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Psalm 22:16: A Prophecy of the Crucifixion?

Take a look at the King James Version Bible, or modern fundamentalist versions such as the New International Version and the New King James Version, under Psalm 22:16 [a] and you will find the following:

Psalm 22:16 KJV/NIV/NKJV
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

  • Fundamentalists have always claimed that the latter part of Psalm 22:16 "They pierced my hands and my feet" (which we shall designate as Psalm 22:16b) is a direct prophecy of the crucifixion; with the "piercing" referring to the nails going through Jesus' hands and feet. Although this is not the reading found in the Hebrew Masoretic text, support is claimed from the readings found in a Dead Sea Scroll fragment and in ancient versions of the Bible such as the Septuagint and the Vulgate.

  • This claim is false, for a few reasons:

    • The Hebrew Text Behind the King James Version
      Despite the claims of its accurate rendition of the original text, the Hebrew equivalent for "they pierced" was not found in the manuscripts available to the translators of the King James Version. Indeed the word rendered in those manuscripts means "like a lion".

    • The Dead Sea Scrolls
      The evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, is ambiguous at best. The word found there, kaaru, has no known meaning and may actually be meaningless.

    • Ancient Versions
      • Before looking at the readings of the ancient versions, it is important to know some preliminary background information about them first.
      • A careful analysis of the readings given in the ancient versions does not support "they pierced" as the correct translation. Indeed the analysis shows that there were two extant readings in the Hebrew text, one being kaari (like a lion) and the other kaaru. The very fact that translators did not translate the latter word consistently showed that even by that time, the meaning of that word was no longer known.

    • Use of Psalm 22:16b by the Early Christians
      No early Christian writer, including the evangelists and Paul, until the time of Justin around the middle of the second century CE, made any explicit reference to the word "piercing" in Psalm 22:16b in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus although there were ample opportunities to do so.

  • A consideration of the various internal evidence favors "like a lion" as the correct rendering of the word found in Psalm 22:16b.

  • We can conclude with certainty that there is no reference to the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16b and with some probability that the correct reading there remains "like a lion".

The Fundamentalist Claim

The King James Version and modern fundamentalist versions of the Bible, such as the NIV and the NKJV, translate Psalm 22:16 thus:

Psalm 22:16 KJV/NIV/NKJV
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

Surely, the believer will assert, this is one certain example of a prophecy fulfilled: "they pierced" can only refer to the puncturing of Jesus' flesh by the nails used in the crucifixion. It is then added that this translation is supported by the various ancient versions of the Bible. The Latin translation, the Vulgate, for instance, uses the word foderunt, which is the third person plural perfect verb for fodio which means "to prick", "to sting", "to jab", "to dig" or "to prod". Thus foderunt could be reasonably translated as "they pierced" or "they have pierced". Similarly the ancient Greek version, the Septuagint, the word used is oruxan (ωρυξαν) which supposedly means "to bore through". [2]

The Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) however, has a different word here. In order to see the picture clearly, I will provide the Hebrew as well the transliteration and meaning below.

Alphabetsyod   resh   aleph   kaf
TransliterationY       R   (no sound)   K

Remember that Hebrew is read from right to left and in its original Biblical form is purely consonantal-the vowel points were added by later scribes (probably around 700 CE). [3] Thus for subsequent discussion we will concentrate only on the consonantal text. The word shown above actually consists of two words, the first letter (on the right) kaf, is a preposition (called an inseparable preposition because it is always attached to a noun) which means, in this case, "like" (as in similar to). The next three letters, aleph-resh-yod, form the noun ari which means "lion". The word is pronounced as kaari and is translated as "like (a) lion". Thus the words "they pierced" are not found in the MT. In the Jewish translation of the Tanakh this is what we find:

Psalm 22:17 JPS
For dogs have compassed me; a company of evil doers have inclosed me; like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.

However fundamentalists argue that this is a nonsensical reading because it lacks a verb. In the JPS translation above, the words "they are" have been added by the translators; in the MT the phrase actually reads "Like a lion my hands and my feet".

Furthermore, they claim, the words "like a lion" makes no sense within the context of the passage for "lions do no surround the feet of their victims". Thus they assert that kaari is a corruption of the original Hebrew reading which should be karu. Karu is the third person plural from of the word karah which means "to dig". This, supposedly, means "to pierce" and should be the correct rendering here. [4] Below is how both karah (he digs, to dig) and karu (they dig) are written in Hebrew: [b]

   he     resh   kaf   vav     resh   kaf
   H        R       K   U        R       K
"To dig""They dig"

Note that the change from "he digs" to "they dig" involves only the last letter, from a he of karah to the vav of karu.

More recently it has been claimed that one of the fragments found in the Dead Sea, at Nahal Hever, has this passage from Psalms and actually reads "They pierced" here instead of "like a lion". This claim was made by the directors of Dead Sea Scrolls Institute in their book The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible [5]. Of course since it supports their presuppositions, we find many evangelical / fundamentalist websites and books touting this as proof that their original emendation of the passage is correct.

Thus to summarize, these are the fundamentalist claims with respect to Psalm 22:16b:

  1. The reading of Psalm 22:16b found in the King James Version, "They pierced my hands and my feet", is an accurate rendition of the meaning of the original Hebrew text.
  2. The discovery of a Dead Sea fragment supports the case that the original reading should be "they pierced my hands and my feet”.
  3. This is supported by the readings found in the various ancient versions such as the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate.
  4. The reading as it is found in the Masoretic Text is corrupt because it is both grammatically incorrect and does not make sense within the context.
We will review the evidence for these claims below.

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The Sources Behind the King James Version

Reading through some of the fundamentalist apologetic writings on the Hebrew original, one can be forgiven for assuming that the Hebrew manuscripts used by the translators of King James Bible already had the "correct" reading of karu. This however was not the case.

The Hebrew exemplars available to the translators had kaari, i.e. like a lion. Evidence that the translators knew this meant like a lion can be found from these examples where the Hebrew word is found in other places in the Bible:

Numbers 24:9
He couched, he lay down as a lion (Hebrew: kaari), and as a great lion: who shall stir him up?

Isaiah 38:13
I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion (Hebrew: kaari) , so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.

Ezekiel 22:25
There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion (Hebrew: kaari) ravening the prey.

The same word, kaari, was present in Psalm 22:16b. Anyone with a copy of Strong's Concordance can verify this. Under the entry no. 738 ari, aryeh in its Dictionary of Hebrew Words in the Bible, the meaning is given as "lion" with the additional note that it could also mean "pierce" as a "marginal reading"! That ari could mean pierce is, of course, nonsense. This reveals that the source of the translation for the passage in Psalm 22:16b was not the Hebrew originals but the other versions (in particular the Latin translations) available to them.

It must be pointed out that despite the claim in the cover page that the 1611 King James Version was "translated out of the original tongues" it was actually more of a revision of earlier an earlier English Bible, the 1602 edition of the Bishops Bible. [6] Furthermore it also made use of older versions of the Bible such as the various, old and new, Latin translations, as even the conservative F.F. Bruce admits:

The Authorized Version was formally a revision of the 1602 edition of the Bishop's Bible. But all existing English versions lay before the translators, and every available foreign version, Latin translations ancient and recent, the Targums and the Peshitta-all as aids to the elucidation of the Hebrew and Greek originals. [7]

Thus the translators of the King James ignored the evidence of the Hebrew originals and the Targums and opted instead for the Latin translations which used the word foderunt meaning pierce. [8] Why did they do this? For the same reason why modern fundamentalist translators like the NIV and NKJV continue to do so, because it supports their presuppositions, not because it was based on the best available evidence!

