The Problem of Isaiah 7:14
Rev. William G. Most
Valuable help on our problem comes from a number of major modern
Jewish scholars who are commendably honest in bringing forth facts
that really favor the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, as
we shall be seeing presently.
In our study we are going to make much use of the targums, ancient
Jewish Aramaic free translations, plus fill-ins, of the Old
Testament. We are especially concerned with the Targum Jonathan,
the official targum to the prophets _ for most of the greatest
messianic prophecies are found in that targum, to the prophets
Isaiah and Micah. We must also add Targum Onkelos, because of the
great prophecies of Genesis 3:15 and 49:10, which Onkelos
recognizes as messianic.
The Date of Targums
As a result, we need to consider the question of the date of
composition of the targums, especially Targum Jonathan. There is
much diversity of opinion among scholars. For example, Samson
Levey wrote1 that the official targums (which include those of
Onkelos and Jonathan) are likely to come from the second century
B.C., since they are cautious about using the full title "King
Messiah" _ they omit the word King _ because in Maccabean times,
hope for restoring the Davidic kingship might sound like treason
to the Hasmoneans. But two pages later, Levey says the older view
that the latest possible date, the , of Targum
Jonathan was earlier than the Arab conquest of Babylon in the 7th
century A.D., which is wrong. It should be placed after that.
Rabbi Menahem Kasher, in his large 25 volume work, (=complete Torah) traces Onkelos, Pseudo-Jonathan, and
even Neofiti to the time of Ezra, that is, the fifth century B.C.
He notes that the scribe Ezra, according to Nehemiah 8:7-8, read
the law, while Levites, "gave the sense, so that the people
understood what was read."2 Jacob Neusner, perhaps the greatest
of modern Jewish scholars, thinks that "the targums contain ideas
from a time prior to their own closure and redaction."3 Similarly
Bruce Chilton, in the notes to his translation of the Isaiah
Targum4 comments on 25:2 which says that the gentiles will never
build a temple in Jerusalem: "Such a vigorous assurance has a
rather clear , since in 136 . . . The Temple of
Jupiter Capitolinus was dedicated there." So that statement must
have been made before 136 A.D. Chilton also, in great detail, in
his , argues that much of the
matter of the targums was already in use in oral form in the time
of Jesus, and finds echoes of it in the teachings of Jesus.5 The
debate still goes on today over the dates of the targums.
However, one thing is certain: They do reflect ancient Jewish
understanding of the messianic prophecies, made without what some
have called "hindsight," i.e., without help by seeing them
fulfilled in Christ. If any parts are more ancient than the final
form, it will be the prophecies, as we gather from the remarks by
Neusner, Chilton, and Levey just cited. However, as Neusner,
Levey and Schoeps, whom we shall presently cite on the point,
admit, there was deliberate distortion introduced into some
targums on prophecies to counter Christian use of them.
New Evidence for Targum Dates
This view is strengthened by still newer evidence. Jacob Neusner,
in his makes an exhaustive survey of the
teachings of the rabbis after the fall of Jerusalem on the
Messiah. In speaking of the Mishnah, the earliest of the major
documents of that period, dating from around 200 A.D., Neusner
says that it hardly mentioned a messianic figure of any kind.6 He
suspects that the reason is great disappointment about the debacle
of Bar Kokhba. Similarly, the Tosefta is not much concerned with
the Messiah.7 The Talmud of Jerusalem shows no tendency, he says,
to bring up questions of messianic importance even into
discussions of passages of the Mishnah that would naturally
suggest it.8 He adds that there is no more importance given to
what he calls the "messiah myth"9 in the hermeneutical works such
as Genesis and Leviticus, Rabbah, Sifra, Sifre on Numbers, Sifre
But when we finally come to the much later Talmud of Babylonia
(reached closure 500-600 A.D.) a fair bit of interest develops in
the Messiah. However, the items that are discussed are remarkable
for what they omit _
The chief points they do discuss, according to Neusner10 are
these: There will be a time of tribulation before the Messiah
comes. It is not a good idea to try to calculate when he may come
_ for the figures may be wrong, and disappointment could ensue.
