Monday, September 20, 2010

Fact or Fiction: Adam's Rib

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Genesis 2:21-22 (King James Version)
I was asked recently whether it was true that women had a different number of ribs than men.

You may have heard this one before: Men have fewer ribs than women, either by a single rib or a pair. This notion follows from the biblical account of creation, whereby Eve was created from one of Adam's ribs and is used to support a literal interpretation of Genesis. But is it true?

The typical adult human skeleton has 206 bones and this number is the same for men and women. Of these, the ribs account for 24 (2 x 12). Seven of these pairs are connected to the sternum by cartilage, 3 are connected to the cartilage of the ribs above and 2 pairs, called floating ribs, are not attached to the sternum at all. These numbers are the same for men and women.

There are abnormalities that can alter the number of ribs. One such abnormality is a cervical rib which can cause thoracic outlet syndrome. A cervical rib is an extra rib arising from the seventh cervical vertebra, above the first rib ("normal" ribs are joined to the thoracic vertebrae). They are present in about 0.5% of the population. One large study of 10,000 radiographs looking at congenital rib abnormalities showed that women more often have cervical ribs, with a rate of about a 2.5 to 1 compared to males. This may be a reason for the propagation of the idea that females have more ribs than males, but in the typical, normal skeleton males and females have the same number of ribs.


Anonymous Coward said...

And they are best consumed smoked, with a mix of PC BBQ sauce, mustard, honey and copious amounts of hot sauce and chiles.

Anonymous Coward said...

BTW, I learned recently that if you want to be super extra pedantic you could say a myriad of radiographs and it would be synonymous with 10 000.

Shawna said...

Have you seen this:

Am J Med Genet. 2001 Jul 1;101(3):284-5.
Congenital human baculum deficiency: the generative bone of Genesis 2:21-23.
Gilbert SF, Zevit Z.

an idea floating around the internet for a while after the publication of this article, that the original Hebrew word meant side/column/support and referred to the missing baculum in human males (look it up) rather than a thoracic bone.

Of course we would never know until we can get a prehistoric Rabbi to tell us the ancient version of the story...