Should Eve Have Been Steve?

So.  It’s sometime in September of last year, and my husband Dan is reading Eve for the first time while we’re in the Ukraine.  Every once in a while, he glances up from reading and makes a statement or asks a question, and I grab my notebook and jot them down.  Some of the questions would become some of my FAQs.

One question fascinated both of us, in that neither of us had thought of it before and neither of us had heard any reference to it anywhere–and that’s saying a lot with over 50 units of college Bible between us, and scores of years of Biblical study in grade school, high school, and life in general.

Here was Dan’s question: Eve would have had the same DNA as Adam, coming from his rib.  But Adam’s sex chromosomes would have been XY; Eve’s would have been XX.  What gives?  Impossible, according to science.

A quick and easy science lesson is in order–a very simplified one, if you’re up to it.  Are you ready?

Every single cell in one’s body has 46 chromosomes, except sperm and ovum, which have 23 chromosomes.  When a child is formed, each of their body cells will have 23 chromosomes from the father and 23 from the mother.  If we were to take a rib cell from you, it would have 46 chromosomes in it.  Those 46 chromosomes carry all the information in them–to a T–to clone you!

I’ve been given permission from the National Human Genome Research Institute to reprint an informative chart that explains how a pig might be cloned–just to give you the basic idea.  I’ve enlarged it past my margins, so that you can read it more easily.  The explanation is directly beneath the picture.

Reproductive Cloning. To clone an animal, researchers first take mature cells, such as skin cells, from the animal to be cloned. Next, they take an unfertilized egg from an adult female of the same species and remove the nucleus, which is the cell structure that houses the chromosomes that contain an organism’s DNA. Researchers then place one of the skin cells next to the nucleus-free egg and apply an electric pulse, which causes the skin cell to fuse with the egg. The fused cell, which contains the skin cell’s nucleus, divides and forms an early-stage embryo. This embryo is implanted in the uterus of another female animal, called a surrogate mother, and allowed to develop. The surrogate mother then gives birth to an animal that is genetically identical to the adult that donated the skin cells. This newborn animal is referred to as a clone.  [Reprinted with permission from the NHGRI.]

An aside, briefly.  Obviously, there’s a step missing in the Genesis account.  God would have needed a nucleus-free egg to insert Adam’s 46 chromosomes into…and a surrogate female’s womb to “grow” her (do you see how wild this can get?).

Back to my explanation.  Identical twins are clones.  They have the exact same DNA.  This will give you some idea of what we’re talking about here.  As you know, identical twins are of the same sex.  For God to take a rib cell from Adam (forget the fact that scholars don’t really know what God used…the word doesn’t translate neatly) and make Eve, He would have had to make some changes in the DNA–which is entirely possible, but He wouldn’t have done it following the scientific rules that we’re aware of today (and I italicize that word, because we could discover a new thing, a new way, tomorrow).

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  What if the scribes got it wrong (after all, they were writing in a male-dominated world), and God made Eve from the earth, too, just like Adam?  Because then, it would make sense that they turned out differently, just as a potter uses earth and clay to make a variety of vessels.

But then again, some people would choose to believe that this discredits God altogether.  This is one thing that couldn’t possibly have happened, so what other characteristics of God can’t we trust?

I don’t see it that way.  I think it’s exciting that perhaps this story might have been fashioned as a poem, with some exaggeration, some literary license, to provide an moral tale for the ages (after all, God loves stories; Jesus did, too).  The problem is picking out the burrs (the additions) from the cotton (the truth).

One thing I know for sure, after studying ancient literature texts.  There is another creation story older than the Biblical version, and it’s very similar in its talk of “primordial sea” and how men and women came to be on this earth.  There are only two main differences.  The Hebrew scribe replaced the many gods with his monotheistic God, and his story attempts to teach a lesson.

You can go three ways with this.  You can say that I’m being sacrilegious and discount everything I’ve said.  I would say that’s quite all right.  Or you might say, “Well, I don’t know why you insist on a God that exists when this kind of stuff comes up.  I say, throw the baby out with the bath water.”  Or you could say, “Hmmm, I’m not sure about how this affects how I feel about God, but I find it refreshing that God likes stories, and just because He tells a hell of a story, doesn’t mean He’s not real.  It might mean that possibly how I thought He created might not actually be a blow-by-blow account, and that’s okay, because my God’s bigger than any box I can put Him into.”

Isn’t that exciting?

[Post image: Henri Rousseau’s “The Snake Charmer” (1907)–his rendition of a black Eve in the Garden of Eden, Musée d’Orsay, Paris]

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