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Virgin Mary, Really?


There has been some debate about the nature of the prophesy- or supposed prophesy- of the virgin birth. I looked into, and got some interesting results. The challenging idea, I hope I do it justice, is that the virgin birth was actually a gentile idea that was borrowed and applied to Jesus, for whatever reason. The counter-challenge, to the challenge is found most notably in Isaiah 7:14, which was written long before Jesus’ birth, and therefore the idea of a virgin birth existed before any gentile could have built a makeshift idea of the virgin birth. The problem comes in when you realize that the word translated ‘virgin’ in Isaiah 7:14 does not explicitly mean virgin. The word is question is almah and could mean a young girl.
“Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” -Isaiah 7:14. This clearly seems to be talking about Jesus. That is, until you put it in context. I won’t type it all here, but here’s a link to check out: Isaiah 7.

So we have some questions.
1. Is Virgin an accurate translation?
a) Is almah commonly translated virgin?
b) Why did Isaiah use an ambiguous word?

2. Who is the prophesy about?
a) Does the context imply a fulfillment long before Jesus’ birth?
b) What do we know of other supposed individuals to fulfill prophesy?

1. a) Is almah commonly translated virgin?
Almah is translated into English most commonly as maiden, according to my concordances that used KJV or RSV. In context it was never used of  a married woman or any woman who is suspected not to be a virgin. In fact, the word almah is always used talking about a woman who is about to be married. It is not in reference to virginity or not, but to her martial status.
b) Why did Isaiah use such an ambiguous word?
There were plenty of other words that could have been acceptable meaning either virgin or young girl- too young for marriage. Naarah is translated as young woman only in reference to age. Bethulah is translated virgin. Almah has connotation of virginity and is a reference to age. So what the hell, right? I think the answer to the next question will shed light on this one.

2. a) Does the context imply fulfillment long before Jesus’ birth?
Yes. It seems clear from the context of the text that this baby would be born while Aram and Ephriam are still going strong, and before the child could know right from wrong Aram and Ephriam would be destroyed. It puts a time frame on the baby that is long before Jesus. Jesus is not this supposed Immanuel.
b) What do we know of the other candidates to be this Immanuel?
In 8:3 the NLT says “I slept with my wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.” “went to” in the NIV is a bad translation. It should be “drew near”, a euphemism for sex. The son they have, Maher-shalalhas-baz, could be this Immanuel. This makes a lot of sense, actually, because before he could speak, so it was prohpesied, Assyia destroys Aram and Ephriam (Damascus and Sumeria). The parallel between chapter 7’s Immanuel prophesy and chapter 8’s Maher-shalal-hash-baz seems pretty significant.

Conclusion: Maher-Shalal-hash-baz was prophesied about in Isaiah 7:14 as Immanuel. He symbolized God not allowing Judah to be destroyed. He was a sign that GOd was protecting his people, the meek. Isaiah used the ambiguous term, almah, because when he first prophesied, the woman in question was a young girl, but too old for naarah, and also a virgin. However, by the time the prophesy was fulfilled she was not a virgin. In fact, if the septuagint did not translate almah as virgin, then author of Matthew would probably not have included that scripture in Matthew 1:23. However, I do think it is good that the septuagint was translated this way, and that Matthew did include the scripture. Mary did meet the qualifications of almah no less than the prophetess in Isaiah 8. And Jesus equally represented Immanuel- God not allowing his people to be destroyed by sin. The only difference is Jesus became the object of salvation, not just a representation. There is nothing wrong with this assertion that the text of Isaiah 7 and 8 are both literal and allegorical. Is it necessary to believe this to believe in God, or in the person of Jesus? No. But it’s not hard to believe that a God who created the Universe can create an ingenious dual meaning of scripture.

Also, to address the idea that the gentiles are responsible for idea of the virgin birth applied to Jesus, I disagree. It is the translators of the septuagint that are responsible, before gentile influence.

Thoughts???

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  1. January 19, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    I am a bit confused here.

