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Author Topic: "Almah" in Hebrew, "Parthenos" in Greek: The Case of Isaiah 7:14  (Read 15026 times) Average Rating: 0
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Symeon
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« Reply #45 on: December 19, 2008, 06:36:00 PM »

"If Isaiah had used bethulah, those who want to have a young married woman in Isaiah 7:14 could cite
Joel 1:8, where bethulah is used of a woman who has had “a husband”: “Weep like a bethulah, girded with
sackcloth, for the husband of her youth.” Some commentators make her a virgin widow, but the term for
“husband” most naturally implies sex relations. Jeremiah uses bethulah several times of Israel as the wife who
has gone astray, which makes the meaning of “virgin” doubtful in these instances. Twice when the biblical
narrative wants to express very clearly that the bethulah is really a virgin, it adds, “who had not known a man.”
Such an expression need not be tautology; the writer wants to make it very clear that these girls were really
virgins. In 7:14, Isaiah did not use bethulah because he wanted to avoid any possible ambiguity. Almah alone
seems to insure the thought that this is an unmarried woman."
http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckAlmah.PDF

Also, the ANE linguistic data in the links I provided.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2008, 06:36:41 PM by Symeon » Logged
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« Reply #46 on: December 19, 2008, 06:45:38 PM »

LBK, I think we should also pay attention to what the ancient prophets were saying as well. 

My point entirely. The Fathers knew their scripture backwards, and scripture includes both the OT (which includes the prophets) and the NT.
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« Reply #47 on: December 19, 2008, 08:26:29 PM »

"If Isaiah had used bethulah, those who want to have a young married woman in Isaiah 7:14 could cite
Joel 1:8, where bethulah is used of a woman who has had “a husband”: “Weep like a bethulah, girded with
sackcloth, for the husband of her youth.” Some commentators make her a virgin widow, but the term for
“husband” most naturally implies sex relations. Jeremiah uses bethulah several times of Israel as the wife who
has gone astray, which makes the meaning of “virgin” doubtful in these instances. Twice when the biblical
narrative wants to express very clearly that the bethulah is really a virgin, it adds, “who had not known a man.”
Such an expression need not be tautology; the writer wants to make it very clear that these girls were really
virgins. In 7:14, Isaiah did not use bethulah because he wanted to avoid any possible ambiguity. Almah alone
seems to insure the thought that this is an unmarried woman."
http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckAlmah.PDF

Also, the ANE linguistic data in the links I provided.

Symeon, thanks for the reply.  In Semitic an Aleymah that becomes married is no longer an Aleymah anymore because she becomes a wife.  This is difficult to translate into European languages.  It's like saying a girl isn't a girl anymore when she becomes married, she becomes a woman.  So, indirectly a girl is a maiden, but wouldn't directly translate as a "virgin".  This is the case in some Semitic cultures today.  I think we agree though.  The Jeremiah example is a little bit ambiguous.  The word that's used for husband would have a direct implication if Betulah is correct.  If they used "Bel" directly translating to "lord" or "husband" when used with woman.  They could have also used "Gabor" which means "man".  So if it's a betultah looking for her "gabor" it just means a virgin looking for her man (possibly betrothed or love).  Another thing is this; in ancient times Jews were betrothed for 1 year and lived with the future husband's household in that 1 year without consummating the marriage.  This continued through the time of Christ.  This would have a very big impact on a "betulah" looking for her "gabor" or her man.  I can't see why Btulah would be used to not mean "Virgin" in any Semitic language, it's very direct and black and white.
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« Reply #48 on: December 19, 2008, 08:35:43 PM »

Another quote on this, from an article I linked earlier:

""However, Joel 1:8 seems to be an exception to the absolute virginity of the bethulah. This verse refers to the desolation of Israel. “Lament like a virgin [bethulah] girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.” Some view this verse  in the context of the betrothal period as in the case of Mary and Joseph before they were legally married (Matt 1:18–19). They hold that the woman was called a bethulah because she had not yet had sexual relations, and her “husband” (bridegroom) died before the marriage had actually been consummated. However, the problem with interpreting this Hebrew word in Joel 1:8 as a betrothed but unmarried virgin is that the expression “husband of her youth” is an expression of longevity. It is parallel to the phrase “wife of thy youth” in Proverbs 5:18 and Isaiah 54:6 which can be translated, “a wife you have had since your youth.” The Septuagint reflects the idea of actual marriage rather than just betrothal by translating bethulah in Joel 1:8 as numphe ("bride, married woman") instead of parthenos ("virgin"). Furthermore the use of ba'al in the passage seems to require that an actual marriage rather than a mere betrothal had taken place. In Deuteronomy 22:23 the husband of a betrothed woman is called an ish  (cf. Judg 19:27), but the husband of the married woman in that same passage is called a ba'al (verse 22).. The word ba'al  is never used in the Old Testament of the betrothed state. It always refers to a married man when describing the relationship between a man and a woman [Genesis 20:3; Exodus 21:3, 22; Deuteronomy 24:1–4; 2 Samuel 11:26; Esther 1:20; Proverbs 12:4; 31:11, 23, 28 ; Hosea 2:18.]." [Niessen, "The virginity of the Almah in Isaiah 7.14",  BibSac—V137 #546—Apr 80—146]"
http://www.christian-thinktank.com/fabprof2.html

We see from this, that Joel is not applicable to the betrothed state. "Husband of her youth" signified longevity.
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« Reply #49 on: December 19, 2008, 08:37:52 PM »

And some ANE linguistic date from the same link:

"The Cognate Languages. A study of the word in the cognate language sustains C. H. Gordon’s contention that beátuÆlaÆ in the near eastern languages by itself does not mean virgo intacta (JBR 21:240–41).

The Egyptian word especially parallel to our Hebrew word is h\wnt. While the word may denote “girl,” “virgin,” it can also denote a young marriageable woman, or a young woman who has had sexual relations. Thus the word is used in the Pyramid Texts of the king’s protectress who is explicitly called his mother, and of Isis, of whom it is said in a sarcophagus oracle that she is mysteriously pregnant. Tsevat concluded: “It can be stated that h\wnt is not used to denote biological virginity, but rather youthful vigor and potential motherhood” (P. 339).

The Akkadian cognate, batultu, denotes “primarily an age group: only in specific contexts … does it assume the connotation ‘virgin’ ” (CAD II:174). J. J. Finkelstein (“Sex Offences in Sumerian Laws,” JAOS 86:355:72) and B. Landsberger “Jungfräulichkeit: Ein Beitrag zum ‘Thema Beilager und Eheschliessung’ ” in Symbolae juridicae … M. David … edid. J. A. Ankum … , II (Leiden, 1968, pp. 41–105) have underscored in independent studies that the word is normally best understood as “young (unmarried) girl.” In fact, there is no one word for “virgin” in Sumerian or Akkadian; that concept is expressed negatively by “who is not deflowered.”

In Ugaritic btlt is a frequent epithet for Anat, Baal’s wife, who repeatedly has sexual intercourse (cf. A. van Selms, Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature, London, 1954, pp. 69, 109). [Tanknote: the promiscuity of Anat has been called into question recently…]

In a Shiite tradition, Fatima, though the mother of Hasan and Hussein along with other children, bears the title batuµl (C. Virolleaud, Le Theatre Persan, Paris, 1950, p. 37). And in an Aramaic text from Nippur, Montgomery interprets the phrase, btwlt “travailing and not bearing,” to denote a hapless wife suffering from miscarriages and other female complaints (Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur, Philadelphia, 1913, p. 131)."
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« Reply #50 on: December 19, 2008, 10:13:00 PM »

And some ANE linguistic date from the same link:

"The Cognate Languages. A study of the word in the cognate language sustains C. H. Gordon’s contention that beátuÆlaÆ in the near eastern languages by itself does not mean virgo intacta (JBR 21:240–41).

