[b-hebrew] virgin

michaelabernat9001 at sbcglobal.net michaelabernat9001 at sbcglobal.net
Mon Jul 16 14:11:58 EDT 2007

I found the recent discussion on virginity somewhat surprising. It sounds as if some of our members do not believe that it was normative for a young woman in Ancient Israel to be a virgin or that the law punished a woman who was not a virgin when she married. 
Please, clarify if I am misreading.

Concerning Deuteronomy 22:14ff. the Mishnah states in Sanhedrin 1:1 "But the Sages say: He that hath brought an evil name [must be judged] by three and twenty, for there may arise therefrom a capital case." The footnote in my copy comments that this is because the woman may be stoned if the court decides against her. 

Josephus comments on the same verse , "but if the damsel be convicted, as having been corrupted, and is one of the common people, let her be stoned, because she did not preserve her virginity till she were lawfully married; but if she were the daughter of a priest, let her be burnt alive."

Concerning the definition of almah, I understand that we have a parallel to Isaiah 7:14 in a Ugaritic clay tablet. Someone else will have to verify this statement. I don't have a copy available to me but Gordon commented on the passage, ". .  the Ugaritic statement that the bride will bear a son is fortunately given in parallelistic form; in 77:7 she is called by the exact etymological counterpart of Hebrew 'almah 'young woman'; in 77:5 she is called by the exact etymological counterpart of Hebrew betulah 'virgin.'" (C. H. Gordon, "'Almah in Isaiah 7:14, " Journal of Bible and Religion, XXI, 2 (April, 1953), p. 106.). This suggests that the words were at times used synonymously.

Personally, I would have inferred that if almah does indeed come from a root meaning "hidden," that an almah was young enough to be under her father's protection. I would not expect English to have an exact equivalent. I would anticipate from that context that it might be rendered, "a young woman," "a girl living in her father's harem," or by implication, "a young virgin." Understanding how English words develop, I would expect that each of these meanings might be intended in different contexts.
Michael Abernathy

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