The history of the whole world is in three parts, of which the
third is the time of the Messiah, who will come to a generation
that is worthy of him, for it is the condition of Israel that will
determine the time of his coming. The only item mentioned by
Neusner that ties closely to the classic prophecies is that the
Messiah will be from the house of David.
What do we gather from this survey by Neusner? We notice the
remarkable lack of interest in the Messiah until rather late.
Even then, there is no reference to the great prophecies of Isaiah
about the Messiah. Therefore we think it at least likely: We could add a small but
significant item. Jastrow, in his great 11 does not list any occurrences of the word ,
so common in the targums to stand for God or for a characteristic
of His12 after the targums. In other words, the word does
not seem to occur in the later Jewish literature which Neusner
A similar small but interesting item is the fact that the Isaiah
Targum on 5:16 mentioned God, "the Holy One," but did not add the
phrase which rabbis so consistently added "Blessed be He." This
could point to an early origin for this line at least.13 So,
since, as we said, the targums most certainly do reflect ancient
Jewish interpretations of the prophecies, made without any
"hindsight" we may confidently make use of them in our study.
But to start, we notice that there are two problems: 1) Is Isaiah
7:14 messianic? 2) Does it speak of a virgin birth?
Is Isaiah 7:14 Messianic?
We begin with the question of the messianic character of Isaiah
7:14. Catholic scholars at one time used to defend the messianic
nature of that text. Then they shifted to divided positions:
some said the child spoken of was the King Hezekiah, the son of
King Ahaz, to whom Isaiah spoke. Others would say it is Christ.
A third position is quite possible if we hold that there can be
multiple fulfillment of prophecies.14 The text could refer to
both Hezekiah and Christ.
We will first summarize the more usual arguments in favor of a
messianic sense, and then will add some new evidence, given us
indirectly by the Jewish scholars mentioned.
The birth of the son is to be considered as a sign. Would the
birth of an ordinary child be really a sign? Some insist it could
be. Otto Kaiser insists that even ordinary events could be called
a sign in the OT.15 J. H. Hayes, and S. A. Irvine even say that
the words "need not be taken as the presentation of a sign at
all."16 They are simply the announcement that a royal child is
soon to be born, and that he will survive! Some explain that the
birth of the child is a sign that the line of David would survive,
as God had promised.17
But these claims are very weak. Isaiah had in a great gesture
offered any sign, from the top of the sky to the depth under the
earth. It would be a case of what Horace called "parturient
montes"18: the mountains in labor to bring forth a silly little
mouse, if it meant only the birth of an ordinary child to continue
the royal line. That had happened so many times. And most
importantly, why tell Ahaz he will have a son to continue his
line, when he had already sacrificed a previous son by fire, as 2
Kings 16:3 says? (From the context, it seems the son was born
before Hezekiah, since only after verse 3, namely in verse 5ff, do
we learn of the danger from Rezin and Pekah, of which Isaiah 7
speaks.) Really, the line of David, as Isaiah 11:1 foretells, was
to die down to a mere stump, from which later would sprout the
Further, it is generally agreed even by scholars who do not favor
seeing Christ as the child, that the child foretold in Isaiah 9:5-
6 is the same as the child of 7:14.20 But the description of that
child of 9:5-6 is too grandiose for an ordinary king: Wonderful
Counsellor, Mighty God,21 everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Some at this point try to say these are merely throne names of the
ordinary Hebrew kings.22 But there is no record elsewhere in the
OT of calling a king "Mighty God."23 Indeed, occurs
only 5 times in the entire OT24 _ and every time it is found, it
means strictly "Mighty God." Jewish translators of Isaiah 9:5-625
render that way _ even though they use a different
expedient to avoid giving the title of Mighty God to the child.26
A remarkably strained view is found in Hayes and Irvine, who say
that the child is not even Hezekiah, but Ahaz himself!27
It would seem strange too that the Hebrew text uses the direct
article ha meaning "the" to refer to the ordinary wife of the
New Evidence of Messianic Nature of Isaiah 7:14
But there is newer evidence which has not been sufficiently
noticed. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a),
Hillel, the great teacher of the time of Christ, said "There will
be no Messiah for Israel, because they already had him in the days
of Hezekiah."28 Also, Johanan B. Zakkai, according to Talmus,
Berakoth 28b, said: "Prepare a throne for Hezekiah, king of
Judah, who is coming." A fine Jewish scholar, Samson Levey29
comments "Johanan's statement is especially significant, for it
was he who salvaged what little he could in 70 C.E." That was
after the destruction of the Temple, a traumatic event for all
Jews. Levey also observes, in his comment on the Targum Jonathan
to Isaiah 9:5, that the use of tenses in the targum as compared
with the Hebrew makes us suspect that the writer of the targum had
Hezekiah in mind as the Messiah30 _ which incidentally is an
indication of a rather early date for the targum, since the view
that Hezekiah had been the Messiah was dropped later on. Since
later the Jews dropped the idea that Hezekiah was the Messiah:
the Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a cites Rabbi Joseph as pointing out it
could not be Hezekiah, since Zechariah 9:9, after the time of
Hezekiah, still foretold a Messiah as to come in the future.
