Virtually Hidden – the Significant, Rarest of Hebrew Words

Appearing only three times in the entire Hebrew text of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, is a virtually hidden Hebrew word and yet it may be the most significant – ha-almah. Only two Bible versions translate all three instances using this exact Hebrew text, the Orthodox Jewish Bible and Young’s Literal Translation.[1]

Commonly written as Hmleh, hmle and hā-‘al-māh, it is comprised of ha and `almah translated into two English words.[2] Easiest to translate is “ha” or “Hey” which means “the,” a definite article used to make a clear and specific reference.[3] Hebrew has a special difference; it is much more dramatic.[4]

Original ancient Hebrew script for the consonant “h” is one single pictograph letter.[5] Hebrew language expert Jeff A. Benner describes the original pictograph character in this way:

“The Hey has a “h” sound and is a picture of a man with his arms raised up, shouting and pointing at a great site as if to say “behold, look at that”.  This letter means “the” in the sense of pointing to something of importance.”[6]

Translation of `almah is one of the most controversial in the Jewish-Christian discourse. One side claims that `almah means “young woman,” “maid” or “damsel” which does not necessarily mean “virgin.”[7] The other side asserts `almah always specifically means “virgin” as seen in some Bible versions translations.[8]

Strong’s Concordance of Hebrew defines `almah is “a lass (as in veiled or private): – damsel, maid, virgin.”[9] In those days a “maid” or “damsel” was a young woman or girl who was typically presumed to be a virgin by implication of her age and single marital status whereas a “virgin” is explicitly self-explanatory.[10]

Commonly, `almah is translated in both Jewish and Christian Bibles as “young woman.” Those two words are not part of the formal Strong’s definition exacerbating the issue. How the word is or is not intended by its authors to be understood requires textual analysis.

Some critics contend that since the Hebrew word for “virgin” is bethulah, then `almah cannot refer to a virgin.[11] Indeed, bethulah (bə-ṯū-lāh, bthuwlah , b@thuwlah or hlwtb) means “virgin” appearing 50 times in Biblical Hebrew texts.[12] It is occurs in the contexts of metaphors for peoples or nations in judgements, lamentations or blessings; legalistic references; or to describe the virginity of an actual female subject.

Focusing only on references where bethulah involves an actual female subject, three usage rules emerge. One, the word is always used as an adjective noun or in an adjective clause to clarify na `arah (girl) or another female noun within the context of na `arah (girl). Examples: “the girl [na `arah] was a very beautiful virgin [bethulah];” “Tamar [proper noun], for she was a virgin [bethulah];” or “my virgin [bethulah] daughter [noun].”[13]

More significantly, bethulah is not used as a standalone noun for a specific female subject. Nor is bethulah the subject who initiates a present or future tense action. There are no instances that say something like “bethulah shall call;” “bethulah plays;” “bethulah shall bear;nor “bethulah loves.”[14]

Appearing only 7 times in Biblical Hebrew text is the Hebrew word `almah. Its word usage rules are strikingly different, based as much on circumstantial setting as it is on sentence structure.

As a standalone noun, `almah, like “virgin,” is self-evident – it does not need further clarification with an adjective or adjective clause. Conversely, the word is never used as an adjective noun nor in an adjective clause to define the subject. For example, there are no instances such as “a na `arah who is an `almah;” “Tamar who is an `almah;” nor “my `almah daughter.”

As the direct female subject of a sentence, `almah is used to initiate an action only in the present or future tense:  “`almah playing tambourines;” “`almah went and called; “`almah love you;” “`almah comes out to draw water,” and “`almah shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call.”[15]

Five instances of `almah occur in texts after the defining moment when the Law was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps most revealing is that `almah always appears in royal circumstances – virgins in the king’s harem, in a king’s presence, a king’s perspective, and the royalty of God’s musical worship.[16]

Remaining are the two instances that occurred before the Law centuries before the first Hebrew king involving two Hebrew matriarchs, Rebekah and Miriam.[17] According to Phillip E. Goble, Editor of The Orthodox Jewish Bible, Rebekah is revered as the “mother of the Nation of Israel” and Miriam is “the savior of the Exodus” (Moses) – Hebrew royalty.[18]

Rebekah’s story in Genesis 24 is the only passage in the Bible that contains both `almah and bethulah plus the two related Hebrew words `ishshah (woman) and na ‘arah (girl) making it the codex for all four words. Most noteworthy is that bethulah is used to define `almah as “virgin.”  

