Bethulah vs Almah

Posted by on Dec 27, 2020

There is a great deal of misunderstanding of the difference between two Hebrew words — bethulah and almah — in the prophecy in Isaiah 7 that causes controversy between Jewish and Christian theologians.

According to the prophecy in the Christian translation KJV, a virgin would conceive and bear a son, whose name would be called “Immanuel”.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14 KJV)

However, according to the Jewish translation of the same verse, it was a young woman who would bear the child.

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14 JPS)

Which translation is correct: a virgin or a young woman?

Christian theologians using the Christian translation call the Jews blind not to see the obvious sign of the virgin birth in the Gospel of Matthew. They claim that because the Jews failed to see “Christ” in the prophecy and accept Him as “a personal savior and Lord”, God afflicted them with all calamities and rejected them as His people. Consequently, God chose the “Church” in the place of Israel.

The rabbis, on the other hand, accuse the Christian missionaries of deliberately and incompetently altering the prophecy in Isaiah to promote their agenda to convert the Jews to the Christianity.

Which side of the conflict is correct? To answer this question we will study what bethulah and almah mean, and then we will draw a conclusion.

Let us begin with the fulfilling of the ancient prophecy in Matthew 1, but this time will read not from the Greek translation but from an ancient manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew: Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, translated by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995.

We read thus in the Hebrew text of Matthew,

And she will bear son, and you will call his name Yeshua, for he will save my people from their iniquities. And all this was to complete what was written by the prophet according to Yehovah: Behold, the young woman (almah) is conceiving and will bear son, and you will call his name Immanuel, that is, ‘With us is El’. (Mat 1:21-23)

Note: In the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew a beautiful play on words is found in Mat 1:21: you will call his name ישׁוּע (Yeshua, that is, “Yehovah saves”), for he will save (יושיע yoshia) my people. This prophetic Hebrew pun is totally lost in Greek, in which no connection is found, whatsoever, between the Greek nickname “Iesus” and “save”.

For more insight on the true name of the Messiah, refer to the article His Name Is Yehoshua – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

It is certain that, according to the prophecy in Isaiah, the child who was to be born was the long-awaited Messiah of YHVH, concerning whom Mosheh our teacher bade us to await. Read more in the article Is Yeshua the Prophet in Deu 18:15? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

That this child was no other than that heir of the throne of David, whose birth was hailed with joy in Chapter 9, then again in Chapter 11 his reigning was foretold, can be seen in the rabbinic literature in Zohar 2:172b as well as in Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 93b, according to which Isa 11:1-4 is understood messianically.

For another controversial subject, refer to the articles Revealing the Name of Yeshua Secretly Guarded by the Rabbis and Did Israel Reject the Messiah? Part 1 and 2 – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

Thus, “the young woman” in the prophecy of Isaiah, is seen as a nameless maiden belonging to the house of David.

The Hebrew word in question in Isa 7:14 and in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is עַלְמָה almah.

Almah comes from the primitive root verb עָלַם alam, which means to veil from sight, to conceal (literally or figuratively). Hence, almah is a young woman as veiled or private.

It was costumery in the ancient world that a young girl was wearing her hair loose to show that she was available for marriage, while betrothed or married woman had her head covered to show that she was under the authority of her husband. Therefore, almah is a young woman of marriageable age.

We find this concept in the case of the matriarch Rivkah. When she saw her husband Yitschak at a distance, she took her veil, and covered herself (Gen 24:64-65).

But does almah mean a virgin, as the Christian translations render Isaiah?

That almah does not mean virgin is clearly seen in the following example.

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a young woman (almah). (Pro 30:19 JPS)

Here and in passages, such as Son 6:8, almah can hardly be rendered “virgin” in the immediate and plain context of the texts. Contrarily, to the plain meaning of the text, KJV has again rendered almah as “virgin”).

There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and maidens (almah) without number. (Son 6:8 JPS)

Indeed, the word almah is also applied to Miriam, the sister of Mosheh, when she was a young girl, as seen in Exo 2:8. 

עַלְמָה almah can be applied to a fully mature young woman who had known a man, but also to a young woman who can be still in her virginity, as seen in the case of Rivkah in Gen 24:16, where the word bethulah is used, and in Gen 24:43, where almah is used. Simply put, in such passages as Son 1:3, Son 6:8, and in Psa 68:25, almah refers to a young woman without any reference to her virginity.

With this we are coming to the second word in question: בּתוּלה bethulah, a virgin.

Let us compare עַלְמָה almah, a young woman, in Gen 24:43, to בּתוּלה bethulah, a virgin, in Gen 24:16.

And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin (bethulah), neither had any man known her; (Gen 24:16 JPS)

The Hebrew word בּתוּלה bethulah, a virgin, is a feminine passive participle of an unused root meaning to separate, which signifies a maiden living in seclusion in her father’s house.

Hence, בּתוּלה bethulah means a young girl or woman who has not been married yet, i.e., she is a virgin. The plural masculine form of bethulah is בְּתוּלִים bethulim, and means collectively and abstractly: virginity, for male and female alike.

In conclusion, the word almah means a young woman, while bethulah: a virgin. If the young woman is a virgin, the narrative will identify her as bethulah, as in the case of Rivkah.

Therefore, the JPS translation is the correct one, as we read again,

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14 JPS)

The Christian translators have forced their theology into the text of Isaiah to make it more Messianic than it is. The prophecy of Isa 7:14 does refer to the Messiah, as the rabbis themselves say in Zohar 2:172b, in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 93b.

However, the two words bethulah and almah could both be applied to women who were betrothed, and even married. Bethulah does mean a virgin, a woman who has never known a man. But, in Hebrew this word can also mean a young married woman. How could that be possible? This is how,

Wail like a maiden (bethulah) girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. (Joe 1:8)

In this case, the word bethulah is used in a sense that she is not a virgin, but pure and spotless in her marriage. Hence, bethulim, virginity means purity and spotlessness.

With that being said, the reader may continue to The Prophecy of 144,000 bethulim in Revelation 7 – Time of Reckoning Ministry, who have His Father’s Name written upon their foreheads, not defiled with women, redeemed from among men, being first-fruits to Elohim and to the Lamb (Rev 14:1-4).


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.