However, as we said earlier, several major Jewish scholars help
us. Perhaps the most eminent, Jacob Neusner, in his made the remarkable admission that since Christians began
to say that the Messiah had already come, and so the Jews had no
Messiah to look forward to, Jews began to say that Hezekiah had
not been the Messiah: "It was important to reject the claim that
Hezekiah had been the Messiah."31 The implication is of great
importance: The Jews at one time, as we saw from the words of the
great Hillel, had considered Hezekiah as the Messiah _ Christians of
course would agree Hezekiah was not the Messiah, but would still
insist that Isaiah 7:14 was messianic.
Thus we can make a coherent picture with another piece of data,
namely: The Targum Jonathan does say that Isaiah 9:5-6 is
messianic _ but _ scholars commonly agree today32 that the child
in 9:5-6 is the same as the child in 7:14. Therefore, the
deduction is clear:
Neusner's indirect admission that there was distortion in the
targum to keep Christians from using the OT is reinforced by
statements from other important modern Jewish scholars.
Samson Levey, whom we cited above, quotes with basic approval the
words of J. Bowker, :
"Christians tended to base their arguments against Judaism on
verses of scripture, and the targum-interpretation of those verses
was often deliberately designed to exclude the Christian
argument." Levey adds right after the quote: "The author, on the
basis of his own study, agrees with Bowker, in the main, but
thinks he is too dogmatically certain and too general in the
assertion."33 Still another prominent Jewish writer, H. J.
Schoeps, in says that reports of atonement for sin
in the martyrdoms of rabbis were carefully worded, to avoid
helping Christians and adds: "Again with the same motive, and in
order to eliminate the reference of Isaiah 53 to Christ, atoning
power was imputed to the death of Moses."34
We mentioned above in passing that it is possible to see a
multiple fulfillment pattern in 7:14, namely, the prophecy would
refer to both Hezekiah and to Christ. St. Augustine already in
his 17:3 recognized that some OT prophecies
refer only to OT persons or events, some to Christ and His Church,
and some to both. He would notice this to be the case by finding
the prophecy would fit partly the one, partly the other. Inasmuch
as some things in Isaiah 7 seem to fit Hezekiah better, some to
fit Christ better, this may well be the case here. Vatican II, in
#55, used a similar principle: "These primeval
documents, as they are read in the Church, and are understood
under the light of later and full revelation, gradually more
clearly bring to light the figure of the woman, the Mother of the
Redeemer. She, under this light, is already prophetically
foreshadowed in the promise, given to our first parents after
their sin, of victory over the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15). Similarly
she is the Virgin who will conceive and bear a Son whose name will
be called Emmanuel (cf. Is 7:14; Mich 5:2-3; Mt 1:22-23)."35
Behind this principle of course is the fact that the Chief Author
of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit, of course could intend more
than the human author might see at the time of writing.36 So we
gather two things from this text of Vatican II: (1) The complete
sense of Isaiah 7:14 was not clear at the start, probably not even
to the human author; (2) it has become clear now, with the passage
of time, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Chief Author of
Holy Scripture. So we see that as a matter of fact, the Holy
Spirit did intend the messianic sense.
So at least in this sense, Vatican II does teach that Mary is the
virgin of Isaiah 7:14.