    “Is almah commonly translated virgin?
    Almah is translated into English most commonly as maiden, according to my concordances that used KJV or RSV. In context it was never used of a married woman or any woman who is suspected not to be a virgin.

    b) What do we know of the other candidates to be this Immanuel?
    In 8:3 the NLT says “I slept with my wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.” “went to” in the NIV is a bad translation. It should be “drew near”, a euphemism for sex. The son they have, Maher-shalalhas-baz, could be this Immanuel.”

    Isaiah already had a son, so are you saying that this new woman in 8.3 was Isaiah’s new wife, who would have wed after the giving of the prophecy in 7.14?

    • January 19, 2011 at 3:26 PM

      Xander, that’s a great question! I did not clarify at all, and I am sorry. It is supposed to be a new woman from the sources I used. Two of the resources mentioned a second wife, but I did not investigate why that woman was supposed. Even if the child is from the same woman the main ideas would still stand, the only difference would be the original meaning for almah. It would not, then, mean a woman about to be married but a woman about to be with child. The question of why did Isaiah use such an ambiguous word would become more significant and be more strongly perceived as a dual prophesy relating to both Maher-shalal-has-baz and the Jesus from the New Testament.
      If you want, you can look into Isaiah’s marital status, I’m sure you could find some good information both from the original text and from commentaries. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it, Xander.

  2. January 31, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    “Also, to address the idea that the gentiles are responsible for idea of the virgin birth applied to Jesus, I disagree. It is the translators of the septuagint that are responsible, before gentile influence.” (Carly Jo)

    I wouldn’t apply their being some kind of conspiracy of ‘Gentile influence’ but it realistically happened and influenced most of this conversation about this passage – namely about Jesus’ messiahship.

    (1) You mention the Septuagint – the greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. What was the need for a Greek version at all? It wasn’t even the Jewish community that commissioned this activity – but the Greek territories. Gentile influence at the most key level – translation (approx 100 to 300 years prior to the time of Jesus). The beginning of any bible we know today started with this process right here.

    (2) The term almah is not messed up in Jewish Hebrew – which is why we know what it means – it’s messed up in the Greek. The translation process was not clean nor perfect – like translation from any language to another – words are not going to be exact. In the case of almah, which I think you have interpreted accurately, they applied a basic terminology to it for a young woman. This isn’t really a problem, until later Christianity wants to use it as a ‘proof text’.

    (3) Who actually included the proof text fot Matthew 1:23, the virgin birth story for that matter. This was never a requirement for the messiah in ancient Judaism, this can be verified via Talmud and current Jewish beliefs on messiah. The original disciples were all Jewish – followed their Judaic faith – and not once do they ever hint about this idea from the gospel conversations, to Acts, to Paul. So where did this come from?

    (4) Gentiles in Roman territory were quite a mixed bunch religiously – since the Romans allowed all cultures to keep their faiths alongside the Greco-Roman pantheon. Now think about a local city in Roman territory and we can easily see how many Gentile ideas on religion would have co-mingled – not unlike today’s city life. Virgin birth would have been a known topic in Gentile territory, Caesars were claiming something similar and if not them, the Egyptian and Greek gods had similar birth stories. Add in the Septuagint’s similar stories of their great patriarchs, and poof, Jesus needs one too. Seems like a status thing to me.

    So whether we look at the reason for translation of the Tanakh, to the messianic beliefs, to Paul’s Gentile missions, to the development of the NT texts, or to sharing religious ideas everything is colored with some level of Gentile influence.

    I would personally find it odd for Jewish people to have started every one of those trends – the motive is lacking for such development. Yet, we know Jesus and his 12 disciples were Jewish, did they start such a radical change to Judaism? Or is it much easier to prove Gentile influence that entered Christianity did so, which had motive to do so? Reason one being, inclusion…as we can see from Paul’s letters they wanted to be Jewish and in Acts they were being denied room in the synagogue when the Christians started coming around.

    • February 5, 2011 at 3:28 AM

      Society, you’re right. Especially when saying a motive is lacking to have started “those trends”. That is unless it is indeed true. Truth seems to be a pretty compelling motive for the gospel writers, and Jews (Christian or not). While I will not refute what you have asserted, I will note there is room for truth to be factored in. So, if the virgin birth is actually true as the bible depicts, namely in Matthew,… […]

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