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The Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The evidence adduced to by some scholars comes from a scroll found in Nahal Hever, a location about 30 km south of Qumran. The document is designated as 5/6HevPs. [c] There is another manuscript, this one from Qumran, designated 4QPsf that has the verses from Psalm 22:14-17. However this document is not legible precisely at this point. Thus we are left with the manuscript from Nahal Hever. [10]

There are three important items to keep in mind. Firstly, Nahal Hever manuscripts were not from the same time as the Qumran scrolls. While the Qumran manuscripts did predate the first Jewish War (70 CE), the manuscripts from Nahal Hever came from a later period; between the two Jewish Wars (between 70 CE and 135 CE). Thus it does not predate the Masoretic text since evidence from Biblical scrolls found in the surrounding location (at Masada-dated no later 73 CE and Wadi Murabba- dated to before 135 CE) shows that the consonantal text that eventually became the Masoretic text was already established by then. Secondly, the reading found in the at Nahal Hever was not new. There were a few Hebrew manuscripts that were already known to have that reading prior to its discovery. [11] Thirdly, despite the claims by Abegg, Flint and Ulrich in the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, the passage in 5/6HevPs does not unambiguously read "pierce".

First let us look at what is actually found in 5/6HevPs:

-Karu"They dig"
5/6HevPsKaaru(Unclear meaning)
Masoretic TextKaari"Like (a) lion"

The word found in 5/6HevPs is given in the middle row of the table above. Note a few things, it is not spelt in the same way as karu (they dig) given in the top row. The former has an additional aleph between the kaf (K) and the resh (R). While fundamentalists are quick to speculate that this is merely an alternate, "Aramaizing" [d], spelling for the word, it is still the case that there is no other known example in the available Hebrew literature that spells "karu" this way! [13]

The fundamentalists claim as support other Hebrew words that have alternate spellings. The logic is similar to someone who would claim that since colour/color are variant spellings in worldwide English, it therefore follows that "donour" is an acceptable variant for "donor" [e]! This is absurd of course. It must be emphasized that just because some words have variant spellings, it does not mean that all words have variant spellings.

As it stands, the word found in 5/6HevPs has no known meaning. Some Jewish writers have labeled this word "Semitic rubbish". [14] It is merely speculation that the word kaaru is a variant spelling of karu.

As we noted above, even before the discovery of 5/6HevPs, the word kaaru, is already found in a very few Hebrew manuscripts. For a long time scholars have tried to suggest the most probable meaning for the word. Apart from suggesting that it could be an alternate spelling of a known Hebrew word, these scholars turn to languages that are closely related to Hebrew for similar sounding words. Given below is a list of some of the suggestions made over the past eighty or so years: [15]

  • G.R. Driver, "Textual and Linguistic Problems in the Book of Psalms" HTR 29.3 [1936]; 503-506
    • To hack off / to shear from the Assyrian karu which has that suggested meaning.

  • J.M. Roberts, "A New Root for an Old Crux, Psalm XXII 17c," VT, 23.2 [1973]; 247-252
    • To shrivel from the Akkadian and Syrian karu (meaning "to be short"). [f]

  • R. Tournay, "Note sur le Psaume XXII 17," VT, 23.1 [1973], 111-112
    • As to hack / slash from the Phoenician, Ethiopic, Babylonian aru (the initial kaf being a comparative) meaning "cut branches".

  • John Kaltner, "Psalm 22:17b: Second Guessing the Old Guess" JBL 117 [1998]; 503-506
    • To bind from the Arabic cognate kwr which actually means "to bind"

Using meanings from related languages is a procedure that is fraught with uncertainties. Take a modern example between two rather closely related languages: German and English. It is all nice to know that Haus in German means "house" in English and that gut means "good". But it does not necessarily follow that all words that sound alike mean the same thing in both languages. A couple of examples should do: Kind in German does not have the same meaning as the word in English (it means "child") and also in German means "therefore". Thus finding meanings through related languages can, at best, be no more than guesses. This is why, despite speculating for close to a century, there has been no consensus reached as to what the meaning of kaaru could be.

Now let us go back to the suggestion that kaaru is a variant spelling of karu. Even if we are to accept, for the sake of argument, that this is probable (which it is not!), it still does not do what the fundamentalists want it to do. For karu, and its root karah, do not mean "pierce". Indeed the word is best translated as "to excavate" or "to dig". Given below are the instances of the use of the word karah in its various verbal forms in the Hebrew Bible: [16]

  • to dig a pit:
          Exodus 21:33; Psalm 7:15, 57:6, 94:13, 119:85; Proverbs 26:27; Jeremiah 18:20, 18:22
  • to dig a grave:
          Genesis 50:5; II Chronicles 16:14
  • to dig a well:
          Genesis 26:25; Numbers 21:18
  • to dig up evil (metaphorical use):
          Proverbs 16:27
  • to dig one's ear
          Psalm 40:7

All the instances above show the meaning of karah; which is "to dig" or "to excavate". They do not have the connotation of "piercing" - as in puncturing through something. The last example is especially revealing. The KJV renders this passage metaphorically as "mine ears hast thou opened". The actual Hebrew is literally "ears you have dug for me". Within the context of Psalm 40:7, the meaning is clear, by digging his ear, the Psalmist is able to hear and understand what God wanted and did not want. If karah could be translated as "I pierce", this would mean that the Psalmist is piercing his ears to hear God more clearly!

Furthermore had the Psalmist wanted the passage to mean "they pierce my hands and my feet", he had quite a few good Hebrew words that do have the precise meaning of "to pierce" to choose from:

  • daqar : to pierce or to stab through [17]
    • Zechariah 12:10 "They look at him whom they have pierced" (This was the verse used by John 19:34 as a prophecy fulfilled.)
    • I Samuel 31:4...""Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it..."

  • naqav: to pierce, to puncture or to perforate [18]
    • II Kings 18:21 (=Isaiah 36:6) "Behold, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. "
    • Habakkuk 3:14 "Thou didst pierce with thy shafts the head of his warriors..."

  • ratsa: to pierce or to bore [19]
    • Exodus 21:6 "...and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl..."

Thus karah is an extremely poor choice of words if his intention was to prophesy the crucifixion.

So let us summarize the "evidence" from the Dead Sea Scroll.

  1. The word kaaru, in the form found in 5/6HevPs has no known meaning.

  2. The assertion that it could be an alternate spelling for karu, which means "they dig", is only a guess. There are a few other guesses which includes "to bind" and "to shrivel".

  3. Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept, the guess above, it still does not do what the fundamentalists want it to do. For karu means "they dig" or "they excavate" and does not carry with it any connotation of piercing through, or puncturing through, the human flesh.

  4. If the psalmist had wanted to mean "pierce" in the context of Psalms 22:16, there were other words that would have fitted his requirement better: daqar, naqav and ratsa.

In other words the "evidence" from the Dead Sea Scroll that the crucifixion was prophesied by Psalms 22:16b with the words "They pierced my hands and my feet" is non-existent.

Why then did the authors/editors of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible claimed that the true reading is "they pierce" when, as we have seen, scholars have been trying to guess at the meaning of the word for close to a century? Two of the three authors of that book Peter W. Flint and Martin G. Abegg are directors of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute. If one visits the website for this institution the reasons become quite clear. We are told that the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute is an evangelical institute. [The term evangelical is used in Biblical scholarship to mean those scholars -who are mainly based in theological seminaries rather than major universities- who hold extremely conservative or fundamentalist views and presuppositions.] In an earlier posting (which was on line in April 2004) under the section, "We Believe", of that website, we are told the raison d'être of the institute. It said that evangelicals should not "sit back and surrender" the field of Dead Sea Scrolls research to what they termed "non-evangelicals". Within this context, "non-evangelicals" can only mean those scholars who do not share the a priori assumptions of fundamentalists, in other words, scholars who follow scientific critical historical methods! [20] Thus part of this strategy of "not surrendering" the field to non-evangelicals has to be to provide evangelical slants to the interpretation of the scrolls. Within this context, the reason the linguistically unlikely interpretation of kaaru as "they pierce", becomes clear. I suspect we should expect more "evangelical friendly" results to come out from this institute in the future!

