The influence of realia on biblical depictions of childbirth

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5 Scopus citations


As is well-known, the first part of a newborn's body to emerge during a standard birth is the head. In a breech birth, which is much more rare, the baby enters the world bottom-first. There is no evidence at all of babies exiting the womb with their arms outstretched. Yet biblical accounts of childbirth contain explicit and implicit descriptions of the hand as the first limb to emerge from the womb. In this note, I argue that this erroneous depiction is a reflection of the real life situation of the biblical authors. Since men were not present at childbirth, their knowledge of the process was limited and stereotyped. In contrast, men were very familiar with the birthing of sheep and cattle. Typically, the front legs of a newborn sheep or calf emerge before the body. Male biblical authors relied upon their knowledge of the birthing of sheep and cattle to describe the births of human infants, mistakenly supposing that these two different processes were identical.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-689
Number of pages5
JournalVetus Testamentum
Issue number4
StatePublished - 5 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Birth narratives
  • Gen 25:25-26
  • Gen 38:28-30
  • Realia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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