[b-hebrew] Definite Article 7:14

Harold Holmyard hholmyard3 at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 10 15:52:01 EDT 2007

Dear Joseph,
> HH: I  should have been clearer. If the context lacked a specific person 
> that the  hearer could identify, he might have been able to understand 
> that the  reference was generic and indefinite.  
> JW:
> Genesis 14:13 is Narrative, not Dialogue.

HH: What difference does that make to the discussion one way or the other?

>  "If the context" lacked a specific  
> person 
> that the hearer could identify". The most likely explanation is that  the 
> identity is known to the speaker and not the hearer and the hearer  understands 
> this.

HH: It would be good if you identified exactly what you meant by the 
terms "speaker" and "hearer" because there is no direct speech in Gen 
14:13. The speaker could be the narrator; the hearer could be the one 
who hears the words read.
>  You want the possibility that the identity is known to the  Speaker and 
> the Hearer does not know that the identity is known to the speaker.  Even if 
> this is possible, isn't it unlikely? And considering that the same  Author is 
> writing the part for Speaker and Hearer isn't it more than unlikely  that there 
> would be this type of misunderstanding? Still waiting for an example  of this 
> in the Hebrew Bible.

HH:  If I accept that the escapee is the speaker and Abraham is the 
hearer in Gen 14:13, since the author is writing the part for them, what 
difference does it make whether or not Abraham the hearer knows the 
identity of the person speaking, beyond the fact that he is an escapee? 
And of course, the escapee knew his own identity as the speaker. And 
Abraham would know that the speaker knew his own identity. I think I am 
misunderstanding what you are saying. Are you perhaps ambiguously giving 
two different meanings to the term speaker (narrator and escapee).
> I'm beginning to fear that at the present rate of discussion the Messiah  
> could actually arrive before we determine his/her identity.

HH: Are you trying to identify whether the person in Isa 7:14 is or is 
not the Messiah? I think you can have it both ways, given the structure 
of the Book of Isaiah and the possibility for a double use of the words. 
I believe Isaiah uses Immanuel to speak about near events and also about 
far events. His appearance in chapter 8 (8:8, 10), a transition chapter 
between 7 and 9, points in this direction to me, since the historical 
Immanuel is an otherwise unknown person, yet the Immanuel in chapter 8 
may be an important person, like the child in chapter 9. There is a lot 
of reuse of elements from 7:14 in 9:6, which also suggests a relation 
between the two children.

>  In order to try and  
> avoid this contingency let me try to speed things up here. Regarding the  
> offending word of 7:14 and with Apologies to Isaac Fried, you and I agree that  
> the Hebrew Definite article is used. My position is that for starters this  
> indicates a defnite and therefore, known person to the Hebrew speaker, Isaiah.

HH: But you haven't proved that the definite article implies that the 
person is known to Isaiah in the sense that he knows the name of the 
person. Isaiah could simply know the person as a woman within God's 
prophecy. Even if the definite article clearly indicates definiteness, 
there is no requirement that Isaiah personally knew or could identify 
the person when he conveyed a prophecy that had a general application.

>   At 
> this point, whether or not this known person is known to the Hebrew hearer, I 
>  say that "the" is the likely English translation. I'm guessing that your 
> current  position is that you agree with me that this known person is likely 
> known to  Isaiah. Yes or no?

HH: This is a complex question, especially because this prophecy seems 
to involve a double fulfillment. I believe it had a fulfillment in 
Isaiah's time, and I don't think he knew what virgin he was speaking 
about there, since the term "the virgin" could be generic, one who is in 
the status of virginity. The generic use could become more specific as 
details pile up. Or it could have been a specific woman God informed him 
about in prophecy without his having any idea who in particular it was: 
someone in Israel. I think Isaiah associated Immanuel with the child 
described in chapter 9. However, how much Isaiah knew or did not know 
about the mother of the child in chapter 9 is unclear. All mothers are 
virgins at some point in their lives. The virgin in Isa 7:14 did not 
have to give birth while she was still a virgin. The understood verbs 
could be future: one who is a virgin (now) will in the future be 
pregnant and will be bearing a child.

>  I understand you think it possible that this person 
> is  unknown to the Hebrew hearer. Do you think that likely? Finally, if you 
> agree  that the person is known to Isaiah but think this person is unknown to the 
>  Hebrew hearer, do you think "a" is a possible translation or should be  
> probable?

HH: If by hearer you mean the person Isaiah was speaking to, of course I 
think it is possible that the virgin was unknown to him. No woman is 
mentioned in the context. It would probably be poor writing to speak so 
significantly about a specific person in the context and not even 
identify the person or even indicate that she was in the context. It is 
a bit doubtful that there was some particular person identified to all 
Israel as "the virgin." But this book was written for the nation of 
Israel. Not only that, it was written for future generations, as Isaiah 
elsewhere speaks of events in the future and of people who will live in 
the future. He addresses generations that go into exile to Babylon and 
later return to Israel. If you believe in the NT, then it was written 
for future generations for many centuries to come (1 Pet 1:10-12). So it 
would seem to be poor writing, if the woman was well-known, not to 
identify her for all these people, who were not there in Isaiah's time 
and would perhaps not otherwise know who he was talking about,

HH: I don't mind whether it is translated "the" or "a," but I think "a" 
sounds a bit more like normal English. I really don't know what you want 
when you ask whether "a" should be probable. It is the understanding 
behind the translation that is most important, not the specific word "a" 
or "the."
>> JW:
>> If I understand the category correctly  it is something definite to the  
>> author that is indefinite to the  immediate Hebrew hearer. I don't think 
> there is  
>> any such category  of Hebrew as the previous sentence has a natural  
>> contradiction.  If someone did accept such a category than they would have 
> a huge  amount  
>> of Uncertainty regarding whether any Author meant the Definite or   
> Indefinite. 
>> An uncertainty I have Faith you do not possess.
> HH:  Context could give clarification. If no virgin has been mentioned or 
> is ever  mentioned to the reader, he can gather that some other idea is 
> in view than  a clearly identified individual.
> JW:
> Based on your qualifications above, in general I find this logical.
>> JW:
>> Well you might want to do a current survey of  translations. I believe that 
>> now the majority of Christian  translations have "the". 
> HH: True, but English  allows a somewhat similar idea to the Hebrew use 
> of the article that I  learned. The reader can take "the virgin" as 
> generic if he chooses to do so.  It is the typical young woman in Israel. 
> She gets pregnant, bears a child,  and names him "Immanuel" because of 
> the hope she has in God and his  protection of Israel.
> JW:
> Yes, this is a superior translation because it uses what's written in  Hebrew 
> ("the") and you present a possible understanding. But translations should  be 
> based on probable and not possible. Same question as before though. Do you  
> think the young woman was known to Isaiah? Do you think the young woman was  
> known to Isaiah's immediate audience? If at least one of your answers is yes,  
> can you avoid "the" being the likely translation?

HH: I can only go by what the text says, and there is no indication in 
the text that Isaiah knew the person he was talking about or that the 
readers did. The generic use of the definite article seems to make 
assumptions about Isaiah or his audience knowing the person unnecessary.

HH: "The virgin" could signify the class of virgins in Israel. Isaiah 
could progressively particularize her. A particular virgin would be 
representative or symbolic of the virgins in Israel. In fact, with 
respect to Isaiah's own time, she and here son could be something of a 
personification of Israel's fortunes. Her naming her son as "Immanuel" 
would be typical of the sentiments of the young women in Israel, who 
trusted that God was with them to protect them as they raised their 

Harold Holmyard

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