Why is it that Biblical translators choose to translate the Hebrew word צֵלָע (tsela) as "rib" when referring to the formation of Eve from Adam in Genesis 2:22? Never is this word translated as rib in any other scriptures except here. Some scholars believe that Adam was created both male and female as denoted in Genesis 1:27 and that God literally removed the female part of Adam from his abdominal chamber (צֵלָע, tsela) so why don't translators translate this word as "chamber"?

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. If you haven't done so already, you may want to read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web... I do not understand what you are trying to ask here. Are you asking why tsela is translated as "rib" or something else? – ThaddeusB Sep 30 '15 at 16:06
  • 4
    I’m not following how you construe a male bias here. Regardless, please quote the passage of interest and phrase this as if it were a real question rather than a diatribe about what you perceive as an incorrect translation decision. We’d be happy to address the translational issues if you demonstrate a willingness to participate in the Q&A format. (See our tour for more on that.) – Susan Sep 30 '15 at 16:15
  • 1
    While it is true that there is only one occurrence of the word tsela' carrying the meaning "rib" in the OT (I am writing ' for 'ayin here), the meaning does clearly belong to the word in general. Gesenius translates the verb root ts-l-' as "to curve", and there is a cognate Assyrian word tselu meaning "rib" as well. So it seems there is a strong case for this particular translation. – RP_ Sep 30 '15 at 16:25
  • 1
    Hey guys. ThaddeusB I am asking this question to see if anyone provides a reason that I have not heard of that justifies translating tsela as rib. Susan we know that Aramaic is not Hebrew. Hebrew Tsela is translated as side or compartment from the Hebrew language in all cases but this. Rene the translation that "does clearly belong to the word in general" is side if we use scripture to explain scripture (Gen. 1:27). Perhaps my first step in your world was a mistep. I will be careful to word my questions in a way that doesn't challenge the accepted norm. :0) – sonofnoman Sep 30 '15 at 17:05
  • 2
    @JamesShewey Nice job saving this question. I've retracted my downvote and my vote to close. – ThaddeusB Oct 1 '15 at 15:14

Hebrew ṣelāʽ (thus the correct transliteration) is a clear cognate of Akkadian ṣēlu and Arabic ḍilʽ and ḍilaʽ, all of which primarily mean “rib”, but are also metaphorically used to mean “side”. They are very widely attested in Akkadian and Arabic and leave no doubt as to their meaning. It is a basic Semitic noun for a body part. From a linguistic point of view, the most straightforward translation is the most literal one, in this case “rib”.

By the way, Semitic studies have advanced a lot since the time of Gesenius 1833. Arabic shows that ḍilaʽ “rib” is not the same root as ẓalaʽa “to limp”. It just so happens that in Hebrew Semitic ẓ and ḍ coalesce as ṣ.

  • 1
    While it is interesting that ṣelāʽ and ẓalaʽa do not share the same root, I'm not sure that this changes much in terms of authorial intent, The question is not if they share the same origin, but if they share a similar spelling and pronunciation such that one makes the reader think of the other when teamed up with ezer kenegdo. – James Shewey Oct 2 '15 at 14:50
  • 2
    "From a linguistic point of view, the most straightforward translation is the most literal one." This sounds like a dictum, but what justifies it? – Schuh Jun 6 '16 at 3:58

The reason for translating this word as "rib" in this passage most likely has to do with Genesis 2:23 in which Adam states "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (NET).

While you are correct that this word is often translated as chamber, according to the NAS Exhaustive Concordance, the NASB most often translates צֵלָע (tsela) as side or in some cases, side chamber.

Since there is only one e type of bone in the side of the human body, it is only natural for translators to conclude that Eve, being bone of bone was made from Adams only bone in his side - the rib.

Furthermore, this bone motif has a very important tie-in to Eve being described as Adam's עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo). You see, the צֵלָע (tsela; rib) is cognate with צָלַע (tsala`) which means to limp. Both originate from the primitave root "to curve" (like a rib)

Likewise, עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo; where עֵזֶר [ezer] means helper and כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ [Kenegdo] means "one who stands against or in opposition to") evokes the imagery of Adam leaning on Eve in his time of weakness in much the same way that one leans on a crutch which stands in opposition to the one it supports.

This is further bolstered by the fact that עֶצֶם (etsem) originates from עָצַם (`atsam) which means mighty or strong (like a bone).

