he twenty-second psalm continues to ignite controversy, in the dialogues between Christians and Jews, concerning the messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth. The crux of this dispute reaches critical mass in verse 17 (16 in Christian editions), which many Christians translate, "They have pierced my hands and my feet." Jewish translations adhere to the majority reading within the family of the Masoretic text, "like a lion are my hands and feet." In the midst of the fierce clash, it is indisputable that this psalm, whether reading from the Christian or Jewish editions, bears remarkable similarities to the crucifixion of Yeshua of Nazareth, as depicted in the Gospels.
The Subject of Psalm 22
Of whom does Psalm 22 speak? The Rabbis apply psalm 22 to Esther, an interpretation which can be seen in Rabbinic literature such as the Bablyonian Talmud and the Midrash on Psalms. In the most literal, non-prophetic sense, the psalm most likely described David's confrontations with his enemies, and his desire for Adonai's help. In light of this, Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism, incorrectly states,
". . . missionaries are confronted with another remarkable problem as they seek to project the words of this Psalm into a first century crucifixion story. In the simplest terms, this text that Christians eagerly quote is not a prophecy, nor does it speak of any future event."1
First of all, this is not at all a "remarkable problem," as David's life was itself a prophetic picture of the coming Messiah, and an inspiration for the messianic prophecies he composed. Second, Singer's assumption that Psalm 22 "is not a prophecy," is fallacious. Rarely, if ever, does the Hebrew Bible explicitly identify passages as a prophetically "messianic". Regarding the messianic prophecies, you have to interpret them to evaluate their messianic status. Singer then correctly says,
All of the Gospels similarly [quote] Psalm 22:19 . . . in their crucifixion narratives, and Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22:21 to explain why the messiah had to suffer for humanity."2
Interestingly, there exists another piece of ancient literature that quotes this Psalm to support the concept of Messiah ben Yosef's suffering for humanity, but does not occur in Christian literature. It appears in a 9th century Jewish work, in which a remarkable interpretation materializes, explaining that the Messiah, named Ephraim, suffers for the sins of Israel, and of the world, when God makes an agreement with him to be vicariously afflicted for their sake. This amazing portrayal of the Messiah Ben Yosef's work, cites Psalm 22 as the foundational Scripture for the Messiah's atoning torment:
During the seven-year period preceding the coming of the son of David, iron beams will be brought low and loaded upon his neck until the Messiah's body is bent low. Then he will cry and weep, and his voice will rise to the very height of heaven, and he will say to God: Master of the universe, how much can my strength endure? How much can my spirit endure? How much my breath before it ceases? How much can my limbs suffer? Am I not flesh and blood?
It was because of the ordeal of the son of David that David wept, saying My strength is dried up like a potsherd (Ps. 22:16). During the ordeal of the son of David, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to him: Ephraim, My true Messiah, long ago, ever since the six days of creation, thou didst take this ordeal upon thyself. At this moment, thy pain is like my pain . . .
At these words, the Messiah will reply: Now I am reconciled. The servant is content to be like his Master.
Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 36.2, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press, pg. 680-681
It is taught, moreover, that in the month of Nisan the Patriarchs will arise and say to the Messiah: Ephraim, our true Messiah, even though we are thy forbears, thou art greater that we because thou didst suffer for the iniquities of our children, and terrible ordeals befell thee . . . for the sake of Israel thou didst become a laughingstock and a derision among the nations of the earth; and didst sit in darkness, in thick darkness, and thine eyes saw no light, and thy skin cleaved to thy bones, and thy body was as dry as a piece of wood; and thine eyes grew dim from fasting, and thy strength was dried up like a potsherd - all these afflictions on account of the iniquities of our children . . .
Pesikta Rabbati 37.1, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press, pg. 685-686
Ephraim is a darling son to Me . . . My heart yearneth for him, in mercy I will have mercy upon him, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:20). Why does the verse speak twice of mercy: In mercy I will have mercy upon him? One mercy refers to the time when he will be shut up in prison, a time when the nations of the world will gnash their teeth at him every day, wink their eyes at one another in derision of him, nod their heads at him in contempt, open wide their lips to guffaw, as is said All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head (Ps. 22:8); My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and thou layest me in the dust of death (Ps. 22:16). Moreover, they will roar over him like lions, as is said They open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in mine inmost parts (Ps. 22:14-15).