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The Ancient Versions

One of the claims of fundamentalists about this passage is that the ancient versions [i.e. translations] support the reading "they pierced" at Psalm 22:16b.

There are two preliminary considerations that must be remembered before examining the readings of the ancient versions. Firstly, it should be remembered that the Hebrew Bible remains the most direct source for the original text. All translations are, in effect, interpretations. In translating, one to one correspondences of words between the languages are rare. More often there are always a few or even many choices of words that can be used in the translation. The choice of which word to use depends in many cases on how the translators actually understand the passage before them. How they understand the passage depends not only on the text that lies in front of them but also on the presuppositions of the translators. Therefore knowing the external influence that may affect the translation is important.

Secondly, we must know what exactly was the vorlage, or the copy of the text, that the translation was made from. Was it the Hebrew text or was it already a version of the text? Some of the versions were not translated from the original Hebrew but from other versions. If this is the case, it must be remembered that this particular version does not form an independent witness to the original Hebrew text, especially if it supports the peculiar reading of the vorlage.

Thus it is important to get a working knowledge of these various renditions of the Bible. Perhaps the most well known of the versions is the Septuagint. We have already described this version in detail elsewhere in this website. Here we will just note that the Septuagint was the Greek translation which was started around the third century BCE and probably completed around the first century BCE. The book of Psalms was probably translated into Greek around the second or third century BCE. [21] Although initially translated by Jews for the use of other Jews who no longer understood Hebrew, the early Christians co-opted the Septuagint and it became the Holy Scripture for them. In their disputes with Jews, the Christians quoted exclusively from the Septuagint. The Jews would retort back by comparing the Septuagint with their Hebrew original and noting that the former either had faulty translations or contained interpolations made by Christians. As a result of these disputes and the generally deteriorating textual situation, the Jews ceased using the Septuagint towards the end of the first century CE. [22]

In the second century CE, Jews dissatisfied with the Septuagint began new Greek translations of their Bible. Around 130 CE, a Jewish proselyte named Aquila, produced a version that followed the Hebrew very closely. About four decades later, Symmachus, who according to which church father you choose to believe, was either a Jewish Christian (Eusebius) or a Samaritan convert to Judaism (Epiphanius), published another Greek translation which, although generally faithful to the Hebrew original, is generally considered to be in more elegant Greek than Aquila's. Around the end of the second century another Greek translation, by another Jewish proselyte, Theodotian, was produced. Unlike the Septuagint, which is still available to us in its entirety, these three second century translations are today extant only in scroll fragments, palimpsests and in quotations by the church fathers. Indeed for Psalm 22:16, we have only the translations of Aquila and Symmachus; there is no extant fragment from Theodotion's version with this passage. [23]

The Targums refer to Aramaic translations of the Hebrew scriptures. Like the Septuagint originally, it was translated for Jews who could no longer understand the Hebrew - Aramaic having taken over as the lingua franca of post-exilic Palestine. Rather than a strict translation, the Targums are more accurately described as a paraphrased interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Written Targums were in use by the third century CE, but the oral tradition dates back to pre-Christian times. [24]

Like Aramaic, Syriac is a language closely related to Hebrew. Syriac versions of the Bible are called Peshitta. The Peshitta was probably produced around 200CE. The origins of the Old Testament Peshitta is unclear and still debated among scholars. It is unclear if the translations were done by Jews or (Jewish?) Christians. As Bruce Metzger suggested, it is likely that some books of the Peshitta were translated by Jews while others by Christians. There is also uncertainty regarding the vorlage used for the various sections of the Old Testament. For instance, it is likely that the Pentateuch was translated directly from a Hebrew text while Isaiah was translated by someone who had obvious familiarity with the Septuagint. For our purposes it is important to note that the Peshitta translation of Psalms are rather free, as opposed to a strict-literal, translations. Furthermore it is quite obvious that the book of Psalms was translated by a Christian who already looked upon it as valuable proof text for the death and resurrection of Jesus. One clear example of this is in the introduction to Psalm 71. The Masoretic Text does not give a title for this, while the Septuagint attributes it only to David. The Peshitta however has this for an introduction: [25]

Psalm 71: [Introduction in Peshitta]
Being spoken to/by David: when Saul was fighting the house of David, and a prophecy about the suffering and rising of the messiah.

Thus as far as establishing the original text of Psalm 22:16b is concerned, the value the Peshitta is very limited.

Sometime around 235 CE, the Alexandrian church father, Origen (185-254) attempted to resolve the textual difficulties surrounding the various Bible version and the Hebrew text by publishing the Hexapla. It contained six columns consisting of the Hebrew text, the Hebrew text transliterated in Greek, Aquila's version, Symmachus' version, the Septuagint and Theodotian's version. There is very little that has been preserved of the Hexapla. However in the nineteenth century some fragments of the Hexapla were discovered in a Cairo synagogue Geniza [g]. In this Geniza, the Hexapla fragments dating from the sixth century CE, actually a palimpsest [h], contain portions from Psalm 22:15-28! [26]

There is a Syriac translation of Origen's Hexapla, called the Syro-Hexapla, made around 616-617 CE. For our purposes the Syro-Hexapla contains translations in Psalms for the Septuagint, Aquila and Symmachus. Thus while these versions do not allow us direct access to the Hebrew text, they allows us to check the texts of the Septuagint and in some cases to reconstruct the lost Greek texts of Aquila and Symmachus. [27]

Finally we look at the Latin Versions. Most people think of the Vulgate and Jerome (342-420) when we speak today of the Latin Bible . However there are a few facts to keep in mind. While the Vulgate, in general, was a translation from the Hebrew by Jerome, the section of Psalms in this version was not translated from the Jewish Bible. The book of Psalms in the Vulgate is a translation by Jerome from the Septuagint-in other words it is a translation of a translation! Jerome did make another translation of Psalm, this time from the original Hebrew. However even in this case it must be kept in mind that he consulted other versions, Greek and Latin, in this translation as well.

There is an older Latin version of the Bible, known appropriately as Old Latin. Unlike (most) of Jerome's Vulgate, the Old Latin is a translation of the Septuagint-it thus gives no direct evidence of the Hebrew text. We find evidence of the existence of Old Latin versions in the quotations of its text by second century Church fathers such as Tertullian (c150 CE-c220 CE) and Cyprian (c200-258). Indeed Latin Biblical texts can be found in areas where Latin was the predominant language, such as southern Gaul and North Africa, from as early as 150 CE.[28]

The chart below the ancient versions mentioned above. The dotted lines show the original vorlage used by each of the versions. The abbreviations next to the names of the versions will be used in the tabular comparison of the readings in the next section.

