Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On the Virgin Mary

HAARETZ: Was the Virgin Mary a virgin? This ancient question boils down to the origin of the word 'virgin' in biblical texts, and the evolution of belief. Elon Gilad wrote this one as well, and researched it rather more carefully than his survey of Hebrew literature. Aside from the odd little glitch, such as the annoying use of "prophesy" as a noun, it looks accurate. Excerpt:
It bears noting that the gospel of Matthew was actually penned many decades after the death of Matthew the Apostle by an unknown writer, who wrote in Greek. He evidently never read the original Hebrew text of Isaiah, but settled for reading the Greek translation, the Septuagint.

So, the author of Matthew may have wanted to show that Jesus’ birth also fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy. He quotes from the Book of Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew 2:23).

The Isaiahic text is apparently not discussing any prophesy of a future Messiah: he seems to be talking of an actual child born at the time. But that is beside the point. More important is the fact that the original Hebrew text does not actually say "virgin."

The word in Isaiah (7:14) translated as "virgin" is alma, which just means young woman, irrespective of her sexual history. The Hebrew word for virgin is betula.

What misled the anonymous Greek-speaking writer of Matthew is that the Septuagint rendered alma into the word parthenos, which could be used to mean young woman but more usually meant virgin.
Nothing new here to anyone familiar with basic New Testament scholarship, but it might be interesting information to the article's target audience.