Christianity

Biblical ‘Prophesy’ of Jesus in Doubt

[I wrote an earlier version of this article which I felt needed revising. This is the second and final version].

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and at Speakers Corner an enthusiastic Christian told me of the amazing prophesy to be found in Psalm 22 concerning Jesus’ death on the cross.

He read the following to me from The King James Bible, Psalm 22:

16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

My Christian friend drew my attention to the detailed prediction of verse 16 ‘they pierced my hands and my feet.’ This supposedly refers to Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross as told in the gospels.

I remarked that my Jewish Study Bible (published by Oxford University Press) has a different translation, which gives a rather different meaning. He looked at me very skeptically and said that “God’s Word was very clear in Psalm 22” and that I had not provided any proof of my claim. Of course I did not have The Jewish Study Bible with me at Speakers Corner. But I do now, and here is the translation of verse 16:

Dogs surround me;

a pack of evil ones closes in on me,

like lions [they maul] my hands and feet

I also checked some modern Christian translations of the Bible. The respected New Revised Standard Version (produced by Professor Bruce Metzger) renders the verse:

For dogs are all around me;

a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shrivelled;

The New Jerusalem Bible has:

A pack of dogs surrounds me, a gang of villains closing in on me as if to hack off my hands and my feet.

There seems to be considerable scholarly disagreement about the meaning of this verse, as most other modern Christian translations (such as the NIV) follow the KJV.  I am not a scholar and I know no Hebrew, so I don’t feel qualified to make a convincing case either way.

But it seems fair to conclude that this favourite proof text employed by Christians as a prophecy of Jesus is no longer as certain as it once was.

———————————————–

I recommend the article They have pierced my hands and my feet for an interesting discussion of the translation problems.

Also there is a fascinating discussion from a Jewish perspective:  Why do the respective Jewish and Christian renderings of Psalms 22:17 (16 in some versions) differ in the translation of the Hebrew word ka-‘ari?

Categories: Christianity

20 replies »

  1. “But since the King James version was made over 400 years ago numerous manuscripts of the Hebrew bible have been discovered taking us ever closer to the original text.”

    Should read:

    But since the King James version was made over 400 years ago numerous manuscripts of the Hebrew bible have been discovered taking us ever FURTHER AWAY FROM the original text.

  2. If my old learning hasn’t failed me it’s the fact that Jesus later cried ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ on the cross that caused Psalm 22 to be seen by the very first Christians (and even bystanders according to the Bible) as a prophecy. But more than a prophecy it shows a suffering innocent who is eventually vindicated by God. Psalm 22 was used by all early Christians to communicate that Jesus had been resurrected and vindicated from the humiliation of the crucifixion. It’s a prophecy to be taken wholly, not verse by verse, but that he was the messiah of the Psalms.

    The one

    • The Jewish people did not expect their Messiah to die but to be victorious over his enemies.

      The prospect of God’s anointed being abandoned by God and not knowing why God had forsaken him I would imagine is repugnant to Jews and Muslims. Muslims believe that God saved him from this ordeal.

      I think it is helpful to recall that first and formost Psalm 22 is a Psalm of David, so we must imagine King David pleading for deliverance from suffering and hostility.

  3. Paul- this is a very important discussion you bring up here. What is the evidence on the Psalm 22 question. Two ancient translations, predating christianity, have “they pierced, or made holes in, my hands and feet”. That is in contrast to a much later (800-1000 ce) Massoretic text. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, it was hoped that this issue could be resolved once and for all. Unfortuantely, the scrolls lacked this particular verse in Psalm 22. But, in the 90’s, at least two fragments were found at Nachal Hever that did have this verse in question, and siad quite definitley “they dug, or pierced, my hands and feet” The question is between a “vav” and a “yod”- in these two fragments they are side by side for comparison. There is no doubt what the original text said, the Massoretic text is in error here.
    As far as the Jews not expecting their Messiah to die, that is a naieve (sp?) statement. The ancient commentaries are full of commentaries on Isaiah 53 interpreting this suffering servant as the Messiah. If I had time I would elaborate, but suffice it to say that the Ramban in his commentary on this chapter said he would llike to interpret it as referring to Israel, but he had to concur with al the eralier Midrashim that attribute it to the Messiah.
    Chag Matzot Sameach!

