The ‘Virgin’ Conundrum

Check out this link as a counter point to the Rabbi’s claims” (Xander)

I want to address this article and show I am taking this with some consideration. So here I go.

(1) I definitely concede the idea of ‘closed wombs’ and that being apparent within the Tanakh (namely the Torah stories). There definitely is a tradition of this story existing. One minor problem. In each of the ‘opened womb’ stories God allows a child to be created…are they now literal ‘sons of God’? Should I now consider Isaac in the same category of Jesus – they came about the same way?

(2) For the ‘almah’ argument – I have addressed this above in a few comments. The strongest being lingusitically was there an equal for ‘young girl’ within contemporary Greek? Or was this translated that way based on convenience – like Greek words for love into English?

(2a) From Singer’s link (one I provided) how come Isaiah uses ‘alma’ in Isaiah 7:14 (young woman or virgin) and uses the actual term for virgin (betulah) 5 times in Isaiah in other places. Why that kind of inconsistency on Isaiah’s part? Why not use ‘betulah’ in Isaiah 7:14 and save me all this typing?

(3) Isaiah 7:14 in context

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (or young woman) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”

If this is Jesus, where’s the curds and honey part in the virgin birth stories? What about the 2 kings…who are they? If I recall, Jewish people were still under Roman control (ie: land) during the whole mission of Jesus and quite beyond. No land was forsaken, no eating that meal is mentioned, and no need for a virgin birth in regards to context.

(4) The argument for ‘almah’ meaning ‘virgin’ within the short essay is quite wanting. There is no way they can make the jump they do based on the examples they give. They can assume a young woman would be a virgin, and I think that is a fair assumption to make, but they cannot outright say that when there is a Hebraic word for that same term (namely in Isaiah).

Just because I call someone a ‘young woman’ does not mean that I assume to use ‘virgin’ as it’s equal counter-part – specifically if I know the term for ‘virgin’ and ignore to use it.

*Comment mentioned on Carly Jo’s blog ‘Historicity of Jesus’

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23 thoughts on “The ‘Virgin’ Conundrum

  1. What if the context of the statement determines the word that should be used? If almah is being used when you have a woman who is of the age of marrying but not yet married the context and the wording still holds up with the virgin meaning. I think extra credibility to the virgin meaning can be seen when the word for sign also means miracle. Not much of a miracle for a young woman to become pregnant, but a virgin. There is a miracle for you.

    As for the curds and honey, those are represented of a common upbringing. He will grow up like any other normal child.

  2. “I think extra credibility to the virgin meaning can be seen when the word for sign also means miracle” (Xander)

    But it doesn’t actually say ‘miracle’ – just a ‘sign’…which does not actually connotate miracle automatically. It does connotate what is being said will happen as a ‘sign’ these things are true.

    Just like when we follow a sign that leads us down the right roads to where were going on the highway. It’s no miracle we got there but we followed the ‘signs’ and they were ‘true’.

  3. But the context is God telling Ahaz to ask for a sign as proof as to what God has said is to be true. That isn’t just a the road is over there sign. The intention conveys a sign of wonder or a miracle. Let God prove that what He says is true so the doubting Ahaz will know.

    Also, the word bethula is used to mean both young woman and maiden. So the word does not exclusively mean virgin. The NJPSV translates it as maiden more times than it does as virgin.

  4. “But the majority of the texts that are considered messianic do not have the word messiah present.” (Xander)

    I agree with this observation. Most of the passages that surround a messianic figure do not use the term ‘messiah’…I noticed that as well. Which could also beg the question about it’s validity at all.

    “But the context is God telling Ahaz to ask for a sign as proof as to what God has said is to be true” (Xander)

    God told who? Ahaz…in what century was this? So do you think the ‘sign’ had a dual meaning – one for Ahaz’s time and one for Jesus’ time? Cause to me it’s fairly obvious this ‘sign’ is Hezekiah’s birth and then the fall of the 2 kings lands (forsaken). I think we can all agree Hezekiah was not born of a virgin…or was he?

    The virgin concept is plainly un-needed and pretty much unwarranted in this context – namely if it contains a dual meaning – or else Ahaz would have never seen the sign and would have to call God a liar.

