Yeshua's Birth

Almah

Isaiah 7:14 says....

"an almah will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel"

Many Christian translations translate this as saying

"a virgin will be with child..."

where most Jewish translations say

"a young woman will be with child..."

and many Jews claim the word "almah" does NOT mean virgin, but that "bethulah" is the correct Hebrew word for "virgin".  The Talmud , as early as the Mishnah, makes it clear that is "virgin" is NOT the meaning of the "Bethulah".  

Bethulah

From the Mishnah, we see that perhaps the best definition of a "Bethulah" is a "woman who has never been made unclean by a menstrual cycle".  Here's what it says in the Mishnah, Niddah 1:4, a section of the Mishnah that deals with female uncleanliness...  

A. Who is a bethulah?
B. Any girl who has never in her life seen a drop of blood, even though she is married
C. A pregnant woman?
D. Once it is known that her fetus is present
E. A nursing mother?
F. Until she will wean her son.
G. If she gave her son to a wet nurse, weaned him, or he died H. R. Meir says, "She conveys uncleanness during the preceeding 24 hours." I. And sages say, "Sufficient for her is her time."  

Let's pick this apart...  

A. Who is a bethulah?
B. Any girl who has never in her life seen a drop of blood, even though she is married

Joe: Such a woman would not yet been made unclean by a menstrual cycle.  

C. A pregnant woman?

Joe: It's rare, but possible to get pregnant without a menstrual cycle, assuming she was impregnanted on her first fertilization?  

D. Once it is known that her fetus is present
E. A nursing mother?

Joe: Nursing women generally don't have periods. (but can.)  

F. Until she will wean her son.
G. If she gave her son to a wet nurse, weaned him, or he died H. R. Meir says, "She conveys uncleanness during the preceeding 24 hours." I. And sages say, "Sufficient for her is her time."

Joe: Note here the issue of being made unclean pops up again.  

So when someone argues that almah is the wrong word for "virgin" and bethulah is the right word, they have to argue with the Mishnah of the Talmud to make that case, since it tells us that a woman can be a "bethulah" and still have sex and give birth to a child.  Of course, maybe the Mishnah is wrong, but if that's so, what else is wrong in the Talmud?  What it says of Y'shua?  

Or perhaps bethulah does connotate virginity without being part of the literal definition.  It seems the Mishnah is trying to stretch the definition of the word here and see how far one can take the concept of being defiled by a period as it contradicts it's normal connotation that's attached to being defiled in such a way.

The Talmud gives more of an explanation in an Aramaic section of Yebamot 61b. In commenting on Leviticus/Vayikra 21:14 ,where priests are forbidden to marry anyone but a widow or a bethulah, it says:

"A bethulah, as one might assume it to mean a minor, it was explicitely stated a wife. If only wife [had been written], it might have been assumed to mean one who is an adolescent (bogereth - twrgb), hence, it was explicitely stated 'a bethulah' - one who has emerged from her minority but has not yet attained adolescence.
R. Nachman b. Isaac said 'It is the opinion of the following Tanna. For it was taught : A bethulah the only meaning of 'bethulah' is a na'era (
hr(n)"

The Soncino translation of the Talmud footnotes na'era (hr(n) to mean "one between 12 and 12 and a half years of age"] The Talmud then quotes from Gen/Ber 24:16 to support its case saying:

"As it is said in Scripture 'And the damsel/na'era (hr(n) was very fair to look upon, a bethulah.'"

What is there about adolesence that destroys her status as a bethulah? Apparently from what we saw earlier, it's the beginning of menstruation that does it. Here we see that a bethulah would mean someone who has not yet reached adolescence (and thus had a menstrual cycle). The unmentioned presumed logic behind this Talmudic discussion is that In order for a bethulah to be old enough for a priest/kohen to marry, she must be at least 12 years of age, and thus a na'era as well. Scripture requires her to be a bethulah , which means she hasn't had a menstrual cycle yet, thus she'd be very young. But since her consent must be given for marriage and that can't happen until she's twelve, the restriction on a Kohen to marry a bethulah seriously narrows the age window during which she could be married to him.

Almah/Olmah

Anyway, this gets me to almah.   Many anti-missionaries claim the New Testament mistranslates the word "almah" in quoting Isaiah / Yeshayahu 7:14 as "virgin" when it really means "young woman". 

The etymology of "almah"/"olmah" is not as well documented as for "bethulah", but the next closest word to "almah" would be "alam", which can mean "to hide".  These words are homonymic (barring the gender identifier) - that is - spelled the same but pronounced differently in Hebrew.  If that's the case, then "almah" would mean "young woman" and "olmah" would loosely mean virgin (more literally - "concealed woman" or probably a woman whose hymen still conceals her sexual organs), though both would be spelled the same way, but pronounced differently. The Hebrew root of "{l(" (Ayin, Lammed, Mem) is the root for the words "young man", "young woman", "world", "age", "perpetual", and "conceal" depending on variance and pronunciation.  Kaballists taught that each "world" was "concealed" in another world, which would at least explain that connection.