Therefore, translating this as "rib" does not gloss over womankind being a major part of Adam, but instead acklowledges the strength of womankind. The sheer fact that Eve is made from Adam's side and not his heel indicates that Eve is Adam's equal, so there is very little bias displayed in translating צֵלָע (tsela) as rib.

  • Also of note: The New English Translation does translate this word as side for the reasons noted. – James Shewey Oct 1 '15 at 15:17
  • 1
    Mr. Shewey thanks for the answer but you are incorrect about the rib being the only bone on Adam's side. Symmetrically humans have various bones beginning with the collar, shoulder, arm, hands, hip, legs and feet. Also to limp or to curve is a result of not having symmetry and so your hermeneutics actually support the contention that Eve was the female SIDE of the ha adam. Whether you view this anatomically or you use scripture to interpret scripture, the fact of the matter is that the translators are not conforming to Occam's razor and thereby the results is suspect. – sonofnoman Oct 2 '15 at 16:23
  • When I think of "side" I think from hip to shoulder, so I would be interested if anyone is able to provide more information about exactly how much of the body צֵלָע (tsela) covers - eg, does this term cover head to toe, or hip to shoulder. Usually when you think of someone having a wound in their side, you picture the ribcage or stomach area. I do not think that צֵלָע (tsela) encompasses the legs as you have no "chamber" in that part of your body and the Hebrew word for foot/leg is רָ֫גֶל. The only part of your body with a "chamber" would be the abdomen. – James Shewey Oct 2 '15 at 22:17

I would point out that the Hebrew text lends itself to the translation "rib." The text in Genesis 2:21 literally reads, "And he [the Lord God] took one ['aḥat] from his side [miṭṭela'] and he closed the flesh after them [taḥtennah]." The "one" would suggest a part of the side, and the "after them" (with a feminine plural suffix) would suggest that the one was originally among many others. The rib cage lends itself to this kind of language, and so the translation "rib" seems quite defensible.

For those who are trying to say that ṭela' means rib, I would point out that in no other place in the First Testament can you find it translated in that way. In every other context the word refers to the whole side of a bilaterally symmetrical object. If the word was ṭela' by itself, the most appropriate translation would be "side."

This doesn't, however, rule out a different translation. If the "one" here is in fact referring to a whole side, then God would be taking one side and leaving the other behind. The only difficulty with this translation would be to reconcile the feminine plural suffix at the end of the prepositional phrase (which suggests that more than one of this "thing" was left behind).

  • Great first answer. Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. – user862 Jun 6 '16 at 3:39
  • Michael the "one' you note is referring to side in that Ha Adam was created both male and female (Gen. 1:27 and 5:2). "And so man shall leave mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall become ehad flesh" Gen. 2:24. The Hebrew text does not lend itself to rib. This is a unique translation and I conclude it is defended out of fealty to tradition and a sense of translator infallibility over Occam's razor which for us is scripture interpreting scripture. – sonofnoman Jun 6 '16 at 16:59
  • 1
    @sonofnoman - A.) You are misrepresenting the text, and ignoring its context, by saying: "Ha Adam was created both male and female" B.) Why would you translate "אֹתָ֛ם | Them" as "Him" in Genesis 1:27, Interlinear - when in the same exact context, "אֹתָ֛ם" is referring to "them", Genesis 1:22, Interlinear; C.) A better question - another question - would be to ask if "אֹתָ֛ם" really means "Them", Occurrences in Scripture – elika kohen Apr 21 '17 at 20:51
  • Adam was singular before the cleaving. It's logical to use "him" since she was taken from Him. I don't see Androgynous Adam as being literally physical half male (right side) and half female (left side) which would allow for "Them". In fact I see Androgyny as it is in current day. An Androgynous person has characteristics of both but favors one in appearance. For the most part. The word Tsela however favors "side" not "rib". My question for discussion was commandeered by higher powers here at stack exchange and instead of "side" which I meant, they changed it to "chamber". – sonofnoman May 5 '17 at 5:56

Yes, it is justified (aside from translation) by SCIENCE!

It definitely means "rib". I did some digging around and - surprise - the rib is the only bone in the body that can regenerate fully without a bone graft.