Virgin Birth: The Usage of and
This of course brings us to our second question: Does Isaiah 7:14
speak of a virgin birth? Vatican II does teach this, in showing
that this point is really contained in Isaiah 7:14, as intended by
the Chief Author, the Holy Spirit.37 But we would still like to
see the exegetical evidence for this matter.
Of course, we must examine both the Hebrew and the
Septuagint translation, (LXX)
The Hebrew does not necessarily mean a virgin. It means a
young girl of marriageable age _ who is presumed to be a virgin.
The OT uses the word only seven times: Gen 24:43; Ex 2:8;
Prov 30:19; Ps 68:26; Songs 1:3 and 6:8, plus, of course Isaiah
7:14. Out of these only Genesis 24:43 and Isaiah 7:14 seemed
clear enough to the Septuagint translators that they rendered it
by which, of course, definitely means virgin.38 In
Gen 24:43 Isaac is on his way to find a bride for himself. He
then proposes to God that he will stand by the well of water, and
asks that the who comes out to draw water, and who offers
water for both him and his camels may be the one he should take as
a bride. Exodus 2:8 tells how the daughter of Pharaoh told the
sister of the infant Moses to get a Hebrew woman to nurse him. We
would think likely that the sister was a virgin, since she seems
to be still living with her mother. But the Septuagint was being
quite careful: it used the broader word
Proverbs 30:19 says the author cannot understand a few things.
One of them is "the way of a man with an " It seems to
mean his desire for intercourse. That of course could be true
even if she were not a virgin. Yet a young man in general would
want a virgin.39 Even so, the LXX did not render by _
in fact, it changed the sense, rendering _ the writer
of Proverbs does not understand the way of a man "in his youth."40
Psalm 68:26 speaks of the playing with timbrels in a
victory procession _ we would say most likely, at least, they are
virgins. But the LXX stayed with the more generic again.
Songs 1:3 is not very clear: "Therefore do the love
you." O. Kaiser thinks that in Songs 6:8 "virginity . . . is
certainly ruled out." We do not agree, for the verse says:
"There are 60 queens, 80 concubines, and without
number." Now if a girl is neither a queen, nor a concubine, it
seems likely she is still a virgin. But the LXX again stayed with
We gather that the LXX was extremely careful about translating
as , virgin. It did it only twice. One of
those two times is in Isaiah 7:14. Hence it seems that the LXX
was quite convinced that it really did mean a virgin in Isaiah
Rene Laurentin, in the original French edition of 41 raises some objections to taking Isaiah
7:14 as foretelling a virgin birth.
First, he recognizes that the LXX does translate by ,
but he says this point is weakened in two ways. " The
Septuagint (two centuries before Christ) had in the meantime
translated it by this does not imply a development in
the direction of the virginal conception. If this were the case,
the Greek text would have retained the most significant factor of
the Hebrew text, where it is In the LXX this mission
is given to Ahaz."42 In the LXX the prophet says, speaking to
Ahaz "You will call."
However, it is not true that the change of who would give the name
is so significant. It is now generally admitted that the textual
tradition of the OT was not firmly fixed at the time the LXX was
made.43 Hence the LXX probably merely used a different textual
tradition, resulting in the shift about who would give the name.
The Isaiah scroll of Qumran44 has wqra which could be rendered:
"one will call" = people will call, or it will be called.45 (The
Targum Jonathan has "she will call," which matches the Hebrew.)