Narrowing it down further are the three instances where the Hebrew text delineates “behold, look at that” when ha precedes `almah “pointing to something of importance.” The first two appear in reference to the Hebrew matriarchs, before God’s Law legally defined the purity of virginity for marriage.

For Rebekah and Miriam, ha-almah places focus on the significance of their state of virginity before entering their adult lives of greatness.[19] Only one other instance of ha-almah, “the virgin,” occurs in the entire Bible; the only time after the Law at Mt. Sinai.

Appearing identically in both The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic text is ha-almah.[20] Isaiah responded to King Ahaz’ refusal to accept God’s offer to name any sign between Heaven and Hell as proof of God’s promise to protect the kingdom from their enemies. God’s own chosen sign issued through the prophet:

IS 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin [ha-almah] shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”(NKJV)

Isaiah wrote the rarest of Hebrew words – did the renowned Biblical prophet of Judaism and Christianity make a mistake delivering God’s response when he said ha-almah would give birth to a son whom would be called Immanuel meaning “God with us”? [21]

If the sign was intended to refer to a female without any expectation of virginity, Isaiah would have been expected to use either na ‘arah or `ishshah; however, he didn’t. Nowhere in Isaiah’s writings is the appearance of na ‘arah (girl). Variations of `ishshah occurs 11 times in reference to an adult woman, wife, mother, or even an adulteress where in all senses virginity is neither assumed nor expected.

Isaiah used bethulah in 5 instances, always as a metaphor or judgement of a city or nation. The word does not fit the prophecy with a female subject and would have violated the Hebrew usage rules.

Instead, Isaiah chose ha-almah in a dual royal context – King Ahaz and God. Whomever he referenced in the prophecy, the ha-almah female is in the highest echelon of Hebrew importance, on the same level as the matriarchs Rebekah and Miriam.

Textual analysis confirms the use of ha-almah in God’s chosen “sign” bounded only by Heaven and Hell was the prophecy of a virgin birth to a boy to be called Immanuel. Was Isaiah 7:14 a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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ASB = Amercian Standard Bible
BSB = Berean Study Bible
CSB = Christian Standard Bible
DBT = Darby Bible Translations
ESV = English Standard Version
HCS = Holman Christian Standard Bible
ISV = International Standard Version
JUB = Jubilee Bible 2000
NHE = New Heart Christian Bible
NIV = New International Verson
NKJV = New King James Verson
NLT = New Liviing Translation
OJB = Orthodox Jewish Bible
WEB = World English Bible
YLT = Young’s Literal Translation

REFERENCES:

[1] The Orthodox Jewish Bible. 2002. BibleHub. <https://biblehub.com/ojb/genesis/1.htmYoung’s Literal Translation. 2019. <https://biblehub.com/ylt/genesis/1.htm>
[2] Isaiah 7:14. Hebrew text transliteration. BibleHub. 2019. <https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/7-14.htm> hā·‘al·māh. Hebrew text. BibleHub.com. n.d. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/haalmah_5959.htm>
[3] Isaiah 7:14. Hebrew text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Isa&chapter=7&verse=14> ‘almah <05959>. NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05959> “the.” Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/the>  “the.” Cambridge Dictionary. n.d. <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/the
[4] Goble, Phillip E, ed. “The Translator to the Reader.” The Orthodox Jewish Bible. 2002. Artists for Israel International. 2012. p vii. <http://www.afii.org/ojbible/ix.pdf
[5] Benner, Jeff A. “Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.”  Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2019. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction.htm>
[6] Benner. “Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.”
[7] Nahigian, Kenneth E.  “A Virgin-Birth Prophesy?” Skeptic Tank Files. n.d.<http://www.skeptictank.org/files/sr/2virgi93.htm> Cramer, Robert Nguyen.  “The Book of Isaiah.”  The BibleTexts.com. 1998 <http://www.bibletexts.com/verses/v-isa.htm>  Cline, Austin. “Who Was Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus? Was She Really a Virgin?” About.com|Agnosticism/Atheism. n.d. <http://atheism.about.com/od/biblepeoplenewtestament/p/MaryVirgin.htm>  Yosef, Uri. “Isaiah 7:14 – Part 1: An Accurate Grammatical Analysis.” The Jewish Home. 2011. <http://thejewishhome.org/counter/Isa714_1.pdf>  Bratcher, Dennis. “Isaiah 7:14: Translation Issues.”  The Voice. 2014. <http://www.crivoice.org/isa7-14.html>  Gill. The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. n.d.   <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>  CR Judges Chapter 13. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible.  Isaiah 7:14 commentary. <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/genesis-24.html
[8] Genesis 24:43 – ESV, NKJV, KJV, HCS, OJB; Exodus 2:8 – OJB; Isaiah 7:14 – NIV, NLT, ESV, BSB, NKJV, CSB, HCS, DBT, ISV, JUB, NHE, WEB, OJB; American Standard Version, 1901 Edition. Perseus.Tufts.Edu. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0156:book=Isaiah:chapter=7&highlight=virgin> Robinson, B.A. “Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”” Religious Tolerance. 2007 <http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_proi.htm
[9] “almah.” Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=almah
[10] Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. Reference: TWOT – 1630b.  Strong. “`almah  <5959>  “damsel.”  Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/damsel
[11] Nahigian.  “A Virgin-Birth Prophesy?” Cramer. “The Book of Isaiah.”  Cline. “Who Was Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus? Was She Really a Virgin?” Yosef.. “Isaiah 7:14 – Part 1: An Accurate Grammatical Analysis.” Bratcher. “Isaiah 7:14: Translation Issues.”
[12] “bthuwlah.” Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=bthuwlah>  Strong The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “ bethulah <1330>.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=01330> Genesis 24:16. Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. “b@thuwlah <01330>;” footnote 1.  <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=24&verse=16
[13] Genesis 24:16, 2 Samuel 13:2. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein 1935-1948. Yebamoth 61b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/yebamoth/yebamoth_61.html > CR 2 Samuel 13:18; I Kings 1:2.  “na`arah <05291>” NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05291>  
[14] CR Isaiah 7:14; Psalms 68:25; Song of Solomon 1:3.
[15] CR Genesis 24:16; Psalms 68:25; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8; Isaiah 7:14.
[16] CR Psalms 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8; Isaiah 7:14;
[17] Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8.  Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.  Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. “`almah  <5959>” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=05959>  Strong. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “almah.”
[18] Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.
[19] Goble. “The Translator to the Reader.” p vii.
[20] Miller. Fred P.  “The Translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll.” Book of Isaiah. 2001. Column VI Isa 6:7 to 7:15.   <http://www.moellerhaus.com/qa-tran.htm “hmleh.” Net.bible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:hmleh> BibleHub.com. Interlinear Bible Hebrew text. Isaiah 7:14. “5959 [e] hā·‘al·māh”.  <http://biblehub.com/interlinear/isaiah/7-14.htmOrthodox Jewish Bible (OJB). Isaiah 7:14.
[21] “`Immanuw’el <06005>. NetBible.org. 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=06005> Isaiah 7.14. BibleHub.com. Strong’s Lexicon. “Immanuel.” <https://biblehub.com/parallel/isaiah/7-14.htm

A Connection – Branch Prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah?

Three Hebrew prophets over the span of 200 years – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah – had one specific prophecy in common.[1] All foretold of the “Branch,” similarly interpreted as the “Sprout.”