Although all bones can repair themselves, ribs can regenerate themselves.2 Ribs are commonly removed during surgeries that require bone grafts in other parts of the body. The rib is removed from the periosteum (a tissue surrounding the bone) much like a banana would be removed from its peel while keeping most of the peel intact. The periosteum must remain, as it contains osteoblasts which build the new rib bone.

Also, ribs contain bone marrow, platelets, red and white blood, and stem cells, and can also create new tissues and organs.

The rib, in particular, represents an anatomic type of long bone with a wide, spongious component rich in hematopoietic bone marrow, containing multipotent, pluripotent, and unipotent stem cells 3. Totipotent so far have not been identified in bone marrow. As with the making of new life from Adam’s rib, new tissues and organs are now being made in both experimental and clinical work by using hematopoietic bone marrow from cell cultures.

Given this creation of new tissues and organs via hematopoietic bone marrow, the question arises about the implication of these observations for science. Carefully reading Genesis 2 [4], one is impressed by the fact that man and woman originated via two different modalities: Man ‘‘from the dust of the ground, [God] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’’ (Genesis 2:7); Woman ‘‘from the rib taken from [from] man [Adam]’’ while he was sleeping (Genesis 2:21–22).

As you read the sources I hope you are all mind-blown as I am.

Adam didn't lose a rib forever. It grew back!

I used this article as a starting point for the answers I gave and researched.

  • I'm pretty sure that since God could miraculously build a man from mud and another human starting from just a rib, fixing the hole left behind wouldn't have been a problem ven if he'd used a femur or cranium. This doesn't really prove anything about how the text should be translated. – Caleb Dec 14 '18 at 14:13
  • Echoing @Caleb selecting contemporary medical science / the human body as a comparator text to read genesis through is an atypical text set and breaks basic hermeneutical rules about what constitutes appropriate biblical texts to read. Chiefly the body isn’t an archaic or ancient Hebrew religious text or Semitic language text. – Samuel Russell Dec 15 '18 at 3:31

God made Adam male and female, as attested twice, so Eve is not the first woman but something else female that helps them. I suggest that Eve is the paraclete that Jesus aims to replace -- as a "new" or "another" paraclete John (14:15-27). What other helper or comforter might Jesus have been refering to, other than Eve? The etympological origin of Paraclete is "called to one's side".

Bearing in mind psychological theories positing the existence of an intra-psychic other, in Freud (his "acoustic cap" based on our mother), Bakhtin (super addressee), Lacan ("(m)Other"), Derrida ("ear of the other" likewise feminised), Mead (generalised other), Adam Smith (impartial spectator), and perhaps Boehme (mother), Bowie (Girl with the Mousey hair), I suggest that Eve is not the first woman (which would contradict the Bible) but rather a "helper," as clearly stated in the text, that is made from a side of all of us (male and female).

We are also told in Revelations that there is a large "whore" that accompanies humans. What is this whore? This may be what can happen to Eve if she is left in a state of sin, not replaced with Jesus. Being very large, "side" seems far more appropriate than "rib," imho a gross mistranslation which conceals the urgency of the situation.

  • 1
    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thanks for your answer. You may find it helpful to learn more about how this site is different from others, particularly as its focus is exegesis, not theology: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/653/… – Schuh Jun 6 '16 at 4:15
  • 1
    Timothy, Eve is the "mother of all the living" (Gen. 3:20) hence she is the actual first woman. The other feminine is Ruah, the Spirit of God. The exegesis points clearly to this. The (Feminine) Spirit of God came upon Mary the woman and she bore Yeshua. He is the seed of woman. Interestingly enough the name Yeshua has a feminine ending as does Abba, the only name used by Jesus to refer to the Father. All told, the exegesis points to a clear balance between feminine and masculine evidenced in Jesus himself. – sonofnoman Jun 6 '16 at 17:28
  • 1
    @sonofnoman Abba does not have a feminine ending. The ending indicates the emphatic or determined state, equivalent to the English definite article "the" or the Hebrew definite article -הַ. – user862 Jun 10 '16 at 9:12
  • Thanks Simply, do you have any examples of other names that contain the same indication? – sonofnoman Jun 11 '16 at 22:55
  • @SimplyaChristian I have not gotten a response to my question above. I can only assume that there aren't any and I thank you for your input. God's blessings. – sonofnoman Jun 17 '16 at 19:00

protected by James Shewey Apr 21 '17 at 18:56

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.