NCBI ROFL: What did God do with Adam's penis bone?

By ncbi rofl | August 19, 2011 7:00 pm

Congenital human baculum deficiency: the generative bone of Genesis 2:21-23.

“Another genetic condition, extending to 100% of human males, is the congenital lack of a baculum. Whereas most mammals (including common species such as dogs and mice) and most other primates (excepting spider monkeys) have a penile bone, human males lack this bone and must rely on fluid hydraulics to maintain erections. This is not an insignificant bone. The baculum of a large dog can be 10 cm long x 1.3 cm wide x 1 cm thick… Human bacula have been reported, usually in association with other congenital diseases or penile abnormalities.

One of the creation stories in Genesis may be an explanatory myth wherein the Bible attempts to find a cause for why human males lack this particular bone. 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. 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. 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.

In addition, Genesis 2:21 contains another etiological detail: “The Lord God closed up the flesh.” This detail would explain the peculiar visible sign on the penis and scrotum of human males—the raphé . In the human penis and scrotum, the edges of the urogenital folds come together over the urogenital sinus (urethral groove) to form a seam, the raphé. If this seam does not form, hypospadias of the glans, penis, and scrotum can result. The origin of this seam on the external genitalia was “explained” by the story of the closing of Adam’s flesh. Again, the wound associated with the generation of Eve is connected to Adam’s penis and not his rib.

A rib has no particular potency nor is it associated mythologically or symbolically with any human generative act. Needless to say, the penis has always been associated with generation, in practice, in mythology, and in the popular imagination. Therefore, the literal, metaphorical, and euphemistic use of the word tzela make the baculum a good candidate for the singular bone taken from Adam to generate Eve.”

Image: flickr/ oddsock

Related content:
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: References to the paraphilias and sexual crimes in the Bible.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Whale ménage à trois: now with 1,000-kg testes!
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The circumcision of Jesus Christ.

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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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