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Religion, Theology and Self-Improvement Sundays: Women, Religion, Theology and Society Part 4

Last week we ended with a question: "Is the ideal woman as the scholars and theologians and believers in religion have understood it in terms of the Mary figure(s) in the Gospels the same concept of "woman" that originated in the mind of God?"

This week we ask that you keep this basic and critical question at the forefront of your mind as we read an excerpt from Bishop Shelby Spong's book, Born Of A Woman.

Bishop Spong directs his attention to Isaiah Chapter 7 verse 14 which reads in the King James Version:

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel".

Have we properly understood this verse? And if not has such misunderstanding contributed to a gap between the view of women held by the Supreme Being and the view of women held by man throughout recent history?

Bishop Spong writes:

"When one reads Isaiah 7:14 in the context of Isaiah's history, the first and most obvious fact that must be recorded is that Isaiah was not referring to the virginal conception of Jesus when he wrote his work. Isaiah was concerned with addressing God's challenge to Isaiah's own day, not with predicting the future course of events. Second, and far more damaging to the literalist's view, it must be stated that the concept of virginity existed in this text only in the Greek translation of the Hebrew.

Virginity was not present in the Hebrew original.

In 1952 when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was released, its translators rendered Isaiah 7:14 correctly from the Hebrew text to read, "Behold a young woman shall conceive," while they translated Matthew 1:23, "Behold a virgin shall conceive."

The translators were not being inconsistent, they were translating accurately the text in front of them - Hebrew in the original text of Isaiah, Greek in the original text of Matthew.

The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 is 'almah. It means "young woman"; she may or may not be married. The Hebrew word for virgin is betulah. It is a word used more than fifty times in the Hebrew scriptures and is the only word used in the Scriptures for virgin.

'Almah appears nine other times in the Hebrew Scriptures and it never means virgin in any of those appearances.

The translators of the Septuagint, however, translated 'almah with the Greek word pathenos, which does mean "virgin".

The translators alone placed into this Isaian text the connotation of virginity, and it was this nonoriginal connotation that Matthew made the keystone of his use of this text.

Throughout the years, self-appointed defenders of the faith who came to include the virgin birth as a crucial article of that faith never examined either that element of this text or even the other context of this Isaian passage.

Defending the dogma of the virgin birth, which came about to be thought of as defending the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of the Incarnation, forced all other considerations out of sight and consequently out of mind."

Think it over.

Cedric Muhammad

Sunday, November 5, 2000

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