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According to anti-Christian rabbi polemicists and other biblical critics, Psalm 22:16[17 in Jewish translations] is an instance where Christians supposedly corrupted the Hebrew text in order to turn it into a prophecy of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Here’s how it reads in the King James Version (AV):

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

Now contrast this with the following Jewish translations:

“For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.” (Jewish Publication Society Bible 1917

“For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet.”

like a lion, my hands and feet: As though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth, and so did Hezekiah say (in Isa. 38: 13): “like a lion, so it would break all my bones.” (The Complete Jewish Bible With Rashi Commentary

These enemies of the Gospel claim that the AV’s rendering is almost certainly an intentional incorrect translation and misappropriation of the word ka’ari, which means “like a lion.” These skeptics argue that some unknown Christians must have changed the reading to ka’ru, which the AV translated as “they pierced.”

In light of this, I am simply going to let the scholars and experts refute this objection. Some of the references cite the Hebrew, which I am unable to reproduce for the benefit of the readers, and for that, I do apologize. However, even without the benefit of the Hebrew words, the readers will still be able to understand the points being made by these authorities.

they pierced my hands and my feet; by nailing them to the cross, which, though not related by the evangelists, is plainly suggested in John 20:25; and is referred to in other passages of Scripture, Zechariah 12:10; and clearly points at the kind of death Christ should die; the death, of the cross, a shameful and painful one. In this clause there is a various reading; in some copies in the margin it is, “as a lion my hands and my feet”, but in the text, “they have dug” or “pierced my hands and my feet”; both are joined together in the Targum, “biting as a lion my hands and my feet”; as it is by other interpreters (c); and Schultens (d) retains the latter, rendering the preceding clause in connection with it thus,

“the assembly of the wicked have broken me to pieces, as a lion, my hands and my feet.”

In the Targum, in the king of Spain’s Bible, the phrase, “as a lion”, is left out. The modern Jews are for retaining the marginal reading, though without any good sense, and are therefore sometimes charged with a wilful and malicious corruption of the text; but without sufficient proof, since the different reading in some copies might be originally occasioned by the similarity of the letters and therefore finding it in their copies, or margin, sometimes and sometimes have chose that which best suits their purpose, and is not to be wondered at; however, their “masoretic” notes, continued by them, sufficiently clear them from such an imputation, and direct to the true reading of the words; in the small Masorah on the text it is observed that the word is twice used as here pointed, but in two different senses; this is one of the places; the other is Isaiah 38:13; where the sense requires it should be read “as a lion”: wherefore, according to the authors of that note, it must have a different sense here, and not to be understood of a lion; the larger Masorah, in Numbers 24:9; observes the word is to be found in two places, in that place and in Psalm 22:16; and adds to that, it is written “they pierced”; and Ben Chayim confirms (e) this reading, and says he found it so written it, some correct copies, and in the margin and so it is written in several manuscripts; and which is confirmed by the Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Greek, and Vulgate Latin versions; in which it is rendered, “they dug my hands and my feet”; and so took it to be a verb and not a noun: so Apollinarius in his metaphrase; and which is also confirmed by the points; though taking for a participle, as the Targum, that reading may be admitted, as it is by some learned men (f), who render it “digging” or “piercing”, and so has the same sense, deriving the word either from or which signify to dig, pierce, or make hollow; and there are many instances of plural words which end in the omitted, being cut off by an apocope; see 2 Samuel 23:8; and either way the words are expressive of the same thing, and manifestly point to the sufferings of Christ, and that kind of death he should die, the death of the cross, and the nailing of his hands and feet to it, whereby they were pierced. This passage is sometimes applied by the Jews (g) themselves to their Messiah.

