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Navel or no?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Today in theological debate, mentioning Adam and Eve is likely to get you into discussion about the interpretation of Genesis 1, the age of the earth, or whether the Fall was a real historical event.

There was a time, however, when you’d have been pinned to the wall by your sparring partner and forced to declare your position on the thorny issue of whether or not Adam and Eve had navels.  While Monks spent time literally 'navel gazing' over the puzzle in the quiet of their monasteries, fierce rival factions warred outside over what they took to be a key theological battleground. When Michelangelo painted Adam with a navel on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he was labelled a heretic by some theologians.  In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne an English philosopher published his Pseudodoxia Epidemica in which a whole chapter was dedicated to the evils of ‘Pictures of Adam and Eve with Navels’, describing it a ‘vulgar error’.


Michelangelo dares to paint Adam's navel on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
 

The opposite team argued hard for Adam and Eve’s belly buttons, laughing-off accusations that they must have pictured God with one since the our first parents were made in His image. Unfortunately, this group had to deal with some internal politics as three distinct camps emerged; the pre-umbilicists, mid-umbilicists, and post-umbilicists.  The first group assumed that Adam and Eve were created with navels (usually in order to give the appearance of prior history, solving the infamous chicken and egg connundrum); the second posited that surely Adam’s navel was created when the Lord removed his rib to create Eve, and Eve went without; the third places the umbilicus on the pair after the Fall as a reminder that they’d been severed from the Lord, just as a child would be severed from his mother at birth.

The debate over whether Adam and Eve’s navels were intrusions (innies) or protrusions (outies) is still simmering in theology faculties around the country.