We see Origen transliterated this word as "olmah" into Greek in

"we reply that the word "Olmah"-which the Septuagint have rendered by "a virgin," and others by "a young woman"-occurs, as they say, in Deuteronomy, as applied to a "virgin," in the following connection:

"If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he humbled his neighbour's wife." And again: "But if a man find a betrothed damsel in a field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: but unto the damsel ye shall do nothing; there is in her no sin worthy of death."" (Origen, Book I, Chapter XXXIV)

Now today, the Masoret text reads "bethulah" here, but perhaps in Origen's day it read "Olmah". Thus we'd conclude that this was changed by the Masoret scribes if Origen is correct.

There could be a connection and this could be indicative of a woman's hymen concealing her sexual organs as well as the "source of her flow" having never been "exposed".  Note that in Leviticus/Vayikra 20:18 it says

"`If a man lies with a woman during her monthly period and has sexual relations with her, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it.

So virginity is only a connotation of Bethula and Almah and sex is one that that will "expose" what is to remain concealed.  But for a woman to qualify as an "almah"/"olmah", more than virginity is required.  So perhaps a woman whose hymen has been broken through non-sexual means would also not qualify as an "almah"/"olmah".  

We see this language being employed by Eusebius in his "History of the Church", Book VIII, chapter 12, written early 4th century AD, in which he says,

"great envy was excited on their account [referring to two young daughters of a certain woman], every means was used to find them in their concealment"

by "find them in their concealment", he may mean "retain their virginity". We see this in the next few sentences where he talks about "the threatened violation of their chastity" by the soliders who had captured them.

Jerome (4th century AD), translator of the Latin Vulgate, also makes a connection between "almah"/"olmah" meaning "virgin" and "hidden". His connection is not related to a woman's hymen in any way, but he suggests the following in Again Jovinus, Book I:

32. Isaiah tells of the mystery of our faith and hope:224 "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel." I know that the Jews are accustomed to meet us with the objection that in Hebrew the word Almah does not mean a virgin, but a young woman. And, to speak truth, a virgin is properly called Bethulah, but a young woman, or a girl, is not Almah, but Naarah!225 What then is the meaning of Almah? A hidden virgin, that is, not merely virgin, but a virgin and something more, because not every virgin is hidden, shut off from the occasional sight of men. Then again, Rebecca, on account of her extreme purity, and because she was a type of the Church which she represented in her own virginity, is described in Genesis as Almah, not Bethulah, as may clearly be proved from the words of Abraham's servant, spoken by him in Mesopotamia:226 ".........Where he speaks of the maiden coming forth to draw water, the Hebrew word is Almah, that is, a virgin secluded, and guarded by her parents with extreme care. Or, if if this be not so, let them at least show me where the word is applied to married women as well, and I will confess my ignorance.

Jerome is making a connection to the concept of "hidden" here, but the problem I have with his interpretation is of what "hidden" means is that we have no link between the concept of being "secluded" from society and Mary, mother of Yeshua.

The miracle of Y'shua's conception in Mary / Miriam is a miracle from several standpoints.   The fact she had never had sex is only one aspect.  History tells us she was 12 years old and Yoseph/Joseph was 25.  In ancient times, such an age was considered too young to have had her first period and could not have concieved even if she had engaged in sex with a man.  It was an age in which one was presumed to have never had a period anyway (This matter is discussed in the Talmud).  Thus, it took a miracle of G-d to bring about the conception of a baby.  So the idea of "almah" meaning "young woman" would "too young to concieve" and thus "young" still implies a miracle in at least one aspect.  So the idea that "almah" should correctly be translated "young woman" is no threat to the gospel.  The real issue is how "young" we mean by "young".  In this case - too young to be at the age of puberty.   

Another place where we see an interesting connection between "{l(" and virginity is mentioned in a commentary found in Munster's 1557 Collection of Publications called "On the Faith of the Messiah and the Jew", which says...

"...we find in tradition like the Targum of Yonathan that the Mem ({) of Alma is closed (e.g., h{l( not hml() and in this He hinted that she was a bethulah previously. " (On the Faith of the Jew and the Messiah, page 13)

Now I don't know of any copy of Targum Yonathan that reads this way, but even if the source text has been confused, this is still rather significant. It suggests first of all that this word is spelled one way to mean "young woman" and another for "virgin". How were the oldest copies of Isaiah/Yeshayahu spelled? Did the spelling get changed because scribes thought "h{l(" was a mistake, when it was actually an idiom?

