The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14
232 Pages
English

The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14

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232 Pages
English

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Jerusalem, around 735 BC. Two armies threaten the Holy City to overthrow the dynasty of David. Ahaz, king of Judah, is consumed by fear and worry. Then the prophet Isaiah delivers his message: the 'alma is pregnant, she bears a son, and gives him the name Emmanuel.
What is the meaning of the word 'alma? Without doubt more has been written on the interpretation of this term than on any other verse in the Old Testament. Is it a question of a virgin, as claimed by the fathers of the church, or of a young woman, as asserted by the majority of modern scholars?

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Te Mother of the Infant King,
Isaiah 7:14Te Mother of the Infant King,
Isaiah 7:14
‘almâ and parthenos in the World of the Bible:
a Linguistic Perspective
Christophe Rico
and
Peter J. Gentry
WIPF & STOCK• Eugene, Oregon THE MOTHER OF THE INFANT KING, ISAIAH 7:14
‘almâ and parthenos in the World of the Bible: a Linguistic Perspective
Copyright © 2020 Christophe Rico and Peter J. Gentry. All rights reserved. Except
for brief quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may be
reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.
Write: Permissions, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR
97401.
Wipf & Stock
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paperback isbn: 978-1-4982-3016-2
hardcover isbn: 978-1-4982-3017-9
ebook isbn: 978-1-4982-3018-6
Manufactured in the U.S.A. February 26, 2020Contents
Translators’ Prefa |c evii
Abbreviations | ix
System of Transliteration for Hebrew and Greek | xi
Acknowledgements | xiii
O Immanuel! | 1
Te Problem| 5
Evolution of the Meaning of part in Ahenoncies nt Greek | 11
Arguments Used to Defend the Interpretation
of ‘alm as “â Young Woman”| 22
Semantic Study | 66
Conclusion | 161
Appendix I | 169
1) RASHI, Ashkenazi| 169
2) Rabbi MOSHE BEN JACOB IBN EZRAH, Sephardi| 170
3) DAVID KIMHI, Sephardi | 171
4) ABRAHAM IBN EZRA, Sephardi | 171
5) ELIEZER DE BEAUGENCY, Ashkenazi| 172
6) ISAIAH DI TRANI, Italia|n 173ָ
ְ
7) JOSEPH KASPI, Sephardi | 174
8) LEVI BEN GERSHON (GERSONIDES), Sephardi | 175
9) LEVI BEN GERSHONIDES), Sephardi | 175
10) YAPHETH ABOU ALY, Karait|e 176
Appendix II | 178
Introduction | 178
Te Context and Historical Set|t in180g
Outline of Isaiah 7:1-25 | 182
Exposition of the T |ext 183
Textual Criticism of ת in Iא ָרקsוaiah 7:14 | 189
Textual Problem in Proverbs 30:19 | 199
Lexical Study of ץוק | 208
Te Larger Literary Struct| ur216e
Conclusion | 217Translators’ Preface
ne might think translation of a short work would be easy and simple, O but such is not the case.
Te initial rendition from French to English was the work of Adam
Paul, a student at Te Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College, in
Toronto, Canada.
Stephen W. Kempf devoted many hours to correcting and improving
the initial translation.
Peter J. Gentry checked and polished the translation in consultation
with the author, Christophe Rico. Zachary Tomas edited the translation
for style before Peter Gentry made a fnal revision. Te entire process has
taken approximately four years.
Te Introduction up to and including Appendix I is the work of
Christophe Rico. Appendix II is the work of Peter Gentry, who also helped
to improve earlier parts of the book, in particular, the textual criticism of
Proverbs 30:19.
