Bible Review 8:1, February 1992

Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?

By Pieter W. van der Horst

The anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews contains a justly famous panegyric to faith (see the sidebar to this article). In a series of sentences that begins “By faith,” the letter recites the accomplishments of ancient heroes—Abel, Enoch, Noah; then Abraham—and Sarah. What did Sarah accomplish by faith? The Greek contains a difficult term. Taken literally, it seems to say that by faith Sarah had a seminal emission, even though she was past the age of fertility, and as a result bore Isaac (Hebrews 11:11). The crux consists of two Greek words, katabole spermatos (katabolh; spevrmato~): “By faith Sarah received power to have a katabole spermatos, even when she was past the age.”

Katabole spermatos is the technical term for a male seminal emission. Obviously, it would seem to be incorrect to say that Sarah received power to emit semen, especially as there is no hint of this in the Old Testament passages describing the birth of Isaac in Sarah’s old age (Genesis 17:15–21, 18:9–15, 21:1–7).

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