Still further, the mother giving the name would not be critical
anyway, in spite of Laurentin. At times even when there was a
human father, the mother did give the name, e.g., Gen 4:1 & 25;
We note that above, Laurentin said the Jewish tradition did not
see a virgin in Isaiah 7:14. Some later translations did not use
Secondly, Laurentin, in the French edition, tries to claim that
the LXX is loose in its use of and he cites as an
example the case of Dina, violated by Shechem. Dina is, says
Laurentin, called a virgin in Gen 34:4, after the violation.47
But Laurentin made a remarkable slip here: he must have not
looked at the Hebrew or Greek texts at all, but just used a French
translation, which does indeed have in Gen 34:4. But had
Laurentin looked at the Hebrew, he would have found not ,
but "young woman," and in the Greek he would have found
not , but
Somehow Laurentin found out his mistake before the English
translation appeared. So in it he did not appeal to Gen 34:4 but
to Gen 34:3.48 Now Gen 34:4 does have standing for
Hebrew "young woman." But again Laurentin seems to have
overlooked something: Often the OT uses a concentric pattern in
narratives, i.e., it will first tell part of the story, then it
will back up and repeat, adding details. It is at least very
plausible to suppose that that is what has happened in the passage
of Gen 34:1-4. Then, even though the Hebrew has twice for
Dina in verse 3, yet the LXX translators, thinking it was the
concentric pattern quite familiar to them, thought it referred to
Dina before the violation, when she would still be virgin, and
hence rendered both times by
In view of the fact that we have seen how careful the LXX is about
its use of we can hardly suppose without added proof
that it was careless in translating Isaiah 7:14. We might add
this: In the case of Genesis 24:14, 16 and 55 where the Hebrew
has , the LXX each time uses If we check the
narrative in context, it is clear that the girl in question each
time really is a virgin, for in verse 16, she is called first
and then So here the LXX is more precise than
Kaiser asserts: "According to the lexica, the words
and do not necessarily have the connotation of virginity
in the strict sense."50 Kaiser cites H. G. Liddell and R. Scott,
, rev. H. S. Jones and R. McKenzie,
Oxford 1940 (1961), and C. T. Lewis and C. Short, Oxford, 1907.
The Latin usage is not really significant _ and it is much like
the Greek anyway _ but we are dealing with the Greek and further,
the Greek of the Septuagint, not the pagan usage. But let us look
at the citations even so. They are few. The general normal usage
of even in pagan literature really does stand for
virgin in the strict sense. Homer, Iliad 2:511-4 has: "Those who
dwelt in Aspledon and Orchomenos of the Minyai were under
Askalaphos and Ialmenos, sons of Ares, whom Astyoche conceived by
the powerful god in the house of Aktor, son of Azeus, who entered
her upper chamber, an honorable maiden () and lay with
her secretly." We comment: the word could refer to her before
that point _ she was such before Ares came, and would be commonly
thought to be a virgin, for she was honorable. Who would see the
Pindar, Pythian 3:31-34: "Thereupon did he (Apollo) send his
sister (Artemis) to Laceria . . . for the unwedded girl
() was living by the banks of the Boebian lake." We
comment: Apollo knew of her fall from virtue. She would
popularly have been considered a virgin at that time.
Aristophanes, Clouds 530-31: "And I, for I was still a virgin
() and it was not right to bear, I exposed it." We
observe: she was popularly considered a virgin, hence she exposed
the child to hide what she had done, so as not to lose that
Sophocles, Trachiniae, 1219-20: Herakles says: "Do you know the
maiden () child of Eurytus?" Hyllus says: "It seems
to me you mean Iole." A few lines below, Heracles says she had
lain by his side. But again, we observe that she would popularly
be thought to be a virgin. (A similar situation comes below, at
From these examples we conclude: 1) All examples are from poets,
who are apt to be more free in their use of words, especially for
the sake of meter; 2) All examples are loose at least in the sense
that the girl would popularly be considered a virgin. 3) These
examples are few, and do not represent the general Greek pagan
usage. But even if the pagan Greek evidence were much stronger,
we would still have to say:
1) We produced new evidence (chiefly, lack of interest in the
Mishnah and beyond, in the classic prophecies) that the Targums
Jonathan and Onkelos are early, probably no later than 200 A.D.,
the date of the Mishnah, and likely even earlier. We saw that
commentators quite commonly hold that at least some parts of the
targums go back to earlier times. This is specially likely for
the Isaiah texts we have studied, in view of the lack of interest
in them later on. And for certain, the Targum Jonathan reflects
Jewish understanding of the prophecies that is, without the help of seeing them fulfilled in
Christ, whom they hated.