Christophe Rico
Peter J. Gentry
viiAbbreviations
General Abbreviations
c. Century
lit. Literally
MT Masoretic Text
JB Jerusalem Bible, 1973
LXX Septuagint
Vg Vulgate
Talmud and Tosefta
b. Babylonian Talmud
y. Jerusalem Talmud
Tos. Tosefa
Tractates of the Mishna
Arakh ‘Arakhin
Hag Ḥagigah
Ket Ketubbot
Kid Ḳiddushin
ixAbbr e vi atio ns
Kin Ḳinnin
Nid Niddah
Sheb Shebi‘ith
Sot Sotah
Yeb Yebamot

ֱ
ֲ
ֻ
ָ
ִ
ֶ
ַ
ֹ
ֵ
ְ
ָ
System of Transliteration
for Hebrew and Greek
Hebrew
Consonants
א ’ הָ â
ב b יֵ ê
ג g יִ î
ד d ו ô
ה h ו û
w āו
ז z ē
ח ḥ ō
ט ṭ a
י y e
כ k i
ל l o
m uמ
נ n ă
ס s ĕ
ע ‘ ŏ
פ p ə
xiSystem of Transliteration for Hebrew and Greek
צ ṣ dageš doubling, except
(but not BəGaDK əFaTק q
mappiq) initial or closing
ר r a syllable
ש š/ś
ת t
Greek
α a π p
β b ρ r
γ c σ s
δ d τ t
ε e υ u
ζ z φ ph
η ê χ ch
θ th ψ ps
ι i ω ô
κ k ᾳ ai
λ l ῃ êi
μ m ῳ ôi
ν n rough breathing h
ξ x accents / smooth not represented
breathingο o
xiiAcknowledgements
his book is the fruit of a prolonged dialogue, conducted over sev-Teral years, with a number of colleagues and students. First, I want to
thank Yann Lamouroux and Peter Gentry for their willingness to revise the
relevant transcriptions pertaining to the representation of the Masoretic
text. I also want to express my gratitude to Antony Perrot and to Michel
Petrossian for their valuable suggestions regarding the musical usage of the
term ‘almâ . My thanks go as well to those who revised the citations I made
of the translations of texts written in Arabic (Yussef Qirreh and Shadi Sa‘ad)
as to those (Professor Etienne Nodet) who revised the citations made to the
Hebrew texts that were cited in this work.
Te data on the Syriac and Japanese lexicon are greatly indebted to
the remarks of some specialists (Professors Carlos Jódar and Jan Joosten
frstly, and Akio Osaki secondly). Te studies in the feld of textual criticism
benefted greatly from the careful review of Professor Adrian Schenker. I
further want to thank Professors Michaël Langlois, Henri Blocher, and
Peter Gentry for their suggestions.
Finally, I want to thank Professor Francolino Gonçalvez for the
questions that he raised regarding the text o. Hf iIss paierahtinent insights
encouraged me to make a complete redesign of the pages of the book of
Immanuel. For this I wish to thank him.
A preliminary version of this work was presented on the occasion
of the oral defence for the ofcial French Accreditation to direct PhD
research, that took place at the University of Strasbourg on J2011 un . e 24th,
Te defence took place in the presence of Professors Jan Joosten,
Francolino Gonçalvez, Jean Noël Aletti, Pablo-Itzhaq Kirtchuk-Halévy and
JeanPierre Levet.
xiiiO Immanuel!
Et erit extensio alarum eius implens latitudinem
terrae tuae o Emmanuhel
erusalem, approximately 735 B.C. According to the book Isoaf iah, J Ahaz, King of Judah, was plagued with anxiety. “It was announced to the
house of David: ‘Aram has halted in the Ephraimite territory.’ At this news,
the king’s heart and the hearts of his people shook like forest trees in the
1wind.”
Te news plunged Ahaz into deep worry: Te King of Syria (Aram)
had allied himself with the sovereign of Ephraim. Te coalition was at that
time outside the Holy City threatening to overthrow the Davidic monarchy
2and install the otherwise unknown son of Tabeel on the thro ne of Judah.
Te Davidic line was thus on the brink of extinction. King Ahaz trembled
like a leaf in fear.