Pesikta Rabbati 37.1, translated by William G. Braude, Yale University Press, pg. 686-687
Like a Lion or They Have Pierced?
In verse 16 (17) of this psalm, the minute difference of a centimeter of ink has ignited a firestorm of controversy. The majority reading of the Masoretic text literally reads, "Like a lion my hands and feet." This reading is difficult, and doesn't make sense. In the Septuagint (LXX), the text reads, "they have pierced my hands and my feet." The difference between the Hebrew letters vav and yud are extremely small, yet the change it makes is incredibly significant.
Because of this controversial reading, anti-missionaries have accused Christians of tampering with the text. This is a simple reaction to issues that are much more complex and difficult. G. Shapiro, an anti-missionary, says that, ". . . mistranslations prove only that the missionaries trying to convert you are deceptive."3 Then, however, Shapiro goes on to insert words into the text that are absent from the Hebrew: "like lions [they maul] my hands and feet."4 The words "they maul" are missing from the original text, which is why Shapiro has brackets around the words. Ironically, however, it is the Christians who are "deceptive" with their "mistranslations", but it is acceptable for the anti-missionary to add to Adonai's word. The question may be asked, "Why is it necessary to have to add to Adonai's word?" Indeed, sometimes adding minor words such as, "one, as, to", makes the ancient Hebrew flow better in modern English, but in this case, the words are completely foreign to the text, and are interpolated so this sentence will make sense. According to the Tanakh,
"Every word of Elohim is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar."
Proverbs 30:5-6, NIV
Rabbi Singer, probably the most prominent accuser of "deceptive mistranslations", also adds to the text with, "like a lion they are at my hands and my feet."5 He unashamedly writes,
". . . in an effort to distance Christians from a compelling Jewish message, the founders and defenders of Christianity methodically altered selected texts from the Jewish scriptures. This rewriting of the Tanach was not done arbitrarily or subtly. The church quite deliberately tampered with the words of the Jewish scriptures in order to bolster their most startling claim which is: The Old Testament foretold of no messiah other than Jesus of Nazareth. With this goal in mind, missionaries manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated and even fabricated verses in Tanach in order to make Jesus' life fit traditional Jewish messianic parameters and to make traditional Jewish fit the life of Jesus."6emphasis mine.
Rabbi Singer also utilizes the following words to describe the Christian translation of Psalm 22:16(17):
1. "Christian translators rewrote the words of King David
2. The insertion of the word "pierced" into the last clause of this verse is a not-too-ingenious Christian interpolation that was created by deliberately mistranslating the Hebrew word kaari () as "pierced". . .
3. "the phrase “they pierced my hands and my feet” is a Christian contrivance that appears nowhere in the Jewish scriptures."
4. ". . . this stunning mistranslation in the 22nd Psalm. . ."
5. "This verse was undoubtedly tampered with years after the Christian canon was completed."
6. "The Bible tampering. . ."
7. "Why then did [the Christian translators" specifically target Psalm 22 for such Bible tampering?"
8. "this church revision of the 22nd Psalm. . ."
9. "The church, therefore, did not hesitate to tamper with the words of the 22nd Psalm . . ."
10. " . . . the stunning mistranslation in this chapter. . ."7
Even in light of these SERIOUS allegations, Singer himself interpolates foreign words to the text of Psalm 22 with,
"Dogs have encompassed me.
A company of evildoers has enclosed me;
like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet."8
On his website, Tovia Singer doesn't even put brackets around the words, "they are at", which are completely absent from the Hebrew. Yet immediately after this quotation, he then accuses Christian translators of inserting the word pierced!
"The insertion of the word “pierced” into the last clause of this verse is a not-too-ingenious Christian interpolation that was created by deliberately mistranslating the Hebrew word kaari . . ."9
Sadly, all of the epithets wielded against "Christian mistranslators" by Rabbi Singer on his website, can now be justly applied to himself. However, if my memory serves me correctly, Singer's workbook does place brackets around the inserted words, but this particular page on his anti-missionary website, in its current form does not. (The original version of this essay was created about 1-17-01. There were no brackets around the inserted words then. The latest revision of this essay, 4-6-06, still, unfortunately, it does not put brackets around "they are at". In fact, in my quick re-reading of his article, I don't see it even mentioned anywhere that those words were added, and it is presented as if this is a "proper translation"!)
