We are going to go back to the Sotah ceremony in Num 5.11-31 to pick up some additional information. We are going to take a look at how this ceremony may have played a role in the life of Miriam, the mother of Yeshua. We will be using as a source for this study of the Sotah of Miriam the Mishnah, tractate “Sotah” and the book by Alfred Edersheim called “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services” p. 361-365.
We know from Isa 7.14 that a “virgin” will give birth to a son, and it would be a “sign.” So, what was the “sign” that Miriam was a virgin if this prophecy applied to Yeshua? We have touched on this concept earlier but we are going to get into more detail. First, we know that Yochanon Ha Matvil (John the Immerser) was conceived around the end of June (Luke 1.5-38), after Zachariah came home after serving his week in the Temple according to his division of Abiyah. We know when his division served because of the order of service given in 1 Chr 24.10.
Joseph’s reaction to Miriam’s “news” is seen in Mat 1.18-25. She informs him that she is pregnant. She conceived six months after Elisheva (Elizabeth) did with Yochanan, making it the month of Kislev when Yeshua was conceived, around Chanukah. Yochanon is born three months later, around Passover and Yeshua is born six months after that, around the festival of Sukkot. Now, the Sotah portion of Scripture was read in the synagogues (Num 5.11-31) between Sukkot and Chanukah. We are looking for the “sign” of Isa 7.14.
A young woman having a baby was not a “sign” for anyone to look at. It was very common. What is significant is Miriam went to the home of her cousin Elisheva. Zachariah was older and a respected priest, both were called righteous in Luke 1.6 in the sight of God. Miriam went to the house of a respected tzaddik immediately after the angelic visit and stayed three months, or until Passover (Luke 1.56-57).
We know there is a ceremony in the Torah that could prove whether a woman is a virgin or not, and that ceremony is called the Sotah, meaning “one who has strayed.” We are going to take a look at the Sotah ceremony of Miriam, but there is no record of this in the Scriptures. We are presenting this as a way she could have shown everyone that she was a virgin according to Isa 7.14.
The Sotah ceremony was no longer practiced and done away with around 70 AD by Yochanon Ben Zakkai. This ceremony was associated with the Temple, and with the Temple destroyed, it could no longer be done. It will return with the next Temple. There are many other ceremonies associated with the Temple that cannot be done today, including the festivals, picking of lots, biblical leprosy, the Nazarite vow and much more. We know that the time in the wilderness was a supernatural environment, and so was the Temple.
There were two types of Sotah. First, there was the Sotah with no definite evidence. Second, there was the Sotah with some immoral behavior, and there is some evidence, like being pregnant. This is what Miriam was. She is called a “presumptive Sotah.” Sotah 1.1 in the Mishnah says that the husband must warn her before two witnesses, and he may make her drink the bitter waters on the evidence of one witness or his own evidence that she has gone aside in secret with another.
Sotah 1.3 tells us how he must deal with her. He should bring her to the court in that place and they appoint for him two talmidim of the sages, lest he has a connection with her on the way. Did Miriam volunteer for this by going to Zachariah and Elisheva as two witnesses to her behavior up to the festival, and to her credibility? Zachariah is an elder kohen and respected, so she may have volunteered for the Sotah by going to their house in order to see she was a virgin. They certainly would have believed her story because the same angel came to them, and Elisheva conceived in her old age, a miracle at the other end of the age scale. This visit is no small thing and it means something.
The Mishnah tells us the husband would take the suspected wife to the court of his town. They would designate two learned men to accompany him to prove he does not cohabit with her on the way. Sotah 1.4 says they would bring her up to the “great court” and admonish her like they would a witness in a capital case. They would say, “My daughter, much sin is wrought by wine, much by light conduct, much by childishness, and much by evil neighbors; do you behave for the sake of his great name, written in holiness, that it be not blotted out through the water of bitterness?” And they would speak before her words which neither she nor the family of her father’s house are worthy to hear. In other words, they try to instill the fear of God in her.
We are going to see that they will write the name of God (YHVH-Yehovah) on the parchment that was put into the waters of bitterness, and she will drank it. She will have the opportunity to say she is guilty. If she does, they write a bill of divorce (Get) and she is divorced. If she says she is innocent, they take her up to the Eastern Gate, which is opposite of the Nicanor Gate in the Court of the Women. This gate is called the “Gate of the Just” or pure. The ashes of the Parah Adamah (Red Heifer) are there and it was where they purify the Metzora (leper) and a woman after childbirth (Lev 12). So, let’s move on to more of the ceremony.
The Torah says that the husband shall bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour; he shall not pour oil on it, nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity. This is symbolic of bringing her deeds to God’s remembrance. Then she is brought before the Lord at the Nicanor Gate of the Temple.
The priest takes water in an earthen-ware vessel and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the Temple and put it into the water. The woman stands before the Lord and they let her hair down, and they place the grain offering of memorial into her hands. In the hand of the priest is the water of bitterness that brings a curse. The priest has her recite an oath and says to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; and if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself, and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman, “The Lord shall make you a curse and an oath among your people by the Lord making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell, and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen, Amen” (meaning “faithfully true” or “I agree”).
The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash then off into the water of bitterness (Num 5.19-22). The priest takes the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand and he shall wave the grain offering before the Lord and brings it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering and he offers it up in smoke on the altar. Afterward, he shall make the woman drink the water.
When that is done, then it shall come about if she has defiled herself and she has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings a curse shall go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. However, if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will be free of any of these symptoms and she will conceive children.
It is possible that Miriam volunteered for this ceremony. It would have been a powerful sign to the priests and to the people because she had to appear before the Sanhedrin. They would have had a record about this in the Temple that anyone could have checked if they wanted to disprove Yeshua’s messianic claims and to show he was a false prophet, and that his mother was not a virgin. But they couldn’t produce that evidence because if Miriam went through this ceremony, nothing happened to her and she did conceive other children.
Joseph did not require this of her because the angel had already told him what was going on (Matt 1.19-25). She had talked to Zachariah and Elisheva and they knew Messiah was coming. The angel had visited Zachariah and was told the Messiah was coming, and their son Yochanon would be “Elijah” who would come before the coming of the Messiah. This ceremony would have happened in the Temple. We know that Zachariah was deaf and dumb until Yochanon was named at his circumcision (Luke 1.59-64).
Miriam did not need to convince Joseph because he knew she was a virgin and was told as much by an angel that he should not be afraid to take Miriam as his wife because that which has been conceived in her was by the Ruach Ha Kodesh. She would bear a son and they were to call him Yeshua, for shall save his people from their sins. This fulfilled the prophecy in Isa 7.14. Was the ceremony a sign to everyone that this was true? Yeshua claimed to be the Messiah, and you don’t see the priests, scribes or any Temple officials contest the virginity of his mother. Could there have been a record in the Temple of her voluntary submission to the Sotah ceremony?
We will pick up with our next Torah portion in Part 8.