Isaiah’s name means “Yahweh-will-save.” At Yahweh’s command,
Isaiah goes to intervene before the king. He is accompanied by his son
“A-Remnant-Will-Return” (Shear-Yashub in Hebrew). Te prophet came
before King Ahaz and proclaimed to him:
3“Tus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘Tis will not happen, it will not be.
1. Is 7:2. Te English translation follows the author’s citation of NJB98.
2. Is 7:5-6.
3. Is 7:7. Te English translation follows the author’s citation of NJB98.

̄
The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14
4( . . . ) If you do not believe, you will not endure.’”
5“Yahweh spoke to Ahaz aga urin”ging him to ask for a sign “in the
depths of Sheol or in the heights above.” But the sovereign refused,
argu6ing that such a request would put Yahweh to t Nhe teverestt.heless, a sign
would be given, the sign the king refused to ask for:
“Listen now, House of David! ( . . . )
the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the ‘alm iâs with child
and will give birth to a son,
and you shall call his name Immanuel.”
7et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel (Vg) [Is 7:13-14]
Following these mysterious words, the text presents an oracle that
gives cause for fear as well as for hope. Isaiah announces the future
occupation of the nation by Egypt and Assyria. Because they had not trusted in
Yahweh, the people of Judah would experience devastation. At the height
of their distress, however, the sign of Immanuel would continue to ofer a
8glimmer of hop Sae. int Jerome’s version takes on a poignant tone:
et ibit per Iudam, inundans et transiens, usque ad collum veniet, et
erit extensio alarum eius implens latitudinem terrae tuae, o E -m
manuhel ! (MT: ‘immanû ’el)
“Flooding and traversing, [the king of Assyria] will pass through
Judah; it will reach to the neck, and the spreading out of its wings will cover
the whole extent of your country, O Immanuel! Assemble yourselves, O
peoples, and you will be defeated.
Give ear, all you far away nations.
Take strength and you will be defeated.
Fasten your belts and you will be defeated.
4. Is 7:9. Te English translation follows the author’s citation of NJB98.
5. Is 7:10.
6. Is 7:12.
7. Is 7:13-14: weqara’t šemô ‘immanû ’el (MT), “and she will call his name Immanuel”;
et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel (Vg): “and you will give him the name ‘Immanuel.’”
Te textual issue raised by the diference between the Hebrew text (“and she will give”)
and the Latin version (“and you will give”) will be dealt with later in this study.
8. Is 8:8-10.

̄
̄
̄
O Immanuel!
inite consilium et dissipabitur, loquimini verbum et non fet quia nobiscum Deus.
(MT: kî ‘immanû ’el)
Formulate a plan: it will be annihilated,
9Make a pronouncement: it will not come about, for God is with us.”
Tis passage from the Vulgate highlights the issue at stake in the translation
of the source text. In Hebrew, the name n ‘ûimm’el aappears twice, a double
occurrence that demands from the translator a . Ti vas sria ttyio listic
device allows the same idea to be expressed in diferent ways. Familiar to the
reader of Matthew’s Gospel, the divine name appears in the full extent of
its meaning for the frst time at the end of this impressive metaphor: et erit
extensio alarum eius implens latitudinem terrae tuae, “and the spreading out
of his wings will cover all the extent of your country.” Tis image is all the
more efective because of the vocative particle, which gives emphasis to the
fnal exclamation: O Immanu !hel
Te second occurrence of this name makes explicit the meaning and
10signifcance of the oracle: nobiscum Deus, “God is wit Tih u s
as.”lternative way of translating the name brings us back to the point just mentioned.