(c) Amamae Antibarb. Bibl. p. 743. (d) Origin. Heb. l. 1. c. 12. s. 8. Vid. Jacob. Alting. Dissert. Philolog. 5. s. 27-34. (e) In Maarcath fol. 10. 2. ad Calc. Buxtorf. Bibl. (f) Pocock. Miscell. c. 4. p. 59, 60. Pfeiffer. Exercitat. 8. s. 37. Carpzov. Critic. Sacr. p. 838, 839. Alting. ut supra. (Dissert. Philolog. 5.) s. 48, 49. (g) Pesikta in Yalkut, par. 2. fol. 56. 4. (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible; bold emphasis ours)

They pierced my hands and my feet – This passage is attended with more difficulty than perhaps any other part of the psalm. It is remarkable that it is nowhere quoted or referred to in the New Testament as applicable to the Saviour; and it is no less remarkable that there is no express statement in the actual history of the crucifixion that either the hands or the feet of the Saviour were pierced, or that he was nailed to the cross at all. This was not necessarily implied in the idea of crucifixion, for the hands and the feet were sometimes merely bound to the cross by cords, and the sufferer was allowed to linger on the cross thus suspended until he died from mere exhaustion. There can be no doubt, however, that the common mode of crucifixion was to nail the hands to the transverse beam of the cross, and the feet to the upright part of it. See the description of the crucifixion in the notes at Matthew 27:31-32. Thus, Tertullian, speaking of the sufferings of Christ, and applying this passage to his death, says that “this was the special or proper – “propria” – severity of the cross.” Adv. Marcionem, iii. 19, ed. Wurtz, I. p. 403. See Hengstenberg’s Christology, 1,139. The great difficulty in this passage is in the word rendered in our version, “they pierced” – כארי kâ’ăriy. It occurs only in one other place, Isaiah 38:13, where it means as a lion. This would undoubtedly be the most natural interpretation of the word here, unless there were good reasons for setting it aside; and not a few have endeavored to show that this is the true rendering. According to this interpretation, the passage would mean, “As lions, they (that is, my enemies) surround (gape upon) my hands and my feet; that is, they threaten to tear my limbs to pieces.” Gesenius, Lexicon. This interpretation is also that of Aben Ezra, Ewald, Paulus, and others. But, whatever may be the true explanation, there are very serious objections to this one.

(a) It is difficult to make sense of the passage if this is adopted. The preceding word, rendered in our version “enclosed,” can mean only “surrounded” or “encompassed,” and it is difficult to see how it could be said that a lion could “surround” or “encompass” “the hands and the feet.” At all events, such an interpretation would be harsh and unusual.

(b) According to this interpretation the word “me” – “enclosed me” – would be superfluous; since the idea would be, “they enclose or surround my hands and my feet.”

(c) ALL the ancient interpreters have taken the word here to be a verb, and in ALL the ancient versions it is rendered as if it were a verb.

Even in the Masorah Parva it is said that the word here is to be taken in a different sense from what it has in Isaiah 38:13, where it plainly means a lion. Gesenius admits that ALL the ancient interpreters have taken this as a verb, and says that it is “certainly possible” that it may be so. He says that it may be regarded as a participle formed in the Aramaic manner (from כוּר kûr), and in the plural number for כארים kâ’ăriym, and says that in this way it would be properly rendered, “piercing, my hands and my feet;” that is, as he says, “my enemies, who are understood in the dogs.” From such high authority, and from the uniform mode of interpreting the word among the ancients, it may be regarded as morally certain that the word is a verb, and that it is not to be rendered, as in Isaiah 38:13, “as a lion.” The material question is, What does the verb mean? The verb – כוּר kûr – properly means “to dig, to bore through, to pierce.”

Thus used, according to Gesenius, it would mean “piercing;” and if the word used here is a verb, he supposes that it would refer to the enemies of David as wounding him, or piercing him, “with darts and weapons.” He maintains that it is applicable to David literally, and he sees no reason to refer it to the Messiah. But, if so, it is natural to ask why “the hands” and “the feet” are mentioned. Certainly it is not usual for darts and spears thrown by an enemy to injure the hands or the feet particularly; nor is it customary to refer to the hands or the feet when describing the effects produced by the use of those weapons. If the reference were to the enemies of David as wounding him with darts and spears, it would be much more natural to refer to the body in general, without specifying any of the particular members of the body. DeWette renders it “fesseln” – “they bind my hands and my feet.”

