Number of Ribs
|Front View of Ribs|
(edited from Corel Presentations 8)
A caution for those of you who dislike thinking about theological issues or who are bothered by the concept that biological science and theology might not disagree: you might not want to bother reading the rest of this Web page.
Over the last few years, I have received several e-mail message asking if
the number of ribs is different in men and women. To correctly respond to
these inquiries, I have researched this issue by looking up this information
in several Anatomy and Physiology textbooks. All agree that, based on medical
research (somebody actually dissected cadavers and counted ribs, somebody actually looked at x-rays and counted ribs), men and
women have the same number of ribs as each other. For example, one book says:
Twelve pairs of flexible, archlike ribs form the lateral portions of the thoracic cage. They increase in length from the first to the seventh and then decrease again from the eighth to the twelfth.
(Weinreb, E. L. 1984. Anatomy and Physiology. Addison Wesley Publ. Co., Inc. Menlo Park, CA. p. 345.)
|Click on each of these photographs for a larger view.|
|X-Ray of Female Ribs||X-Ray of Male Ribs||Male Skeleton|
|Front View of Ribs|
(edited from Corel Presentations 8)
So from where did the “urban legend” that women have more ribs come? I don’t know for sure, but here is my guess. As I mentioned on my History of Science Web page, back in the Middle Ages, people came up with all sorts of ideas that were commonly thought to be true and were even put into print, but were never tested, never verified. For example, someone decided that that since giraffes had spots, they must result from a cross-breeding between a leopard and a camel, but no one ever actually did anything to check and see if this was really true or possible! I recall reading that a heavily-debated topic back then was the number of teeth that horses have. Numerous people vehemently insisted on a variety of numbers, and no one would or could agree with each other, yet no one ever actually opened a horse’s mouth and counted its teeth! The notion that women have more ribs than men sounds suspiciously like an idea that could have arisen back then. (But see, in making that statement, I just did the same thing, right?)
So, why would anyone think that? The notion that women have an extra set of ribs is probably based on a misinterpretation of some Bible verses in Genesis. The actual quote is:
But for Adam, no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and brought her to the man.
(Genesis 2: 20b - 22, NIV © 1983 by Zondervan Corp.)
Notice what this doesn’t say. It doesn’t say anything about how many ribs Adam had before or after this “surgery,” and especially it says nothing, whatsoever, about how many ribs Eve had! Nowhere does it say that Eve had more ribs than Adam. Who made that assumption without checking? Wouldn't it be just as logical to guess (also without checking) that if she was created “second” that God might have made her with the same number of ribs as the new, reduced number that Adam now had? Wouldn’t it really be more logical to guess that God might have created her with the same number of ribs as Adam just to avoid confusion? Genesis doesn't say one way or the other, so the only way to know is to cut open cadavers and start counting. Who has done that — the theologians or the biologists? My guess is that, once again, if human misinterpretations are set aside and if it is remembered that theology looks at “why” while science looks at “how,” there is no “conflict” between what the Bible, itself, is saying and what biologists know to be true about our bodies.
Here’s the passage in Hebrew
The Westminster Leningrad Codex)
21 וַיַּפֵּל֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ תַּרְדֵּמָ֛ה עַל־הָאָדָ֖ם וַיִּישָׁ֑ן וַיִּקַּ֗ח אַחַת֙ מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו וַיִּסְגֹּ֥ר בָּשָׂ֖ר תַּחְתֶּֽנָּה׃
22 וַיִּבֶן֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶֽת־הַצֵּלָ֛ע אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֥ח מִן־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וַיְבִאֶ֖הָ אֶל־הָֽאָדָֽם׃
most of which, with the help of a Hebrew dictionary and Young’s Concordance, I’ve managed to translate (no, I don’t know Hebrew):
וַיַּפֵּל֩ ? + [paal = to make?]
תַּרְדֵּמָ֛ה tardemah = deep sleep
עַל־הָאָדָ֖ם al = on, upon, above + hay = the + adam = man
וַיִּישָׁ֑ן ? + yashen = to sleep
וַיִּקַּ֗ח ? + [laqach = to take? (the “l” is missing]
אַחַת֙ echad = one
מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו meh = from + tsela = rib, side, chamber, board, corner
וַיִּסְגֹּ֥ר ? + sagan = to close up, to shut up
בָּשָׂ֖ר basar = flesh
תַּחְתֶּֽנָּה׃ tachath = instead + ? (nooahh?)
וַיִּבֶן֩ ? + banah(?) = to make, build, build up
אֶֽת־הַצֵּלָ֛ע ay = (definite object) + hay = the + tsela = rib, side, chamber, board, corner
אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֥ח asher = which + laqach = to take
מִן־הָֽאָדָ֖ם min = from, out of + hay = the + adam = man
לְאִשָּׁ֑ה leh = to, by, for, of, according to + ishshah = woman, wife
וַיְבִאֶ֖הָ ? + [bo? = to bring]
אֶל־הָֽאָדָֽם׃ el =to, unto, toward + hay = the + adam = man
For comparison, the King James Version says:
“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs (or took part of the man’s side ) and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib (or part ) he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”
A reader of this Web page sent me an e-mail message with another point worth remembering. If, for example, a person would accidentally lose a finger or would have a body part surgically removed, then subsequently that person would create a baby, that baby would still be born with all his or her body parts. Similarly, if Adam had a rib removed, that does not mean that we, his children, would have missing ribs.
Unlike people in the Middle Ages, we do science these days (most of the time). We don’t just guess at how many teeth horses have or how many ribs people have. We get in there and count them, and then we know: both men and women have twelve pairs of ribs.
Another reader of this Web page sent me e-mail stating that (s)he had read some “religious literature” which made the even-more-preposterous claim that men are lopsided, that they are missing a rib on the left side. Would-be theologians who don’t do their “homework,” who don’t have high standards for scholarly research before publishing, and who, as a result, publish such misleading information are acting very irresponsibly and only contribute to the poor reputation that “religion” has among some people in our society. I would encourage publishing companies to insure that articles and books that are submitted for publication are thoroughly peer-reviewed by recognized experts prior to publication. I would encourage seminaries to require a minimum of non-majors’ biology, anatomy and physiology, and non-majors’ physics courses as part of their degree programs (remember that the clergy you are training will be expected to make hospital visits and counsel people with marital problems in addition to preaching sermons).
If you’re still not convinced, OK, don’t take my word for it. Be skeptical — it’s good for you. However, don’t stop there. Go do your own research and find out for yourself. Go read an anatomy textbook and look at the pictures. Search the Web for more digitized x-rays and photographs. Find a local high school or college that has a skeleton sitting in its biology classroom, and make an appointment to go count ribs. See if that school offers an anatomy and physiology course in which you could enroll. Find a local university, nursing school, or medical school that has cadavers, and find somebody at that school who has some time to spend with you. Arrange to go there, grab a scalpel, and start counting.
Copyright © 2001 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Drs. David Fankhauser and Wilhelm Kossenjans for assisting with obtaining and photographing the x-rays and the skeleton.
This page has been accessed times since 28 Jul 2001.