In Hebrew, the divine name is preceded by the conjunkîct (Lioan tin quia:
“because”) and this connector signals the presence of divine protection and
gives the etiology of the proper name. In this way, Jerome’s translation
establishes an intertextual link with the famous passage from the Gospel of
Matthew:
11et vocabunt nomen eius Emmanuhel quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus
“and they shall give him the name Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
Te text of the book of Is tahiat hh as just been cited contains an instructive
example of Jerome’s art of translation. In some cases, where the original is
exceptionally dense, the use of the stylistic device o pf ervamirts tiatiohe
translator of Bethlehem to combine brevity with polysemy. In these unique
cases, the interpreter manages to avoid diminishing the richnes -s of a par
ticular word by varying its translation at each occurrence.
9. Tis English translation is based on the author’s own French translation from the
text of the Vulgate.
10. In the article by Raymond Tournay (“L’Immanuel et sa vierge-mère”, 249-258,
in Revue Tomiste, 55/2, 1955) there are illuminating remarks concerning the biblical
signifcance of the expression “God is with us / you (pl) / you (sg).” “Te na-me of ‘Im
manuel,’ ‘God with us,’ is [in efect] a divine name which implies the hope of salvation”
(p. 256).
11. Mt 1:23.
3The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14
O Immanuel! For three thousand years Isaiah’s cry has resounded with
all the power of this unique name, a name borne by no other person in the
Bible. Te mysterious child that was to be born and the enigmatic woman
who was to bear him, do not cease to beckon to us even today.
According to one renowned exegete, this text constitutes the “most controversial
12 Hans Wildberger goes so far as to say that “More passage in the Bible.”
commentary has been written [on Is 7:14] than any other single verse in
13the OT ( . . . ).”
How should the word ‘albme tâ ranslated? Does the word refer to a
virgin, a married woman, or a young girl? And if the term simply means
‘young girl,’ what particular nuance distinguishes this term from the other
words in Biblical Hebrew that refer to young females? Te goal of this study
is to clarify this problem and at the same time furnish scholars with a
philological basis for their research on this text. In so doing, the following pages
intend to pursue a linguistic investigation into a word of the Bible that has
elicited a lively controversy since antiquity.
12. Martin Buber, Der Glaube der Propheten, Verlag Lambert Schneider: Heidelberg,
1984, 2nd edition, p. 201.
13. Isaiah 1-12. A Commentary, translated by Tomas H. Trapp, Fortress Press:
Minneapolis, 1991, p. 306 (original title: Jesaja, Kapitel 12-n12 d e, dition, Neukirchener
Verlag: Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1990).
4The Problem
lthough the feminine form ‘ala mnâd t he abstract ‘ălûm do nîm ot A occur frequently in the Bible, they are not particularly unusual either.
Tey are both relatively well-known terms, particularly in the corpus of the
most ancient books. Te distribution of the masculine f , hor om w‘eelv eerm,
of which there are only two instances—and within three chapters of each
other—in the same book of sacred Scripture, argues against any innate
symmetry that might exist between the masculine term, on the one hand,
and the feminine, and abstract forms on the other hand.
‘almâ ‘elem ‘ălûmîm
Occurrences: 11 Occurrences: 2 Occurrences: 4
Books: 7 Books: 1 Books: 3
Gn 24:43 Is 54:4

Ex 2:8 Ps 89:46

Song 1:3; 6:8

Is 7:14
I S 17:56 Jb 20:11;
1 I S 20:22 Jb 33:25Ps 9:1 (?); 46:1; 48:15 (?) ; 68:26
I Ch 15:20
Pr 30:19
Table I. Te Occurrences of Words from the Fami‘ally in the MTmâ
1. In the MT, the examples from Ps 9 ǝ:1mû (‘at) al nd 48:15 (‘al-mût) present diferent
vocalizations. Some scholars, as we shall see, suspect the presence of the plural form of
‘almâ (‘ălamôt) here.

̆
The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14
So what, then, does ‘almmâe an? A dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, recently
2published in Israe lg,ives the meaning ‘young woman’ for this word.
