The Mishnah in Oholos 1:8 gives a list of 248 bones in the human body:
- 30 in the feet1
- 6 in each toe2
- 10 in the ankle3
- 2 in the shin3
- 5 in the knee3
- 1 in the thigh3
- 3 in the hip3
- 11 ribs4
- 30 in the palms1
- 6 in the fingers2
- 2 in the forearms3
- 2 in the elbows3
- 1 in the upper arms3
- 4 in the shoulder3
Thus far totals 101 on each side, or a total of 202. In addition, there are 18 vertebrae:6
- 9 in the head5
- 8 in the neck5
- 6 by the "openings of the heart"5
- 5 around its cavities5
If you couldn't tell by the little numbers, this list is very difficult for me to understand:
- How are these 30 counted? Is it 15 on each side, or 30 in each foot and hand? See also #2. Note that in a human adult there are 13 carpal bones and 12 tarsal bones in each hand and foot in an adult.
- How are these 6 counted? Is it 6 in each individual toe, and would perforce be counting tarsals along with metatarsals, or carpals along with metacarpals? Or perhaps it means there are 6 in each type of toe, i.e., 3 in each toe and finger? In the former case, we are forced to use the feet and hands as a part of the respective fingers they branch into. Where does that leave us with the 30 mentioned earlier? Is the Mishnah to be read "30 in the foot, which are part of the six in each toe"? In the latter case, perhaps one should read the Mishnah "30 in the foot which are six in each toe"?
- The first question from #1 still stands for all of these - are they counted on one side of the body, or both? Some of these numbers aren't even, which leads me to believe it's referring to each side individually, but see #6 below.
- The above question gets slightly tweaked regarding the ribs. Are they considered one all the way around, or two? Which ultimately still comes down to, "are there 13 ribs or 26"?
- What are these vertebrae referring to? In an adult, there are 26 vertebrae, not 18. Further, 9+8+6+5 is much more than either 18 or even 26. Perhaps these are not meant to be a sublist, but rather a list unto themselves? That is, 18 vertebrae plus nine bones in the neck plus eight in the head, etc. With this reading, Chazal probably saw the 12 thoracic vertebrae, the 5 lumbar vertebrae, and the sacrum/coccyx as the 18 vertebrae, but that doesn't leave enough vertebrae for the other numbers: there are only 7 cervical vertebrae, yet the Mishnah lists 8 in the neck. Maybe it counts the base of the skull as a cervical vertebra? Further, what are the other three items? Calling the skull 9 bones for 9 in the head is doable, but where are the 6 and 5?
- The biggest problem of all in the Mishnah: What I see as the straightforward reading - 101 on each side plus 18 in the middle - makes only 220 bones. As far as I'm aware, 220 is less than 248. So what happened to the other 28? Further, still keeping with the way I have presented the Mishnah above, just the fingers and toes, at 6 apiece, gives 120, much more than 101 off the bat. Yet if you count them to both sides, you're left with half-bones to each side (see #3)!
Before this gets closed as too broad, I would just like to point out that for the purposes of this question, you don't need to address all of my points as above, though it would greatly improve the answer if it did. All I am asking is: Given that the list, as presented, does not seem to make intuitive, anatomical, or mathematical sense, how, indeed, are the 248 bones counted?
If the final list comes out to be incompatible with modern anatomy to a degree that Chazal are making up bones, that will warrant an additional question at that time.
I hope I've made my objections to the Mishnah clear. If I haven't, just let me know so I can clarify.