If the virgin Connie Swail thought that she had it tough, then she should try being one of the virgins mentioned in the Bible. Every now and then, someone challenges the belief that the prophet Isaiah prophesied about a virgin giving birth.
Recently, the Huffington Post published a commentary by Dr. Joel Hoffman titled “Five Mistakes in Your Bible Translation”. In the first paragraph Dr. Hoffman states the following:
In the original Hebrew, the 10th Commandment prohibits taking, not coveting. The biblical Jubilee year is named for an animal’s horn and has nothing to do with jubilation. The pregnant woman in Isaiah 7:14 is never called a virgin. Psalm 23 opens with an image of God’s might and power, not shepherding. And the romantic Song of Solomon offers a surprisingly modern message.
Well, it didn’t take long for people to challenge Hoffman’s claim about the woman in Isaiah 7:14, who is called a virgin in the Septuagint. I participated in the challenge by posting the following comment:
In Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word being translated as “virgin” is literally translated “maiden”. Its Hebrew-to-English transliteration is “alma”. So, technically Dr. Hoffman is correct about the literal translation of Isaiah 7:14. However, he errs by claiming that the word “alma” cannot be translated as “virgin”. In Genesis 24:43 the same word “alma” is translated as “maiden”, and the word refers to a young woman who has not yet been married. Indeed, in this particular verse the word “alma” is referring to Rebekah prior to her marriage to Isaac. In ancient times, a young woman who had not yet been married was expected to still be a virgin. So, whenever a woman was described as being a maiden (alma), people assumed that she still had her virginity. That is why in Isaiah 7:14 the word “alma” is translated as “virgin”, because when Isaiah was alive, an “alma” was supposed to still be a virgin.
My challenge is supported by the late Dr. Rachmiel Frydland , a Talmudic Hebrew scholar who stated the following about the use of the word “alma” in Isaiah 7:14:
This word usually, if not always, refers to a virgin. The 70 Greek Jewish scholars who translated the Holy Scriptures into Greek in the third century B.C.E. translated “alma” into the Greek word “parthenos” which means “virgin”. The equivalent term in the cognate language to Hebrew, Ugaritic, also means “virgin”.
Of course not everyone agreed with my reply to Dr. Hoffman. One HuffPo reader admitted that the woman in Isaiah 7:14 was unmarried, but the reader insisted that the woman didn’t have to be a virgin. The reader stated, “If I said the “young unmarried girl” (almah) next door is pregnant, you’d just think she got knocked up out of wedlock. But if I said the “virgin” (betulah) next door is pregnant, you’d be a bit more surprised, no? ”
My reply: During ancient times it was taboo for a young, unmarried girl to become pregnant. Indeed, it would have been sinful for such a girl to have sex outside of wedlock. So, yes, it would be surprising for a child conceived through a sinful act to be called Immanuel.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Dr. Hoffman’s commentary was published during the time of year when people celebrate the birth of Jesus, who, according to the New Testament, was given birth by a virgin. Such a birth is associated with the coming of the Messiah, which is something that non-messianic Jews claim hasn’t happened yet. Regardless of how one interprets the Hebrew word “alma”, it is clear that the New Testament describes Mary the mother of Jesus as being a virgin when Jesus was born.
Ironically, Mary herself has been the object of a false teaching. Unlike the woman in Isaiah 7:14, who is accused of not being a virgin, Mary is accused of remaining a virgin.
Matthew 1:24– 25 of the New American Bible says the following: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.”
The Douay-Rheims version of Matthew 1:24 – 25 says, “And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the
angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”
In his book Word Meanings in the New Testament, Dr. Ralph Earle has this to say about the use of the word “knew” in Matthew 1:25 :
The verb is ginōskō, which does mean “know.” But this is a euphemism for “have sexual relations with.” A chaste translation that conveys the meaning is: “But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son” (NIV). Incidentally, this implies that he did after Jesus was born.”
Perhaps this explains what Bill Clinton meant when he claimed not to know Monica Lewinsky. Unfortunately for him, the FBI was able to interpret the stain on Lewinsky’s blue dress.
Anyway, virgins in the Bible are still subjects of controversy. Perhaps we need Joe Friday to solve these cases. He has experience working with virgins.