He remarks, however, in a note, that according to the ancient versions, and the codices of Kennicott and DeRossi, it means durchbohren – bore through. Aquila, Symmachus, and Jerome in five codices, says he, render it bind. The Septuagint renders it ὥρυξαν ōruxan – “they pierced.” The Latin Vulgate the same, “foderunt.” See the Syriac. For these reasons it seems to me that the common rendering is the true one, and that the meaning is, that, in some proper sense, the enemies here referred to “pierced or bored through” the hands and the feet of the sufferer. Evidently this could not be literally applied to David, for there is not the least authority for supposing that this ever happened to him; nor, as has been shown, was such a thing probable. A casual dart, or the stroke of a spear, might indeed strike the hand or the foot; but it would be unusual and remarkable if they should strike those members of the body and leave the other parts uninjured, so as to make this a matter for special notice; and even if they did strike those parts, it would be every way unlikely that they would “pierce them, or bore them through.”

Such an event would be so improbable that we may assume that it did not occur, unless there was the most decisive evidence of the fact. Nor is there the least probability that the enemies of David would pierce his hands and feet deliberately and of design. I say nothing in regard to the fact that they never had him in their possession so that they could do it; it is sufficient to say that this was not a mode of punishing one who was taken captive in war. Conquerors killed their captives; they made them pass under yokes; they put them under saws and harrows of iron (compare 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3); but there is not the slightest evidence that they ever tortured captives in war by piercing the hands and the feet. But, as has been remarked above, there is every reason to believe that this was the ordinary mode of crucifixion. I conclude, therefore, that this must have had original reference to the Messiah. It is no objection to the interpretation that this passage is not expressly referred to as having been fulfilled in the Redeemer, for there are undoubtedly many passages in the prophets which refer to the Messiah, which are not formally applied to him in the New Testament. To make it certain that the prophecy referred to him, and was fulfilled in him, it is not necessary that we should find on record an actual application of the passage to him. All that is necessary in the case is, that it should be a prophecy; that it should have been spoken before the event; and that to him it should be fairly applicable. (Albert Barne’s Notes on the Bible; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Psalm 22:16

This passage reads:

For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet.

Regarding this passage, Lippard declared: “This is a psalm of David which gives no indication of being prophetic and which describes the speaker being hunted down and killed rather than being crucified.” This explanation is almost as amazing as a Messianic prophecy–a man describing his own murder! It is true that the psalm never directly speaks of the Messiah, and the first strophes of the psalm are not worded as a prophecy. However, the latter strophes (vss. 22-31) are worded as prophecy that relates to the future Kingdom of God.

So for example:

All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations. (Psa 22:27-28)

Also the ancient Jewish literature relates certain portions of this psalm to the Messiah.[21] So it is not as though this psalm lacks prophecy and Messianic application. In fact, there are so many parallels between David’s experiences in this psalm and that of the crucifixion of Jesus that most Christians regard the whole psalm to be Messianic in spite of any direct reference to the Messiah. This is done because certain details in this psalm could not be literally true of David (such as describing his own murder–he died naturally, and his hands and feet were not pierced), but they could be prophetically true of the Messiah. In the worst case this psalm should qualify as another instance of a “figurative” prophecy. It is only in this latter sense that this verse can be regarded as fulfilled by Jesus, because the New Testament does not actually cite this passage as fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus–only allusions are made, such as in John 20: 25-27. Nevertheless, the parallel is so striking that it is scarcely a coincidence; so this passage should not be rejected as a “figuratively” fulfilled by Jesus.

