The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Genesis 2 LXX - Curing a theological pleurisy

Verse 8: Kai ephyteusen ho Theos paradeison en Edem, "And God planted a garden (or "paradise") east of Eden." Just noting the use of the word "paradise."

Verses 21 & 22 use the word pleura for the word translated "rib" in virtually every English translation. I had been hoping that the Septuagint would answer a question about this text raised by Dr. Sherwin in the "Medieval Judaism" lecture videos. He asserted that "rib" was a mistranslation dating back to St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate, and that it really meant "side", in the sense that the original human was a hermaphroditic being, who was then divided into male and female. The subject evidently is discussed in Rabbinic and Mystical Jewish literature. I get a mental picture of a creature like one of those Hindu idols, only with an extra head as well as extra limbs. Extra other things too.

Thinking the hermaphroditic thing to be a bit odd, and not yet being well-versed in Hebrew, I was eager to see what the Septuagint says, since it predates the Vulgate by a few centuries, and also predates Christianity. The Greek lexicons I have indicate "side" and "rib" as fair translations of pleura. In modern English the word refers to the membrane inside the rib cage which envelopes the lungs, and is the root of the word "pleurisy", an inflammation of the aforementioned membrane. Pleura also occurs five times in the Greek New Testament. In John 19:34 as well as 20:20, 25, and 27, it refers to the side of Jesus pierced by the spear. In Acts 12:7 an angel strikes Peter on the side in order to wake him up.

On the one hand, it seems like it may not have necessarily been a rib that was removed. Maybe it was a whole side of his thorax, or something else that we can't quite picture. On the other hand, the "hermaphrodite theory" wasn't exactly proven either, and I remain skeptical that the writer of Genesis 2 really had such a thing in mind.

It should be clear by now that my slow march through the Septuagint is going to include lots of amateur-level analysis of minutiae. But I'm in search of nuggets of wisdom, and you never know when or where the next stunning, paradigm-shifting revelation is going to turn up. And every word of Scripture is more than worth a careful read.


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