Generations after King David’s reign, some 700 years before Jesus of Nazareth was born, the remnants of David’s kingdom of Israel were in a downward death spiral. For centuries, despite many warnings from numerous prophets, the Hebrews and their kings failed to abide by their contractual Covenant made with God at Mt. Sinai.[2]

Renowned as a prophet by both Judaism and Christianity, Isaiah warned kings Ahaz and Hezekiah of the consequences their nation faced. Isaiah prophesied the “King of Babylon” would one day take away their own descendants to serve as eunuchs in his palace.[3]

Warnings also came with good tidings when Isaiah prophesied about the coming future Messiah.[4] In one, Isaiah foretold of a “Branch” who would grow out or sprout from the root of Jesse:[5]

Is 11:1-2 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”(NKJV)

A century after Isaiah’s prophecies, defiance by the Hebrews had continued leading to the fulfillment of his prophecy that judgement would come from the King of Babylon.[6] Reality came with the attack of Nebuchadnezzar and his destruction of Jerusalem.

After a devastating defeat, the Hebrew’s finest were taken captive back to Babylon where, in the Book of Daniel, at least three upstanding Hebrews served King Nebuchadnezzar. Prophet Jeremiah added more bad news prophesying that the secession of sitting kings in the House of David would end with Jeconiah aka Jehoiachin.[7]

Amidst the doom and gloom, Jeremiah also predicted good news about the coming Messiah. Twice the prophet foretold that God would raise up another King in the lineage of David, “a Branch of Righteous.” Curiously, Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi offered no commentary on either of these prophecies, perhaps because no commentary was necessary:

Jer 23:5 “”Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…”” (NKJV)

Jer  33:15 “‘In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth…’” (NKJV)

Moving ahead another century since Jeremiah’s prophecies, the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity had ended with the Medes and Persian invasion.[8] Two centuries earlier, Isaiah twice prophesied a ruler named Cyrus would rise who would allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt – Cyrus was the name of the new Persian Empire ruler who did exactly that.[9]

Darius followed Cyrus as ruler of the Persian Empire and honored Cyrus’ decree for the Hebrews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.[10] Zechariah 1:1 – “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.” [11]

Describing his fourth vision, Zechariah was present when Joshua the Priest stood before the angel of the LORD along with Satan who was there to accuse the priest. Satan was rebuked by God and Joshua was given fine new clothes.[12] In the vision, God then spoke directly to the high Priest:[13]

Zech 3:8 “‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.’” (NASB)

God identified the Branch as “My servant.” Incidentally, the central figure of the parashah prophecy of Isaiah 52-53 is also “My servant” who is subjected to unusual cruelties consistent with a Roman crucifixion described in the Gospels.

Narrating his eighth vision, Zechariah received instructions from God to choose people from among the exiles to make a crown of gold and silver, then set it upon the head of Joshua, the high Priest. Zechariah was directed to then deliver this message to the Priest:

Zech 6:12-13 “…‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’’” (NKJV)

Joshua, the high Priest, was not from the royal lineage of King David. Nor was he expected to be made a king when the symbolic crown was set upon his head, especially since the Hebrews were subservient to an accommodating ruler, Darius. Neither was Zerubbabel given the crown, technically the rightful heir to the throne being the grandson of Jeconiah, the last sitting king in the royal secession of David before the Babylonian captivity.[14]

No one person present at this event is the focus of God’s message, rather it pointed to someone else in the future named the Branch. Rabbi Rashi commented that while he believed the prophecies are about Zerubbabel, he did not rule out that this second Branch prophecy was about the Messiah.[15] Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides, on the other hand, viewed Zechariah 6:12 as a Messiah prophecy.[16]

Prophecies from Isaiah before the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah during the Babylonian captivity and Zechariah after the Babylon captivity, all point to a future figure called the Branch. Viewed as Messiah prophecies, at least in part, by both Judaism and Christianity, what are the odds that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of the Branch prophecies?

