na`arah

George Athas gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Wed Sep 29 01:55:22 EDT 1999


Joseph Crea wrote:

>     Pardon my breaking in on this thread but I'm confused.  If _na`arah_
> denotes (or at least implies) someone lacking in sexual experience, how
> come it's applied to Dinah (Genesis 34:3) AFTER her rape by Shechem?

I probably didn't quite make myself clear so I can understand your confusion, Joseph. The
*ETYMOLOGY* of the word _na`arah_ comes from the idea of "inexperience". This is not
restricted to sexual matters, but can refer to many other matters also. The word _na`arah_
is *DERIVED* from this meaning. By that, I imply that in the biblical text it does not
always mean "a girl with no sexual experience" - only that the word was originally
*derived* from that meaning.

> Is it
> a matter of DEGREE concerning sexual experience?

Not at all, because the issue of sexual experience has become of secondary importance in
understanding the word. "Inexperience" is the philological *derivation* of the word
_na`arah_. The actual *meaning* of the word is slightly different. In the biblical texts,
_na`arah_ is used in a number of ways. It can denote "girl", it can denote "virgin", it
can denote "single (as in not married) woman" (some widows included). In the ancient
society of Palestine, a _na`arah_ was not strictly a *physical* virgin; rather, it said
more about the woman's *marital status* than her sexual experience. In the case of Dinah,
although she was no longer a physical virgin, was still *legally* a _na`arah_. That is,
Dinah was still legally a single woman. It is a technical term which indicates a legal
status in the eyes of a community.

>  And what about
> Deuteronomy 22:13-21
> (especially verse 15) in which the parents of the married _na`arah_  are
> presumed to be able to produce evidence of the "tokens of virginity"
> (_betulim_) of the _na'arah_?

This is where we must distinguish between _b:tulim_ ("virginity") and a _na`arah_ ("single
woman"). The parents were to provide evidence that their daughter, before she legally
became an _'išah_ ("wife"), did not engage in any sexual acts. There are many reasons for
this practise which must be understood in the milieu of the ancient cultures of Palestine.
For further discussion about this, I suggest Matthews & Benjamin, "Social World of Ancient
Israel" as a starting point.

The bottom line is that a _na`arah_ is a technical term for a single woman - ie, a woman
who is not currently married, but is of marriageable age, irrespective of her actual
sexual experience. In the biblical texts it doesn't usually denote the sexual experience
of the subject, only the subject's legal marital status. The word was merely derived from
the idea of "inexperienced".

I hope this clarifies the issue a little. Apologies for my unclear comments.
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GEORGE ATHAS
 Dept of Semitic Studies,
 University of Sydney
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Tel Dan Inscription Website is at
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