The Prophet Isaiah by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Why Catholics Should Not Fear Maidens;

A Defense of the Knox Translation of Isaiah 7:14.

My personal favorite translation of the Bible is one which primarily relied upon the Catholic priest and Anglican convert Fr. Ronald Knox. The Knox Bible (KNOX), much like Douay–Rheims (DRA) which proceeded it, relied upon the Latin Vulgate. However, in other places, he relies on Greek and Hebrew insights into the text to clear up any ambiguity, or provide context to the text. For example, here is a side-by-side comparison of the main difference between the Vulgate (more faithfully captured by the DRA in this case) and the KNOX.

Many more traditionally minded Catholics would see the latter translation as problematic, and that in diverting over to critical scholarship, Fr. Knox has betrayed tradition. However, as Catholics, I would say any translation that gives us a deeper insight into the Biblical text must be preferred. According to Fr. Knox, the translation of “Maid” is preferred, but does not contradict Matthew 1:23, because as Knox notes in his footnote;

Literally, the verse begins ‘Therefore the Lord, he will give you a sign’. ‘Maid shall be with child’; cf. Mt. 1.23. The Hebrew text, but not the Greek, would admit ‘a maid’ instead of ‘the maid’. In the Hebrew text, the word used should perhaps be translated ‘maid’ rather than ‘virgin’, since it refers rather to a time than to a state of life; but in view of the event, we cannot doubt that this prophecy looks forward to the Virgin Birth. No very successful attempt has been made to explain its relevance to contemporary happenings (Online Source).

Some Christians (either liberals, or those who try to reconcile the translation by claiming the verse refers to a double prophecy) and religious Jews, believe that Isaiah is referring to his own wife, the prophetess. In Isaiah 8:3 we read

Afterwards, when the prophetess conceived and bore me a son, the Lord said to me, Call him by this name, Spoiler, haste; there’s plunder afoot [Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz]

The problem is she was neither a maiden (let alone a virgin). The term for maiden (a young woman) is Almah, but the word could not be applied to a woman who already had a child old enough to escort his father to David’s palace (Isaiah 7:3). Assuming Isaiah’s wife was married at a young age (13 or 14 years), Shearjashub, the son of Isaiah, would have most likely needed to be old enough to journey with his Father. He could not have been a newborn.

Another candidate is Hezekiah, the next king. The problem was he was 25 years old when he took the throne (2 Kings 18:2), which means he was already born. Since Isaiah made that prophecy around 735 BC and he arose to the throne around 716 BC. This means that he was likely already born by the time the prophecy was made (online source). But assuming this dating is wrong, and there is debate, this still assumes a lot more. It assumes King Achaz and Abijah didn’t consummate their marriage (which was irregular) or Abijah was barren (which would be odd since in other places that was explicitly made known, like with Sarah and Abraham).

Yet another interpretation is to translate “a maiden” with “the maiden”, ha-alma. This means that at the time of this crisis, “the maiden” (i.e. all young women) will conceive children. The problem is it would be an odd occurrence for them all to bare a son implying either they were all giving birth to the same kid, or every maiden would give birth to only sons and no daughters, but no such miracle is mentioned, making it less likely.

Saint Matthew’s translation makes the most sense out of the context. In Hebrew, an almah is not necessarily a virgin, but should be presumed (assumed unless stated otherwise). According to Leviticus 21:7;13, a Levite or priest must marry a virgin. If this is the kind of status God expects of his priest’s wives, we should expect God to have the same standard for the mother of the Messiah, since both Jews and Christians expect the Messiah to be a priest of some kind following Psalm 110:4. However, while many Jews don’t accept this as referring to the messiah, there are Jewish traditions that do:

From Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism By Raʻanan S. Boustan (Online Source)

If we accept the Messiah is a sort of priest*, and one greater than the Aroniad lineage, his mother must be a virgin. Consider the following

  • A priest is supposed to be born of a paternal bloodline belonging to the Levites
  • Messiah is supposed to inherit his Davidic possessions from his paternal bloodline,

The only way to reconcile the two would be that his legal father was Davidic (garnering his kingdom); in addition, his priesthood comes from God (in the same sense as Melchizedek’s priesthood does). If the Messiah was produced carnally, the father would be a Levite (entailing a non-Messiah because he is not of David) or of Judah (entailing he is not a priest, but at best a king). Jesus, born of a virgin, means he is not bound by the limits of a biological lineage.

Furthermore, God expects the maidens to be virgins themselves before they are married (Deuteronomy 22:14–19). It seems what is implicit in the Hebrew is just being made manifest in the Greek. Not to mention that the Virgin Mary was also a maiden, so in making explicit what is implicit in the text, Saint Matthew is merely calling attention to the miraculous nature of the birth, and the dual priestly and king nature of the Messiah.

But why would God send a sign far after the reign of Achaz? Well, a sign given does not need to be a sign received, if I give someone a gift on Amazon, and the person dies before the package was received by him, the gift still belongs to him, and is in the hands of his estate (in this case the house or linage of David). God chooses not to let Achaz personally receive the gift yet because Achaz said he did not want it (Isaiah 7:12). Instead, in a style of dramatic irony, Achaz will receive the sign on the day of the resurrection and the final judgement, like everyone else who died before Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth will be received by David’s lineage, but not the contemporary occupant.

Footnote

Although in certain contexts the princes of Israel are called priests in their ministerial services as statesmen (2 Kings 8:18), it is not after the manner of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is both a priest and king, but they are not overlapping roles. However David is priest by dint of ministering as a king, not in addition to being a king. Melchizedek actually provides Abraham a blessing in Genesis 14:18–20, and Abraham provides him a tithe. This is the action of a priest, not an action of a king doing his ministerial work.

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Catholic blogger, my views are not necessarily reflective of the Church’s. Please post corrections to help me avoid heresy.

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John Fisher 2.0

John Fisher 2.0

Catholic blogger, my views are not necessarily reflective of the Church’s. Please post corrections to help me avoid heresy.

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