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ha‘almah harah: "a young woman is pregnant"

Discussion in 'Biblical Debates' started by gnostic, Jul 3, 2013.

  1. gnostic

    gnostic The Lost One

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    I know that we already have a couple recent topics about Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14 verses. But I like to approach this verse from Isaiah 7:14 at a slightly different angel.

    With most Christians favoring it as a virgin birth of Jesus, while others who had contributed (and even a few Christians) believed that it has nothing to do with a virgin or the virgin birth or with Jesus (or with the messiah), that Matthew had taken Isaiah's verse out-of-context.

    Now, according to the Christian perspective, in which a number of them favored the KJV translation:

    But for others, even including Christians, this same verse is translated into English significantly different. Here, I have used translation from the New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS) or the 1985 translation of Jewish Publication Society):
    The NRSV is very similar to the NJPS.
    For the sake of comparison, I have included here the Hebrew transliteration:
    Everyone accept and agree with, what follow "ha'almah harah"; so we can ignore the rest of Isaiah 7:14, and just concentrate on "ha'almah harah".

    It is "ha'almah harah" that the source of contentions and disagreement with fellow RF members.

    We have already bashed the word "almah" to death (from previous topics), on the actual meaning of the word. For Christians it would mean "virgin", but for others it would mean "young woman". In Hebrew, there is already a word for virgin - betulah, but we still cannot agree, who is right and who is wrong.

    Like, I said I want to approach this issue of context, from a different angle, so we concentrate more "harah" than on "almah".

    OK, let's get started on this new topic.

    For Christians, "harah" is a verb, with future tense, so for them, it would mean "to conceive" or "will conceive" or "shall conceive" (as used in KJV).

    But according to modern linguistic experts and scholars on the Hebrew language, this Christian translation or interpretation of harah have been incorrectly used.

    In most case, the English language used gender-less verbs, nouns and adjectives, but Hebrew, like many other languages, placed emphasis on either masculine or feminine words, whether they be verb, noun or adjecvtive.

    And this is one sticky point of the word harah, because it can either be masculine verb or feminine adjective.

    As far as I can tell, the only use of masculine verb of harah, was used in Psalms 7:15, "to conceive", sort of like "to plan" or "to conspire", which had nothing to do with making baby.
    The use of masculine harah in Isaiah 7:14, would be contextually incorrect, for clearly almah is a woman, girl...female. So, a feminine harah had to be used.

    But in Hebrew, harah is an (feminine) adjective, not a verb. So when translating harah with the feminine voice and present tense, the correct English term would be "is pregnant".

    So "ha'almah harah" in Isaiah would be "the young woman is pregnant".

    Contextually, NRSV and NJPS are correct with their translation "the young woman is with child", which has the same meaning as "the young woman is pregnant".

    I like to stress that harah is a present-tense adjective with a feminine voice.

    Now going back to Isaiah 7. We see that Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel have formed alliance against Ahaz of Judah (Isaiah 7:1-3). The sign (Isaiah 7:14-17) was assurance to Ahaz that this hostility against Judah would end shortly, because a woman at that very moment, was already pregnant. Hence:

    Isaiah is telling Ahaz, right there and then, to look (hinneh): That the woman standing before them, is pregnant. It makes no sense, for Isaiah tell Ahaz to "look" or "behold", if the woman isn't present.

    If you're not satisfied with my reasoning on harah, then here is a similar speech in another verse, in another setting.

    Hagar, Abraham's concubine, was Sarah's slave girl that Sarah brought back from Egypt. When Sarah couldn't have a child, she gave Hagar to her husband. Hagar became pregnant, but Sarah was jealous and treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away. (Genesis 16)

    My point is this. Hagar was presently pregnant, when she ran away, and when she encountered an angel that said this:

    Clearly, "you have conceived" (NRSV) means that Hagar was currently pregnant, therefore, harah is present tense, and not prophecy of future event that haven't happened yet.
    And it is the same here, in KJV: "thou art with child", which mean she was pregnant.

    So my question is:
    Why do KJV translate "shall conceive" (future tense) in Isaiah 7:14, but "art with child" (present tense) in Genesis 16:11?
    It would stand to reason that Isaiah 7:14 is a mistranslation of harah, since KJV translation (or Isaiah 7:14) is based on the Greek (LXX) Matthew 1:23, and not on the original Hebrew.