    • YOUR CONTENTION 1
      “Two ancient translations, predating christianity, have “they pierced, or made holes in, my hands and feet”.

      ANSWER
      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.

      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”.

      YOUR CONTENTION 2
      “But, in the 90′s, at least two fragments were found at Nachal Hever that did have this verse in question, and siad quite definitley “they dug, or pierced, my hands and feet” The question is between a “vav” and a “yod”- in these two fragments they are side by side for comparison. There is no doubt what the original text said, the Massoretic text is in error here.”

      ANSWER
      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.Thirdly, despite the claims the passage does not unambiguously read “pierce”.

      The word ‘kaaru’ is found in the Nahal Hever manuscripts,now the points which arise now are
      —The word kaaru, in the form found in Nahal Haver has no known meaning.

      —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”

      —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.

      —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.

  4. Kenny cartwright you said “As far as the Jews not expecting their Messiah to die, that is a naieve (sp?) statement”

    The Jews never expected the death of their messiah and it is a BIBLICAL FACT and is upheld by the Jews till now.

    Let us see what the disciples of Jesus who themselves were Jews believed

    After the disciple Peter identified Jesus as “the Messiah” (Matthew16:16), Peter is informed that Jesus will be killed. (Matthew 16:21) Peter’s response is most telling: “God forbid it, lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22 and also Mark 9:31-32; Mark 16:10-11; John 20:9).
    Clearly, the disciples did not know that the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die nor did they view Jesus’ impending death as “good news.” Their reaction makes it abundantly clear that they had no concept that their messiah’s suffering and death was prophesized .

  5. ISAIAH 53

    Does not point to Jesus ,it is a regular Christian musing

    There are two verses in Isaiah 53:10 that could not possibly refer to Jesus. Isaiah 53:10 says, “He [the suffering servant] would see offspring.” The Hebrew word for “offspring” (zera) literally
    means sperm. As one would expect, “zera” is always used in the Jewish Bible to denote physical descendants, never “spiritual” descendents such as disciples or followers. There are no exceptions to this rule in the Jewish Bible. There is no indication in the Christian Bible that Jesus left physical descendants, (offspring) and therefore, Isaiah 53 cannot possibly be about
    him. In the Jewish Bible when spiritual descendants are intended, the Hebrew word “ben,” which means “son” is always used.

    In addition, Isaiah said the servant “…[would] live long days…” (Isaiah 53:10) According to the Christian NKJ and the NIV translations [God] will “prolong his days.”
    “Prolonged days” means a long life, which cannot possibly apply to Jesus. Jesus allegedly died at about 30 years of age, which is not a “prolonged” life. Although this description cannot fit Jesus, it does fit the Jewish People perfectly, whose physical survival (notwithstanding millenniums of persecution) is legendary in the face of overwhelming odds.
    Significantly, the Jewish People are the only biblical people that have survived to the modern era as a distinct people. Therefore, the days of the physical descendants of the Jewish People have truly and miraculously been “prolonged” for 3200 years and have fulfilled this prophecy and every other prophecy in Isaiah 53.

    Jewish scholars, and several Christian scholarly books, like Revised Standard Version Oxford Study Edition Bible, The Revised Standard Version tell us that Isaiah 53 is about national Israel and the New English Bible echo this analysis.

  6. KENNY CARTWRIGHT SAID

    “The ancient commentaries are full of commentaries on Isaiah 53 interpreting this suffering servant as the Messiah. If I had time I would elaborate, but suffice it to say that the Ramban in his commentary on this chapter said he would llike to interpret it as referring to Israel, but he had to concur with all the eralier Midrashim that attribute it to the Messiah.”

    ANSWER

    In the Midrashic commentaries on Isaiah 53 the object varies. I will bring all of these references, although for obvious reasons, only references to the messiah are mentioned by the missionaries.
    In discussion of Kabbalistic concepts we have 5 references in Isaiah:
    1. 52:13 in Zohar Volume III 246b.
    2. 53:1 in Tekunei HaZohar page 28a; Zohar Volume I 253a.
    3. 53:5 in Zohar Chadash page 91a
    4. 53:7 in Zohar Volume I 137b.