Lippard called attention to the question about the word translated “pierced.” Some, such as Sigal, point out that the Hebrew word is “ka’ariy” which could mean “like a lion.” But such a rendering makes little sense in this context without a good deal of speculative interpretation, as indicated by the words Sigal had to add to the text. It is true that the printed Hebrew text known as the Masoretic text has the word “ka’ariy,” but other Hebrew manuscripts and printed editions of the Hebrew Bible have the word “ka’aru” or “karu” which mean “they pierced.” This latter reading is preferred by most translators and lexicographers,[22] because it makes much better sense, and is supported by the pre-Christian Jewish translators of the LXX, and the translators of the Syriac version, as well as Hebrew manuscripts. It appears likely that the Masoretic Text was altered as a result of early debates with the Christians.

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

[21] On Psa. 22:7 a remarkable comment appears in Yalkut on Isa. 60, applying this passage to the Messiah (the second, or son of Ephraim), and using almost the same words in which the Evangelists describe the mocking behavior of the Jews at the cross. Also of Psa. 22:15 there is a similarly remarkable application to the Messiah of this verse in Yalkut.

[22] So F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1955), p. 468. These lexicographers are not known for their conservative theology, so their support of this reading is significant. (Dr. James D. Price, Response To Jim Lippard’s The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah; underline emphasis ours)

The late Evangelical Biblical and Semitic scholar Dr. Gleason L. Archer was another renowned authority who argued that the phrase “like a lion” could not be the original reading. In explaining the reasons why variant readings exist among the extant manuscripts of the Holy Bible, and how to determine which one is the original, Archer wrote:

“Examples of misreading similar letters abound 1QIsa. In Isaiah 33:13 reads yd‘w(‘let me know’) rather than the MT’s wd‘w (‘and know ye’). More significantly 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 two different spellings of the same word within three verses of each other. Far more likely is the reading supported by most of the versionska’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 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.” (Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1982], Introduction, p. 37; bold emphasis ours)


Canon 4. The reading that best explains all the variants is most likely the original one. An excellent example of this was discussed above in connection with Psalm 22:16 (17 Eng.), where we saw that a ka’ru (“they have pierced”) misread as ka’ari(at a time when the waw and yodh greatly resembled each other) most satisfactorily accounted for the MT reading; whereas it would be far less likely that “like the lion” would have been the original lying behind a ka’ru, which makes perfect sense in the context. (Ibid., p. 43)

Moreover, it isn’t simply the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures that supports the “they have pierced” reading. This variant is even confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls: 

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 reads “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”! (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, by Martin G. Abegg, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich [Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco: Paperback 2002), pp. 518-519)

This explains why the authors retained the reading “they have pierced” in their translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:

14 [I have been] poured out [like water, and all] my bon[es are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has mel]ted away in my breast. 15 [My strength is dried up like a potsherd], and my tongue melts [in mouth. They] have placed [me] as the dust of death. 16 For dogs [are all around me]; a gang of evil[doers] encircles me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 [I can count all of my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my] clothes. (Ibid., p. 519; bold emphasis ours)

It also explains why we now find conservative, heterodox and liberal biblical scholars accepting “they have pierced” as the original reading:

  1. The Original Reading of Psalm 22:16

Psalm 22 begins as follows: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning” (NASB). This familiar piece has proved significant in both Jewish and Christian exegesis, and is quoted several times by Jesus in the Gospels in relation to his sufferings and death. A difficult reading is found in verse 16 (Hebrew v. 17) of the Masoretic text…

Thus ריִאֲכּ (“like a lion”) is translated from the traditional Masoretic Text of this Psalm:

My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and you have brought me into the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded me: the assembly of the wicked have encompassed me: like a lion are my hands and my feet.