The Egyptian word especially parallel to our Hebrew word is h\wnt. While the word may denote “girl,” “virgin,” it can also denote a young marriageable woman, or a young woman who has had sexual relations. Thus the word is used in the Pyramid Texts of the king’s protectress who is explicitly called his mother, and of Isis, of whom it is said in a sarcophagus oracle that she is mysteriously pregnant. Tsevat concluded: “It can be stated that h\wnt is not used to denote biological virginity, but rather youthful vigor and potential motherhood” (P. 339).

The Akkadian cognate, batultu, denotes “primarily an age group: only in specific contexts … does it assume the connotation ‘virgin’ ” (CAD II:174). J. J. Finkelstein (“Sex Offences in Sumerian Laws,” JAOS 86:355:72) and B. Landsberger “Jungfräulichkeit: Ein Beitrag zum ‘Thema Beilager und Eheschliessung’ ” in Symbolae juridicae … M. David … edid. J. A. Ankum … , II (Leiden, 1968, pp. 41–105) have underscored in independent studies that the word is normally best understood as “young (unmarried) girl.” In fact, there is no one word for “virgin” in Sumerian or Akkadian; that concept is expressed negatively by “who is not deflowered.”

In Ugaritic btlt is a frequent epithet for Anat, Baal’s wife, who repeatedly has sexual intercourse (cf. A. van Selms, Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature, London, 1954, pp. 69, 109). [Tanknote: the promiscuity of Anat has been called into question recently…]

In a Shiite tradition, Fatima, though the mother of Hasan and Hussein along with other children, bears the title batuµl (C. Virolleaud, Le Theatre Persan, Paris, 1950, p. 37). And in an Aramaic text from Nippur, Montgomery interprets the phrase, btwlt “travailing and not bearing,” to denote a hapless wife suffering from miscarriages and other female complaints (Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur, Philadelphia, 1913, p. 131)."

What's "ANE"?
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« Reply #51 on: December 19, 2008, 10:39:25 PM »

"If Isaiah had used bethulah, those who want to have a young married woman in Isaiah 7:14 could cite
Joel 1:8, where bethulah is used of a woman who has had “a husband”: “Weep like a bethulah, girded with
sackcloth, for the husband of her youth.” Some commentators make her a virgin widow, but the term for
“husband” most naturally implies sex relations. Jeremiah uses bethulah several times of Israel as the wife who
has gone astray, which makes the meaning of “virgin” doubtful in these instances. Twice when the biblical
narrative wants to express very clearly that the bethulah is really a virgin, it adds, “who had not known a man.”
Such an expression need not be tautology; the writer wants to make it very clear that these girls were really
virgins. In 7:14, Isaiah did not use bethulah because he wanted to avoid any possible ambiguity. Almah alone
seems to insure the thought that this is an unmarried woman."
http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckAlmah.PDF

Also, the ANE linguistic data in the links I provided.

Symeon, thanks for the reply.  In Semitic an Aleymah that becomes married is no longer an Aleymah anymore because she becomes a wife.  This is difficult to translate into European languages.  It's like saying a girl isn't a girl anymore when she becomes married, she becomes a woman.  So, indirectly a girl is a maiden, but wouldn't directly translate as a "virgin".  This is the case in some Semitic cultures today.  I think we agree though.  The Jeremiah example is a little bit ambiguous.  The word that's used for husband would have a direct implication if Betulah is correct.  If they used "Bel" directly translating to "lord" or "husband" when used with woman.  They could have also used "Gabor" which means "man".  So if it's a betultah looking for her "gabor" it just means a virgin looking for her man (possibly betrothed or love).  Another thing is this; in ancient times Jews were betrothed for 1 year and lived with the future husband's household in that 1 year without consummating the marriage.  This continued through the time of Christ.  This would have a very big impact on a "betulah" looking for her "gabor" or her man.  I can't see why Btulah would be used to not mean "Virgin" in any Semitic language, it's very direct and black and white.