Now why would a closed "mem" indicate virginity? Think of how symbolically poetic this is. Mem is the letter that symbolizes a flow of something and its pronounced with a flowing sound as well. (See http://mywebpages.comcast.net/jovial/learn/cf/cforces.htm#_Toc477316681 .) Phonetically, we pronounce an open Mem such that we flow from one vowel to the Mem to another letter, but when it is at the end of a word, the flow of the sound of the Mem comes to a sudden stop. So with the closed mem, there's usually a stop to the flow of the sound. If this is an indication that a closed Mem represents a stop to the flow that the Mem represents overall, then it makes perfect sense for a "virgin" to be spelled with a closed Mem, since her flow is blocked by her hymen. Perhaps this is what the above writer meant when he said "...in this He hinted." Hinted how? By using a letter where the flow of the Mem is interrupted , just a virgin has not yet had the "source of her flow" exposed yet, as Lev/Vay 20:18 words it.

There's another way in which her conception was a "sign" . Had she concieved out of wedlock, she should have been brought before the Beit Din for punishment.  Yet historic records tell us that the reason the Beit Din did not prosecute her is because there were numerous witnesses willing to testify that they saw angels announcing the birth of Y'shua as the birth of the Messiah.  There's a record of this at http://www.webzone.net/amigatec/records/chap4.html.  

Now if we compare the various words here:

A 1916 translation of the scriptures from the Hebrew Publishing Company Translation translates "almah" as "virgin" in Gen. 24:43 and in Song 1:3; 6:8.  Dr. Cyrus Gordon, who is Jewish and does NOT believe in Y'shua's virgin birth, says it may be legitimate to translate Is. 7:14 as "virgin" (Almah in Isaiah 7:14; Gordon, Cyrus H.; JBR 21:106 - see http://www.jfjonline.org/apol/qa/almah.htm for more detail). When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Aramaic, the Aramaic translators translated "almah"/"olmah" as "bethulah", which we've already discussed certainly connotates virginity, though that is not the literal definition of the word.  The writers of the Septuagint (LXX) translated it using "parthenos" which generally means "virgin" (though some have given other usages of this word in popular Greek).

The Gemara commentary on "Bethulah" in Tractate Nidda 8 is interesting.  The writers of the Mishnah wrote from in Hebrew, probably based on a Hebrew definition of the word "Bethulah", and seemed fascinated with how they could stretch the literal definition of it to disagree with it's ordinary connotation.   The Gemara was written in Aramaic and probably colored by an Aramaic understanding of the word bethulah. "Almah" is not in the Aramaic vocabulary, but "Bethulah" is.   The Gemara starts by summarizing the Mishnah's commentary and says...  

"Married and observed a discharge of blood that was due to the marriage or if she bore a child she observed a discharge of blood that was due to birth, she is still called a virgin, because the "virgin" that the Rabbis spoke of is one that is a virgin in regard to menstrual blood but not one who is so in regard to the blood of virginity....A Tanna taught there are 3 kinds of bethulah..."

The human bethulah is one that never had any sexual intercourse."  

Now there's two things to note.  First off, the Gemara addresses one of the weaknesses in the earlier definition, that being that if a woman has not had a menstrual cycle, she's still had the source of her flow exposed by sex or birth.  The Gemara deals with this by saying these two conditions are not covered by the word "bethulah".   It then goes on to say "bethulah" can mean more than one thing.  This certainly seems to be the case in Aramaic, which the Gemara was written in.  In Hebrew, that could be true too, or it could be that virginity in regard to men or the blood of intercourse and birth were simply connotations and connected with being a bethulah in regards to menstruation.  Either way, we see that the writers of the Mishnah considered "bethulah" to relate to menstruation and were fascinated with how far they could stretch that definition and have it disagree with other things people connected with the word "bethulah" (lack of intercourse or birth).

In commenting on Isa 7:14, the writings of Rashi (1040-1105 CE) contain some conflicting versions, some of which describe this "almah" as one who "hitavra" (never "had  intercourse") while other versions describe her as "hitnavet" (never "prophesied"). Modern Jews only accept as authentic versions that read "never prophecied", but one has to wonder how this is at all relevant or could be derived from the passage at all.

When we read Isaiah 7-9, it might seem that Isaiah 7:14 is fullfilled in Isaiah 8 to some degree, at least until we get to Isaiah 8:18 where it says that the characters in the developing account are "signs and symbols" - "Signs and symbols" of what?  The birth of the Messiah, which is mentioned in Isa 9:6...