The Septuagint—supported by the later Syriac—translates as ὢρυξαν χεῖρας μοθ καὶ πόδος (“They have pierced my hands and feet”). Some scholars suggest that the Septuagint reading represents a modification of the Hebrew “like a lion” (ריִאֲכּ), in order to make better sense of the verse. Another suggestion is that early Christian editors changed the Greek text in order to find evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion in the Hebrew Bible.

The passage is not preserved in any Psalms scroll found at Qumran, but is in the Psalms scroll from Nahal Hever (5/6HevPs), which reads “They have pierced (or, dug) (כארו) my hands and feet.”13 Further confirmation of this as the preferred reading is found in a few Masoretic manuscripts from the Middle Ages, a few editions based on the Masoretic Text,14 and two Masoretic manuscripts or editions that have a similar verbal form (כרו). This reading has been adopted by many modern English Bibles, including the New American Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. (Peter W. Flint, “The Significance of the Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls”, Southwestern Journal of Theology, Volume 53, Number 1, Fall 2010, p. 23; underline emphasis ours)

13 Although the text is fragmentary, the crucial words are preserved: “[For] dogs are [all around me]; a gang of evil[doers] encircles me. They have pierced my hands and my feet.

14 Cf. the Apparatus of BHS and Flint, Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls. (Ibid.)

“Pierced Reading in Psalm 22: Psalm 22 is well known to the Christians, for while suffering on the cross, Jesus quoted its opening verse, ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?’ (Ps 22:1; cf. Mark 15:34). Other parts of this psalm are quoted or alluded to here and there in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death. One of them is Psalm 22:16, which says, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet.’ This is quoted in John 19:37 [sic], as a fulfillment of Jesus’ being pierced in the side.

“Some scholars have suggested that ‘they pierced my hands and feet’ is a misreading of the Hebrew text and that as given in the traditional Hebrew Bible (the MT) it should be, ‘Like a lion are my hands and feet.’ Of course, this reading hardly makes sense in the context of Psalm 22, much less the Gospels. In any case, a Psalms Scroll found at Nahal Hever in the Dead Sea region clearly reads, ‘They have pierced my hands and feet.’ This is important evidence supporting the rendering found in the Gospels.” (Craig A. Evans, Holman QuickSource Guide To The Dead Sea Scrolls [B&H Publishing Group, 2010], p. 274; bold emphasis ours)

“Psalm 22 begins as follows: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ This familiar piece has proved significant in both Jewish and Christian exegesis, and is quoted by Jesus as he suffers on the cross (Mark 15:34; Matt 27:64). When we turn to v. 16 (Heb. V. 17) in the Masoretic Text, however, a difficult and puzzling reading is found…

“The different reading in v.16 depends on a single word: k’ry (כארי), 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 word (כארו) 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: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity, James VanderKam & Peter Flint [HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., San Francisco 2002], The Dead Sea Scrolls and Scripture, 6. The Biblical Scrolls and the Text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, pp. 124-125; bold emphasis ours)

And here is how a liberal biblical scholar, Mitchell Dahood, Professor of Ugaritic Language and Literature at The Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, translated the verse:

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. (The Anchor Yale Bible, Psalms I 1-50: A New Translation With Introduction And Commentary, by Mitchell Dahood [Yale University Press,1968], Volume 17, p. 137; bold emphasis ours) 

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. (Ibid., pp. 140-141)

We have more citations:

(In this passage we must also note John 19:37 and Zechariah 12:10. There was a controversy concerning Psalm 22:16. The Hebrew Masoretic text reads “Like a lion are my hands and my feet”. Jews accused Christians of altering the text. In Christian versions the verse reads, “They have pierced my hands and feet” but Jewish versions of this verse instead had “Like a lion, my hands and feet”. This reading really doesn’t make sense. Christians and Jews debated this passage for over a thousand years. Who changed it, did the Christians or the Jews, and what did the original actually say? Since the original manuscripts of the Bible have disappeared it was difficult to know for certain. Finally, in 1948 a version of the Bible was discovered that predated both Christianity and Judaism. The religion we know as Judaism was founded after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. The true culprits who altered the text were exposed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here the original reading of “They have pierced my hands and my feet” has been preserved… So it was the Christians who preserved the original reading of this passage of scripture.) (Stephen Andrew Missick, The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity [Xulon Press, 2006], pp. 77-78; bold emphasis ours)