Gerald Sigal, another anti-missionary, follows suit and adds to the text. Sigal says, "The text should read, in effect: 'Like a lion [they are gnawing at] my hands and my feet.' This is the most plausible interpretation of the text."10 Again, the question is: Why is he adding to the text?! If it is really the "most plausible interpretation of the text," why does he have to insert words to make this "plausible interpretation," in essence, "plausible"? He goes on to say, "Rashi's interpretation of the verse--"As if crushed by the mouth of a lion are my hands and my feet"--is similar in thought to the one we have offered though differently. While these interpretations fit with the diction of the entire psalm, the Christian translation--"They pierced my hands and my feet"--does not."11 Says who? And how can they "fit with the diction of the entire psalm," if he has to add to the text to make it fit? The need for the anti-missionary to insert words into the passage for it to make sense, only provides more support for the "pierced" translation.
Gleason Archer, professor of Old Testament and Semitic studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes,
" . . . we find in the MT of Psalm 22:17 (16 Eng.) the strange phrase "like the lion my hands and my feet" (kaari yaday we raglay) in a context that reads "dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men have encircled me- like the lion my hands and my feet!" This really makes no sense, for lions do not surround the feet of their victims. Rather, they pounce on them and bite them through with their teeth. Furthermore, this spelling of the word "lion" (ari) is rendered more doubtful by the fact that in v.13 (14MT) the word "lion" appears in the normal way 'aryeh. it is most unlikely that the author would have used used two different spellings of the same word within three verses of each other. Far more likely is the reading supported by most of the versions: ka'ru (They [i.e. the dogs or evildoers] have pierced" my hands and my feet). This involves merely reading the final letter yodh as a waw, which would make it the past tense of a third person plural verb. This is apparently what the LXX read, for oryxan ("they have bored through") reflects a a karu from the verb kur ("pierce, dig through"). The Vulgate conforms to this with foderunt ("They have dug through"). The Syriac Peshitta has baz'w, which means "they have pierced/penetrated." Probably the ' (aleph) in ka'ru represents a mere vowel lengthener that occasionally appears in the Hasmonean manuscripts such as 1QIsa and the sectarian literature of the second century B.C."
Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pg. 37
Mitchell Dahood, Professor of Ugaritic Language and Literature at The Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, translates the controversial reading,
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
my tongue sticks to my jaws,
And they put me upon the mud of Death.
For dogs have surrounded me,
a pack of evildoers encircle me,
Piercing my hands and my feet.
Psalm 22:16-17, Psalms 1-50, The Anchor Bible, translated by Mitchell Dahood, pg. 137
His commentary to the translation, notes,
Piercing my hands. Much-contested k'ry is here tentatively analyzed as an infinitive absolute from kry, "to dig," with the archaic ending -i, as in Gen xxx 8, xlix 11; Exod xv 6. See W.L. Moran in The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, ed. G.E. Wright (New York, 1961), p. 62; J.M. Sola-Sole, L'infinitif semitique (Paris, 1961), pg. 185b. The aleph would be intrusive as, e.g., in Prov xxiv 7, r'mwt for rmwt.
Mitchell Dahood on Psalm 22:17, Psalms 1-50, The Anchor Bible, pg. 140-141
There is an occurrence in Rabbinic literature reading the contested word ka'ari/ka'aru as a verb. However, it would not be conclusive in this instance, because hermeneutic principles exercised in midrashic eisegesis sometimes play with the literal reading of the text, as Burton Visotzky notes,
"It is the mark of midrashic literature, however, to take liberalities with the biblical text - to pun on
it, to twist its plain sense, and often to modify the meaning of a word by a change in its vowels, all for the sake of homily."
Burton Visotzky, The Midrash on Proverbs, Yale University Press, pg. 14
The occurrence in the Midrash on Psalms, however, is worth noting,
For dogs have compassed me (Psalm 22:17) - that is, Haman's sons have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me (ibid.) - that is, Haman's hosts have enclosed me.
