 7), God definitely puts him in his place by pointing out the enormity of the generative power present in behemoth (v. 16-17). Our modern Bibles may speak of tight-knit thighs, but the KJV translators were less squeamish and wrote of “stones”. The Vulgate has “testiculorum”. And then there’s a “tail” that somehow parallels these “thighs”, and that “tail” is not bending like some long-necked dinosaur tail, it is being stiffened so it is like a cedar (a tree not known for its droopiness).

I’m sure Job was feeling pretty small after that.

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Well according to wikipedia:
It is absent in humans, [ungulates]…(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ungulate) (hoofed mammals),(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyena),[32] sirenians,[4] and cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises),[4] among others.

But I claim ignorance in such matters. However, given the prohibitions against dealing with dead bodies, suspect the early Israelites also were unaware of that bone. Plus, just thinking about the surgery involved with removal makes me cringe a bit, even though I am sure God was a great anesthetist…

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@Jpm,

You say that ALL of the above groups are also lacking? This I didn’t know… I guess I have to do my homework on that … someone once told me we were the only exception … and I believed that statement without enough skepticism…

Thanks!

That would be an even worse way for women to be derivative of men. Glad no one at my church had access to those ideas. I have heard men affectionately refer to their wives as their “ribs.” I do not want to ever hear a woman referred to affectionately as a penile bone.

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:tired_face:

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