… In support of the argument that the yrak (“like a lion”) reading in the Masoretic text had not shown up before the end of the second century ad, one can point not only to the Jewish translators Symmachus and Aquila, who do not follow it, but also to the second-century Christian apologist Justin, who frequently reproached the Jews for introducing textual changes to support their arguments but who says nothing about this particular passage.30

Evidence from Parallel Biblical Texts

One objection to the translation “pierced” given by modern scholars is that the traditional meaning for hrk (the root from which vrak derives) is “to dig” or “hollow out,”31 which does not seem to fit the piercing of the body by nails. However, Franz Delitszch, in support of the translation “pierced,” has appealed to a parallel Hebrew verb, rcn, which is known to have the double meaning of “to dig” and “to bore,” as into the body (Judg. 16:21; 1 Sam. 11:3; and Job 30:17). Delitszch thus surmised that the parallel hrk could easily have this same double meaning as well. The best parallel Hebrew text for the verb hrk in the Old Testament is Psalm 40:6, where it is used to refer to a body part and can be interpreted as “pierced” or “opened.” It reads, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; my ears hast thou opened.” Indeed, the Septuagint translates hrk in Psalm 40:7 exactly the same as it does in Psalm 22:16, adding considerable support to this interpretation of both verses. Finally, theological dictionaries and lexicons point out that this verb is generally used for digging wells and cisterns.32 With this context of boring into the ground until water springs forth, the concept of piercing a hand until blood issues forth does not seem terribly out of place.

It is important to note that although the Christian Fathers relied heavily on Psalm 22:16, it was never quoted in the New Testament. Other passages from Psalm 22 were quoted in the passion narratives, but not verse 16. Some have argued that this absence indicates that Psalm 22:16 read differently in the original Septuagint text and went through a revision after the writing of the passion narratives. That silence carries some weight, although it can be offset by the first-and-second-century-ad Peshitta translation of “pierced.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls, written from 300 bc to ad 68, have done much to affirm that the Septuagint preserves an early reading of the Hebrew scriptures. A few of the Hebrew texts used by the translators of the Septuagint were likely very similar to biblical manuscripts discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially where the Septuagint differs from the Masoretic. This may indicate that the Scrolls are a window to the Hebrew texts from which the Septuagint was translated.33 In the book of Psalms in particular, lists of verses have been compiled in which the Septuagint disagrees with Masoretic text but agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls.34 The Scrolls that have a bearing on the discussion at hand date to the middle of the first century ad before the Jewish/Christian controversy was under way.35 This makes the Dead Sea Scrolls the oldest extant textual witness of the Psalm, although the original translation of the Septuagint—which is largely preserved in later, although altered, versions—predates it.