I don't have my Gensenius, nor my Faulken or Wright (Dictionary of Middle Egyptian/Egyptian Grammar) handy, nor easy access to the U of C Assyrian Dictionary nor Afro-Asiatic dictionary, so I can't tell what the cognates are listed.  In Arabic "ghulam" 'boy' (in a servile sense) doesn't have a feminine at all. and the stem "ghalima" means to be in heat/rut, so it is very sexually charged.  But that might be a secondary development.

Independent of any interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, the historical record is clear that the Hebrews before the coming of Christ considered the LXX an inspired translation.  And so parthenos stands, not to mention that St. Matthew so interpreted it.  It is telling that the Jews post Church made of point of making NEW translations, that translated it as "young women," i.e. to contradict the LXX's pre-Christ translation.

Does the word show up in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament?
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« Reply #52 on: December 19, 2008, 10:48:16 PM »

What's "ANE"?

ANE stands for "Ancient Near East."
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« Reply #53 on: December 19, 2008, 10:55:38 PM »

What's "ANE"?

ANE stands for "Ancient Near East."

I suspected, but I wanted to make sure it wasn't a sigla I've forgotten. Tongue
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« Reply #54 on: December 20, 2008, 03:07:34 AM »

Symeon, the article you quoted has some good points.  Anyway, I think we can rule out the Egyptian corresponding word because it's not a Semitic language although it was an ancient sister language.  It's just too far back in time to match up the Egyptian and Semitic together.

Looking up Btulah at some online ancient Hebrew (http://www.ancient-hebrew.org) gives a result as a one word description of Virgin for Btulah.  In ancient Aramaic (http://cal.huc.edu/) gives three definitions virgin, virgo and a woman who hasn't given birth. 

Also, in the article only one instance is found where they question Btulah as virgin:
"However, Joel 1:8 seems to be an exception to the absolute virginity of the bethulah" in Joel 1:8 and it's not clear cut to me Symeon.  One has to really look into the context of the other words.  I think we would agree that 1 example questioning Btulah as virgin doesn't set the precedent that it doesn't mean Virgin in the other hundreds of times that it's been used in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic which it directly translates in to virgin.

The poster's original question was whether Aleymah translates into Virgin, and from the back and forth that we've had I think I've shown that it doesn't directly translate into virgin in from a Hebrew\Aramaic source.
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« Reply #55 on: December 20, 2008, 03:27:01 AM »

Symeon, the article you quoted has some good points.  Anyway, I think we can rule out the Egyptian corresponding word because it's not a Semitic language although it was an ancient sister language.  It's just too far back in time to match up the Egyptian and Semitic together.

By itself, I'd agree that the Egyptian wouldn't mean much, but taken with the other Semitic cognates, its good confirmatory evidence.

Quote
Also, in the article only one instance is found where they question Btulah as virgin:
"However, Joel 1:8 seems to be an exception to the absolute virginity of the bethulah" in Joel 1:8 and it's not clear cut to me Symeon.  One has to really look into the context of the other words.  I think we would agree that 1 example questioning Btulah as virgin doesn't set the precedent that it doesn't mean Virgin in the other hundreds of times that it's been used in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic which it directly translates in to virgin.

The poster's original question was whether Aleymah translates into Virgin, and from the back and forth that we've had I think I've shown that it doesn't directly translate into virgin in from a Hebrew\Aramaic source.

Since Almah is never definitely used in Scripture to mean anything but a virgin while Bethula is used in one instance to signify someone other than a virgin and the ANE cognates of Bethula also can signify someone other than a virgin, the question is what other word should Isaiah have used? The Septuagint translators were quite right to translate Almah as Parthenos.
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« Reply #56 on: December 20, 2008, 04:06:58 AM »

Since Almah is never definitely used in Scripture to mean anything but a virgin while Bethula is used in one instance to signify someone other than a virgin and the ANE cognates of Bethula also can signify someone other than a virgin, the question is what other word should Isaiah have used? The Septuagint translators were quite right to translate Almah as Parthenos.

