[b-hebrew] virgin vs. young woman

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Jul 10 01:39:01 EDT 2007

Dear Rev. Jim and all,

First of all, I appologize for sending my previous message off-list. This was not intentional. This one is back on the list, and listers are invited to read my message and Jim's reply below.


1. You (Jim) were the one who brought up the specific issue of Isaiah 7 being a prophecy of a virgin conception (although it was implied in the "Definite Article" thread), so you can't simply dismiss the matter. This list is a forum for discussion, not preaching.

2. My personal religious beliefs should have absolutely nothing to do with the way in which what I write here is received - and the same is true for yours. This list is NOT a faith-based community, it is one of academic scholarship. 

3. I don't know what your claim to being a "native" speaker of Hebrew is based on, but you are certainly NOT a native speaker of the dialect spoken in Jerusalem in the late 8th century BCE. What you think the word means in the Hebrew you speak is irrelevant. The only really relevant evidence is the word's context in the Tanakh. Cognates in other contemporary ANE languages are useful, but sometimes misleading. The way in which it was used or interpreted in later tradition, including the Septuagint, the Targumim, Rabbinic literature and early Christian literature is secondary at best. So the fact that the LXX has "parthenos" simply means that either that's how the translator(s) (and what do we know about them?) understood the passage, or that the word "parthenos" had a wider semantic range in 3rd century Koine than just "virgin" - I'm not enough of a Greek scholar to comment on that. And I'm sure that you know that there are those who believe that the story of the virgin conception in Matthew and Luke is based just on that - a misunderstanding of the text of Isaiah, caused by the fact that the authors of Mt. and Lk. were reasing the LXX and not the Hebrew (again, not my opinion, but an idea).

4. By the way, in modern Israeli Hebrew, which is the only Hebrew anyone can be a native speaker of, "almah" does NOT mean "virgin".

5. Sorry, Solomon's "sixty queens, eighty concubines and alamot without number" is from Song of Songs 6:8.

I actually have more to say, but I have to get to class, after which a quick trip to Ashkelon and from there taking a group of diggers from Gath to visit the neighboring Tel Yarmuth. Be back in about 14 hours.

Yigal Levin

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Rev. Jim Cunningham 
  To: Yigal Levin 
  Sent: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 7:32 AM
  Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] virgin vs. young woman

  Once again I will reiterate that the Hebrew verse we are disecting is a PROPHECY of a miraculous birth. The Jews have always believed this. It doesn't matter how much reinterpretation you wish to spin; you will not be able to overturn 3000 years of historical support for the meaning of alma in this verse. There is nothing about pushing religious agendas here, but you cannot discuss a religious book and edit out the religious part. Doing so makes a scholar unqualified to make a reasonable hypothesis. You cannot leave out the context of the words presented nor the time in which they were spoken nor the object of its reference. By quoting this verse, the New Testament writers make it clear that this alma verse is specifically linked to Jesus of Nazareth, and they perceived this context of alma to mean virgin even back then. The early Christians did not need to convince Jews of the time that alma references a virgin; it was already known. Even the Septuagint, written long before the N.T., uses PARTHENOS (virgin) in that Greek translation of the Hebrew verse. I believe the Septuagint to be a fraudulent book, but at least from an historical point of view even the  writers knew it meant virgin, and this was never contested by the Jews. 

  I do not know what Scriptures you are referencing by "sixty queens, eighty concubines and 
  alamot without number". Scripture states that Solomon had 700 wives and some 300 concubines. As a Jew, to whom Hebrew is native, I am telling you that Alma ONLY refers to a sexually untouched female. It neither now nor has it ever referred to a female that has been married and/or had sexual contact. You cannot rewrite the definition of this word. And I am curious to know why you are trying so hard to prove that it does not reference a virgin, unless you are trying to disprove the New Testament's virgin birth of Jesus (which would imply that you have a religious agenda).

  You said, "Both (traditional, non-Christian) Judaism and Christianity have a long tradition of "making scripture say what it should say", and claiming that the uninitiated cannot possibly get the "real" meaning just by reading the plain text. But that's what we are trying to not do here."
  Do you imply by this that you are "uninitiated" (i.e. not of the biblical faith)? If so, I do not understand why anyone who doesn't even believe in the faith should feel that he is in a qualified position to define to those who ARE in the faith what he feels is the "true meaning" of THEIR faith. The Jewish and Christian faith is not a democracy, it's not up for a vote. The Bible is THEIR book, written BY them. Whatever you choose to believe will have no effect on what the text actually says and what the "initiated" believe it means. I'm sincerely stunned at your presumption to think you know better what we have believed and have staked our lives and soul upon since the days of Moses. You don't know better than the Jews what their own book and faith says and means.

  Anyway, this is a tired debate waged by heretics for ages. I won't help continue it anymore. I just wanted to at least reply to everyone's response to what I said. 
  Jim Cunningham

  Yigal Levin <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il> wrote:
    Dear Rev. Jim,

    I won't repeat what's already been said about pushing religious agendas, but 
    please do take it to heart.

    There are several mentions of the word "almah", which at least imply that 
    she has had sex, or at least that her sexuality is the very issue. Think of 
    Prov. 30:19, "the way of a man with an almah". What else is this referring 
    to? Yes, you could argue that this means the man's wooing the girl and doing 
    "everything but...), but that's letting your pre-assumptions color your 
    understanding. And what about Solomon's "sixty queens, eighty concubines and 
    alamot without number" - the context clearly refers to the many women that 
    he "had", who all pale when compared to the beloved. But MOST OF ALL the 
    very passage under discussion. Isaiah is pointing at a young woman, saying, 
    "behold, the almah is preagnant and will have a son, and will call him 
    Immanu-El". The ONLY way in which that could mean a virgin, is if you have 
    some reason to make it mean so. Both (traditional, non-Christian) Judaism 
    and Christianity have a long tradition of "making scripture say what it 
    should say", and claiming that the uninitiated cannot possibly get the 
    "real" meaning just by reading the plain text. But that's what we are trying 
    to not do here.

    Yigal Levin

    ----- Original Message ----- 
    From: "Rev. Jim Cunningham" 
    Sent: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 1:47 AM
    Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] virgin vs. young woman

    > Hi,
    > I'm new here and I just read your posts. I've always considered the issue 
    > of virgin vs young woman an interesting and important issue.
    > The Hebrew word used was Alma in the Old Testament, as you know. As a Jew 
    > I can tell you that it does not simply mean "young woman", although it is 
    > describing a young woman. Alma specifically means a maiden or damsel - a 
    > young woman who has not been married/sexually touched. There is no such 
    > thing as an "alma" who has had sex. She ceases to be alma after sexual 
    > intercourse. Therefore, though "virgin" is not the strict definition of 
    > alma, "alma" does most certainly and emphatically refer to a virgin young 
    > woman. Besides this, the point of the verse in question declares that this 
    > pregnancy is a "sign", and the verse itself is a prophecy of that 
    > pregnancy and birth. "Young women" give birth all the time. There is no 
    > sign or miracle in that. "Unmarried young women" also give birth all the 
    > time, so there is no miracle in that either. The focus of the verse is 
    > that a miracle will take place, a sign - a sexually untouched "maiden" 
    > girl will conceive and give birth to Immanuel.
    > The New Testament writers, when quoting this verse, specifically used the 
    > Greek word "parthenos" - a virgin (we see this word in use with the 
    > Parthenon, referring to a vigin goddess). So in the minds of the Gospel 
    > writers, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the young 
    > woman's virginity was indisputable.
    > Kindly,
    > Rev. Jim Cunningham
    > King James Bible Ministries
    > ---------------------------------
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