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IMMANUEL (Heb. עִמָּנוּ אֵל – this spelling, everywhere in two words, of which the first has everywhere a musical accent of its own: merekha in Isa. 7:14, ṭifhaʾ in Isa. 8:8 and 8:10, is that of the manuscripts and of most early prints, "With us is God"), the name to be given to a still unborn baby boy according to Isaiah 7:14, apparently as a symbol which verse 16 is intended to explain. The name is commonly supposed to occur again in 8:8, where the still unborn child is supposed to be apostrophized; but in fact the words ʿimmanuʾel are here, as they are universally admitted to be in 8:10, not a proper name but a simple statement to the effect that "with us is God." The name Immanuel does not appear at all in the talmudic or midrashic literature. The Christian tradition identified the ʿalmah (see below) with the virgin mother Mary, and Immanuel with Jesus (Math. 1:20ff.). The medieval Jewish commentator David *Kimhi (on Isa. 7:14) comments that the sign was to strengthen Ahaz's conviction in the truth of the prophet's message. This would imply that the sign be contemporary with Ahaz and not a symbol for a future occurrence. The birth of Immanuel therefore could not take place, as Christianity has it, in the distant future after the period of Isaiah.

Ginsberg's Views

According to H.L. Ginsberg, the background of "the Immanuel sign" is explained by Isaiah 7:1 ff. as follows: In the reign of King Ahaz of Judah, kings Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched against Jerusalem, and the news of their advance struck terror in the hearts of both the House of David and its subjects. yhwh, however, ordered *Isaiah to go out and meet Ahaz at a certain spot and tell him to stop worrying about "those two smoking stubs of firebrands" (i.e., those "has-beens"). (5) "Because the Arameans – with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah (as in verses 4 and 9, Pekah is referred to only as "the son of Remaliah" by way of disparagement; cf. "the son of Tabeel" in verse 6 and Saul's spiteful "the son of Jesse" and "son of Ahitub" in i Sam. 20:30, 31; 22:7, 9, 12, 13) – have plotted against you, saying (6) 'We will march against Judah and invade and conquer it, and we will set up as king in it the son of Tabeel,' (7) thus said my Lord yhwh: It shall not succeed, It shall not come to pass. (8) For the head of Aram is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin;… (9a) The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah." It is felt at this point that the unspoken implication is that the Davidic polity, in contrast, is not a purely human one; its head is not Ahaz but God. This was clearly the understanding of the Chronicler, for, in narrating the encounter between Ahaz's predecessor Abijah and Pekah's predecessor Jeroboam (i) son of Nebat (ii Chron. 13:8) he has put into the former's mouth a speech which, though it also embodies the ideas dear to himself, is patently modeled on the present speech of Isaiah. Here are some selected bits: (ii Chron. 13:8) "Now, do you think you can stand up to the kingdom of yhwh which is committed to the descendants of David? To be sure, you are a great multitude. But with you are (only) the golden calves that Jeroboam made to serve you as gods … (Verse 12) So marching at the head with us is God…. O Israelites! Do not fight yhwh the God of your fathers, for you shall not succeed." Obviously, the Chronicler, like most moderns, understood Isaiah's argument in Isaiah 7:5–9a to be that the attempt of Aram and Israel could not possibly succeed (Isa. 7:7; ii Chron. 13:12b) because the only real forces on their side were human forces (Isa. 7:8a, 9a; ii Chron. 13:8), whereas "with us is God" (ii Chron. 13:12a). However, one modern scholar, Kemper Fullerton, went further: he realized that the account in Isaiah (no less than the one in Chronicles cited here, although not by him) did not leave "whereas with us is God" to be inferred; it is said in so many words, only they have gotten displaced. Once it has been pointed out, there canbe no doubt but Isaiah 8:8b–10 belongs in the context of 7:5–9. For (1) 8:10 first goes 7:5–7 one better: Even if all the nations in the world were to plot against us it would not succeed; cf. ʿuẓu ʿeẓah in 8:10 with yaʿaẓ lo in 7:5 and yaqum lo in 8:10 with taqum in 7:7. And then it expressly adds ki ʿimmanu ʾel, "For with us is God." (2) Given a choice between taking 8:8b as a threat against "your land, O Immanuel" (why should the notyet conceived child of 7:14 be addressed?), and taking it as an assurance that "with us is God, and his wings shall be spread (protectingly) over the entire width of your land (O Ahaz)" – cf. 31:5; Ps. 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8; Ruth 2:12 – how can one do otherwise than agree with Fullerton? However, 8:8b has suffered some damage in the process of displacement. As a minimum, add waw (vav) at the beginning and place ʿimmanu ʾel עִמָּנוּ אֵל immediately after it. Then have 8:8b–10 follow directly on 7:9a, as follows: (8:8b) "But with us is God, And his wings shall be spread as wide as your land is broad (9) Note well (read deʿu with lxx), all you (read yaḥdaw) peoples; Listen, you remotest parts of the earth; Gird yourselves – you shall be broken; Gird yourselves – you shall be broken; (10) Hatch a plot – it shall be foiled; Agree on action (similarly "strike bargains," 58:13 and Hos. 10:4) – it shall not succeed. For with us is God!" Only after this comes 7:9b; but after that, for reasons that will be explained presently, come verses 14b–16. Thus: (7:9b) "If you do not believe – since you cannot be believed – (14b) look, the young woman shall conceive (future as in Judg. 13:5 in light of Judg. 13:3, since otherwise the futurity of the following verb would have had to be indicated by the form weyaledah) and shall bear a son. You (we-qaraʾta, as some Mss. vocalize and some ancient versions render) shall name him 'With us is God' (Immanuel). (15) (By the time he learns to reject the bad [e.g., ink?] and choose the good [e.g., milk?], people will be feeding on curds and honey [for lack of agriculture, verses 23–25, 21–22]). (16) For before the lad knows to reject the bad and choose the good, the ground whose two kings you dread shall be abandoned." In this way, the "With us is God" sign makes an excellent conclusion to the "With us is God" assurance. By the same token, it will become obvious, on reflection, that where the sign stands in the received text, between verses 10–14a and 17, it is inapposite, for two reasons: first, verse 11 leads us to expect here a sign "down in Sheol or up in the sky"; and second, the tone of verses 13–14a and verse 17 leads us to expect an omen that bodes ill for Judah, not for Aram and Israel. The amora R. Johanan (Sanh. 96a) rightly inferred from Isaiah 38:8 that prior to abruptly receding ten steps in the reign of Hezekiah the shadow has abruptly advanced ten steps in the reign of Aḥaz (for us that involves regarding be-maʿalot, "on the steps of " before ʾAhaz as a contamination, due to the four other occurrences of maʿalot in the same verse, of an original bi-Yme, "in the days of "). Taking a hint from R. Johanan, Ginsberg inferred that this is the "sign" that was originally related between 7:14a and 7:17.