2) We saw that the Targum Jonathan clearly makes Isaiah 9:5-6
messianic. Then, by the fact that 7:14 speaks of the same child _
since both texts are part of the Book of Immanuel _ 7:14 must also
be messianic. We saw that the Jews once, e.g., Hillel, did
consider 7:14 messianic, but gave it up to deter Christians from
using 7:14 as messianic. So the fact that the targum does not
mark 7:14 as such is readily explained by the distortion later
introduced into the targums by the Jews who wanted to keep
Christians from using them _ a fact admitted by several major
modern Jewish scholars.
3) We saw that Vatican II teaches that 7:14, as understood in the
light of later revelation really does speak of the Messiah and of
Mary His Mother, in a virginal conception. The Council indicates
that the original readers, and probably even Isaiah himself, did
not see the full import. But it indicates that even so, the Holy
Spirit, the Chief Author of Scripture, did see it and intend it,
so that later He led the Church to see it also.
4) Hence for those who accept the teaching of Vatican II, both
points are clear: Isaiah 7:14 is messianic, and it does speak of
a virginal conception.
5) A careful study of usage of the Hebrew and Greek
in the Septuagint reveal that although need
not mean virgin, it most usually does, and is so understood by the
Septuagint, which employed even more precision than the Hebrew
text of the OT in general in its use of
1 Samson Levey, Hebrew
Union College, Cincinnati, 1974, pp. 142, 144.
2 Menahem M. Kasher, Jerusalem 1927-74. His
comments on targums are in volume 24. Alejandro Diez Macho, in
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid, 1978, V.
pp. *41-82 reviews and comments on Kasher's arguments. Further,
Talmud, Sanhedrin 21b does say that in the time of Ezra the
writing and language which had been Hebrew, changed to Assyrian
characters and Aramaic language.
3 Jacob Neusner, Fortress, Philadelphia,
1984, p. 240.
4 Bruce Chilton, in V1
11. Glazier, Wilmington, 1987, p. 49.
5 Chilton, , Glazier, Wilmington, 1984.
Cf. also Chilton's review in
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, #33, 1985, pp. 127-28.
Martin McNamara, in
Glazier, Wilmington, 1983, pp. 241-43 argues that St. Paul in 1
Cro 10:4, in speaking of the rock that followed the Israelites in
the desert, probably draws on a targumic tradition.
6 Neusner, op. cit., p. 74.
7 Ibid., p. 77.
8 Ibid., p. 86.
9 On p. xviii Neusner explains that by "myth" he does not mean
untruth. He says it is equivalent to idea, but more appropriate.
10 Ibid., p. 175.
11 Pardes Publishing House, N.Y. 1950, s.v. memra.
12 Chilton, glossary, p. lvi says may
refer to God's command, or to the constant support God offers His
people, and refers to "the constant interplay between divine
constancy and human fickleness."
13 Cf. Chilton, ibid., p. 12, in Apparatus. Cf. also L. Turrado,
in VIa, Romanos 2a ed. Biblioteca de Autores
Cristianos, Madrid, 1975, p. 369, note 113, on Rom 9:5.
14 Cf. W. G. Most, Prow, Libertyville,
1985, Chapter 5, "Multiple Fulfillment."
15 Otto Kaiser, 1-12. 2d ed. tr. J. Bowden, Westminster,
Philadelphia, 1983, p. 154.
16 John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Abingdon, Nashville, 1987, p. 132.
18 Horace, 139.
19 The targum explicitly recognizes Isaiah 11:1 as messianic.
20 Cf. for example, Kaiser, op. cit., p. 116. Hayes and Irvine
(op. cit., p. 180), surprisingly insist that a "messianic
interpretation must be ruled out, if we are correct in rendering
the verse in the past tense." But it is a familiar fact that the
perfect in Hebrew, even outside of a prophecy, can stand for
future. Cf. Joüon, 2d ed.
Institute Biblique Pontifical, Rome, 1947, #112 g-h.
21 New American Bible here renders . Kaiser, op. cit.,
p. 204 has
22 E.G., Kaiser, op. cit., pp. 212-14; Hayes & Irvine, p. 181-82.
23 As Kaiser admits, op. cit., p. 213, it is only Psalm 45 that
even seems to speak of the king as god. But the word used there
is Hebrew . That word is sometimes used loosely. In Ps
82:6 it refers to kings or judges. In Ex 22:8-9 it means judges.
