[b-hebrew] Almah vs. Bethulah in Isaiah 7

tladatsi at charter.net tladatsi at charter.net
Sat Apr 2 01:01:38 EST 2005

It is the case that both the Hebrew word *almah* and the 
Greek word *parthenos* have two meanings, either a woman of 
any age who has never had sexual relations or simply a 
young woman of marriageable age.  It is not that different 
from other languages, e.g. German (Jungfrau vs. Junge 
Frau).  The word by itself can have either meaning or both 
at the same time. The only way to determine the intended 
meaning is by the context.

For me, the key contextual element is it is not all unusual 
for a young woman to give birth to a baby but it is 
completely unheard of in the OT for a virgin to give birth.   
Nowhere else in the OT does such an event occur.  If the 
author of Isaiah had meant that the mother of l)wnmm( was a 
virgin, an unexpected, unprecedented, and miraculous event, 
it would be reasonable for the author to call attention to 
this fact.   However, the author draws no particular 
attention to this amazing fact.  It is stated as a flat 
fact and not mentioned again.  This would suggest that the 
author was not attempting to describe something unusual.

The second contextual element is how the rest of the text 
handles the same issue.  Isaiah uses the word *bethulah* 
(hlwtb) in other settings where the author clearly means 
virgin (Isa 23:12, Isa 37.22, Isa 62.5).  Both of these 
contextual elements would suggest that the author of Isaiah 
had meant in 7:18 a routine birth by a young women rather 
than miraculous birth by a virgin.

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