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Isaiah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isaiah> “Isaiah.” New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Isaiah>  “Jeremiah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jeremiah-Hebrew-prophet>  “Jeremiah.” New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jeremiah>  “Zechariah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/The-last-six-minor-prophets#ref597798>  “Zechariah, Book of.” New World Encyclopedia. 2013. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Zechariah,_Book_of>
[2] Exodus 24:3-8.  CR Deuteronomy 29.
[3] Isaiah 39:7. “ben.” Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=01121>
[4] I Chronicles 2:11-13; 2 Ruth 4:17.
[5] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Rashi commentary on Isaiah 11:1.   <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true> CR Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:10.  CR 1 Chronicles 2:12-15, 3:16-18; Ruth 4:21-22; Matthew 1:5-16; Luke 2:4; 23-31.  Ryrie. “Introduction to the Book of Isaiah.”
[6] Jeremiah 24:10-16; 52:27-33; Esther 2:6; 2 Kings 24:6, 8, 12, 14-15; 25:27, 29
[7] Chronicles 36:8, 9; Jeremiah 22:24-30. CR Jeremiah 24:1; 27:20; 28:4; 29:2, 52:31, 33; 1 Chronicles 3:16, 17; 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:8, 9; Esther 2:6; 2 Kings 24:6, 8, 12, 15; 25:27, 29; Ezekiel 1:2.
[8] 2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 2:1.
[9] Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, 13; Ezekiel 1:2-3.  CR Ezra 2:1-2; Nehemiah 7:6; Isaiah 41:2-3, 25, 27; 43:9, 21; 48:14-15.  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XI, Chapters I.1-2. Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[10] Ezekiel 1:2-3, 6:7,12. “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I> Josephus. Antiquities. Book XI, Chapters III.8, IV.1-2.
[11] NET, NIV. “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica.
[12] Zechariah 3.
[13] Plaut, Gunther. “Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Back in the Land.”  MyJewishLearning.com. n.d. <http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Prophets/Latter_Prophets/The_12_Minor_Prophets/Haggai_Zechariah_Malachi.shtml>
[14] I Chronicles 3:17-19; Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 23; Ezra 3:8.
[15] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Rashi commentary on Zechariah 6:12.   <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true>
[16] Maimonides, “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.  Neubauer and Driver.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>

The Great Isaiah Scroll – Are Its Messiah Prophecies Authentic?

Isaiah is considered by Judaism and Christianity to be the greatest of all the prophets making the Book of Isaiah the greatest of all the books of the prophets.[1] The Talmud contains many references and interpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies with Sanhedrin 98 alone making 10 references.[2]

Beginning to end, the Book of Isaiah is chalked full of Messiah prophecies although which ones are messianic sparks a conflict. Undisputed are the three prophecies foretelling the future Messiah would come from the son of Jesse, the throne of David.[3] Of these, one is the first Messiah “Branch” prophecy followed a hundred years later by two Jeremiah “Branch” prophecies and a century after that, Zechariah’s two “Branch” prophecies.[4]

Perhaps the greatest of all offers made by God to a man is the story in Isaiah of King Ahaz who turned it down! The King was given an opportunity to choose any miraculous sign unbounded between Heaven and Hell as proof that Isaiah’s prophecy of protection would come true.[5] Suspicious, Ahaz declined the challenge leading to the famed, yet controversial, prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

Christianity and Judaism virtually agree Isaiah 7:14 predicts the birth of a son, but they part company about it being a prophecy of the Messiah’s birth. Matthew’s Gospel contains the account when the Archangel Gabriel told Joseph his betrothed virgin wife, Mary, would give birth to a son fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of ha-almah.