My hands and my feet they made repulsive51 (Psalm 22:17). According to R. Judah, Esther said: "Though Haman's sons practiced sorcery on me so that in the sight of Ahaseurus my hands and feet were repulsive, yet a miracle was wrought for me, and my hands and my feet were made to shine like sapphires.
But R. Nehemiah said: The verse is to be read At my hands and my feet he was favored with blessing52, and conveys much the same meaning as with the verse "The Lord hath blessed thee at my foot" (Gen 30:30). Thus Esther meant: Because of the work of my hands, blessing came to Ahaseurus.
51. The word ka'ari, rendered in JV "like a lion," and in AV "They pierced," is taken by R. Judah to be derived from k'ar, "ugly, repulsive."
52. Apparently, R. Nehemiah takes ka'ari as related to the Greek chara, "favor," or "blessing."
Midrash on Psalms, Psalm 22, translated by William Braude, Yale University Press
The Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1947, a discovery of a collection of ancient texts would revolutionize our understanding of the Bible, Judaism and Christianity. About If there is one place in this entire debate where one may find an unbiased source, it is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Separated from the debates of Jews and Christians, the Dead Sea Scrolls represent an independent witness to the Hebrew text. The discovery of the scrolls attest to the accuracy of the transmission of the Hebrew Bible, throughout the centuries, however, they also note a variety of textual variants. One of the places where the Dead Sea Scrolls differ from the Masoretic Text is in Psalm 22:16(17). The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, translated by Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich notes,
"Psalm 22 is a favorite among Christians since it is often linked in the New Testament with the suffering and death of Jesus. A well-known and controversial reading is found in verse 16, where the Masoretic text has "Like a lion are my hands and feet," whereas the Septuagint has "They have pierced my hands and feet." Among the scrolls the reading in question is found only in the Psalms scroll found at Nahal Hever (abbreviated 5/6HevPs), which reads, "They have pierced my hands and my feet"!"
Abegg, Flint and Ulrich, The Dead Sead Sea Scrolls Bible, pg. 519
James VanderKam and Peter Flint, in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, note:
"The different reading in v.16 depends on a single word: k'ry (), which means like a lion. The Gospel writers quote from the Greek Bible, which reads; "They have pierced my hands and feet." Some scholars have suggested that the Septuagint represents a modification of the Hebrew like a lion, perhaps because it was difficult to make sense of the Hebrew. Another suggestion is that early Christian editors changed the Greek text in order to find evidence of Jesus' crucifixion in the Hebrew Bible.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the reading in question is not preserved at Qumran, but in the Psalms scroll from Nahal Hever (5/6HevPs), which is textually very close to the Masoretic Text. In line 12 of column 10 we read: "They have pierced my hands and feet"! For the crucial work () the Hebrew form is grammatically difficult; but it is clearly a verb, not a noun and means they have bored or they have dug or they have pierced."
The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam & Peter Flint, HarperSanFrancisco, pg. 124
The Dead Sea Scrolls have a vav instead of a yod at the end of the contested word, ka'ari/ka'aru. The strength of the anti-missionary argument against the Dead Sea Scroll reading of pierced arrives in the point that the word contains an aleph, which according to Sigal, "is not part of the root." Dr. James D. Price, professor of Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Temple Baptist Seminary, however, states:
"Sigal gave the impression that the presence of the Aleph in the word "ka'aru" prevented it from being derived from a Hebrew root which has no Aleph. But the words "ka'aru" and "karu" being variant forms of the same verb (as explained by the lexicographers) is demonstrated by the following Hebrew words that have the same kind of middle Aleph and the same kind of relationship: bo'r, bor (pit, cistern) from the verb bur (dig); da'g, dag (fish) from the verb dug (fish for); la't, lat (secrecy) from the verb lut (be secret); m'um, mum (blemish); n'od, nod (skin); q'am, qam (he arose); ra'sh, rash (poor) from the verb rush (be poor); sh'at (contempt) from the verb shut (treat with contempt); also in Aramaic, da'er (dweller) from the verb dur (dwell); and qa'em (riser) from the verb qum (he arose). These examples are sufficient to demonstrate that a middle Aleph frequently occurs in words and forms derived from middle Waw verbs as in this passage. His argument is convincing only to those who know little or nothing about Hebrew."12
Even if the contested reading were to discovered to definitively agree with the majority Masoretic rendering, a denial of the similarities between the travails of the sufferer of Psalm 22, and the crucifixion of Yeshua of Nazareth in the accounts of the four Gospels, would be deliberate ignorance. Neither could one charge the New Testament with a "deliberate mistranslation," because the New Testament text itself doesn't specifically quote the disputed verse. Anti-missionaries have noted this, and have attempted to make a case that the reading of "pierced" was unknown the the New Testament authors. That, however, is an argument from silence, which is no argument at all. There are many messianic prophecies the New Testament authors could have quoted, and many they could have cited in relation to Yeshua's life, that they didn't. However, the life of Yeshua speaks for itself, and bears not only remarkable similarities to prophecies of the Tanakh, but even the interpretations of the ancient rabbis, as we have seen above.
