[b-hebrew] Definite Article 7:14

Harold Holmyard hholmyard3 at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 15 22:52:10 EDT 2007

Dear Tory,
> 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 false.

HH: There's no biblical reference which indicates that "almah" describes 
a married woman.
>> 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.

HH: Yes, there are exceptional cases with PARQENOS, but the word 
generally means virgin and does so dozens of times in the OT. Dinah had 
been a virgin until Shechem raped her at the eventual cost of his life.

>> 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?

HH: 'almah.

>>> 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.

HH: The culture required virginity of the young women who weren't 
married. This word does not describe married women in biblical times as 
far as we know.
>>> "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").

HH: It is a given where death can be the penalty for a violation of a 
norm commanded by God. Israel was special in this regard.

>>> 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?

HH: Queens and concubines have a different position in society than 
'almahs. So just because Solomon had queens and concubines in his harem 
did not mean that he had "almahs" in his harem. The word does not seem 
to be used of married women. However, an almah was a potential wife, for 
Solomon multiplied wives. So a young woman who admired him could cherish 
the hope of becoming a wife. Possibly he had virgins in his harem at 
some time, such as for a wife-choosing context (e.g. Esther and Xerxes).

> 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; 

HH: You haven't supplied any evidence for that.

> 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.

HH: She became his wife. The almahs were not necessarily women of the 
harem. And that would not necessarily be the point anyway. Solomon and 
the Shulammite had a beautiful love relationship. The praise of the 
'almahs for Solomon just enhances his perceived desirability. The poem 
extols the desirability of both lovers, and glorifies the experience of 
romantic love.
>>> 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.

HH; Well, it's a term used of unmarried women. I don't see it used as a 
term for married women elsewhere.
>> 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.

HH: God allowed Israelistes to have more than one marriage, but it was 
not his ideal. God ordained the man and woman to unite in marriage. A 
woman does not want to unite with her husband's other wife.

> 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.

HH: Some translations agree with you: NRSV and CEV. I don't think the 
case is uncontestable that the verbs show that the woman was already 
pregnant. It is a prophecy. When the verb has to be supplied, it is 
supplied with the tense that suits the context. Many translations 
understand that the tense for the implied verbs is future:

New American Standard Bible: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a 
sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will 
call His name Immanuel.

New International Version: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a 
sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and 
will call him Immanuel.

English Standard Version: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a 
sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call 
his name Immanuel.

New Living Translation: All right then, the Lord himself will give you 
the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to 
a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

The Message: So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for 
this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a 
son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).

New Century Version: The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin 
will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel.

Holman Christian Standard Bible: Therefore, the Lord Himself will give 
you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

Harold Holmyard

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