  5. I do not think virginity is the issue at hand, at all. Sin is the issue at hand, i.e. sexuality and the sacred. It appeared that Jesus could not be born to a woman that was touched by a single man (in a sexual manner), as this would suggest a destruction of purity for that woman (certainly Matthew sees this as apparent). We know that these types of sexual attitudes toward women exist to this day in religions of the world so why would it not be prevalent in Jesus’ time. We know that it was. The sexuality of a woman was viewed as inherently sinful. Jesus had to appear to be born within a pure and untouched vessel. Thus the mythology is born.

    It is also blatant that if Joseph is the REAL father (which Matthew says he actually is) then Jesus is just another Jewish dude. Matthew specifically contradicts himself terribly in the geneaologies of his account. He attributes Jesus’ bodily/physical/birth lineage and heritage to Joseph, not Mary or God the Father (Matthew 1:16). So then how can any beleiver reconcile the fact that Matthew utilizes the lineage of Joseph to trace Jesus’ origination.

    Then Matthew goes on to say that Joseph and Mary were married right after Joseph had a dream about the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary. Strange indeed. Virginity is some sort of a sacred ruse in this story and Matthew dedicates exactly 8 passages to this immense miralce. He barely even mentions it and then expects his readers to just accept it as a fact.

    Just some thoughts to consider.

    • “The sexuality of a woman was viewed as inherently sinful. Jesus had to appear to be born within a pure and untouched vessel. Thus the mythology is born.”

      yet the mythology was already around. every Cesar was born to a virgin, even if he was the second born (yet first male). could the author of Matthew be using this as a subtle play on the pagan mythos? a subversive marketing ploy from the beginning? it would fit in with James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance work. only later will the church start in on women specifically being sinful, that won’t happen until the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception solidified in 1476 when the interpretive lens would only let women be either a virgin, a mother or a whore.

      good stuff otherwise! you’re right on track with many scholars, just missing a few bits of history… they also end up at a different place than where you’re prolly heading with it… but so it goes. be well!

      • “yet the mythology was already around. every Cesar was born to a virgin, even if…”

        Yes, this is probably a somewhat correct statement. It goes on to show that ‘virginity’ is not really the big issue at hand, specifically if it was already in common usage for Roman mytholgy (if every reader understood this tidbit). Viriginity signifies a type of royalty, Matthew is utilizing this myth to show the lineage of Jesus as a royal; i.e. born of heavenly stock. It makes some sense in this light.

        The question is this: did Matthew foresee the universality of Jesus and his message? If he did (it is likely he desired this) then Matthew is not really a Jewish scholar as such, rather he becomes something that transcends Judaism. Matthew then approaches the territory of Paul who immediately saw and fought for the unversality of Jesus.

      • “The question is this: did Matthew foresee the universality of Jesus and his message? If he did (it is likely he desired this) then Matthew is not really a Jewish scholar as such, rather he becomes something that transcends Judaism. Matthew then approaches the territory of Paul who immediately saw and fought for the unversality of Jesus.”

        dude, you’re really onto something here! how much Spong or Crossan have you read? cause you’re right in their lines of thinking. the newest scholars are challenging Matthew’s Jewishiness and writing to a Jewish audience, which has always been the tradition. he misuses and misreads texts, the Isaiah virgin/young woman being evidence and Jesus riding BOTH a colt and a donkey on palm Sunday, thus misreading the repetitive nature of Hebrew poetry. Matthew is on a different track than originally thought, he’s more of a universalist like Paul than considered.

        great thoughts dude!

  6. “But the majority of the texts that are considered messianic do not have the word messiah present.”

    oohh.. well then… then none of them should be an issue. i don’t think the old was written for the new but the new written with the old in mind.

  7. I think you have two prophecies when you look at the passage, but in different parts. In verse 13 we see Isaiah addressing the whole house of David and not just Ahaz when giving his prophecy. Verse 16 can be seen the end of the two kingdoms that are threatening Judah, but is the boy mentioned here the child that is to come or the boy that Isaiah brought up with him in verse 3? Hezekiah was 25 when he became king, but Ahaz was only king for 16 years, so Hezekiah would have already been alive when Isaiah gave this prophecy.

    • yeah, i don’t read those as prophecy in the classic sense. i just read them as saying “if there is a woman who is with child, by the time that kid is weaned all this stuff will be over with.” not really a prophecy in the meta-future sense, more of the current events sense. so i’m with ya on your interp. of who and when these sayings are addressed to. i don’t think i would connected them to Jesus, which i think you do… am i right?