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments contains Psalm 22:16. This fragment, published in 1997, was discovered in a cache of Scrolls at Nahal Hever in Israel during the early 1950s. Significantly, the 5/6 Hev–Sev4Ps Fragment 11 of Psalm 22 contains the crucial word in the form of a third person plural verb, written vrak (“pierced/dug”).36 While it can often be difficult to distinguish between a waw (v) and yod (y) in the Dead Sea texts, the editors of the most authoritative edition of the scrolls, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, confirm this reading in its transliteration and in two notes: “Although the photograph . . . is very faded, most of the letters are clearly identifiable under magnification,” and regarding vrak the editors conclude, “with waw (v) and yod (y) clearly distinguishable in this hand . . . this important variant [vrak] reading IS ASSURED.”37 Nevertheless, in 2004, Kristin Swenson continued to argue for the translation yrak (“like a lion”). In doing so, she discounts the evidence of this fragment, stating in a footnote, “Peter Flint records it as vrak [‘pierced/dug’] . . . However, the facsimile reveals a badly faded text that is nearly impossible to read.”38 The photograph of this fragment, however, which is published here from the clearest images available (fig. 1), confirms that Flint was correct and that, accordingly, Swenson’s arguments should be reevaluated. The discovery of the text of Psalm 22:16 at Nahal Hever strikes at the heart of the controversy. This important text adds strong support to the Septuagint’s translation, which has stood in conflict with the Masoretic text for so long. This new evidence from the Dead Sea wilderness shows that the Hebrew rendering of vrak (“pierced/dug”) was not a late change introduced into the manuscripts of the Psalms in support of Christian theology, but rather that it existed before the Jewish/Christian controversy began.39

  1. The Masoretic variance with the Septuagint seems to have gone unnoticed by Christians for many centuries, since they used the Septuagint so exclusively. However, when interest in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was revived among Christian scholars during the Renaissance and Reformation, the Jews were immediately accused of having tampered with the text. The fact that “like a lion my hands and my feet” made such little sense seemed to justify their criticism. See John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1963), 1:373–74. Notwithstanding their traditional hostility, most level-headed Christian scholars would eventually come to acknowledge that the textual change probably came about because of a simple waw/yodconfusion, and not because of any type of textual dishonesty on the part of the Jews. Switching a yodwith a waw is probably the most common of textual variants witnessed by the Hebrew texts. Once the letters had become confused, the switched text likely came to be preferred by the Jews because it avoided the christological interpretation of the text, which had been so hotly contested by the Christians.
  2. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds., The BrownDriver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon(Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1996), 500; G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, trans. David E. Green (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995), 303–6.
  3. Willem A. Van Gemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1997), 2:225. TheTheological Dictionary of the Old Testamentstates: “The use of the verb representing the root from the word group ‘dig’ is characterized by an association with the nouns ‘pit,’ ‘well,’ ‘cistern,’ ‘collecting basin,’ and ‘tomb.’” G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 14 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995), 7:304. However, the dictionary also gives a specialized meaning: “The basic meaning ‘dig’ also gives rise to the more specific meaning ‘hew out’ (Ex. 21:33; Ps. 7:16; 2 Ch. 16:14; Sir. 50:3).”
  4. Ulrich, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Implications,” states: “Numerous other scrolls have documented the same phenomenon, providing Hebrew originals for readings found in the LXX which differ from the Masoritic text.”
  5. Peter W. Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, ed. F. Garcia Martinez and A. S. Van Der Woude, vol. 17, Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah(New York: Brill, 1997), 50–116; Peter W. Flint, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Implications for an Edition of the Septuagint Psalter,” in Ulrich, Der Septuaginta-Psalter und seine Tochterübersetzungen, 341–63.
  6. Flint, Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, 43.
  7. Flint, Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, 88.
  8. James Charlesworth and others, eds., Miscellaneous Texts from the Judaean Desert, in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 38 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 38:160–61.
  9. Kristin M. Swenson, “Psalm 22:17: Circling around the Problem Again,” Journal of Biblical Literature123/4 (2004), 640–41 n. 12. The versification of Psalms varies by one verse between the Septuagint and English translations, as the Septuagint assigns verse 1 to the superscriptions—headings that ascribe authorship, provide musical notation, and/or categorize the psalm. The heading (verse 1 of the Septuagint) of Psalm 22 reads, “Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility, To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn, A Psalm of David” (NRSV). Therefore Psalm 22:17 is the same as Psalm 22:16. Both are used by scholars.
  10. In addition to the thirty-six Psalms manuscripts from Qumran, three manuscripts were discovered at Nahal Hever and Masada. It has also been suggested, but incorrectly, that Psalms scrolls were found at Nahal Se’elim and Ein Gedi. As an explanation, a Psalms text was discovered by an expedition led by Yigael Yadin on April 3, 1960, in the first chamber of the “Cave of Letters.” This piece is abbreviated 5/6 HevPs, with the large three-chambered cave classified as “Cave Five-Six,” since it has two openings. However, our text was found several years earlier (1951 or 1952) by a Bedouin who claimed to have found it at Wadi Seiyal (this being the Arabic name for Nahal Hever and not the name for Nahal Se’elim, as was thought). Thus the fragment with our text is named XHev/Se 4.

