HEBREW TEACHER AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Resentment on the part of the Congregation of Independent Baptists, to the substitution of the word "woman" for "virgin," in Isaiah 7:14 of the latest Revised Protestant Bible, was shown in this column, three issues ago, to be warranted. To this Principal Harry Cushing, of the Everett Hebrew School and Community Center, took issue. Here is a copy of the reply sent to the Hebrew teacher.
Dear Dr. Cushing: Your communication was remailed to me from the office of THE PILOT. The contention therein is, in substance, that there is no warrant for translating the Hebrew word almah, in Isaiah 7:14, to read that a virgin, rather than a maiden, or young woman, "shall conceive" and bring forth the Emmanuel, Whom Christians hold to be the Messiah, Jesus.
I am well aware of the fact that the Hebrew word betulah more definitely signifies a virgin. This is noted in my quiz book---"What Say You?"---to which Mr. Kerrish was referred, in THE PILOT of Dec. 6, 1952, for further information. Therein is quoted a footnote from my translated copy of the Hebrew Bible, which reads as follows---"The Hebrew word almah does not necessarily (note, not necessarily) signify a virgin, which is equivalent to betulah, but a marriageable woman in general."
There are three reasons that warranted the designation "virgin," when referring to the maiden, the young "marriageable woman," foretold by Isaiah to "conceive and bear a son" (l)---The word almah was no doubt used in the Hebrew text because it is more elastic than the Hebrew word betulah. The word almah (and not the word betulah) can be used to refer to a virgin, and yet not exclude the thought of child-bearing. St. Matthew must have so understood this, for he quoted Isaiah 7:14 in his Gospel (1:18-25), long years before the Jews questioned his interpretation, thus:---"The Lord Himself shall give a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son ..."
(2)---The vital point, ignored in your protest, is the declaration of Isaiah that God would give a "sign". A "sign" from God, as you well know, is a miracle, being so used in Exodus 4:8, 17, as well as in Isaiah 7:14. To declare, "behold this young woman shall conceive, ..." as do the Jews in their translation from Hebrew into English, obscures the fact that the maiden was to conceive miraculously. It was in fulfillment of the "sign" God made known through Isaiah that the Blessed Virgin Mary brought forth her Son, Jesus.
(3)---Further warrant is recorded in Genesis 3:15 for declaring that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Therein Moses foretold that the "seed" of a woman would crush the serpent's, Satan's head, as did the Son Mary miraculously conceived. In all other Bible texts, the term "seed," applied to a person or persons, is the "seed" of a man, for instance, in Genesis 17:19.
While the term almah does "not necessarily" signify a virgin, by translating the text "a virgin shall conceive," the Divine thought in the mind of Isaiah was made plain. This was not questioned during the years when Judaism was the religion of Almighty God; during the years when the Jews spoke with Divine authority on matters of a Scriptural nature, through their High Priest and Sanhedrin. Those were the years when, as the Jewish Encyclopedia says, "the oldest and most important translation" of Hebrew Scripture, the Septuagint, was made (Vol. 3, p. 186).
In this Septuagint version of Scripture, which Rabbi Louis Finklestein, President of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, says is the "most important translation ever made," the thought in the mind of Isaiah was emphasized by the authoritative Jewish translators, by transcribing the Hebrew word almah into the Greek word "parthenos" in the 7:14 text, which signifies, unmistakably, a virgin.
This Septuagint version, used by the Catholic Church ever since there was a Christian Bible, was made over two centuries before the Christian era. It was "greeted with enthusiasm by the Jews everywhere," as Vallentine's Jewish Encyclopedia says (p. 593). Truly, as you say, the enthusiasm of the Jews was due to the fact "that their Book was now available to the Greek-reading public." Yet it is reasonable to assume that the 72 translators would not have agreed, unanimously, to transcribe the word almah into parthenos for the Greek-reading public, unless they believed, as do Christians, that a virgin was foretold by Isaiah to conceive of the Emmanuel, God with us. And it is also reasonable to assume that High Priest Eleazar, who appointed the 72, and gave them his most valuable manuscript to translate, said to have been written in gold, would have allowed the word "parthenos" (virgin) to remain in the translated Isaiah 7:14 if it were not warranted by the Isaiahian thought in the text.
Objection on the part of the Jews to the Septuagint version of Holy Writ, which you echo, did not manifest until Old Testament Judaism, with its priesthood, sacrifices and altar, ceased to function, having blossomed forth into Catholic Christianity, thanks to "the Emmanuel," the God with us, Who came into the world as Isaiah predicted. This objection was due to hostility on the part of the Jews to Christ and His Church. Vallentine's Jewish Encyclopedia says:---"The appearance of the Septuagint was greeted with enthusiasm by the Jews everywhere, but with the rise of the Christian sect and its adoption of this version of the Bible, the Jews began to denounce it vehemently, accusing the Christians of falsifying the texts here and there" (p. 593).
The opposition began with Rabbi Akiba, to whom the Jews attribute the canon of Scripture used by them during the Christian ages. This is acknowledged by the Jewish Encyclopedia thus:---"The motive underlying his (Akiba's) antagonism to the apocrypha, namely the desire to disarm Christians---especially Jewish Christians---who drew their 'proofs' (therefrom), to emancipate the Jews of the dispora (Jews outside of Palestine) from the domination of the Septuagint ... which was used as arguments against the Jews by the Christians" (Vol. 1, p. 306).
Your zeal and writing ability, with which I am acquainted, prompted me to answer your communication at length, my dear Dr. Cushing. I have done so prayerfully hoping you will be blessed with the grace to see the error of your judgment. Thus may you be moved, as was I, to the realization that all that was great and glorious in the Judaism of God, in principle and prophecy, abides in the Church that was established by the Son of the Virgin Lily of Israel.
Sincerely in the Lord,