In Ps 8:6 it also means judges. In Ps 138:1 it means either
angels or judges. But is never used loosely, cf. note
24 It occurs only in Isaiah 10:21, Deut 10:17, Jeremiah 32:18, and
Nehemiah 9:32-33, besides Isaiah 9:5. In each case context shows
it means strictly God.
While the targums and the Rabbis did not seem to see that the
Messiah would be God, yet they did ascribe a marvelous character
to him. Levey, op. cit., p. 108, says: "The belief that the
Messiah would live eternally was widespread. . . ." On p. 114
Levey cites the targum on Ps 61:8: "He shall dwell forever before
Levey also says, in commenting on Micah 5:1 (p. 93): "The latter
part of v. 1 in the Hebrew would tend to support the doctrine of a
pre-existent Messiah, which is not found in rabbinic thought."
But he adds that the rabbinic idea that the name of the Messiah
existed before the world seems to be reflected in the targum on
this same verse. The Talmud, Pesahim 54a says "Seven things were
created before the creation of the world, namely: Torah,
repentance, paradise, gehenna, the throne of majesty, the temple
and the name of the Messiah" (Cf. also Nedarim 39b). E. Isaac,
author of the translation and commentary on 1 Enoch in J. H.
Charlesworth, Doubleday, N.Y.
1983, p. 9 wrote: "The Messiah in 1 Enoch, called the Righteous
One, and the Son of Man, is depicted as a pre-existent heavenly
being, who is resplendent and majestic." The comment is based on
the fact that in Hebrew usage, the name and the actual existence
of a being are often close to identical. Hence ,
33:6 (tr. w. Braude, Yale Judaica Series 8, p. 641) says: "You
will find that at the very beginning of the creation of the world,
the king Messiah had already come into being, for he existed in
God's thought even before the world was created." Levey, p. 70,
in giving rabbinic parallels to the targum on Jer 23:1-8 cites: "
'What is the name of the King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said:
His name is "the Lord"; as it is stated. And this is the name
whereby he shall be called. The Lord is our righteousness (Jer
23:6)' Lamentations Rabbah 1:51." In his note on this passage
(note 83, on p. 156) Levey gives the Hebrew for Lord here as
Malachi 3:1 in the Hebrew reads: "Behold I send my messenger, and
he will prepare the way before my face, and the Lord whom you seek
will suddenly come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant,
in whom you delight." The noted form critic R. H. Fuller
( C. Scribner's Sons,
N.Y., 1964, p. 48) said: "The starting point for this expectation
is Mal 4:5f (Mt 3:23f). In this passage, an editorial note
commenting on Mal 3:1, Elijah appears as the forerunner not of the
Messiah but of Yahweh himself . . . followed by the coming of
Yahweh to his temple for the eschatological judgment. . . ."
Objectively this does refer to the Messiah, and thus, according to
Fuller, the Messiah is called Lord, meaning here, Yahweh. (Fuller
uses the numbers 4:5 of Mal, following some English versions and
the Vulgate. The Hebrew has the same words at 3:23-24).
25 E.g., Levey, op. cit., p. 45 does render "the Mighty God."
26 Levey, p. 45, avoids calling the Messiah that by saying that
the wonderful counsellor, the Mighty God etc. "has called his name
Prince of Peace." In his version of the targum on the same page,
Levey uses the same expedient, while keeping "the Mighty God," so
that the Mighty God calls his name Messiah. In contrast, J. F.
Stenning, Oxford, 1949, p. 32 renders
"Mighty God" but does not turn the sentence structure around to
avoid calling the Messiah by that title.
27 Op. cit., p. 182.
28 Cf. Neusner, p. 174.
29 Levey, op. cit., p. 154, note 33.
30 Levey, op. cit., p. 45.
31 Neusner, op. cit., p. 190.
32 Cf. note 20 above.
33 Levey, op. cit., p. 152, note 10.
34 H. J. Schoeps, tr. H. Knight, Westminster,
Philadelphia, 1961, p. 129.
35 Cf. Charles M. Miller, "
Marianist Center, St. Louis, 1973, pp. 49-60.