    Verse 53:10 is applied to the soul in the Zohar Volume I page 168a.

    There are numerous individuals that the Zohar applies Isaiah 53 to:
    1. 52:13-14 is applied to the Angel Metatron in Zohar Volume I
    182a.
    2. 53:5 is applied to Elijah the prophet in Zohar Volume II 115b.
    3. 53:5 is applied to Moshiach ben Yosef in Zohar Volume III
    276b.

    Then we have the following seven references to Moses:
    1. 52:13 in Zohar Volume III page 153b.
    2. 52:13, 53:2,5 in Zohar Volume III 280a.
    3. 53:1 in Tekunei HaZohar page 43a.
    4. 53:5 in Tekunei HaZohar page 54b and 112a.
    5. 53:5,7 in Zohar Volume III 125b.
    6. 53:5,6,7 in Zohar Volume III 282b.
    7. 53:7 in Zohar Volume I 187a.
    8. 53:10 in Zohar Volume II 29b.

    There are 8 references to the Righteous of Israel:
    1. 52:12 in Zohar Chadash page 15a
    2. 52:13 in Zohar Volume I 181a.
    3. 53:5 in Zohar Volume III 218a, 231a, 247b
    4. 53:10 in Zohar Volume I 140a; Volume II 244b; Volume III 57b

    To summarize: Five of the occurrences deal with Kabbalistic subjects and
    do not refer to people at all. The most common subject of Isaiah 53 in the
    Zohar is the righteous of Israel (8) and two more referring to Israel following
    the view of the Jewish commentators. The next in order of occurrences is
    Moses (7). The four of the other five occurrences are one each for the
    Messiah the son of Joseph (a descendant of Jeroboam the son of Nevat),
    the angel Metatron, Elijah the prophet and the soul. This demonstrates that
    to make a claim that ‘the Zohar teaches that Isaiah 53 refers to the
    messiah is a gross distortion and falsification of the text.”

    The first book of the Talmud – Brachot page 5a (compiled between app 220 and 300 CE) applies Is 53 to the people of Israel

    The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 5:1) applies Isaiah 53:12 to Rabbi Akiva.

    The Mahari Kara on Isaiah Isaiah 52:13: Quote: “Behold My servant shall prosper: Israel My servant shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. And [according to] the teachings of our Rabbis: He shall be more exalted than Abraham, as it is written: “I have raised my hand toward the Lord…” [Gen 14:22]. He shall be more lifted up than Moses, as it is written: “…as the nurse lifts up the suckling…”. And he [Israel] shall be higher than the ministering angels, as it is written: “And they had backs, and they were very high…” [Ezek 1:18].

    Numbers Rabbah 13:2 applies Is 53:12 to Israel in exile – “There can be almost no doubt that the redactor of Numbers Rabbah had before him an ancient Midrash on Numbers, and perhaps on other books as well, which has not come down to us and which we do not know of today. From the nature of the passages that were incorporated from this work and that remain in the Numbers Rabbah that we have today, one may conclude that this Midrash belonged to the group of Tanhuma-style Midrashim.”

    The Midrash Rabba on Deuteronomy says, “The Israelites poured out their soul to die in the captivity, as it is said, ‘Because he poured out his soul to die.’ (Isaiah 53:12)”[10]

    Furthermore, the Midrash known as Tana Devei Eliyahu contains three references to Isaiah 53, applying them to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).

    Another Midrash, Aleph Beitot (final chapter) quotes Isaiah 53 in reference to the nation of Israel as a whole.

    Midrash Psalms 94:2 applies Isaiah 53:10 to the righteous in general

    Kuzari also identifies Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel.

