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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts

tsêlâ‘, ''side, rib'' - צֵלָע (Strong's #6763)

"And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man." (Gen. 2:21-2, NKJV)

The word צֵלָע tsêlâ‘ "side, rib" (Strong's #6763, x41) comes from the verb צָלַע tsâla‘ "to curve, limp, be lame, incline to one side" (Strong's #6760, x4) in the AV translated each time by "halt" by other versions as "limp, lame".

The noun צֵלָע tsêlâ‘ is used frequently in Exodus (x18) to describe the opposing sides of the Ark of the Covenant, the sides of the tabernacle and of the Altar (e.g., Exodus 25:12; 26:20; 27:7 etc). On a few of these occasions it is used in parallel with a more common word צַד tsadh for "side" (Strong's #6654, x33) in Exodus 30:4; 37:27. Again it is used throughout Ezekiel 41 vv5-9,11,26 for the side-chambers of the temple and similarly in I Kings 6:5,8,15,16,34; 7:3.

These temple references account for 90% of all its uses. In one of them, I Kings 6:34, it refers to two door panels, leaves or sides, "two turning leaves for one door, two leaves for the other". In the Hebrew the first "leaves" is צֵלָע tsêlâ‘ and the second קֶלַע qela‘ "hanging, sling" (Strong's #7050, x22). It is possible given the similar spelling and only a different initial letter that the latter is a misprint for the former particularly since the Greek translates both identically and a similar passage, Ezekiel 41:24, does not use distinct words either. One Hebrew manuscript supports this too.

Apart from these holy building references and the Creation story instance we find it in Job 18:12 "...destruction is ready at his side." and in 2 Samuel 16:13, where it is used with הָר hâr "hill, mountain" (Strong's #2022, x546) and is consistently translated as "hillside" in Bible versions, not "hill-rib".

Returning to Genesis 2:21-22, the first instance of צֵלָע tsêlâ‘, it is clear that it is not translated by "rib" elsewhere, so why here? In addition, more than a rib must have been taken for Adam to declare "this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (v23). The Greek Septuagint version uses πλευρα pleura, which in Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus means side not rib, as it does in the New Testament.

Many Jewish, Christian and Greek writings regarded the first creation as a "male and female" (Gen. 1:27) hermaphroditic androgyne being. Not only does Plato's Symposium describe the separation of a two-halved bi-gendered being at creation but that is similar to the understanding of the Jew Philo, contemporary of the NT, and many well regarded Jewish sources in the Midrash, Talmud, and that of Maimonides, Rashi etc. The Jerusalem Targum, Latin Vulgate and Syriac bible versions all render צֵלָע tsêlâ‘ as "side" not "rib" in Genesis 2.

Saint Augustine wrote, "If God had meant woman to rule over man he would have taken her out of Adam's head. Had he designed her to be his slave, he would have taken her out of his feet. But God took woman out of man's side, for he made her to be a helpmeet and an equal to him."

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