[b-hebrew] virginity

Tory Thorpe torythrp at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 22 04:02:22 EDT 2007

On Jul 21, 2007, at 10:40 PM, Steve Miller wrote:

> [Steve Miller] Tory,
> Could you translate your Hebrew quotation, and explain when and by  
> whom it
> was written? Thanks,
> -Steve Miller
> Detroit
> www.voiceInWilderness.info

Dear Steve,

This quote is from the Mishnah tractate Niddah i 4.

  איזו היא בתולה כל שלא ראת דם מימיה אף  
על פי נשואה

My translation:

"Who is a BTWLH? She who has never yet experienced a flow of  
(menstrual) blood, even if she is married."

Danby's translation of the Mishnah, which usually renders BTWLH by  
the English word "virgin," leaves the word BTWLH untranslated at this  
point and with good reason: a girl below puberty is not a virgin if  
she has had intercourse in a marital relationship. An appropriate  
translation would be "pre-adolescent girl".

As for date and author, the text itself is not younger than the  
codification of the Mishnah by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch; but the  
lexical definition of BTWLH is probably much older than the Sages of  
the pre-tannaitic period (ca. 200 BCE–10 CE). I believe one can say  
that it is preexilic with a fair amount of confidence. Emphasis on  
physical virginity began to be placed on the Akkadian term BATULTU  
solely in the Neo-Babylonian period according to extant marriage  
documents (cf. A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, rev. ed.  
[Chicago, 1977], p. 77). But before the Neo-Babylonian period BATULTU  
was an age distinction for pre-nubile girls, and only implicitly for  
untouched virgins (cf. J. Finkelstein, "Sex Offenses in Sumerian  
Laws," JAOS 86 [1968], pp. 355-72). In the Mishnaic definition of  
BTWLH there is considerable overlap between an unmarried girl who is  
a virgin and a married girl who is no longer a physical virgin but  
who is still a pre-adolescent. This clearly harks back to the concept  
of pre-pubescence and the time when cognate Semitic terms were not  
restricted to the modern idea of virginity, i.e. BTWLH as pre- 
adolescent girl, married or unmarried, virgin or not, seems to have  
survived the semantic shift that occurred with BATULTU in the period  
of the Babylonian Exile.

Tory Thorpe

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