Laban and Rebecca at the well, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Rebecca is described as an almah (Genesis 24:43)

Almah (עַלְמָה‘almāh, plural: עֲלָמוֹת‘ălāmōṯ, from a root implying the vigour of puberty [1]) is a Hebrew word for a young woman of childbearing age; despite its importance to the account of the virgin birth of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, scholars agree that it has nothing to do with virginity.[2] It occurs nine times in the Hebrew Bible.[3]

Etymology and social context[]

Almah derives from a root meaning "to be full of vigour, to have reached puberty".[1] In the ancient Near East girls received value as potential wives and bearers of children: "A wife, who came into her husband's household as an outsider, contributed her labor and her fertility ... [h]er task was to build up the bet 'ab by bearing children, particularly sons" (Leeb, 2002).[4] Scholars thus agree that almah refers to a woman of childbearing age without implying virginity.[2] From the same root, the corresponding masculine word elem עֶלֶם 'young man' also appears in the Bible,[5] as does alum (used in plural עֲלוּמִים) used in the sense '(vigor of) adolescence',[6] in addition to the post-Biblical words almut (עַלְמוּת) and alimut (עֲלִימוּת)[7] both used for youthfulness and its strength (distinct from post-Biblical Alimut אַלִּימוּת 'violence' with initial Aleph, although Klein's Dictionary states this latter root is likely a semantic derivation of the former, from 'strength of youth' to 'violence'[8]).

The Bible uses an unrelated word, betulah (‏בְּתוּלָה‎), to refer to a virgin,[9] as well as the idea of virginity, betulim (‏בְּתוּלִים‎)[10].

Bible usage[]

The word almah occurs nine times in the Hebrew Bible:[3]


The Septuagint translates the Isaiah 7:14 occurrence into parthenos (παρθένος)[12], the basic word associated with virginity in Greek (it is a title of Athena 'The Virgin Goddess') but still occasionally used by the Greeks for a unmarried woman who is not a virgin.[13] The word is also translated to parthenos in the Genesis verse concerning Rebecca.[14] Most scholars agree[15] that the author of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 'a young woman shall conceive and bear a son' did not intend to convey any miraculous conception, so that the Septuagint translators used the Greek word parthenos there, as in the Genesis occurrence, generically for an unmarried young woman, whose probable virginity (as unmarried young women were ideally seen at the time) was incidental. The other occurrences of Almah above are rendered into an unrelated Greek word meaning 'young woman'[16] (neanis νεᾶνις, from neos 'new'[17]).


  1. ^ a b Childs 2001, p. 66.
  2. ^ a b Sweeney 1996, p. 161.
  3. ^ a b Byrne 2009, p. 155.
  4. ^ Leeb 2002, p. unspecified.
  5. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 5958. עָ֫לֶם (elem) -- a young man". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-08-01.
  6. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 5934. עֲלוּם (alumim) -- youth, youthful vigor". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-08-01.
  7. ^ Even-Shoshan Dictionary, entries עַלְמוּת and עֲלִימוּת
  8. ^ "Klein Dictionary, אלם ᴵᴵᴵ 1". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  9. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 1330. בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) -- a virgin". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  10. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 1331. בְּתוּלִים (bethulim) -- virginity". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  11. ^ Preuss 2008, p. 461.
  12. ^ https://www.blueletterbible.org/lxx/isa/7/1/t_conc_686014
  13. ^ "Greek Word Study Tool". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  14. ^ https://www.blueletterbible.org/lxx/gen/24/1/t_conc_24043
  15. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges https://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/7-14.htm
  16. ^ Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon on H5959 Almah: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5959&t=LXX
  17. ^ "Strong's Greek: 3494. νεανίας (neanias) -- a young man". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-08-02.