Almah presupposes Virginity, so I think I would agree with you.  A woman that's known a man can't be an Almah.  So in this way Almah would mean a virgin.

Btw. Looking up Butul with an online Akkadian dictionary actually gives a result of young man.  So it seems to have an age connotation in Akkadian, which is the oldest recorded Semitic language.
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« Reply #57 on: December 20, 2008, 10:53:15 AM »

Since Almah is never definitely used in Scripture to mean anything but a virgin while Bethula is used in one instance to signify someone other than a virgin and the ANE cognates of Bethula also can signify someone other than a virgin, the question is what other word should Isaiah have used? The Septuagint translators were quite right to translate Almah as Parthenos.

Almah presupposes Virginity, so I think I would agree with you.  A woman that's known a man can't be an Almah.  So in this way Almah would mean a virgin.

Btw. Looking up Butul with an online Akkadian dictionary actually gives a result of young man.  So it seems to have an age connotation in Akkadian, which is the oldest recorded Semitic language.

The CAL database on the lexicon of the official Jewish Targum of Isaiah has bthulah, but doesnt' have 'aleymah.  Could the Peshitta text then be not a copy of the LXX, but an independent attestation of the translation as "virgin?"
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« Reply #58 on: October 01, 2009, 07:45:59 PM »

Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but I've recently come across some arguments that try to make the word "parthenos" vague enough to translate into something other than "virgin" (but I'm suspicious as to what else it can translate to). I read through some of the posts and came across this:

Quote
The LXX renders the word by parthenos which almost always means "virgin." Yet even with this word there are exceptions: Genesis 34:4 refers to Dinah as a parthenos even though the previous verse makes it clear she is no longer a virgin. This sort of datum prompts C.H. Dodd …to suggest that parthenos means "young woman" even in Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27. This will not do; the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of parthenos in both biblical and profane Greek require the rendering "virgin"; and the unambiguous context of Matthew 1 (cf. vv. 16, 18, 20, 25) puts Matthew's intent beyond dispute…the later (second century A.D.) Greek renderings of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 prefer neanis ("young woman") to parthenos (so Aq., Symm., Theod.), we may legitimately suspect a conscious effort by the Jewish translators to avoid the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 7:14." (Expositor’s Bible Commentary on the New Testament, 1982)

This deals with most of it, but I'm curious to know what else parthenos can translate to. In Genesis 34:4, it is clear that Dinah was not a virgin, but if I've read the verse correctly she was not married either. From my impression it either means not married, or a virgin. Could it also mean someone who is married and is a virgin? Could someone smarter than me who knows more Greek clarify on this?
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« Reply #59 on: October 01, 2009, 08:23:15 PM »

The CAL database on the lexicon of the official Jewish Targum of Isaiah has bthulah, but doesnt' have 'aleymah.  Could the Peshitta text then be not a copy of the LXX, but an independent attestation of the translation as "virgin?"

The Peshitta Tanakh was translated from Hebrew not Greek by Mesopatamian Jews, around 100BC - 100AD: http://pshitta.org/english/intro.php.
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« Reply #60 on: October 01, 2009, 08:32:59 PM »

From the Jewish Encyclopia:

Quote
The Peshiṭta.