According to this lexicon, the term can have two meanings. Te frst meaning
is relatively rare. It would refer to an ‘unmarried girl,’ which Gn 24:43 would
seem to afrm. More frequent is the second meaning: “a young woman who
is not a virgin.” Tis meaning would be refected in three occurrences: Pr
30:19, which describes the ‘way of a man with an in t‘almhâe m’ ystery of
sexual union, Song 6:8 which mentions the ‘innumera labmle ôt’ ‘a of king
Solomon’s harem, and lastly, Is 7:14.
Tis brief citation from Milon ha‘ivrit hammi rqefera’ict ts the present
day consensus about the meaning of the Hebrew wor td h‘aalt imât r: efers
3to a young woman, and does not, in itself, imply the idea of v Teirg inity.
etymological comparisons, especially with Ugaritic, have allowed scholars
to reconstruct the root *wġl hicm, h is well attested in other Semitic
languages and refers simply to the sexual maturity of a young man or young
4girl.
Despite the consensus about the general meaning of the w , ord ‘almâ
scholars are far from being in agreement over that which distinguishes the
word‘a lmâf romn a‘ărâ, the other noun for young woman (married or
single) in Hebrew. For example, Auvray considers ‘a a tlmerâ m that indicates
a woman of a higher social class than . F noal‘ălorâwing this view, ‘a lmâ
5 For its part, Te would be equivalent to the French word “demoiselle.”
Teological Dictionary of the Old Testament ‘ahaslm â designating “a
2. Menaḥem Zevi Kaddari, A Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew (Milon ha‘ivrit
hammiqra’it), Oṣar Lešon ha-Miqra’ me-Alef ‘ad Taw, Bar-Ilan University Press:
RamatGan, 2006, sub verbo ‘almâ.
3. Johann Jacob Stemm, “La prophétie d’ImmanuelR,” evue d’Histoire et de Philos-o
phie religieuse, s1943, 1- 26, cf. p. 11: “young nubile girl;” Martin Rehm, “Das Wort
‘almahin I s 7:14,” Biblische Zeitschrif, NF, 8, 1964, 89-101: “young woman;” Marvin H.
Pope, Song of Songs. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Te Anchor
Bible, 7c: Garden City, N. Y., 1977: synonym of ne‘a; Rraihkki E. Watts, “Immanuel:
Virgin Birth Proof Text or Programmatic Warning of Tings to Come (Isa 7:14 in Matt
1:23)?” 92-113 in Craig Evans (ed.) From Prophecy to Testament. Te Function of the Old
Testament in the New, Peabody, MA: Hendriksons Publishers, 2004: “ jeune femme qui
n’est pas nécessairement vierge “; RaymToond urna, y“L’Immanuel et sa Vierge-Mère,”
Revue Tomiste 55, 1955, 249-258: “young nubile girl.”
4. See the discussion inf. ra
5. Paul Auvray, Isaïe 1-39, “Collection Sources Bibliques,” Gabalda: Paris, 1972,
323-326.

̄
Te Problem
6non-Israelite (‘alien A’)” cco. rding to Kaiser, ‘almâ refers to a young
wom7an until she has given birth to her frst c Gerhilemanld. thinks that the
8Hebrew noun describes the ignorant or uninitiated young w Me omana -n.
while Jacob sees the word ‘alm a âs used predominantly in cultic contexts
9with the meaning ‘set apart, dedic .a t. e. Td’ e difculty of fnding a
common usage of the word ‘ain tlmâh e Bible has even motivated some scholars
to propose that ‘almhaâs dif erent meanings, each according its own
con10text. Quot capita tot sententiae: and so we could multiply the inventory of
solutions proposed by exegetes.