36 This would involve a multiple fulfillment pattern, or what is
sometimes called a fuller sense. On multiple fulfillment, see
note 14 above. Vatican II, in the passage just cited does seem to
imply this sort of thing. We note that Jeremiah in 31:31ff., the
prophecy of the New Covenant, hardly foresaw that the essential
obedience of that covenant would be that of Jesus Himself. So the
Holy Spirit used Jeremiah as an instrument to express more than he
saw. Similarly, St. Irenaeus, in comparing all sin to a tangled
knot, and then saying that the knot of the disobedience of Eve was
untied through the obedience of Mary, seemed to imply more than he
understood _ again, he was an instrument in the hands of Divine
Providence. Similarly Vatican II itself, in the Marian Chapter
VIII of the Constitution on the Church, also taught more than it
understood. On these cases see W. G. Most, "Coredemption:
Theological Premises, Biblical Bases" in 22,
1986, pp. 90-91. Reprinted in 13, 1987, pp. 54-
37 See note 36 above.
38 The objection as to the meaning of in Greek will be
39 Some (cf. John D. W. Watts, , p. 99) argue that the next verse, verse 20 which
speaks of an adulterous woman, means the same woman as the
of verse 19. This is not impossible, but unlikely, for it uses a
different word, not and since Proverbs gives so
many disjointed lines some modern editors insert a new heading
before v. 20. So there is no proof that the woman in v. 19 is the
same as the woman in 20.
40 Kaiser, op. cit., p. 155.
41 Rene Laurentin, ,
Desclee, Desclee de Brouwer, 2d ed., 1982, pp. 485-86.
42 English translation by Michael J. Wrenn & Associates, St. Bede's Petersham, 1986,
pp. 411-12. The italics are in the French, not in the English.
43 Cf. R. W. Klein,
Fortress, Philadelphia, 1972.
44 Photocopy of the scroll, and transcription in Hebrew type, in
Millar Burrows, I.
The Isaiah Manuscript, American Schools of Oriental Research, New
Haven, 1950. W. H. Brownlee, Oxford U. Press, N.Y. 1964, p. 55, dates the
scroll at late 2nd century B.C.
45 Cf. Paul Joüon, op. cit., #155d.
46 Kaiser, op. cit., p. 154, comments that the other Greek
versions of the OT used instead of "with the
intention of thus preventing the church from giving a
christological interpretation of the passage." The thought is
tempting, and is in line with the distortion which, as we saw,
some good Jewish scholars admit was introduced into the targums,
for such a purpose. However, while the version of Aquila probably
dates from about 135 A.D., and that of Symmachus from late second
century A.D., that of Theodotion is probably pre-Christian, from
first century B.C.
47 French edition, p. 486.
48 English version, p. 412.
49 It is unfortunate to notice that Laurentin, in contrasting
Zechariah and Mary at the annunciation, writes: "But her
objection (it is indeed an objection) is bolder to the extent that
she opposes not an established fact, but her human will to the
divine will" (p. 22 of English, p. 34 of French). But the
Fathers, and the Church, have been insistent in praising her for
conformity to the divine will, not for bold opposition! On the
next page (English 23, French 35) Laurentin says that Zechariah is
punished, but Mary exalted, because the right to speak is
recognized in her case, not in his! And on pp. 18-19 of English
(French pp. 29-30) Laurentin insists that Greek cannot
mean grace, but only favor, and so the translation "full of grace"
is incorrect. But Vatican II used it (On the Church #56). And
the standard Arndt,
Gingrich, Danker, does recognize grace as one meaning of
For the fuller linguistic picture of cf. W. Most, "Grace
(in the Bible)" in , 6, pp. 672-74.
50 Kaiser, op. cit., p. 154-55.
Rev. William G. Most holds his Ph.D. in Latin and Greek
from the Catholic University of America. Fr. Most
taught theology and classics at Loras College in
Dubuque, Iowa for more than forty years. He is now
Professor of Theology at the Notre Dame Catechetical
Institute. Fr. Most has also written several books
including (available from
Christendom Press: 1-800-877-5456).
This article was taken from the Summer 1992 issue of "Faith &
Reason". Subscriptions available from Christendom Press, 2101
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