    The translation of harah in KJV is clearly not consistent.

    Similarly KJV's inconsistencies are found in Exodus 21:22 - "hurt a woman with child" (harah is used here again, present tense) - and Amos 1:13 -."they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead" - (harot is used, but as past tense instead of, though not future tense; "harot" is plural, while "harah" is singular, because it say "women with child" instead of "woman with child").



    Why is "harah" Isaiah 7:14 so special and different from other translated verses?
     
    #1 gnostic, Jul 3, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2013
  2. dantech

    dantech Well-Known Member

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    Is there a reason you keep writing "harad" rather than "harah" that I may be missing?
    And "Hinneh" literally means "Here", as in "Here, look at what I am showing you."
     
  3. Levite

    Levite Higher and Higher

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    Actually, I think translating hineh as "behold," is probably fairly accurate.

    As Dantech pointed out, it's harah, not harad.

    The thing with Biblical Hebrew is that it actually doesn't have past, present, and future tenses, it has perfect and imperfect. The perfect tense is roughly equivalent to past tense, representing concluded or resolved actions. But the imperfect is more or less equivalent to both present and future, representing occuring, ongoing, or future actions.

    A word like harah is in the imperfect. One knows what "tense" to translate in depending largely on context. But it is perfectly possible for it to be "present" in Genesis and "future" in Isaiah, and not be inconsistent.

    To my mind, the word to look closely at in Isaiah isn't harah, it's almah, which relentlessly gets translated into Greek and thence into Latin and English as παρθενος / virgo / virgin, which it does not mean. The error goes as far back as the Septuagint (which, despite being nominally a Jewish translation, is nonetheless rife with errors), but it is an error.

    Ancient Hebrew had a word for virgin. It is betulah (בתולה), an extremely common word. The word almah does not mean "virgin," it means "young woman." It is simply a case of plain meaning.

    While the error of the Septuagint may have been for poetic reasons, or for mere incorrect vocabulary, the persistence of the error in later translations is undoubtedly due to its perceived support of Christological readings.
     
  4. gnostic

    gnostic The Lost One

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    Sorry, my mistakes.

    I've corrected the spellings.

    Thanks.

    I didn't know the literal meaning to "hinneh".

    Most of the English translations I've seen were either "look" or the archaic "behold".

    I don't read Hebrew, nor do I get the transliteration, so I normally use English translations, make comparison with a bunch of translations, to determine the context of the originals.

    For it is, a hit-and-miss, trying to determine which context is correct. Sometimes, there are no correct context, because of the barrier between languages.

    What do you think of my proposition?

    Is the claim or argument valid?

    Have the Matthew and the traditional church view on Isaiah 7:14, about harah, made mistake on the meaning "to conceive", "will conceive" or "shall conceive"?

    For now, I'm off to bed. So goodnite. :sleep:
     
    #4 gnostic, Jul 3, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2013
  5. dantech

    dantech Well-Known Member

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    Right you are. I couldn't think of the word behold, so I explained it in a way that pretty much means the same thing.
     
  6. dantech

    dantech Well-Known Member

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    You're welcome!


    I think that in Isaiah 7:14, I can say, pretty much without a doubt, that it means: "Behold, the young lady is pregnant" meaning she has already conceived and is already with child. Otherwise, I think the "behold" would be out of place. Also, there is nothing in the word "Harah" that would suggest an event in the future. Most words that suggest something in the future are preceded by the letter Tav which gives a T sound before.
     
  7. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    I'm not sure what a 'relentless' translation might be. Furthermore, it was translated (relentlessly or otherwise) into 'parthenos' about which ...

    From the Jewish Virtual Library:
    "relentless translation" ... "nominally Jewish" ... "rife with errors" ...
    ... this is just silly. ​
     
  8. CG Didymus

    CG Didymus Veteran Member

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    How ironic a misspelled Hebrew word in a post about mistranslating, misinterpreting and pretty much completely changing a verse to suit ones purposes. But besides that, great point Gnostic, if the young lady was already pregnant, regardless if it was by God or by a man, then what does the verse have to do with Mary 700 years later? I can't wait to hear some of the Christian responses to your post.
     
  9. Sleeppy

    Sleeppy Fatalist. Christian. Pacifist.