To touch the word ‘ails tmâo o pen one of the most heated debates in
11Hebrew semantics. Begun around 150 AD t, he debate regarding the
interpretation of ‘a colm nâ tinues to this day. It is the famous passage of Is 7:14
that triggered the controversy in the past: “Behold, tshhae ll co‘almnâcei ve
and bear a son, and she shall call his name ‘God with usnû’ (‘ i’mmel).” Ia n
this verse the Septuagint renders as‘al mpaârthenos, which the majority
12of commentators interpret as a ‘woman who is a virgin.’ Te frs t Gospel
retained this Greek equivalent in its application of the prophetic oracle to
the birth of Jesus. Later the Church Fathers interpreted Is 7:14 in light of the
6. Christoph Dohmen and Helmer Ringgren, ‘almâ in Teologisches Wörterbuch
zum Alten Testament, ed. Heinz-Josef Fabry et Helmer Ringgren, Volume VI, Verlag
W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart: Berlin, Köln, 1741989 -177, , II-IV (English translation: Te- o
logical Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer - Ring
gren and Heinz-Josef Fabr , v yol. XI, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge,
UK, 2001, 154-163). See also the following two articles: Christoph Dohmen -: “Das Im
manuelzeichen. Ein jesajanisches Drohwort und seine inneralttestamentliche Rezeption”,
in Biblica, 68, 1987, 305-329; “ ‘napḫar m ātāti šut šunnâ li ānš u’. Zur Frage der Semantik
in der Semitistik”, in Biblische Notizen, 47, 1989, 13-34.
7. OttoK aiser, Isaiah 1-12. A Commentary, translated from the German by John
Bowden, Te Westminster Press: Pennsylvania, 1983 (2nd edition), 154-155. Without
giving the precise references, Wilhelm Gesenius (Hebräisches und Aramäische -s Hand
wörterbuch über das Alte Testamen1915t, , 17th edition, sv. ‘alm) a âttributes the source
of this idea to AlbSerocint , who would bring into close proximity the meaning of the
Hebrew word with that of bint in Arabic.
8. Gillis Gerleman, “Die sperrende Grenze. Die Wurzel ‘lm im Hebräischen,”
Zeitschrif für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaf, 91, 1979, 338-49.
9. Edmond Jacob, Ésaïe 1-12 Collection “Commentaire de l’Ancien Testament,
VIIIa,” Labor et Fide: Genève, 1987, 120.
10. See Gilbert Brune , tEssai sur l’Isaïe de l’histoi , Preicard: Paris, 1975, pp. 53 and
100.
11. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Tryph: 43o , 7; 67, 1-2; 71, 3; 84, 1-3.
12. Mt 1:23.
7The Mother of the Infant King, Isaiah 7:14
New Testament reading. Jerome continued the translation of the Old Latin
(parthenos = virgo) in the Vulgate (‘al m= âvirgo). Te rest is history. We
13have to wait until at least the XVIIth cen befturorye anyone in Western
Christendom dared to question the traditional meaning of ‘virgin’ as it was
attributed to the noun ‘a. lmâ
Te majority of modern exegetes are agreed that the Septuagint
interpreted the text in contrast to the authentic tradition represented by the
other three ancient Jewish translations (TheoAdoqtiouilna,
Symmachus). Tese three versions were unanimous in their choice of the
equivalent neanis (‘young girl’). Some scholars think the change of meaning made
by the Septuagint when translating Is 7:14 was a providential evolution:
“Whether he wanted to or not, declares Raymond To, [t uhre
tnayranslator of the Septuagint] was instrumental in making Revelation progress
14 Some liturgical translations today by explicitly suggesting a virgin birth.”
(in particular French and English) rely on the verTsio heons dof otion,
Aquila, and Symmachus for translating the noun in Is 7:14 as ‘young girl’,
instead of ‘virgin.’
