[b-hebrew] Definite Article 7:14
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
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