Much more than a single word, the parashah or pericope of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 depicts a man’s manner of torture and suffering who is killed and buried. Moreover, the death and burial among the rich described in Isaiah 53:8-9 is followed by a description of life again in the remaining two verses. The many details in the parashah mirror the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Judaism typically treats the Isaiah 52-53 parashah as a prophecy about Israel, but with some very notable exceptions.[6] Prominent Rabbis – Maimonides, Jose the Galilean, Crispin – point to a combined 5 different Messiah prophecies within the parashah of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.[7] “The Rabbis” in Sanhedrin 98b reference Isaiah 53:4 identifying one of the names of the Messiah.[8]

Hours before his arrest, Jesus quoted Isaiah 53:12 to his Disciples, “‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’” saying the prophecy written about himself was to be fulfilled.[9] Three years earlier, launching his ministry in the synagogue of his home town, Jesus of Nazareth read from the prophecy of Isaiah 61 saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[10]

Paramount to all of these prophecies is having confidence that the Book of Isaiah is credible and reliable.[11] Archeology played a major role in that determination with the discoveries of the Qumran Scrolls from 1947-1956 and their restoration.[12]

Most Qumran scrolls were only in fragments, but one scroll was complete – the scroll of Isaiah.[13] For good reason, the scroll has been dubbed “The Great Isaiah Scroll” and is on display in Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book.[14]

A precept of the science of textual criticism is the shorter the time interval between the original and the existing text, the greater the level of textual purity – the shorter the timeframe, the fewer number of interim handwritten copies where variations are inevitably introduced.[15]

Isaiah’s book was written around 700 BC and the Scroll is dated to between 200-100 BC. When compared to other well-known texts of antiquity, textual purity of the Scroll is of the highest degree especially considering that the some Hebrew scrolls have been known to be used in synagogues for hundreds of years.[16]

Until the Qumran discoveries, the oldest textual content of Isaiah was the Masoretic Aleppo manuscript, the source for the Jewish Tenakh. The Aleppo text was written about 1000 years after the Scroll.[17] Are the expected variances minor or significant?[18]

Surprising to experts, little variation is found between the Scroll and Aleppo texts. One Scroll translator, Jeff A Benner, explains his translation methodology on his website, “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.”  Focusing on the controversial Isaiah 53, the findings of his analysis:

“The major difference between the Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the addition of the vowel pointings (called nikkudot in Hebrew) in the Aleppo Codex to the Hebrew words.”

“Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The three remaining letters comprise the word LIGHT, which is added in verse 11 and which does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the Septuagint (LXX). Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission – and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.”

Benner points out the only variation of any significance, a single word, is still consistent with the Septuagint text. About 100 years before the Scroll was written, the Septuagint LXX translation was produced from 285-247 BC. According to Josephus, Egypt ruler Ptolemy Philadelphius required 72 Jewish scribes to be separated and translate Hebrew Scripture to produce a complete Greek translation.[19] The Septuagint is the primary basis of the Christian Bible.

Fred P. Miller is another Scroll text translator with his own website, “The Translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll.” Miller attributes the Scroll text to not being a “translation,” rather a copy that merely reflects dialects of the era similar to updating old English, such used as in the King James Version, to modern English used in the New King James Version. Miller’s finds the results “remarkable”:

“With this fact in mind, (that the Qumran scribes used their own discretion to alter the text to fit their own dialect), then the correspondence between the text of the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic text of Isaiah is all the more remarkable.”

Science has proven the Book of Isaiah holding its many prophecies genuinely and accurately appear in today’s Jewish and Christian Bibles. The question is not whether the prophecies of Isaiah are legitimate; rather, which are Messiah prophecies and have any been fulfilled?


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[1] “Isaiah.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8235-isaiah> “Isaiah.” Biblica | The International Bible Society. 2019. <https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-isaiah>
[2] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a, footnote #1. Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22, LIII.4.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98b_31>  CR The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, p 310. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t08/t0814.htm>
[3] Isaiah Is 9:6-7; 11:1-2, 10.  CR 1 Chronicles 2:12-15; Ruth 4:21-22. Matthew 1:5-6. Ryrie. “Introduction to the Book of Isaiah.”
[4] Jeremiah 23:5; 33:14-15. Zechariah 3:8, 6:12-13.
[5] Isaiah 7:11, NASB,
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[9] NIV. Luke 22:37.
[10] NASB, NRSV. Luke 4:21. CR Matthew 12:15-21 citing Isaiah 42:1-4; Luke 22:37 reference to Isaiah 53:12.
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