[b-hebrew] virginity

Tory Thorpe torythrp at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 18 21:45:30 EDT 2007

Dear Bill,

On Jul 18, 2007, at 6:03 PM, Bill Rea wrote:

> Tory wrote:-
>> If Isaiah had intended physical virginity to be clearly understood he
>> would have undoubtedly wrote "woman/girl whom no man had known..."
>> which is the manner in which the Hebrew author of Jdg. xxi 12
>> expresses physical virginity so as to remove any possibility of  
>> doubt.
> This is an assumption on your part. As such you can't elevate an
> assumption to a fact. The Judges 21:12 can easily be read otherwise.
> To insist that the author must have added ``whom no man had known''
> to remove doubt is a reasonable assumption but no more reasonable
> than believing the author was engaging in repitition for literary
> effect.

It is more than merely an assumption when one considers, for example,  
the annunciation formula in the Hymn of Nikkal from Ugarit: hl glmt  
tld bn, "Look, the almah will give birth to a son" (UT 77:7). This is  
strikingly similar to Isa. vii 14. Ugarit and ancient Israel shared a  
conventional idiom, but used it differently. Cyrus H. Gordon always  
rendered glmt (= almah) in Ugaritic texts by "maid" and never  
"virgin" since another text from Ugarit puts glmt in parallelism with  
'att ("wife"), thus showing that the two are synonymous terms. The  
implication is that the etymological counterpart of Ugaritic glmt in  
BH may also be applied to a young wife. Gordon wrote: "almah means a  
'young woman' who may be a virgin, but is not necessarily so" (JBL 21  
[1953], p. 106). I don't think its possible to be more nonpartisan  
than that given the evidence currently available. Nothing has really  
changed since H. Schultz, Old Testament Theology (Edinburgh, 1892),  
II p. 414, agreed with the rabbinic understanding that almah has to  
do with years of age, not marital status or chastity per se.

One needs to evaluate your assertion that the negative expressions in  
Gen. xxiv 16 and Jdg. xxi 12 were added by the biblical author merely  
for literary effect against the evidence from Sumerian and Akkadian.  
Similar negative expressions are used in these languages; there is no  
single word for "virgin". There is no one word for "virgin" in  
Ugaritic or in Mishnaic Hebrew. I would also add Biblical Hebrew  
because of the way betulah is defined in the Mishnah and in the  
cognate languages of the ancient Near East. In this instance at  
least, I could cite others, the Mishnaic Hebrew illumines the BH. For  
other examples, see R. Gordis "Studies in the Relationship of  
Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew" Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volumes (New  
York, 1946), pp. 173-200; idem, "Biblical Hebrew in Light of Rabbinic  
Usage" in Sepher Tur-Sinai (Jerusalem, 1961), pp. 149-167.

Tory Thorpe

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