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Readings from the Ancient Versions

Having acquainted ourselves with the various ancient versions, it is now time to examine their witness to the text of Psalm 22:16b. The table below gives all the readings from the Hebrew texts and the various ancient versions: [29] [i]

TextActual ReadingTranslation
MTLike a lion my hands and my feet.
DSSThey dig (?) my hands and my feet.
TBiting like a lion my hands and my feet.
LXXωρυξαν χειρας μου και ποδας μου They dug my hands and my feet.
α' (1)ησχυναν χειρας μου και ποδας μου They disfigured my hands and my feet.
σ' ως λεων χειρας μου και ποδας μου Like a lion my hands and my feet.
OLfoderunt manus meas et pedes meosThey dug / pricked my hands and my feet.
VPfoderunt manus meas et pedes meosThey dug / pricked my hands and my feet.
LJvinxerunt manus meas et pedes meosThey bound / encircled my hands and my feet.
SThey hacked off / pierced my hands and my feet.
SLThey hacked off / pierced my hands and my feet.
They fettered my hands and my feet.
Like seeking to bind my hands and my feet.

We note that the Targum of Psalms and Symmachus' Greek translation gives "like a lion", supporting the masoretic reading. The Targum adds the verb biting to make the sentence clearer.

For Symmachus, it is important to note that ως λεων (like a lion) is very likely the original reading. Some commentators, including the critical apparatus in the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia (the critical edition of the Leningrad codex of the Hebrew bible), made the erroneous assumption that the reading here should be ως ζητουντες δησαι (like seeking to bind). It must be noted that this reading ("like seeking to bind") is the result of a reverse translation from the Syriac of the Syro-Hexapla back into Greek. Yet it clearly arose from a mistake made by the translators of the Syro-Hexapla in reading the original Greek in Origen's Hexapla. How this arose we will explain below.

The ancient Greek manuscripts were written in uncials (i.e. all caps) and there was no space between the words. The mistake arose when the translators of the Syro-Hexapla misread three of the Greek letters and then rephrased the incorrect reading. The table below shows this process, the reading on top is from Symmachus and the one below is what the translator of the Syro-Hexapla read by mistake:

ΩΣΛΕΩΝΤΑΣΧΕΙΡΑΣΜΟΥ...ως λεων τας χειρας μου...Like a lion my hands...
ΩΣΔΕΟΝΤΕΣΧΕΙΡΑΣΜΟΥ...ως δεοντες χειρας μου...Like binding my hands...

Thus the Syro-Hexapla translator misread a delta (Δ) for a lambda (Λ) , an omicron (O) for an omega (Ω) and an epsilon (E) for an alpha (A). These misreadings led him to separate the words out differently than what would have been the case; and instead of ως λεων τας χειρας μου... ("Like a lion my hands..."), the translation became ως δεοντες χειρας μου... ("Like binding my hands..."). This was then paraphrased to ως ζητουντες δησαι χειρας μου... ("Like seeking to bind my hands...")-which was the reading of the Syriac in the Syro-Hexapla. [30]

The Septuagint gives the reading here as ωρυξαν which is simply the third person plural past tense (aorist) of ορυσσω which means "to dig". Like the Hebrew karu, it does not mean "pierce". The word appears 37 times in the Septuagint and in each and every case the meaning is always "to dig" (a tomb, a pit, a trench, a hole or a well). Thus a literal translation of this phrase in the Septuagint is not "They pierced my hands and my feet", but "They dug my hands and my feet"-something not very easily imagined! As Mark Hoffman remarked, "It seems quite unlikely that the LXX translators were trying to describe the crucifixion when translating verse 17c with ορυσσω." [31] Unlikely indeed! For had the translators understood the word to mean "pierce", there was a perfectly good Greek word to use: εκκεντεω which means "to pierce". This was the word used they translators of the Septuagint used to translate Zechariah 12:10 "They look at him whom they have pierced". Similarly John 19:34 used the exact same words to describe the prophecy fulfillment. So whatever the word in the original Hebrew may mean in Psalm 22:16b, it is extremely unlikely that the seventy understood it in the way the Christians later understood it. [32]

The two Latin versions that were translated from the Septuagint (Old Latin and the book of Psalms in the Vulgate) remained faithful to the reading of the Septuagint. The word they used here was foderunt-the third person plural perfect tense for fodio. Now fodio, like ωρυξαν in Greek, has the formal meaning of "to dig", but, unlike the Greek, it also has a looser, metaphorical, meaning of "to prick" or "to prod". [33] [We can see how the "smearing" of the less sharply applied Latin word could result in "to pierce" being eventually read here!] As an aside we see how meaningless it is for fundamentalists such as Gleason Archer (see above) to appeal to the Vulgate as support for their interpretation that the original meaning of the word is to pierce, for the Vulgate (for Psalms) was dependent upon the Septuagint and is not an independent witness to the original text.

When we look at Jerome's translation from the Hebrew we find that the word he used was not foderunt, but vinxerunt, which means "they bound" or "they encircled". This has implications on what was in the Hebrew vorlage available to Jerome. While the Septuagint translation allows the possibility of both karu (to dig) or kaaru (the unclear meaning which could have been assumed by the translators of the Septuagint to mean the same thing-see some scholarly speculations above), Jerome's translation had to come from his interpretation of kaaru, for otherwise he would have simply translated they dig. Jerome probably interpreted kaaru to be based on the root kwr which could mean to be round or to make round. [34]

As for Aquila's version, we have two different readings. According to Origen's Hexapla found at the Cairo Geniza and the church historian, Eusebius (c260-340), the Greek translation of Aquila gave the passage as "they disfigured /shamed my hands and feet". However according to the Syro-Hexapla's translation, Aquila's version had "they fettered my hands and my feet". Since we know Jerome was familiar with Aquila's version, Jerome's use of "they bound" could be taken to mean that "they fettered" was what was written in his copy of Aquila's Greek Bible. These different readings of Aquila most probably mean, as some scholars have suggested, that Aquila had two recensions, or editions, of his translation. The first one having "they disfigured" in Psalm 22:16b and the second having "they fettered" instead. Again it should be noted here that none of these words could have been derived from karu. This tells us that the word in Aquila's vorlage had to be kaaru. Aquila's first interpretation of kaaru was probably based on the assumption that it was rooted in words such as nakar or hakar which could mean something like "to disfigure" or "to shame". The second interpretation could be derived from an interpretation of kaaru similar to Jerome's guess described in the preceding paragraph. [35]

Finally we look at the reading in the Peshitta. Here the Syriac word used could mean they "hack off" or "pierce/perforate". However as we have noted in the section above, the translation of the book of Psalms was probably made by a Christian who already looked to it as a source of prophecy for the death and resurrection of Jesus. According to Mark Hoffman, the translators of the Peshitta were probably no more "in the know" about the meaning of the Hebrew (assuming they were translating direct from a Hebrew vorlage) than the translators of the Septuagint and were "simply trying to make sense of the Hebrew in the same way as the LXX". In other words we cannot consider the Peshitta to be an independent source here for the Hebrew original. [36]

We have reviewed the whole array of textual evidence and can now pause to consider what it tells us.

  1. There was no ambiguity when the word was translated (or read) as a noun - thus the Targum and Symmachus both translated the word as "like a lion". This means that the Hebrew text available to these translators read kaari, like the majority of the masoretic manuscripts.

  2. When the word was read as a verb (with the vav suffix), the translations started to go all over the place. We have the Septuagint saying it means "to dig", Jerome thinking it means "to surround or to bind" and Aquila initially thinking it means "to shame" before finally changing his mind and deciding that it meant "to fetter". This range of translations can only mean that the alternate reading to kaari was not karu but kaaru. Furthermore by the time the versions were being translated it is obvious that the meaning of that word, if it had any meaning in the first place, was no longer known by the translators!.

  3. In all cases where we know of a direct translation from the Hebrew text, there is not a single version that translates the Psalm 22:16b as "They pierced my hands and my feet".