15 have Te problem has become even more complex as some scholars
attempted to demonstrate that the noun pa irtstheelf did nnos ot necessarily
imply the idea of virginity. Gn 34:1-3 is a case in point. Although Dinah
had been raped by Shechem, in the text she retains the attribut-e of parthe
nos: “And Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, the chief of the nation,
saw her; he took her, he slept with her and he humiliated her. And he clung
to the soul of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young girl (tên
parthenon) and he spoke tenderly to [according to the heart of] the young
16 Tis example is particularly signifcant. If the word girl (tês parthenou).”
13. Gilbert Brunet (Essai sur l’Isaïe de l’histoi , Preicard: Paris, 1975, p. 61 attributes
to Hugo Grotius (1583- 1645) the opinion according to which the ‘awlo muâld h ave
been the wife of Isaiah, though without giving the reference. If we take her to be mother
of Sh ear-Yashub, we would have to conclude that the word do ‘aes nlmâo t necessarily
imply virginity.
14. Ibid., p. 253.
15. Ceslas Spicq, Notes de lexicographie néo-testamentaire1982, (“ Orbis Biblicus et
Orientali22s, /3 “), Éditions Universitaires de Fribourg / Vandenhoeck & Ruprec- ht: Göt
tingen, 516-525.
16. “ Et Sychem, le fls d’Emmôr, le Khorrhéen chef du pays, la vit; il la prit, il coucha
avec elle et il l’humilia. Et il s’attacha à l’âme de Dina, la flle de Jacob, et il aima la jeune
flle (tên parthenon) et lui parla en s’accordant au coeur de la jeune flle (tê).s “ parthenou
French translation from Le Pentateuque d’Alexandrie, texte grec et traduction, under
the direction of Cécile Dogniez and Marguerite Harl, Éditions du Cerf: Paris, 2001,
8Te Problem
parthenos, which here refers to a girl who has just been abused, can apply to
a woman who has just lost her virginity, it becomes difcult to sustain that
the frst translator of Isaiah had altered the meaning of thby e w ord ‘almâ
rendering it with parthe.nos
Despite hesitations about the precise nuance of the w orord ‘almâ
parthenos, the present scholarly consensus is so widespread that in recent
decades, the traditional debate has given way to a confdent conviction that
Christian tradition was mistaken about the original meaning of the Hebrew
noun and about the signifcance of Isaiah’s prophecy. Tis consensus is so
profound that one might even have doubts about the timeliness of a new
semantic study on this question, given that it has seen nearly two thousand
years of refection and that the work of recent exegetes seems to have
resolved it with such a defnitive answer.
Strange as it may seem, the scholarly consensus touches only a limited
aspect of the question. True, with regard to the n , a loun ar‘agle m nâegati ve
consensus has emerged (exegetes agree on what the word does not mean).
However, the scientifc community has not reached any coponssitenive sus
on this word (one still wonders what distinguishes fro‘almn âa‘ă râ in
Biblical Hebrew and what the former word signifes precisely, beyond the
general notion of ‘young woman’). Afer a long series of semantic studies
on ‘almâ, the absence of a communis opi rniegao rding the exact defnition
of this word is the sign of a profound impasse.
Semantics remains a young science. As the late child of linguistics,
it did not grow and develop until the end of the 20th century. Its
application to exegesis remains cautious. In one of the documents of the Pontifcal
17 we may review, from the very frst chapter, the dif-Biblical Commission,
18ferent “methods and approaches for interpret: yaet ntioon”where do we
fnd semantics, or even linguistics, mentioned as possible approaches to the
248-249.
17. Te Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifcal Biblical Commissio- n, Pre
sented on March 18, 1994.
18. Te sections of the frst chapter are the following: A) Historical-Critical Method;
B) New Methods of Literary Analysis (rhetorical, narrative, and semio -tic); C) Ap
proaches Based on Tradition (canonical approach, approach through Recourse to Jewish
Traditions of Interpretation, approach by the history of the infuence of the text); D)
Approaches that use the Human Sciences (sociological approach, approach t - hrough cul
tural anthropology, psychological and psychoanalytical approaches); E) C -ontextual Ap
proaches (liberationist approach, feminist approach); F) Fundamentalist interpretation.
9