It is obviously no accident, in the light of the foregoing, that the story that Isaiah offered such a sign (7:11) is told, like the just cited one about the recession of the sun in the reign of Hezekiah, in the third person. Prophets never tell such stories about themselves. But is the extant sign story of Isaiah 7, the story of the Immanuel sign, conceivable, in contrast to the one about the forward leap of the sun here reconstructed, even in a first person account by Isaiah? The answer is that the Immanuel sign is unhistorical. In the first place, it is inept even as a legend. A comparison of verse 9b with Exodus 4:1, 5, 8, 9 (the common keyword is heʾmin, "to believe") shows that the narrator intended to have Isaiah reinforce his reassuring prediction to Ahaz with a sign as convincing as those in Exodus 4:1–9 (a staff turned into a snake and then back into a staff; healthy skin afflicted with a white eruption and then healed again; water turned into blood) – or like the two already mentioned prompt and miraculous signs of Isaiah which, respectively, we have reconstructed between 7:14a and 17 and we can still read in ii Kings 20:8–11 and Isaiah 38:22, 7–8. To claim that the Immanuel sign, which consists merely of still further predictions, is anything of the sort takes a lot of hardihood, if that is the word. In the second place, the explication of the Immanuel sign takes a complicated form whose point is difficult to grasp. A harem girl of Ahaz (so Luzzatto, who interprets ʿalmah in light of the ʿalamot of Song 6:8) shall conceive and bear a son (prophets confidently predict such things only in third person accounts) whom Ahaz is to name "With us is God" in token of the fact that only a few years after that "the ground whose two kings you dread shall be abandoned." However, how does such a name signify such a thing? There is a remarkably similar name interpretation in 8:3–4 (see Isaiah, ch. 7–9); only there (1) conception and birth are not predicted in advance, and (2) the interpretation of the name causes no difficulty. For the name is "Pillage hastens, looting speeds," and any intelligent child can understand how that signifies, "Two cities are going to be plundered at an early date" (8:4). To symbolize in the same way the early abandonment of the farmland of the two countries, the child of chapter 7 ought to have been named "Abandonment hastens, desertion speeds" (miharah ʿazuvah, ḥashah neṭushah). It is decidedly no accident that the straightforward self-explanatory account of a symbolic child naming is couched in the first person and the fuzzy, elusive, puzzling one, in the third. For an analogous case, see *Hosea (a). The child-naming sign of Isaiah 7 is a palpably legendary reflex of the one in chapter 8, the name of the child in the former being suggested by Isaiah's assurance "with us is God" (see above) and its signification by the predication of Judah's depopulation in 6:11–12 and of again – as 7:17 shows – Judah's reversion to a pastoral economy as a result of the abandonment of its farmland in 7:18ff.


K. Fullerton, in: jbl, 43 (1924), 253ff.; E.G. Kraeling, in: jbl, 50 (1931), 277–97; H.L. Ginsberg, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1950), 29–32; J.J. Stamm, in: vt, 4 (1954), 20–33; idem, in: zaw, 68 (1956), 46–53; W. McKane, in: vt, 17 (1967), 208–19.

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]

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Immanuel or Emmanuel (Heb., ‘God is with us’). The name of a son prophesied to be born of a young woman (or virgin) in Isaiah 7. 14. Christian tradition, starting with Matthew 1. 23, has interpreted the passage as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ.

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