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Evidence from Early Christian Literature

One of the strongest arguments against the verse Psalm 22:16b being a prophecy of the crucifixion is the fact that none of the New Testament authors made any reference to it. This is extremely surprising if the Hebrew or the Greek of that verse was understood as "they pierce":

  • Paul writing circa 53 CE in Galatians 3:13 mentioned the verse from Deuteronomy 23:22-23 about the curse of one who dies "hanging on a tree". This is the only connection of the crucifixion to the Old Testament that Paul tried to make. [37]

  • All four gospels made allusions to Psalm 22:19 "They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots":

    Mark 15:24 (c70CE)
    And they crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.

    Matthew 27:35 (c90 CE)
    And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots;

    Luke 23:33-34 (c95 CE)
    And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him...And they cast lots to divide his garments.

    John 19:23-25 (c90 CE)
    When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfill the scripture, "They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." So the soldiers did this.

    Note that John even quoted the verse from Psalm directly to draw attention to the fulfillment of the prophecy! (John 19:24). Yet not one of the evangelists connected the crucifixion to the piercing of the hands and feet just two verses prior to this one in Psalm.

  • Furthermore the gospel of John even referred to another Old Testament prophecy, this one about the piercing of Jesus' side:

    John 19:34,37
    But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear...And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

    John was referring to the Zechariah 12:10. It is indeed strange that John would refer to this fulfillment but not the one in Psalm 22:16b.

Some fundamentalist apologists have tried to explain this away by hypothesizing that the evangelists and Paul knew that there were some "textual issues" regarding this phrase and refrained from quoting it although they fully realized its prophetic significance. This explanation meets with a quick end when we remember that Matthew 1:22-23 quoted the Septuagint reading of Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy for the virgin birth. However the word "virgin" is found only in the Greek Septuagint and all extant Hebrew bibles (including the ones found in the Dead Sea) have "young woman" instead. Thus the author of Matthew had no problems with the "textual issues" relating to this particular passage! [For those interested in the issue surrounding the "prophecy of the virgin birth-we provide an analysis of this elsewhere in this website.]

When we go outside the New Testament into the writings of the apostolic fathers we get the same result. None, either explicitly or implicitly, tied Psalm 22:16b to the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet. A particularly poignant example is taken from the epistle of Barnabas (c130 CE):

Barnabas 5:13
He himself willed thus to suffer, for it was necessary that He should suffer on the tree. For says he who prophesies regarding Him, "Spare my soul from the sword, fasten my flesh with nails; for the assemblies of the wicked have risen up against me."

The passage, like the ones in the gospel is intriguing. For it is formed out of a combination of three different passages from Psalms:

Psalm 22:20
Deliver my soul from the sword...

Psalm 119:120
Nail my flesh with your fear; for I am afraid of your judgments [Septuagint reading-Psalm 118:120]

Psalm 22:17
...a company of evildoers encircle me...

This is another revealing text. Barnabas was obviously looking at Psalm 22 for the fulfillment of Jesus' death and crucifixion. Yet exactly at the point where one would expect him to use "They pierced my hands and my feet", he used a passage from Psalm 119:120! [38] There is really only one explanation for this: the author of the epistle of Barnabas do not read "pierce" into the Septuagint "they dug my hands and my feet".

Let us pause here for a while and consider the evidence from early Christian literature, from the earliest extant evidence of Christian's use of the Old Testament as a source of prophecy of Jesus, there was not a single case, up to around 130 CE, of reference to the passage in Psalm 22:16b as alluding to the actual "piercing" of Jesus' hands and feet during the crucifixion.

The first Christian writer to make a direct connection of Psalm 22:16 to the piercing of the crucifixion was Justin Martyr (c100 CE-c165 CE). These are the two passages from his writings that made this connection: [39]

First Apology 35 (c155 CE)
And again in other words, through another prophet, He says, "They pierced [ωρυξαν] My hands and My feet, and for My vesture they cast lots." And indeed David, the king and prophet, who uttered these things, suffered none of them; but Jesus Christ stretched forth His hands, being crucified by the Jews speaking against Him, and denying that He was the Christ. And as the prophet spoke, they tormented Him, and set Him on the judgment-seat, and said, Judge us. And the expression, "They pierced my hands and my feet," was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed [παγεντων] in His hands and feet.

Dialogue with Trypho 97 (c160 CE)
David in the twenty-first Psalm thus refers to the suffering and to the cross in a parable of mystery: "They pierced [ωρυξαν] my hands and my feet; they counted all my bones. ..." For when they crucified Him, driving in [εμπησσοντες] the nails, they pierced His hands and feet; and those who crucified Him parted His garments among themselves, each casting lots for what he chose to have, and receiving according to the decision of the lot. And this very Psalm you maintain does not refer to Christ; for you are in all respects blind, and do not understand that no one in your nation who has been called King or Christ has ever had his hands or feet pierced while alive, or has died in this mysterious fashion-to wit, by the cross-save this Jesus alone.

Note that unlike the writings of Paul, the evangelists and Barnabas, explicit reference is now made to Psalm 22:16b as referring to the piercing of the nails at the crucifixion of Jesus. However even here it must be noted while he used the Septuagint word ωρυξαν (they dug) in his citation of Psalm 22:16b, in his later explanation he used words that fit the crucifixion more closely -εμπησσοντες and παγεντων. Both these terms are merely active and passive forms of the same root which means "to fix", "to make firm" or "to nail" something. The fact that Justin had to use this explanatory word to clarify Psalm 22:16b means that, regardless of his pretence, the term in Psalm 22:16b does not really make the prophecy clear.

After Justin we find Psalm 22:16 being increasingly used by Christians as "proof text" of the crucifixion of Jesus. We find similar confident citings of Psalm 22:16b as a direct prophecy of the method of crucifixion in the writings of later Christian writers such as Tertullian (c150 CE-c220 CE), Cyprian (c200-258) and Eusebius (c260-c340). [40]

Tertullian was writing in Latin and used the word found in the Old Latin version of the Bible, foderunt,in his citation of Psalm 22:16. Foderunt, as we have seen above, means "they dug" but have the "width" in meaning to include "they pricked" or "they pierced".

Tertullian: An Answer to the Jews 10 (c197 CE)
If you shall still seek for predictions of the Lord's cross, the twenty-first Psalm will at length be able to satisfy you, containing as it does the whole passion of Christ; singing, as He does, even at so early a date, His own glory. "They dug [foderunt]," He says, "my hands and feet"-which is the peculiar atrocity of the cross

Cyprian was able to devote a whole section (section 20) in his Second Book of Testimonies Against the Jews (248 CE) to proving that the Old Testament prophesied that "The Jews would fasten Jesus to the cross". Eusebius in his Proof of the Gospel (c313 CE) 10:8 cited Psalm 22:16b as the main prophecy that "they fastened his [Jesus] hands and feet to the cross with nails".

So the evidence from early Christian writings show that up to the middle of the second century CE it never occurred to Christian writers that Psalm 22:16b was an explicit reference to the nailing of the crucifixion. It all changed with Justin Martyr sometime after 150 CE. From then onwards the citations of Psalm 22:16b as an exact prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion became more and more common.

This finding is enough for us to conclude that "they pierced" was never part of the original meaning of Psalm 22:16b. It was not present in the Hebrew Bible (regardless of whether the actual reading was kaaru or kaari) and it was not present in the Septuagint. Certainly it was never understood as such by the earliest Christian writers-including the authors of the New Testament!

We can now indulge in a bit of speculation. Justin, as was the custom during his time, was writing in Greek and it was quite obvious from the citations above that the link in the Greek Septuagint between Psalm 22:16b and the crucifixion is linguistically tenuous; Justin had to supplement the scriptural citation with other Greek words to make the meaning clear. So what made him see that connection when no one before did? Why did the paradigm shift happen with Justin?

