[b-hebrew] Definite Article 7:14

Tory Thorpe torythrp at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 15 11:48:12 EDT 2007

On Jul 15, 2007, at 3:11 AM, Bryant J. Williams III wrote:

> Dear Tony,
> Just because it is from a Christian commentary does not necessarily  
> make it incorrect or even against list guidelines.

I was under the impression that promoting one's theological views was  
a (scholarly) no-no here. The portion of the commentary you quoted, I  
actually agree with some of it, pushes for the definition of "almah"  
from a distinctly christian theological standpoint: "the term  
'ha'mah' (sic!) denotes 'a girl of marriageable age,' but not  
married, and therefore a 'virgin' by implication." This is wrong.  
It's not wrong simply because it comes from a christian commentary.  
It's not wrong because I disagree with it. It's wrong (a) because it  
is an assumption that promotes a particular theology (perfectly  
suitable for the commentary but against list guidelines?) and (b)  
does not take into account the importance of Eigenbegrifflichkeit  
when studying cultures and languages.

The assumption that physical virginity is implied in almah may seem  
reasonable from a christian point of view; but it is not an  
assumption that any scholar familiar with (b) would make. Thus the  
very nonpartisan view expressed in the footnote to Isa. vii 14 in the  
JPS study Bible: "All modern scholars, however, agree that the Heb  
[almah] merely denotes a young woman of marriageable age, whether  
married or unmarried, whether a virgin or not." This sense is already  
in archaic BH where we see that the plural of almah may denote a  
separate category of young wives in the royal harem among queens and  
concubines (Song of Sol. vi 8; cf. BDB s.v. almah, "maid or newly  
married"). The semantic range is the same in the MH; in later  
rabbinic vocabulary and idiom; in later medieval vocabulary; and in  
modern Hebrew. Basically, there is no reason whatsoever to believe  
that almah, by itself, was ever a term restricted to unmarried  
physical virgins in the Hebrew speech community.

Since list members appear to be doing exegesis in order to explicate  
the definite article, it seems to me that "the young woman" in Isa.  
vii 14 is an expression similar to the way a man may refer to his  
wife in BH as in Gen. iii 12 and Jdg. xiii 11. In both of these  
examples the woman has already been introduced and is present when  
her husband is speaking, but in Isa. viii 3 "the prophetess" has not  
been introduced. Clearly Isaiah's wife is meant, and the motif  
connecting "the prophetess" and "the almah" suggests to me that the  
two women (assuming they are not the same) were Isaiah's wives. Both  
gave birth to children who served as signs for the impending doom of  
the Syro-Ephramite coalition, but the almah before the prophetess:  
"the almah is with child (HRH) and is bearing (the Masoretic  
participle YLDT) a son" (vii 14); "she [the prophetess] conceived and  
bore a son" (viii 3). This birthing order makes sense since the name  
of the child in viii 3 indicates that Samaria and Damascus are to be  
pillaged immediately, even before Maher-shalal-hash-baz learns to say  
"abi" and "imi", whereas the fall of the two cities relative to the  
birth of Immanuel in vii 14 occurs before the child learns to choose  
good over bad.

Having switched to the first-person in ch. viii, Isaiah refers to  
"children whom YHWH gave me for signs..." (Isa. viii 18).  But ch.  
viii only mentions one child. Though the meaning of the name Shear- 
yashub in vii 3 suggests that that child too was a sign to Israel,  
the only other child in Isa. chs. vii-viii actually associated with a  
sign similar to Maher-shalal-hash-baz (who seems to have been born to  
Isaiah after Immanuel) is Immanuel. So if the definite article  
implies anything in Isa. vii 14 it is probably that the almah in this  
case was a/the young wife of Isaiah (a young woman absolutely well  
known to the writer!); Immanuel was another of Isaiah's children, the  
second born, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz the third. These two children  
in particular were significant in terms of the recent crisis with  
respect to Samaria and Damascus. Both nations were to be defeated by  
the Assyrians while Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz were still  
very young.

Tory Thorpe

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