By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Vanderbilt professor speaks on birth of Jesus
Rotary speaker.jpg
Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University, talks about the conception of Jesus Christ during a Rotary Club of McMinnville meeting on Thursday.

Was the pregnancy of Mary the result of divine intervention, or a physical conception?

That was the question raised Thursday by Amy-Jill Levine, guest speaker at the Rotary Club of McMinnville. Levine is a professor at Vanderbilt and is considered one of the foremost scholars of Jewish studies in the nation.

“Some things are lost in translation,” said Levine in talking about the pregnancy of Mary and subsequent birth of Jesus Christ. “Jews don’t see it as a virgin conception. Christians do.”

Levine told the group the original version of the Bible was written in Hebrew. In that original version, in the Book of Isaiah, she said that Isaiah describes Mary as a young woman who is pregnant. Levine says there’s no mention of Mary being a virgin.

The word which was used in the original Hebrew version is “almah,” which normally means “young woman,” but it can mean “virgin.” 

In the Greek translation of the Bible, the word “parthenos” is used to describe Mary, which normally means “virgin” but it can also mean “young woman.”

This difference in translation is the reason Jews do not believe Mary’s pregnancy was divine, says Levine.

“Isaiah was not talking about a virgin,” said Levine. “He was just talking about a young woman.”

When it comes to the Bible, Levine addressed the question that’s been asked for centuries. Is the Bible an account of actual history, or is it more a collection of parables that illustrate valuable lessons?

“All of this stuff could have happened,” said Levine. “I don’t know if it did, and I don’t know if it matters.”

Levine says one underlying message she has taken to heart is that anyone can make a difference.

“When simple people like Joseph and Mary get called on by God, the meaning is that anyone can get called on by God,” said Levine.