The most probable explanation is this: Justin had access to the relatively new Latin translation of Psalm 22:16b and that foderunt was used as the translation for the Greek ωρυξαν. [j] Foderunt encompasses within its meaning both "to dig" and "to pierce". Thus the shift from "dig" to "pierce", not possible in the Greek, was made possible by the Latin. We see from the quotation of Tertullian that no such linguistic problem exists when the Latin translation was used!

As we have mentioned above Latin biblical text were already in circulation in Southern Gaul and North Africa by around 150 CE. These were areas where Latin was the dominant language and the need for a Latin translation of the Bible would have been felt most acutely. It is true that the Roman churches did not switch from Greek to Latin until the first half of the third century and Greek was still widely used there during that time. However probably an equal number of Romans used either Greek or Latin for daily communication and the resurgence of Latin was already beginning to make headway there before this time. Furthermore, Justin, although he was not born in Rome, was very probably of Roman descent and he spent the last two to three decades of his life in Rome. [41] He would certainly had shown an interest in Latin translation of the Bible (either the whole Bible or portions of it-such as some Psalms that may be used in Christian liturgy.) Justin, being one of the pre-eminent Christian apologist, would almost certainly had had access to a copy if the translation had made its way to Rome. Furthermore we noticed that Justin's innovative interpretation of Psalm 22:16b were made in his works that were published within a decade of 150 CE (First Apology c155 CE and Dialogue c160CE). Since the shift in meaning from "dig" to "pierce" allowed by the Latin translation would have been noticed by anyone with familiarity with the language, we would expect the first references of "piercing" to Psalm 22:16b to have happened shortly after the publication of the Latin bible. Justin's timing was exactly what one would expect.

One question naturally arises: If Justin knew of this translation why did he not make any explicit citation of the passage in Latin? The answer is simple, the Latin translation was still new and was in no way authoritative. Anyone familiar with Justin's work will know that he already had his hands full defending the authority of the relatively ancient Septuagint against his Jewish opponents [42] One example is given below:

Dialogue with Trypho 68:6-8
"If therefore, I shall show that this prophecy of Isaiah refers to our Christ, and not to Hezekiah, as you say, shall I not in this matter, too, compel you not to believe your teachers, who venture to assert that the explanation which your seventy elders that were with Ptolemy the king of the Egyptians gave, is untrue in certain respects? For some statements in the Scriptures, which appear explicitly to convict them of a foolish and vain opinion, these they venture to assert have not been so written.

Quoting from a recent Latin translation would not had helped his case much against his Jewish opponents! Thus Justin probably read the Latin translation, finally "saw" that Psalm 22:16b refers to the crucifixion and tried to argue the case in his Greek writings without making direct reference to it. [By the time Tertullian was writing, around the end of the second century, the Latin translation was probably old enough to be cited without much embarrassment as to its authority.]

The evidence from early Christian literature tells us this:

  1. Up to the year 150 CE, no Christian writer made the connection between Psalm 22:16b and the crucifixion of Jesus. The most likely explanation for this is that neither the Hebrew nor the Greek version of Psalm allows for this identification: "digging" and "piercing" do not share the same word within those languages.

  2. It was only sometime after 150 CE, that the first Christian writer, Justin Martyr, made that explicit reference.
    • It is very likely that Justin got this idea from the newly translated Latin version of the Bible; where the word foderunt could mean both "they dug" and "they pierced."
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Like a Lion: Still the Favored Reading

We have settled the case above that "They pierced" was never part of the original reading of Psalm 22:16. We now look at what the original reading could be. Note that any uncertainty with what this final reading could be in no way be taken to mean that the reading "they pierced" becomes more likely again, for we have eliminated that reading using considerations which are unrelated to what we will consider below.

The critical apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia gives the following summary of the textual evidence of Hebrew manuscripts regarding the reading found in Psalm 22:16b: [43]

HebrewTextual WitnessTransMeaning
Majority of manuscriptsKaari"Like (a) lion"
"A few" manuscriptsKaaru(Unclear meaning)
Two manuscriptsKaru"They dig"

We see that the majority of the available Hebrew manuscripts support the reading of kaari ("like a lion"), while "a few" (defined as between three to ten manuscripts by the BHS) support the reading found in Nahal Hever, kaaru (with unclear meaning-as we have seen above) and two manuscripts supporting karu ("they dig"). From our analysis of the ancient versions above we can see that the first two of these three readings were in existence from around the turn of the common era. Kaari is supported by the Targums and the Greek version of Symmachus. While the proliferations of verbal meanings ("they hack", "they shame", "they disfigured", "they bound", "they dig", "they fettered" etc) can all be traced to the translators (like the modern scholars we see above!) trying to make sense of a word kaaru that was no longer meaningful to them. Had the original vorlage available to them been karu these would all had translated the word the same way; as "they dig". So we can say that both a study of the ancient versions and the Hebrew manuscripts support this conclusion: that in the two centuries before and after the beginning of the common era there were two variant readings in the Hebrew: kaari and kaaru.

A look at the table above also shows the probable cause of the variant: the two words differ only in the final alphabet, the yod of kaari has been changed into the vav of kaaru (or vice versa). Even someone uninitiated with the Hebrew alphabet can see how easy it is to mistake a yod for the slightly longer vav. We know that mistakes of graphical confusion like these did happen and were quite common in the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. [44]

The questions become, how do we choose between these two readings? External criteria - such as general reliability, numerical preponderance and age of documents - cannot be used for this particular case. Some scholars tend to have a bias in favor of the Masoretic Text primarily due to the fact in many cases it has shown itself to be the best witness to the text. In other words the MT is generally more reliable than other witnesses. [45] While this is true in general, it cannot be applied to all specific instances. Similarly, like the case of the New Testament manuscripts numerical preponderance doesn't really count for much, for if 100 copies are made from a single defective manuscript, what we have is not 101 witnesses to the original text but merely 101 faulty manuscripts! Manuscripts should be weighed not counted! [46] Furthermore, as we have seen above, we have evidence that the two variant readings date from very early times.

We are left basically with the internal criteria. P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. in his book Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of the Hebrew Bible [47] listed the following rules used by textual critics:

  1. The more difficult reading is preferable: in other words ancient scribes tend to see what they expected to see. Thus the more familiar reading is more often the one that is secondary. Of course, this does not apply to obvious nonsense: "The more difficult reading is not to be preferred when it is garbage."

  2. The shorter reading is preferable: scribes tend to expand an ancient text-this arises from their concern to preserve the text as fully as possible thus causing them to keep later glosses, duplications and explanations in the text.

  3. The reading should be appropriate for its context

  4. Be suspicious of readings that "improve" on the text: Readings that offer stylistic improvements, modernize, conform the text to more familiar norms and that resolve contradictions are suspect.
In other words, the rules boil down to a basic common-sensical question: "what would have changed into the other?"

Since the mistake probably occurred due to the graphical confusion between the yod and the vav as the end of the word, the only rule really applicable here is rule 3. In other words-which of the two readings fit the context of the passage best?

Most discussions surrounding this verse usually start by critiquing the fact that the MT reading is missing a verb and is literally rendered as "like a lion my hands and my feet"-supposedly a meaningless phrase. Since the alternate reading "kaaru" looks like a verb, the vav suffix indicating a third person plural verbal form, the discussion then normally continues in trying to find the meaning of the root kaar. This, as we have seen above, have led to the proliferation of suggestions from modern scholars and to the varied translations in the ancient versions. This leads me to two reasons why I am very skeptical about kaaru being the original reading here:

  • The possibility that kaaru could be nonsense is hardly ever discussed. Yet given that graphical confusion is very likely the cause of the variant reading, this possibility must be taken seriously.