  8. “Hezekiah would have already been alive when Isaiah gave this prophecy” (Xander)

    Possibly, not sure about that – I would have to check into the timing on that – but I’ll follow you on this one.

    The prophecy shows no sign of being split into ‘2’ sections – there is nothing within that whole Isaiah 7 passage that would even lead to such a conclusion. The noun (boy) is used throughout the whole section connotating it as one whole piece – the noun or subject does not change. Hard for me to break that passage into 2 pieces based on the linguistics.

    Also, Hezekiah could of been born already when the prophecy was made – he just may have been young. The sign could still be about Hezekiah and how his birth signalled an end to some oppresive reign over the Jewish nation (ie: 2 kings and their taking of lands).

  9. “So then how can any beleiver reconcile the fact that Matthew utilizes the lineage of Joseph to trace Jesus’ origination…Then Matthew goes on to say that Joseph and Mary were married right after Joseph had a dream about the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary” (Johnny)

    It’s true, it seems like inter-woven stories which would lead one to believe there is an ‘addition’ to the text along the way.

    I firmly believe this could be the case. I believe there was a more Jewish Matthew version (much shorter than what is in the NT) that was floating around and matched Mark’s gospel (except included the sermon on the mount and various parables). But the faith had left Jewish territory at the end of the disciples lives – then it was left to the hands of only Gentiles. Additions likely appeared somewhere down the line, when and how is quite another story.

  10. “Matthew is utilizing this myth to show the lineage of Jesus as a royal; i.e. born of heavenly stock. It makes some sense in this light.” (Johnny)

    I agree. I think this myth (longside the usage of ‘son of God’) lend creedence to the idea Jesus was seen as royalty and important – to rival the Ceasar’s authority within Christian communities. I really have no problem with a myth being used as symbolic – makes a lot of sense.

    “If he did (it is likely he desired this) then Matthew is not really a Jewish scholar as such, rather he becomes something that transcends Judaism” (Johnny)

    This is where it all becomes tricky – based on what we assume of Matthew and his writing or collection of writings put into one gospel.

    I think there is definitely a strong Jewish imprint within that gospel, similar to how Mark can be viewed. However, I also know that Matthew has a very strong Gentile appeal…it has mixes of both in one (which might explain why this is much longer than Mark). However, I can say adamantly Matthew’s gospel is not about Jewish scholarhip – Judaism does not accept it.

  11. “I can say adamantly Matthew’s gospel is not about Jewish scholarhip – Judaism does not accept it.”

    Yes, no question that this is a true statement. But the question of Matthew’s gospel is in the intent. Did he pre-conceive that Jesus’ message and ideas were universal and not just Jewish-based, i.e. to reform Judaism. Or, was his intent to establish a whole other idea, i.e. that Jesus himself is beyond his Judaism.

    I think that this is the interesting thing about the use of mythology.

    Sure, Matthew started off in a strong and vibrant Jewish community of believers but did he foresee a universal Jesus that transcended this small group, as Paul did? What was his intent in the writings?
    It appears that his intention was to write a universal message and to spice that message up for his readers (thus we get virgin birth, miracles of all sorts, resurrection, and everything else). I think even ‘the Beatitudes’ might demonstrate this point very clearly. There is a very universal language in those passages that is in no way merely Jewish-centric, i.e. that only a Jewish believer would understand them.

    Matthew is uniquely Jewish as a individual but the Jesus he presents is a universal idea and not a Jewish reformer.

  12. “The prophecy shows no sign of being split into ’2′ sections – there is nothing within that whole Isaiah 7 passage that would even lead to such a conclusion. The noun (boy) is used throughout the whole section connotation it as one whole piece – the noun or subject does not change. Hard for me to break that passage into 2 pieces based on the linguistics.” (Societyvs)

    We have the prophecy of a son being born and then a reference to the two kings being defeated before the boy is of age. If the boy is referring to the yet to be conceived of child, then the timing of the liberation from these two kings would take about a year to occur at minimum up to fourteen years if the woman became pregnant soon. This is a rather open ended prophecy that is not going to provide much relief to Judah. Since this Now if the part about the two kings being over defeated before the boy comes of age is talking about Hezekiah, then that means God would deliver them with in the next four years but the future telling of the birth doesn’t apply to Hezekiah so your back to two parts of the prophecy. Now the impending birth could be a metaphorical reference so show that it would be with in the time it take to have a baby and since the two kings were defeated around a year from when this prophecy was given, that could be possible, but it doesn’t match up with vs. 9:6-7 which is a continuation talking about the promised child.

