Several years ago I read that the word 'virgin', in the New Testament, was mistranslated from a Hellenistic Greek word or phrase. The correct translation was said to be 'a woman of marrying age' (or something similar), not the 'haven't had sex' definition. I think the Greek word/phrase began with the letter 'b' or the equivalent. How could such an error occur; isn't Hellenistic Greek well understood? Is the word correctly translated in the Old Testament texts?
I am unable to remember the original source of this claim/disclaim. Nor have I found any mention of it on the current Atheist/Biblical Web Sites.
Does anyone know of authoritative references which provide more information on this subject?
There are two hebrew words usually translated 'virgin' in English. 'Bethulah' means virgin in the sense that we understand it. It was used, for example, in Isaiah 62:5. 'Almah' (the word used in Isaiah 7:14) simply means a young woman. Although it is sometimes used in the sense of a sexually pure woman, this is not it's exclusive usage. The context will usually point out the correct usage.
The confusion arose when the Greek Septuagint used the greek word 'parthenos' to translate Isaiah 7:14. This word, in Greek, does denote a sexually pure woman, and was the inspiration for the gospellers myth of the Virgin birth.
A look at the context of Isaiah 7:14 will quickly reveal that the woman that Isaiah was referring to was probably *already* pregnant, thus pointing out which sense of 'almah' was intended. In any case, the point of Isaiah's prophecy was that before the child reached the age of accountability, both Israel and Syria would be desolated. (A prophecy which was only partly fulfilled, by the way). The use of the word 'virgin' is not germane in Isaiah's prophecy. The 'sign' was the child, not a miraculous conception.
In short, Isaiah's 'sign' was fulfilled in it's own context, hundreds of years before anyone thought to apply it in a different sense.
someone else responds:
The basic details are given in Ian Wilson's "Jesus the evidence" (1984).
Although this is an unlikely source, "The Selfish Gene" (1989 edition) by Richard Dawkins gives the same basic story. He states that "the point is in fact well known to biblical scholars, and not disputed by them."
Roughly, this is what seems to have happened:
Word actually used in Hebrew scriptures is "almah" (="young woman").
Hebrew word which could have been used, but wasn't, was "bethulah" (="virgin").
The Septuagint is a version of the Old Testament prepared in the 3rd century BC by Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew sciptures into Greek for the Greek-speaking Jewish community.
In translating for the Septuagint, "almah" was translated as "parthenos" (="virgin").
Thus, Isaiah's prophecy in the original Hebrew states that the Messiah would be conceived by an "almah" (="young woman"), whereas the Greek translation in the Septuagint version of Isaiah refers to a "parthenos" (="virgin").
It appears that Matthew's gospel attempts to justify Jesus's divine parentage by claiming fulfilment of a prophecy that was never actually made.