  • The one thing about the Psalm 22 that seems to have escaped the attention of all commentators (Christian and Jewish) is this: at no time were the Psalmist's enemies described as physically harming him! [k] Note the bull, the dog and the lion all are described as surrounding him (Psalm 22:12, 16), the lion is described as "opening its mouth" (Psalm 22:13) and his enemies may "stare and gloat" over him and "divide his clothes" among themselves (Psalm 22: 17-18). He asked for deliverance against the power (literally "hand") of the dog, the mouth of the lion and the horns of the bull (Psalm 22:20-21), but they are never described as actually doing anything to him (yet). Thus if Psalm 22:16b were to describe him hands and feet being bitten, dug, hacked off, pierced, bound or fettered, this would be the only line in the whole of Psalm 22 where physical harm would actually be described as being inflicted on the psalmist.

When these two reasons - the possibility that kaaru may be meaningless and the fact that any verb which describe a physical attack on the psalmist goes against the grain of Psalm 22 - are combined, we can see that by itself-kaaru becomes a very unlikely alternative.

When we turn back to the MT reading, supported by the Targums and Symmachus, we find that some scholars have been too quick to dismiss the sentence as meaningless. Part of the problem comes in reading "like a lion" as the beginning a line or stich. However the phrase could easily have fallen within the previous line, forming this couplet:

For dogs have compassed me.
The assembly of the wicked have encircled me like a lion.

This (suggested) couplet takes the poetic form know as "synonymous parallelism"- in both lines we have the imagery of animals (dogs/lion) and the idea of being surrounded/encircled by them. This parallelism is lost if any of the suggestions for kaaru were to be inserted here. [l]

What to do with "my hands and my feet"? For this we have to absorb the whole imagery of Psalm 22:11-21. [The translation below is taken from the NRSV except that I have changed the punctuation at verse 16 and have replaced the NRSV's "they shriveled" back to "like a lion".]

Psalm 22: 11-21
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
     and there is no one to help.

            12 Many bulls encircle me,
                 strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
            13 they open wide their mouths at me,
                 like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
     and all my bones are out of joint;
     my heart is like wax;
     it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
     and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
     you lay me in the dust of death.

            16 For dogs are all around me;
                 a company of evildoers encircles me like a lion.

     My hands and feet;
17 I can count all my bones.

                 They stare and gloat over me;
            18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
                 and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away!
     O my help, come quickly to my aid!

            20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
                 my life from the power of the dog!
            21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
                 From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

If we look at the whole passage above we find three basic themes: the Psalmist's call to God for help (Psalm 22:11 & 19), the description of the state of his anxiety (Psalm 22:14-15, 16b-17a) and the description of his enemies, metaphorically represented by three different animals -the bull/oxen, the dog and the lion. (Psalm 22:12-13, 16b-17a, 20-21). Indeed the imagery conveyed here (Psalm 22:14-15, 16b-17a) is someone surrounded by his enemies in a state of extreme despair, suffering physical discomfort and probably dehydrated and emaciated from his trials, calling out to God for deliverance.

We can see that the imagery about body parts conveys an impression of his extreme despair and anxiety (Psalm 22:14-15 & 16b-17a). Thus when the Psalmist tells us he is "being poured out like water" he means that he is being drained of vitality and energy. That his bones are "out of joint" means his limbs are tired. His heart "melting like wax" means he is troubled or fearful. [m]. The next lines about his mouth and tongue probably refers to his thirst. That he is "laid in the dust of death" is understandable, for we have here a tired, fearful, thirsting and emaciated man. [48] After pausing to describe his enemies, he picked up the imagery of his body again in verse 16b and 17a. Raising his forearm slightly, looking at his weak limbs and emaciated body, he laments, "my hands and my feet...I can count all my bones!". Broken sentences like these convey exactly the impression the Psalmists would have wanted to convey: people in despair don't normally speak in complete sentences! [n]

This is not the only example of such a rhetorical technique in Psalm 22. We can also see this in the very first verse of that Psalm. Modern translations tends to smooth out these grammatically rough sentences; the NRSV gives Psalm 22:1b as "Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?". The Hebrew literally reads, "Far from my salvation the words of my groaning". The word is not completely intelligible in the strictly grammatical sense. [p] However if we read the passage as "Far from my salvation...The words of my groaning", we can see that the Psalmist is saying that he is groaning about his state of being "far from salvation".

The imagery is complete-and there is no difficulty with not requiring a verb after "my hands and my feet", for it is merely a rhetorical device to describe the state of mind the psalmist was in.

Note also that Psalm 22:11-21 provides a coherent overall structure when Psalm 22:16b reads "like a lion". If we follow the description of the (metaphorical) animals that permeates this whole passage this is how the progression looks like: [50]

       A. Bulls Psalm 22:11

              B. Lion (including mention of mouths) Psalm 22:13

                     C. Dogs Psalm 22:16a

                            X. Lion Psalm 22:16b

                     C'. Dogs Psalm 22:20

              B'. Lion (including mention of mouth) Psalm 22:21a

       A'. Oxen Psalm 22:21b

Note that the progression exhibits what is normally known as a chiastic structure. This is merely a device use in poetry and some types of prose that crosses the terms and ideas in this manner A - B - C - X - C'- B'- A'. The central "lion" forms the climax to the whole section in which his ordeal or anxiety is at its greatest. After that deliverance follows quickly. Thus a chiastic structure with a central climax fits the context of Psalm 22:11-21 very closely.

These then, are the reasons why kaari, "like a lion", suits the context of Psalm 22 better than kaaru:

  1. It continues the imagery of animals (bulls, dogs and lions) as metaphors for his enemies.

  2. It completes the couplet in verse 16 via synonymous parallelism.

  3. It falls into the same "drift" as the rest of Psalm 22-where the Psalmist is threatened, or feels threatened, but is never described as being physically harmed or attacked.

  4. It completes the overall chiastic structure of Psalm 22:11-21.

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In our long analysis we can make the following conclusions:

We are certain that there is no prophecy of the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16b. There are two alternate readings in the Hebrew text circulating in the time around the turn of the common era; the first, kaari ("like a lion"), obviously has no relation to any crucifixion; the second, kaaru may be meaningless, but even if it is meaningful, none of the meaning guessed at by the ancient independent versions (Septuagint, Jerome's Psalm, Symmachus and Aquila) or by modern scholars compels a reading of "piercing". None of the early Christian writers, right up to 150 CE, interpreted Psalm 22:16b to be a direct reference to the crucifixion.

The reading as it stands in the Masoretic Text, "like a lion" is still the most probable reading, for it fits into the imagery of the whole of Psalm 22 better than the guesses of modern scholars or the ancient translators.

