[b-hebrew] Definite Article 7:14

Tory Thorpe torythrp at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 15 22:02:19 EDT 2007

On Jul 15, 2007, at 4:02 PM, Harold Holmyard wrote:

> Dear Tory,
>>  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.
> HH: Your accusation seems wrong because "a particular theology" is not
> necessarily why people say that the word generally should connote a
> virgin. Also, Christian theory is taking into account
> Eigenbegrifflichkeit, and that is what leads some to make the  
> assumption
> that the Hebrew word would imply virginity.

Cow dung. There is simply no basis for the "generally should connote  
a virgin" in your first sentence apart from a particular theology.  
The commentary does not take Eigenbegrifflichkeit into account at  
all, else the commentators would not have said "but not married" as  
if almah cannot be used to describe a married woman, which is totally  

> The Jews who translated the Septuagint in 200 B.C.E. or so  
> evidently felt that the word implied a
> virgin.

False. The "Jews" who created the LXX did not restrict the meaning of  
PARQENOS to physical virgins (cf. Gen. xxxiv 3). So you cannot say it  
implies physical virginity in Isa. vii 14 even in the Greek version.

> In addition, the law of Moses required that women be virgins
> before they were married. This word seems to describe young women,  
> women
> before they were married. So one assumes that they were virgins.

What word are you talking about?

>> 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:
> HH: How is it that a Christian comment is partisan, but the JPS study
> Bible is non-partisan? How is JPS non-partisan?

The JPS footnote is nonpartisan because it does not attempt to  
restrict the meaning of almah to a physical virgin, as you do  
constantly. Any comment, be it from a christian or a martian, which  
attempts to narrow the definition in such a way that physical  
virginity is "generally to be assumed" is partisan.

>>  "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."
> HH: True, but quite a number of scholars believe that the word, while
> not strictly requiring virginity, would have been associated with  
> it in
> Israel.

The word almah simply connotes youth, as does the masculine form, in  
the TaNaK. But saying that youth is associated with virginity, while  
true in almost every culture, is not a given in one where pre-teen  
and teenage marriages are the norm. A female or male Israelite is no  
longer considered an elem/almah after a certain age, not necessarily  
after marriage or after they have had sex (cf. BDB s.v. elem, "young  
man," almah, "maid or newly married").

>>  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").
> HH: Nowhere does the Song of Solomon indicate that the women dubbed
> "almah" were part of a royal harem. The young women in Israel could  
> have
> swooned at Solomon the way that young women nowadays swoon at  
> Hollywood
> hunks or star athletes.

Then you would make the sixty queens and eighty concubines whose  
wives in Israel? All of these women in Song of Sol. vi 8, i.e. "sixty  
queens, eighty concubines, and alamot without number," were part of  
the royal harem; but the Shulamite who was not part of the harem  
turns out to be the king's favorite (v. 9) and the women of the harem  
praise her. That's the irony of the text. So you are rather missing  
the point.

>>  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.
> HH: You're right that it is obvious that "the prophetess" is a name  
> that
> Isaiah gave his wife, since he is describing a woman he has sex with,
> and Isaiah was a man of God. Your theory requires the unsubstantiated
> assumption that Isaiah had two wives, the second of which was a virgin
> at this time.

It does _not_ require that the second was a physical virgin.

> Since having two wives simultaneously was not God's ideal
> (Genesis 2), I do not want to saddle Isaiah with the assumption of his
> being bigamous.

This is a problem for you the christian, not the preexilic Torah- 
observant Israelite.

> Of course, if the woman had been his wife for any time
> at all, it would be odd if she was still a virgin.

You keep reading "virgin" into almah without demonstrating that the  
woman in Isa. vii 14 was that. Yet we know she is described as being  
pregnant when Isaiah spoke to Ahaz because of the verbs. All you are  
doing is forcing the text into a straight jacket because you seem  
incapable of thinking of almah as anything but a physical virgin.

Tory Thorpe

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