“Several distressed correspondents have queried the mistranslation of ‘young woman’ into ‘virgin’ in the biblical prophecy, and have demanded a reply from me. Hurting religious sensibilities is a perilous business these days so I had better oblige. Actually, it is a pleasure, for scientists can’t often get satisfyingly dusty in the library indulging in a real academic foot-note. The point is in fact well known to biblical scholars, and not disputed by them. The Hebrew word in Isaiah is (almah), which undisputedly means ‘young woman’, with no implication of virginity. If ‘virgin’ had been intended (bethulah) could have been used instead (the ambiguous English word ‘maiden’ illustrates how easy it can be to slide between the two meanings). The ‘mutation’ occurred when the pre-Christian Greek translation known as the Septuagint rendered almah into … (parthenos), which really does usually mean virgin. Matthew (not, of course, the Apostle and contemporary of Jesus, but the gospel-maker writing long afterwards), quoted Isaiah in what seems to be a derivative of the Septuagint version (all but two of the fifteen Greek words are identical) when he said Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel’ (Authorised English translation). It is widely accepted among Christian scholars that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus was a late interpolation, put in presumably by Greek-speaking disciples in order that the (mistranslated) prophecy should be seen to be fulfilled. Modern versions such as the New English Bible correctly give ‘young woman’ in Isaiah. They equally correctly leave ‘virgin’ in Matthew, since there they are translating from the Greek.”

ISAIAH’ S REFERENCE: (Septuagint Version)

Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, Isaiah 7:14 has been interpreted to mean the person called Jesus Christ.

The facts are that, at the time when the Jewish nation was divided into Judah and Israel, the king of Syria joined with the king of Israel to make war against Ahaz, king of Judah. He and his people became alarmed.

Isaiah assures him in the ‘name of the Lord’ (the cant phrase of prophets) that the two kings will not succeed against him and delivers the words quoted above. In verse 16 he specifies the timing before this child shall know to refuse evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest (Syria and Israel) shall be forsaken of both her kings.

Perhaps Isaiah had someone already in mind for in the next chapter verse 2 he says I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son Jebereshiah and I went unto the prophetess and she conceived and bare a son.

Isaiah was proved false and Ahaz was defeated as related in the 28th chapter of Chronicles II.

By Richard Dawkins

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