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    So, 'betulah' definitely means virgin, whereas 'almah' may refer to a virgin..
     
  10. gnostic

    gnostic The Lost One

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    Hi Levite

    By the time I posted a reply to dantech, I saw your reply but it was a bit late for me to engage with you.

    Thank you, Levite.

    I am certainly no expert in other languages, especially with Hebrew. The only language that I know is English (as in speak, read and write), and even with English I'm not expert in my primary language. I can speak a bit of Cantonese Chinese, but apart from reading and writing numbers 1 to 10, I don't know how to read and write Chinese.

    I was looking at the Hebrew transliteration (in the OP) and using a few words that I do know in Hebrew transliteration in comparison with the English translations. (Those "few" are almah, betulah, ben and hinneh.)

    I was, and had, used the transliteration as I would in English, with future, present or past tense. I wasn't aware that Hebrew used Hebrew equivalents (perfect or imperfect), which aren't exactly like the English tenses.

    Thank you for explaining the perfect/imperfect word, differences between these 2 languages.

    I was using "harah" and comparing the translations with the Hebrew word, but in comparing them all in accordance with English TENSES.

    Judging by the (English) usages of harah, they were either written with past tense - like that of Amos 1:13 - and present tense - like with Isaiah 7:14, Genesis 16:11, Exodus 21:22 and Jeremiah 31:8.

    With those translations in mind (NJPS, NRSV, and even with KJV), the correct translation for harah would be "is pregnant" or "with child".

    Isaiah 7:14 is an oddity in KJV ("shall conceive", future tense), especially when we compared other references to harah in other verses. And most of these other verses used present tense (in English) words "with child", instead of future tense variants to "to conceive".
    Which reminds me a question (or two) I wanted to ask a Jew. What is a Hebrew translation for a woman "to conceive", "will conceive" or "shall conceive"?

    Is it "harit"?
    I read in another thread that Shermana used harit for a woman "to conceive" (I think), as in future tense, or if you like, feminine imperfect verb. But I would like some verifications from other Jewish members.

    I want to reply further, but I need to get ready to leave.
     
    #10 gnostic, Jul 3, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2013
  11. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    Do you read?
     
  12. Levite

    Levite Higher and Higher

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    Yeah, harah is usually used as an adjective, sometimes used as a noun (usually in the form ishah harah) generally means "pregnant" (ishah harah being "pregnant woman"), but it can also be used as a verb, meaning "to conceive." "Pregnancy" is herayon, from the same root.

    Herit is not a form of the word known to me. There is the possessive feminine hartah, "her pregnancy," an archaic Biblical plural herot, for "pregnancies," and I seem to recall in Hoshea the phrasing heriotav, more or less "her pregnancies by him." But herit I don't know, and a casual glance at the entry for harah in Gesenius shows nothing of the kind.

    But in terms of tense, harah (if being used as a verb) is an imperfect, and thus could be rendered, depending on context, either in present or future tense. The perfect form would be tahar, "she conceived."

    The very article you are citing involves the author posting the critiques of others responding to his own previous contention that parthenos is a mistranslation. And, if you want to play musical interpretations, Joel Hoffman (never shy on translation opinions) says in his blog:

    Granted, Hoffman also ends up thinking that, while not Christological, the narrative in Isaiah may well describe a pregnant virgin regardless of the translation of almah, but the linguistic point remains.


    It is a strange thing that the article there at JVL starts out by claiming that betulah is ambiguous and requires modification to become unambiguous. And yet virtually all of the Tanach texts cited in the article use the word without modification, and seem quite unambiguous.

    FWIW, when I was studying with the late Rabbi Dr. David Leiber (z"l), who was among the chief editors of the Etz Chayim chumash (among many other scholarly pieces of work), he stated that the word betulah was unambiguous, and the few apparently ambiguous usages were to be regarded as oddities of idiom, not strictly correct usage. I seem to recall hearing something along the same lines from Dr. Ziony Zevit.

    The Septuagint is well known for errors of accuracy. It is a received translation, but so is Targum Onkelos, or Targum Yonatan, and they aren't even translations by modern standards, so much as paraphrases-- in the case of Targum Yonatan, a fairly midrashic paraphrase. I don't know whether the Septuagint's errors are midrashic or the result of paraphrase or because of ignorance or whether there truly were radical lingual shifts that, for some reason, the Rabbis and the Gaonim simply did not find significant enough to object to. But Rav Saadiah, who, as you know, translated the Tanach into Arabic, had words of criticism for the accuracy of the Septuagint, as did Ibn Ezra, who was arguably the greatest linguistic commentator of the Middle Ages.
     