    I can not find a credible reference to any Caesar claiming virgin birth until after the time of Jesus. I can find stories of Julius Caesar being born via Caesarian Section, but there is no doubt who is father is. I do see where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, have stories about a virgin birth but they also have stories that are similar to that of Moses. Since these were written down in the 1 century CE, this could be the true tale or another example of Roman mythology stealing for other groups.

    I full agree that Judaism not accepting Matthew’s account, but then they don’t accept the New Testament as a whole either. One of the biggest sticking points between the two religions is that we claim the one they killed was the Messiah. Since the NT is basically all about that, I can’t imagine they would rush to embrace it.

  13. “but the future telling of the birth doesn’t apply to Hezekiah so your back to two parts of the prophecy” (Xander)

    I have no problem with this being a messianic verse – to be perfectly honest – my only issue is with it being used as proof for a virgin birth scenario. I don’t think the wording of the passage itself actually warrant that conclusion.

    The only reason this is a sticking point in Christianity and has to be interpreted that way is because of the virgin birth stories that were added to Matthew and Luke. Yet, those 2 stories are pretty weak in full comparison to the rest of the NT Literature.

    I always wonder why, within the gospels themselves, this subect is never broached? It’s almost as if this prophecy never existed? None of the debates Jesus has within the Judaism of his time ever bring this point up as ‘proof’ for the messiahship. In fact, nothing in a single gospel or epistles ever reference this idea. And it’s a pretty important idea when you think about it…it’s proof of someone being literally being born from God. So why do they ignore this key idea?

    It’s reasoning like that that makes me believe the virgin birth stories are clearly after-thoughts/additions. The literature itself doesn’t even point to such an idea within the very texts of any gospel or epistle.

    “Roman mythology stealing for other groups” (Xander)

    Possibly, or maybe Christianity stole the idea. I have a hard time believing they invented the idea within Christian circles personally. Again, this is based on the fact the only two times the virgin birth is mentioned at the beginning of 2 gospels and never again.

    “One of the biggest sticking points between the two religions is that we claim the one they killed was the Messiah” (Xander)

    It’s stuff like this that needs to end. Cause when I read the texts it was the Romans that executed him. The charge was ‘king of the Jews’…he was an affront to Caesar’s power. Now we know that Judaism of the time did not adhere to his messianic claims, nor do they still. Why can’t the difference be that they don’t believe he is the messiah and we do – not that we think they killed him (which has led to much anti-semitism in the past)?

  14. “Did he pre-conceive that Jesus’ message and ideas were universal and not just Jewish-based, i.e. to reform Judaism. Or, was his intent to establish a whole other idea, i.e. that Jesus himself is beyond his Judaism” (Johnny)

    I think both ideas are at work.

    (1) I think Matthew started within the community of the disciples in Jerusalem but as a type of reformation within Judaism. At this time there were a few strands of Judaism already – Essenes, Pharisees, Saduccee’s and Herodians, and even the Zealots. Some of these groups were favored by the temple authorities and some were not. I think Jesus starts in there somewhere – with a messianic twist and flavor. But I think Jesus’ original audience starts off clearly Jewish.

    (2) The disciples community is dispersed (we even see this in Acts) and eventually this becomes about the inclusion of the Gentiles (enter Paul and others). It is at this point when the gospel takes a more inclusionary tactic – for Gentiles as well as Jewish people – the messiah is for all peoples – not a select group.

    After the disciples are gone and the gospels are being constructed and maybe even re-constructed over time – certain stories make it in at the beginning and the end (ie: virgin birth and parts of Matt 28). It becomes a narrative story and no longer a piece-meal work of Jesus’ teachings – but a whole story.

    I read Matthew and it’s clearly been constructed as a story from beginning to ending – could be like a mini-novel sort of. Does anyone think this is how they were in their original formats or is this a later reconstruction of the teachings for a more readable format?

  15. Some orthodox Jews rightly claim that the word alma in the Hebrew of Isaiah 7 14 can simply mean a young woman and that the proper word for virgin is bethulah. That was an everyday occurrence..Second when 70 Hebrew scholars translated Isaiah 7 14 into Greek a few hundred years later in the course of developing an official Greek language Bible they chose the Greek word parthenos which can only refer to a person who has never had sexual intercourse a virgin.

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