Jerome, The perpetual Virginity of blessed Mary

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Jerome, the revisor of the Vulgate, was well known with the Hebrew language. He died in A.D. 420. Here follows a part of his work, The perpetual Virginity of blessed Mary. This part is important for our understanding of the translation of the Hebrew word 'almah, as it is used in Isaiah 7:14, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Jerome writes:

4. For at the present day, now that the whole world has embraced the faith, the Jews argue that when Isaiah says, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," the Hebrew word denotes a young woman, not a virgin, that is to say, the word is Almah, not Bethulah, a position which, farther on, we shall dispute more in detail.

32. Isaiah tells of the mystery of our faith and hope: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel." I know that the Jews are accustomed to meet us with the objection that in Hebrew the word Almah does not mean a virgin, but a young woman. And, to speak truth, a virgin is properly called Bethulah, but a young woman, or a girl, is not Almah, but Naarah! What then is the meaning of Almah? A hidden virgin, that is, not merely virgin, but a virgin and something more, because not every virgin is hidden, shut off from the occasional sight of men. Then again, Rebecca, on account of her extreme purity, and because she was a type of the Church which she represented in her own virginity, is described in Genesis as Almah, not Bethulah, as may clearly be proved from the words of Abraham's servant, spoken by him in Mesopotamia: "And he said, O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go: behold I stand by the fountain of water; and let it come to pass, that the maiden which cometh forth to draw, to whom I shall say, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of this pitcher to drink; and she shall say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels: let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed for my master's son." Where he speaks of the maiden coming forth to draw water, the Hebrew word is Almah, that is, a virgin secluded, and guarded by her parents with extreme care. Or, if this be not so, let them at least show me where the word is applied to married women as well, and I will confess my ignorance. "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son."

 

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