    "And He will be called Wonderful, Mighty God, the Origin of Eternity"

So this baby is called "Mighty God" that is to be born.  Rabbinical Jews teach that Isaiah 7:14 was fullfilled in Isa 8, and Isaiah 8 may have been a "foreshadowing" part-fillment, but not a "full"-fillment. Isaiah 8:18,9:6 not only point to Messiah, but there's other reasons why we can see that the prophecy does not seem to apply to the story at hand.

Now here's an interesting account of why Isaiah 8 is not talking about Hezekiah. I'll quote Lou Rugg's account of this in blue....

The following will be hardcore proof that Isaiah 7:14 is "NOT" about Hezekiah (contrary to modern-Rabbinic Judaism's position). Here are the scriptures to support this undeniable fact:

2Kings 16:2: "Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father."

       According to this verse, Ahaz was 20 years old when he began to reign and reigned 16 years in Jerusalem (which means that he reigned until he was 36 years old, correct?).

2Ki 16:20  "And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead."

       According to this verse, Hezekiah took over the throne after Ahaz died, correct? Remember, Ahaz reigned until the age of 36.

2Kings 18:2 "Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also [was] Abi, the daughter of Zachariah."

       According to this verse, Hezekiah was 25 years old when he began to reign, correct? But remember, Ahaz was 36 when he ended his reign. This means that Ahaz was 11 years older than Hezekiah (36-25 = 11).

       Lets go back to Isaiah 7:14. This is what it says: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin (young woman) shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

       Since Isaiah was paying a visit to "KING" Ahaz, we know that Ahaz was at least 20 years old at the time of this visit (2Kings 16:2). Therefore, since Ahaz was 11 years older than Hezekiah, Hezekiah was "at least" 9 years old during the time of Isaiah 7:14.

       The conclusion: The child referred to in Isaiah 7:14 is "NOT" Hezekiah......unless you believe that Isa 7:14 is referring to a child that is at least nine years old. :)

       By the way, I have telephoned a few Orthodox Rabbis. They have all told me that Isaiah 7:14 was about Hezekiah (see Isa 6:9-10, Isa 29:10-14, Isa 42:18-20).

Lou Rugg

Where Isaiah/Yeshayahu 9:6 says...

    "And He will be called Wonderful, Mighty God, the Origin of Eternity"

The phrase "d( yb)" can be translated several way. "b)" can mean "Father" or "origin".  "d(" can mean "eternity" or "witness". So the possible translations are...

Father of Eternity
Origin of Eternity
Originator of Eternity
Father of Witness
Origin of Witness
Fatherly Witness
My Father is a witness
My Father is forever

Though the King James translators chose "Eternal Father".

The Curse of Yeconiah

One favorite anti-missionary argument against Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah is that He is a descendant of the cursed King Yechonai, according to the geneology given in Matthew chapter 1. The Zohar explains why this is not a problem, saying... 

"He [God] forgives entire where there is perfect repentence.  Thus we find it is written of Yehoiachin:   "As surely as I live," declares the LORD, "even if you, Coniah son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off....write this man childless..."(Jer 22:24-30) and yet, when he repented, and turned again unto the Lord, we read "And the sons of Jeconia, Assir, etc " (1 Ch 3:17), showing that after all he was not childless: which proves that repentance annuls all decrees and judgements, and breaks many an iron chain, and there is nothing that can stand against it."  (Zohar on Shemot, 106a)  

So here, the Zohar uses Jeconiah as an example of how God forgives

This analysis is sound considering...

"If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned." (Jer 18:7-8)

In addition to what the Zohar says, there are other reasons why we can safely say the Messiah COULD be a descendant of Yeconiah. Exodus 20:5-6 says

"I...am a jealous Elohim, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments"

Y'shua was born far more than 4 generation past his line.  Note that the curse on Yeconiah says it was for "HIS DAY" when you read it in the scripture.

Deuteronomy 23:3 says "No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.

David was a descendant of a Moabite (Ruth), yet he was promised that the Messiah would come from him.  So we find that the scriptures tell us that the Messiah will therefore also be a descendant of a Moabite.  This is OK, because the tenth generation arrived before David. So we know that the Messiah must come from a (FORMERLY) "CURSED LINE" of sorts, because He will be a descendant of a Moabite if He is a descendant of David.  But because the curse of the Moabites is broken in the 10th generation, it did not go all the way down to Messiah.

Same with the curse of Yeconiah.  Since there was no Word from G-d specifying that the curse last longer than 4 generations, it would only last 4 generations and Y'shua was many, many more than 4 generations removed from Yeconiah.

The argument that a descendant cannot come from a cursed line because curses last forever would disqualify any descendant of David and ignore the Torah in Ex 20. It would also ignore Haggai 2:23.