virgin: _BETHULAH_ and/or _(ALMAH_
Jonathan D. safren
yonsaf at beitberl.ac.il
Mon Jan 29 03:49:23 EST 2001
The way I see it, the whole problem with this discussion is whether you wish
to view Isaiah 7:14in its context or use it as a Christological prophecy.
If the verse is to be viewed as a Christological prophecy, then I have
nothing to add to this discussion, so please leave me out.
If the verse is to be viewed in context, which is the only basis for
philological - and not Christological - discussion, then the whole idea
behind it is that some woman will very soon give birth, or has already given
birth, to some child, and before that child is old enough to know the
difference between good and evil, Aram Damascus and Smaraia will be carried
away into exile by Assyria.
In other words, this is a prophecy of impending salvation for the
sore-pressed House of David and Kingdom of Judah, delivered around 735 BCE,
and borne out by the conquests of Tiglath-Pileser III.
Seen that way, it doesn't really matter, for the purposes of understanding
the implications of the prophecy, whether 'almah means virgin, young woman,
or whatever, though, from a logical point of view alone, it would appear
that some married woman - whoever she is - is being referred to. Married
women are generally not virgins, as far as I know.
Jonathan D. Safren
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Beit Berl College
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dan Wagner" <Dan.Wagner at datastream.net>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Monday, January 29, 2001 9:45 AM
Subject: virgin: _BETHULAH_ and/or _(ALMAH_
> I freely confess that the issue of "virgin" [_BETHULAH_ and/or _(ALMAH_]
> a difficult one for any of us. There are, at least, potential problems no
> matter what you do with either word. In the case of _(ALMAH_ we beg for
> data, but don't have it. In the case of _BETHULAH_, we have plenty of data
> but struggle desperately for consistency, and seemingly can't find that
> Here is my take on the issue:
> _BETHULAH_ is as Dr. Athos said, a social term indicating a single or
> marriageable person. It is a *social* term. _(ALMAH_, on the other hand,
> a *technical* term which more closely approximates our "virgin" in regards
> to sexual inexperience. I think finding association with _(LM_ as
> "covered/hidden" works well with this. That is why it is used in Prov. 30
> the marvel of the way of a man who is able to woo a (fearful?) _(ALMAH_
> marriage union (although there is a significant textual question here if
> should be "the way of a man in [his] youth"; see most of the versions and
> think some Heb. mss. also), thereby taking "mastery" over her just as a
> snake can master going straight up a rock, a bird through the sky in
> fight--something elusive for the rest of creation, and like a ship which
> able to sail gracefully across the ocean. (I cite this Proverb since it is
> the passage most commonly used to attempt to discount the idea of "virgin"
> for _(ALMAH_).
> Thus, Isaiah uses the term _(ALMAH_, the technical term, because a
> social-class term would not drive home his point of a miraculous event in
> the way the more technical term does. He also uses _(ALMAH_ because it,
> unlike _BETHULAH_, is the only word that can never be demonstrated to
> reference a woman of sexual experience.
> The usage of _(ALMAH_ in later Hebrew, whether Mishnaic or as reflected by
> the Syriac Peshitta, has little bearing on the issue of its 8th cent. BC
> usage by Isaiah. There is little continuity in later Hebrew--let alone in
> Aramaic dialects--with BH, especially for rare BH words.
> Concerning Jan Britten's comments re: the LXX of Isaiah, i'll grant that
> there are certainly better LXX sections such as the Pent., but *generally*
> speaking when i go to LXX they are doing OK in Isaiah, and better than
> other portions. What would be of greatest value to our discussion would be
> study of LXX translation of Isaiah's rare Hebrew words (assuming one
> translator, though substantial work has been done to try to demonstrate
> even identify multiple translators of Isaiah, making a real mess for us to
> evaluate things!). I would be willing to revise my position on that issue
> with substantial data for review (although this one point would not affect
> my overall argument, and in any case it is still a pre-Christian, unbiased
> HOWEVER, all should note that my argument regarding Isa. 7:14 was not
> uniquely or even primarily on the term for virgin. Rather, the strongest
> evidence is based on necessary implication from a context requiring some
> kind of a miraculous _)OT_, whereas "any old girl" giving birth to a baby
> *cannot* meet that requirement. No one responded to that point.
> Also, the time is future--remote future--because Ahaz rejected it (though
> was, as often the case, still *presented* in terms of imminence and
> virtually like the _futurum instans_, considering the following
> and so Isaiah moves on from singular to plural, from Ahaz to the "house of
> David," from present to the logically future. Ahaz never saw *that*
> sign of Immanuel, though he did see some "bad stuff" happen as a
> of his faithlessness (cf. v. 9 to Ahaz, "If you do not stand firm in
> you will not be left standing").
> The near context of a "Son/Child" to be born and to reign in Isa. 9:5(6),
> also divinely titled as "mighty God", and again presented in terms of
> extreme imminence (WAYYIQTOL verbs here! as if it were already done as far
> as God and the prophet were concerned), further supports my position on
> 7:14. Likewise for the "nobody" born to the "stem of Jesse" (Isa. 11:1ff),
> unexpectedly sprouting up from his roots in the remote future, who would
> the greatest King of all (and certainly this was *not* fulfilled in
> Dan Wagner
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