The Syriac translation of the Old Testament was undoubtedly made directly from the Hebrew; though at Antioch, during the third century of the present era and at later periods, it was revised so as to make it conform to the Septuagint. The history of its origin is obscure; but it was probably made in Mesopotamia during the first century. As with most of the older translations, various hands have been at work here. Perles ("Meletemata Peschittoniana," Breslau, 1859), Prager ("De Veteris, Testamenti Versione Peschitto," Göttingen, 1875), and Bacher (see Aramaic Language) believe it is the work of Jews: but this has not yet been proved; and the view of Dathe, Eichhorn, Hitzig, Nöldeke, and Renan, that it owes its origin to Judæo-Christians, seems more probable. Perles, however, has shown that there are unmistakable evidences in the Peshiṭta of the influence of the Targum, especially in Genesis. This has been confirmed for Ezekiel by Cornill ("Das Buch Ezekiel," p. 154), for Chronicles by S. Fränkel (in "Jahrb. für Protestantische Theologie," 1879), and for Job by Stenig ("De Syriaca Libri Jobi Interp." Helsingfors, 1887), Mandl ("Peschitto zu Hiob," Leipsic, 1892), and Hauman (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," xix.29). The closest agreement between the two versions is found in the Book of Proverbs; but it is now generally held that in this case the Targum reflects the Peshiṭta and not vice versa, as Maybaum contends (Merx, "Archiv," vol. ii.). This view is upheld by a consideration of the general character of the translation (Pinkuss, in Stade's "Zeitschrift," xiv. 101; see also Duval, "Littérature Syriaque," 1899, pp. 31 et seq.).

But the ACE say that their copies were never revised.
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« Reply #61 on: October 10, 2009, 11:54:59 AM »

Could someone....who knows more Greek clarify on this?

In Hellenistic Greek, especially in Alexandria whence comes the LXX, parthenos means a virgin. That's how Philo uses the word when he speaks of the Essenes and the Therapeutae (both of which were Jewish sects that practiced intentional, monastic-style virginity -- and were not, mind you, merely young girls). Hellenistic Jewish culture seems to have valued life-long virginity (quite unlike earlier forms of Judaism). So, there's little reason to think that parthenos as it appears in the LXX means anything but virgin. Even Josephus, a Greek-speaking Jew from Jerusalem, uses it to mean "virgin."

End of story.

Could it also mean someone who is married and is a virgin?

No, not until the second or third century A.D., when it becomes basically exclusively related to virginity. All translation is contextual, but if you want to know about parthenos over time in multiple contexts and in the abstract, then, if anything, it could mean something very different: Virtually all of the greatest poets, namely Homer, Pindar, Sophocles and Aristophanes, use parthenos when writing about "unmarried women who are not virgins," i.e. young girls who get knocked up. There's even a special word, o parthenios, which specifically means the son of an unmarried girl.

On the flip side, every one of those poets usually uses parthenos to mean a maid, maiden, virgin or girl. Sophocles uses parthenos to mean "virgin" and "knocked up girl" in the same play! It's poetry, man.

Also on the flip side, we have perhaps the most famous usage of the word as a title for Athena, Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin, since she alone among the major pantheon never engaged in sexual relations with the other gods. That's why her Temple in Athens is called the Parthenon (the one dedicated to the Virgin).
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« Reply #62 on: May 15, 2010, 04:21:33 PM »

I'm a little late to this thread, but let's just say it:

A young woman conceiving and giving birth happens a several million times a year - that's no sign.

Besides, my wife is Jewish - you just find an Orthodox jew who has a daughter, and tell him him his daughter isn't almah.

Then be sure to duck.

The LXX translators knew what they were doing, and translated it correctly, contextually, and according to the Spirit. What's left to debate?
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« Reply #63 on: May 15, 2010, 04:35:49 PM »

And by this, you know that the modern translators who translate almah as "young woman" err grievously; but then, they have an agenda that includes "demythologizing" the Bible.  These are the disciples of Adolf von Harnack, the same fellow who dismissed Orthodoxy as irrelevant and virtually pagan.
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« Reply #64 on: August 19, 2014, 12:06:34 PM »

Just a word of thanks as a newcomer. - I would regard the above discussion as definitive.

Reading this thread persuaded me to become a member!



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Tags: almah virgin young woman Isaiah prophecy Is 7:14 Scripture parthenos Septuagint 
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