Erich Lessing

Heroes of faith: Sarah and Abraham, shown here on a Russian icon, are two of several Old Testament figures praised in a hymn in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1–38). One phrase (Hebrews 11:11) from that hymn, however, has vexed translators for centuries: taken literally, the phrase claims that Sarah had a seminal emission. Some translations sidestep the problem and understand the phrase to mean that Sarah conceived (in her old age) or that the emission should be attributed to Abraham. However, author Pieter van der Horst, after a review of classical Greek, early Christian and rabbinic notions of conception, shows that the passage in Hebrews should be taken literally after all.