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  13. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    The question is not whether almah 'means' virgin but whether or not parthenos was a reasonable translation. It was.
     
  14. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    The you should have little trouble in referencing "well known" and peer reviewed textual criticism of the LXX.
    Meaning?
     
  15. Levite

    Levite Higher and Higher

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    In the Encyclopedia Judaica article on Bible translations, in the subsection on the Septuagint, they say:
    The older Jewish Encyclopedia says:

    I don't have time to run down journal articles right now, but they are fairly common, if you've got one of the academic distribution house accesses, you should be able to find any number. I'll try to hunt up a few quotes later.
     
  16. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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  17. gnostic

    gnostic The Lost One

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    When I was a teenager, I used to accept the "Christian interpretation", of what Matthew claimed in (his gospel) 1:22-23 - that this sign from Isaiah had to do with Mary and Jesus.

    Re-reading large parts of the bible (of both OT and NT), a year or so after I began Timeless Myths (in 1999), AND after about 10 or so years hiatus (of not reading the bible or interested in religion), made me rethink a lot of things that I had learned when I was younger. (Though, I was never a Christian, I did nearly join my sister's church; it was she who introduce to me the Bible.)

    Isaiah 7:14 is just one of those that I had to rethink.

    As a teenager, when I read Matthew 1:23 verse, I didn't think to check what the chapter (Isaiah 7) that Matthew had quoted from. If I had to double-check what I was reading, I would know it (Matthew's claim that it had to do with Mary and Jesus).

    I know now that Isaiah 7:14 had nothing to do with a virgin, messiah, virgin birth, Mary or Jesus, because 7:14 is not a complete sign. The complete sign - Isaiah 7:14-17 - clearly indicated that the child is linked to the event that was happening in Isaiah 7:1-3, Isaiah 8:1-18, 2 Kings 15:29, 2 Kings 16:5-9. The sign when read as they are, was clearly assurance to Ahaz that hostilities by Judah's neighbors (Aram and Israel) will cease when a child (Immanuel or Maher-shalal-hash-baz, both are the same person) reached a certain age (Isaiah 7:15-16 - "eat curds and honey" & before knowing "right and wrong" - and Isaiah 8:4 before the child learn to say "mother" or "father").

    When I considered all of these variables, I came to realization that Matthew had taken Isaiah's verse out of context, and this sign had nothing to do with a virgin birth or messiah.

    Judging by what Isaiah was saying "Look, the young woman is with child...", clearly indicating this young pregnant woman was standing before Isaiah and Ahaz, and telling Ahaz to look at this woman. And verses 15, 16 & 17 (as well as that of Isaiah 8:3-4) showed that the sign will be fulfilled in Ahaz's lifetime (as well as that of Isaiah's lifetime), and not some 700 years later.

    Isaiah 8:1-4 indicated that the child Immanuel is Isaiah's own son - Maher-shalal-hash-baz:
    While 8:6-8 further connect Immanuel with Judah (8:8), with the King of Assyria (8:6) and the two kings (Rezin and Pekah in 8:7).
    And 8:18 indicated that Isaiah and his children are the signs.

     
    #17 gnostic, Jul 5, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2013
  18. Sleeppy

    Sleeppy Fatalist. Christian. Pacifist.

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  19. gnostic

    gnostic The Lost One

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    I think and believe that almah only denote the woman approximate age - of being "young".

    Sure, it could means she is a virgin, but it could also mean she is not a virgin. The word almah doesn't say or mean one way or another that she is a virgin.

    Surely, a young woman could be married and already have a child (or more) before she turn 21. She would still be young.

    So, almah mean "young woman", not "virgin".

    On the other hand, betulah mean "virgin". And betulah can be a virgin - young or old.

    A woman, for instance, could be 40-year old and still be a virgin, because betulah doesn't say anything about the woman's age.

    Do you understand, sleepy?
     
    #19 gnostic, Jul 5, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2013
  20. CMike

    CMike Well-Known Member

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    After Levit explains something it's hard to find anything else to add in.
     
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