    • =o) But to say that none expected the Messiah to die, or at least suffer, for the sins of Israel is to be dishonest. If I were to say that all references applied it to Messiah, I would be dishonest. What is needed is scholastic honesty which rarely comes forth in these discussions. Can this ch refer to Israel? I think some of it can, but not all. Can it refer to the righteous of Israel? .In agreement with the last paragraph of Midrash Rabba Acherie Mot, such is possible as well. And who is more righteous than Messiah? Accordoing to Yelkut Shimeoni (you may have the exact reference more handy- I am trying to get to SHabbat candles), Messiah is greater than Moshe and the Fathers of blessed memory. But to say that Jews never pictured Messiah as suffering for the sin of Israel is flat out wrong.
      Shabbat Shalom!

      • Kenny, on the subject of messiahs, I invite you to listen to this excellent lecture:

        This lecture shows how Christian missionaries approach the Jewish Bible with a preconceived agenda and ultimately see what’s not there and don’t see what is there. This convoluted approach leads them to quote passages out of context so they can inject their beliefs into the Jewish Bible. The result… a dramatic misreading and distortion of the Holy Scriptures.

  7. In fairness, when considering whether Jews expect(ed) their Messiah to die and come again, we should consider the movement within the contemporary ultra-orthodox sect known as the Lubavitcher Chasidim. Their former leader, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson), came to be felt by many within the sect to be the Jewish Messiah. Many of them continued in this hope even after he died in 1994.
    To say that the idea of a dying and resurrected Messiah is incompatible with Judaism, just because most Jewish apologists say so in order to refute Christianity, is to ignore the fact that a sizable portion of the Lubavitcher Jews, who immerse themselves in study of Torah and Talmud for their entire lives, somehow are able to accomodate the belief in a dying and resurrected (they hope) Jewish man as Messiah.
    I won’t argue that these Chasidim reflect mainstream Judaism, but it’s necessary to look at them and their reasoning when considering whether it’s possible for Jews to believe in a dying and resurrected Messiah.
    http://www.alfassa.com/schneersonism.html

    • I think the point being made is not that some Jewish person today believes this or that about the Messiah, after all there are plenty of Jews today who believe in reincarnation or are fervent atheists. The point surely is that the Jewish Bible shows no knowledge of the idea that God will one day become the Messiah and that his self-sacrifice will be the means of atonement for the sins of the world. That is alien to Judaism.

      • I should have specified that I was writing in response to the above comment by the poster calling himself ‘Jesus,’ when he wrote “The Jews never expected the death of their messiah and it is a BIBLICAL FACT and is upheld by the Jews till now.”

  8. As a Christian I started a detailed study of the messianic prophecies. In that study I saw that Christians misinterpreted scriptures, created fictious verses, and took events out of context and applied them to Jesus. In short, Christians shot the arrow into the tree first, then they painted the target around the arrow. In other words, the Jews have a far stronger apologetic than do Christians. I am now a Skeptic.

  9. @ Steve,

    Christians did not shoot the arrow. If the OT is the arrow it was God who shot it. The NT is the tree that it hit. Islam shoots the arrow in to a rock and it falls to the ground broken without accomplishing anything. In Judaism the arrow is still flying aimlessly around looking for a target.

    • madmanna, that has to be one of the worst analogies I’ve ever read. You say that the Hebrew Scriptures are an arrow, and you say that God shot that arrow into the New Testament. However, the New Testament didn’t even exist until long after the death of Jesus (pbuh).
      Then you say that Islam shoots the Hebrew Scriptures into a rock. (I’m reminded of Moses being told by God of a rock in the desert which would give forth life-giving water for all.)
      And you finish with the statement that Judaism shoots the Hebrew Scriptures into eternal flight. An eternal hunger for God, never running into a tree and calling it God, never mistaking the path (the Prophet Jesus) for the destination (God). And how can Judaism be simultaneously “aimless” while “looking for a target”?
      The fact of the matter (as shown in this excellent lecture posted on this blog by Paul Williams: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfUkX0TFLN4) is that Christian theology starts with a conclusion and then works backwards, to bend the evidence (the Hebrew Scriptures) to support their conclusion (that the Prophet Jesus was a “God-man.”

  10. This lecture shows how Christian missionaries approach the Jewish Bible with a preconceived agenda and ultimately see what’s not there and don’t see what is there. This convoluted approach leads them to quote passages out of context so they can inject their beliefs into the Jewish Bible. The result… a dramatic misreading and distortion of the Holy Scriptures.

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