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a.Psalm 22:16 is the normal rendering of chapter and verse for English bibles for this passage "For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.". However we find different chapter and verse designations in different versions. The Hebrew Tanakh (based on the masoretic text) gives this as Psalm 22:17, the Septuagint has Psalm 21:17 while the Vulgate, like the Septuagint, numbers this passage as Psalm 21:17.
The reason for this discrepancy lies in how the chapters and verses are divided in Psalms. The Septuagint combines chapters 9 and 10 of the Hebrew bible into chapter 9. This means that after chapter 9, the Septuagint chapter numbers will be one behind the Hebrew bible. It further combines another two chapters,114 and 115, into one (113). However it splits the next chapter in the Hebrew bible (116) into two (114 & 115). Finally it splits chapter 147 of the Hebrew text into two (146 & 147). There are two combinations and two splits which means that both renditions of Psalms end with 150 chapters! Modern English bibles follow the Hebrew chapter numbering.
The verses defer because the Hebrew bible counts the title of the psalm as the first verse whereas the English bibles do not. [1]
b.Note that vav is normally transliterated as "W", however in some case consonants such as vav (W) and yod (Y) can be read as the vowels "U" or "O" and "I". In the above case, the vav is transliterated as an "U".
c.The designation for the documents found around the Dead Sea may look esoteric but is actually quite straightforward. The numbers and alphabets refer to the chronological order as well as the location in which the particular fragment was found and further details of the contents. Thus "4QD" means that the scroll was discovered in the fourth cave at Qumran and is entitled the Damascus document. More often numbers are given instead of the name of the document. Thus 4Q242 means the document is from the same location (fourth cave at Qumran) and is the 242nd manuscript from that place. [9]
d.The suggestion that the addition of the aleph between the kaf and resh is an "Aramaizing" spelling of the Hebrew karah (to dig), or the Assyrian karu (to lop off / to shear) is a favorite among fundamentalist. It was first suggested three quarters of a century ago by G.R. Driver ("Textual and Linguistic Problems of the Book of Psalms" HTR 29.3 [1936], 171-196). Driver however did not convince even himself and eventually took the view that the closest cognate would be similar cognates in Akkadian, Arabic and Syriac, which mean "to bind". [12]
e.The English and Americans spell donor the same way.
f.Indeed the suggestion has been used in the NRSV:
Psalm 22:16b NRSV
My hands and feet have shriveled...

g.A Geniza is a kind of storage room found in synagogues. It is sued to keep old manuscripts that are no longer usable until such a time where they can be disposed of properly. The whole point is to keep the holy scriptures, which contains the holy name of God, away from the possibility of being defiled or misused. Indeed the term Geniza comes from the Aramaic which means "to hide".
h.A palimpsest is a document which has something else written on top of previous writings.
i.The table is derived from the extensive Appendix given in Mark George Vitalis Hoffman's 1996 Yale PhD dissertation Psalm 22 (LXX 21) and the Crucifixion of Jesus. Due to font limitation the Syriac text is transliterated into Hebrew.
j.As far as I know, nobody else have made this suggestion-of linking Justin's interpretation to the Latin translation of the Bible-before. So remember, you read it here first, folks!
k.Contra Brent Strawn in "Psalm 22:17b: More Guessing", Journal of Biblical Literature 119/3 (2000) p 447 who mentioned that there were three occasions of reference of physical violence towards the Psalmist by his enemies. He verses he cited were: 22:12-13, 16 & 20-21 (Note Strawn was using the verse number of the Hebrew bible, so I have to minus one from there). Verse 16 is the point of the whole discussion so we will not be reviewing it here. I think Dr. Strawn in mistaken here. For verse 22:12-13 refers to the enemies of the Psalmist, metaphorically represented as bulls and lions, as surrounding him and "opening their mouth" at him. These are threatening gestures, no doubt - which would explain the following stanza where he describes his own fear and anxiety - but it does not presuppose any physical violence being inflicted on the Psalmist. Verse 22:20-21 is a thanksgiving stanza thanking God for saving him from the "power [literally "hand"] of the dog", the "mouth of the lion" and the "horns of the bull". Again there is no indication that he actually was physically attacked for the deliverance seem to be one who rejoices after managing to avoid such attacks!
l.Although the second stich (stich is just a fancy term for the smallest "sentence unit" in a poetry) is longer than the first, I think this reconstruction still falls within the metrical rules of Hebrew poetry. The first line of the couple in Hebrew could contain 3 stresses if the syllable for initial ki ("for"), is stressed for emphasis. The second line contains four stresses. This pattern of stresses, 3/4, corresponds to the Qinah, or lamentation, poetic line which normally has two stichs of unequal lengths. Similarly the next couplet [My hands and my feet/I can count all my bones] has the 2/2 pattern of stresses and falls within the "normal" Hebrew poetical metrical arrangement.
m.We find the same imagery in one of the extra-biblical scrolls as Qumran:
1QH 4:33-34
As for me shaking and trembling seize me, and all my bones are quivering; my heart melts like wax before fire and my knees are like water pouring down a steep place.
Here too, "heart melting like wax" refers to the state of extreme distress and fear.
n.Of course we are not saying that the Psalmist was actually in a physical state of hunger, thirst and near death - but merely that this was the imagery he chose to describe (perhaps) his spiritual anxiety and despair.
p.It must be noted that for this particular "broken passage" in Psalm 22:1, all ancient versions support the reading of the Hebrew text. [49]

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1.Hoffman, Psalm 22 (LXX 21) and the Crucifixion of Jesus: notations page
2.Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties: p37
3.Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: p21
4.Archer op. cit.: p37
5.Abegg, Flint & Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: p518-519
6.Metzger, The Bible in Translation: p76-77
7.Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: p229
8.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p895
9.Eisenmann & Wise, Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: p1
Wise, Abegg & Cook: p39
10.Vanderkam & Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: p124-125
11.Shanks (ed), Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, p145
Strawn, Brent, A., "Psalm 22:17b: More Guessing" Journal of Biblical Literature 119/3 (2000) p447-448 n41
Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible: p28
Würthwein, op. cit.: p32
12.Hoffman, op. cit.: p175
13.ibid.: p174
14.Outreach Judaism Q&A
15.Hoffman, op. cit.: p174-175
Strawn, Brent, A., op. cit.: p439-451
16.Brown, Driver & Briggs, The BDB Hebrew and English Lexicon: p500
17.ibid.: p201
Callahan, Secret Origins of the Bible: p366
18.Brown, Driver & Briggs op. cit.: p666
19.ibid.: p954
20.Dead Sea Scrolls Institute Main Page
21.Hoffman, op. cit.: p37
22.Hoffman, op. cit.: p37
Metzger, op. cit.: p18-19
Würthwein, op. cit.: p52-54
23.Hoffman, op. cit.: p37-38,473
Metzger, op. cit.: p19
Würthwein, op. cit.: p55-56
24.Hoffman, op. cit.: p36-37
Metzger, op. cit.: p20-24
Würthwein, op. cit.: p55-56
25.Hoffman, op. cit.: p39, 270-271
Metzger, op. cit.: p26-27
Tov, op. cit.: p152
Würthwein, op. cit.: p85-90
26.Hoffman, op. cit.: p37-38
Metzger, op. cit.: p19
Würthwein, op. cit.: p11,57
27.Hoffman, op. cit.: p38-39
Würthwein, op. cit.: p59
28.Hoffman, op. cit.: p39-40
Metzger, op. cit.: p29-35
Würthwein, op. cit.: p91-99
29.Hoffman, op. cit.: p450-554 (Appendix A)
30.ibid.: p44, p173 & p466
31.Callahan, op. cit.: p365
Hoffman, op. cit.: 179-180
32.Callahan, op. cit.: p366
33.Traupman, Latin & English Dictionary: p183
34.Hoffman, op. cit.: p46
35.ibid: p45-46
36.ibid: p178
37.ibid: p182
38.ibid: p182-183
39.ibid: p184-186
40.ibid: p188-190
41.Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: p63, p202-203
Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity: p647-649
Metzger, op.cit: p30-31 Würthwein, op. cit.: p91
42.Dunn, Jews and Christians: p41-69
43.Elliger & Rudolph, Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia: p1104
44. McCarter, Textual Criticism: p43-49
Würthwein, op. cit.: p108
45.Würthwein, op. cit.: p115-116
46.McCarter, op. cit.: p71-72
47.ibid.: p72-74
48.Hoffman, op. cit.: p158-167
Weiser, The Psalm: p223-224
49.Hoffman, op. cit.: p112
50.Strawn, op. cit.: p447

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