The words and accusations the anti-missionaries employ are offensive, and the initial reaction against such rhetoric was to respond with equally charged language. In doing so, however, I would be guilty of the very thing I disagree with, concerning their presentations. When working and distributing information from the internet, one must be careful not to use defamatory propaganda, in order to demonize, and discredit one's opponent. The internet has the potential to reach to a massive audience, and one who owns a website, or dispenses information through e-mail lists or any other media interface, has an special responsibility to the minds of their readers and viewers.
Such strong language only serves to stir the emotions of the reader, and attempts to give the argument an authoritative tone. One should observe that Rabbi Singer, in his website, gives no actual evidence that "Christian bible translations were meticulously altered" the Bible - other than the allegation that it was the word ka'ari, not ka'aru, that the translators were attempting to translate and a theological motive for "painting Jesus into the Tanakh," because of the importance of this psalm in Christian tradition. The argument that, "this stunning mistranslation in the 22nd Psalm did not occur because Christian translators were unaware of the correct meaning of [ka'ari]," is already null, because it implies that Christian translators are a.) attempting to translate the word ka'ari, and not ka'aru, as we just stated, b.) provide a translation solely from a controversial Masoretic text, all the while not taking into account the witness of the other ancient versions. It is also important to understand that the Masoretic text itself is not one monolithic text, but a family of texts, of which, a very small amount of have the vav, instead of a yud, at the end of this controversial word, thus agreeing with "pierced". It would be a stretch for anyone to say that it was a "stunning, deliberate, mistranslation", due to the problematic nature of the verse, and the fact that the difference between a "vav" and a "yud" is a centimeter of ink.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls also gave us a major contribution to textual scholarship, providing some of the most ancient Biblical texts known in history. The Scrolls, which could not have been influenced by an apologetic or defensive theology on either side of the debate, have ka'aru, instead of ka'ari! This seriously damages the anti-missionary allegation of a "mistranslation", and provides significant textual weight for the translation "pierced".
Overall, we have seen that: Anti-missionary accusations of deliberate mistranslation against believers in the messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth are without merit. Anti-missionaries add to the text of Psalm 22 to "make it fit", because the reading, "like a lion are my hands and feet" makes no sense. An ancient Jewish work, Pesikta Rabbati, applies Psalm 22 to the suffering of the Messiah ben Yosef, who is described in remarkably similar terms to that of Yeshua ben Yosef. 4.) The Masoretic text has a minority witness for the "pierced" reading, along with other translations like the Septuagint and Peshitta, and most powerfully, 5.) the Dead Sea Scrolls favor the "pierced reading". Sometimes, it is painful to see the truth, but fear not, Messiah ben Yosef of Nazareth took our pain upon him, as it is written:
"They have pierced my hands and my feet."
1. Rabbi Tovia Singer, A Lutheran Doesn't Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn't Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the "Crucifixion Psalm", Outreach Judaism
3. G. Shapiro, Psalm 22, Shomrai HaBrit-Keepers of the Covenant
5. Rabbi Tovia Singer, A Lutheran Doesn't Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn't Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the "Crucifixion Psalm", Outreach Judaism.org
10. Gerald Sigal, Crucifixion Item: 57, Jews for Judaism
12. Dr. James D. Price, Response to a Skeptic