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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Maiden, Virgin

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Bethûlâh (בְּתוּלָה, Strong's #1330), “maiden, virgin.” Cognates of this word appear in Ugaritic and Akkadian. Its 50 biblical occurrences are distributed throughout every period of Old Testament literature.

This word can mean “virgin,” as is clear in Deut. 22:17, where if a man has charged that “I found not thy daughter a maid,” the father is to say, “And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity [bethulim]. The text continues: “And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.” The husband was to be chastised and fined (which was given to the girl’s father), “because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel” (Deut. 22:19). If she was found not to be a “virgin,” she was to be stoned to death “because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house” (Deut. 22:21).

In several passages this word merely means a grown-up girl or a “maiden”; it identifies her age and marital status. The prophets who denounce Israel for playing the harlot also called her the bethûlâh of Yahweh, or the bethûlâh (daughter) of Israel (Jer. 31:4, 21). The other nations are also called bethuloth: Isa. 23:12— Zidon; Isa. 47:1— Babylon; Jer. 46:11 Egypt. These nations are hardly being commended for their purity! In Ugaritic literature the word is used frequently of the goddess Anat, the sister of Baal and hardly a virgin. What was true of her and figuratively of these nations (including Israel) was that she was a vigorous young woman at the height of her powers and not married. Thus bethûlâh is often used in parallelism with the Hebrew bachur, which signifies a young man, regardless of his virginity, who is at the height of his powers (Deut. 32:25). In such contexts virility and not virginity is in view. Because of this ambiguity Moses described Rebekah as a young girl (na’arah) who was “very fair to look upon, a virgin [bethûlâh], neither had any man known her” (Gen. 24:16—the first occurrence of the word).

Both the masculine and feminine forms appear in Isa. 23:4: “… I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men (bethulim), nor bring up virgins (bethulot). A similar occurrence is found in Lam. 1:18: “… Behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity” (cf. Lam. 2:21; Zech. 9:17).

The standard edition of William Gesenius’ lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs (BDB) observes that the Assyrian word batultu (masc. batulu) is a cognate of bethûlâh. This Assyrian word means “maiden” or “young man.”

Most scholars agree that bethûlâh and batultu are phonetically related; yet they disagree as to whether they are true cognates. Various Old Testament contexts indicate that bethûlâh should be translated “maiden” more often than “virgin.” If this is true, the BDB etymology is probably correct.


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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Maiden, Virgin'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/vot/m/maiden-virgin.html. 1940.

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