XHev/Se 4 means cave “X” (=uncertain) of Nahal Hever, traditionally named Wadi Seiyal, manuscript number 4 (the Psalms scroll). The scroll has also been referred to in some studies as Se II–IV. See Flint, Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, 43–44. (Shon Hopkin, “The Psalm 22:16 Controversy New Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” BYU Studies Quarterly, Volume 44, Issue 3, Article 9, 9-1-2005, pp. 161-172; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Scraps from a scroll containing some of the Psalms were discovered at Nachal Hever, and one scrap contained the line from Psalm 22:16 with the word in question well in view. Though the writing on the scrap was faint, under magnification it was easy to see and decipher. The word clearly ended in a vav not a yod, and was therefore a 3rd person plural verb: “they dug” or “they pierced.” Here was evidence that the Lxx translators had not “fooled” with the text, but had faithfully translated the Hebrew original that was before them. Since this scrap is dated (in accordance with the style of letters used) to 50­68 CE, it is almost 1000 years earlier than the Masoretic text, and shows that in at least one of the earliest He brew traditions of Psalm 22, the word is not “like a lion” but “they dug” or “pierced.”

Dr. Peter Flint, who published the principle edition of the scrap in Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. 38 (Oxford), notes that in the Herodian script, “vav and yod are usually distinguished, with vav generally longer than yod.” Indeed, in this in stance, we have a perfect ex ample for comparison, since the very next letter following the word in question is a yod: “my hands” (hydy). The last letter of ka’aru is with out doubt a vav when compared with the beginning letter of the next word which is clearly a yod. Here, then, is a He brew manuscript, pre­Christian, with “they dug” or “they pierced.”

But not everyone is convinced. Some (who apparently have not looked at the photographs of the manuscript) accuse Dr. Flint of misreading the letter. Others have argued that the Hebrew word rak could never mean “pierce,” and that Christian interpreters have tried to make rak (ka’ar) some form of hrk, karah, which does mean “to dig” (and by inference) “to pierce.” “But,” say the detractors, “the appearance of the aleph in the word precludes it being a form of karah, ‘to dig’ or ‘to pierce.’” Others have claimed that the word hydy “my hands” is “misspelled” because it has the final h, (implying that the text is not to be trusted in matters of spelling). Apparently those who make this judgment are unaware that the Hebrew of the Qumran documents often utilize the final h to mark final dipthongs (see Elisha Qimron, The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls [Scholars Press, 1986).

Let’s look closer at the text. First, the phrase, as it stands in the Masoretic text, seems to lack a verb. Note that the Masoretic punctuation (the atnach under the word ynIWp–yQihi) puts a stop after “surrounded me,” leaving the final phrase of the verse to stand on its own. The Targum felt this problem, and “fixed it” by adding the verb “bite” (tkn, nechat): “biting my hands and my feet like a lion.” But now we see the earliest Hebrew source did not have “like a lion” but wrote the word as a verb. But what verb did the Lxx (as well as the Syriac and the Vulgate) “see” when they translated “they dug (pierced) my hands and my feet?”

A verb with the three consonants rak ka’ar does not show up in the lexicons of biblical Hebrew. Some, however, have suggested that the root is rWk, kurand that it was written in an archaic form with aleph instead of with vav. We actually do have examples of verbs with middle vav being spelled with aleph. For instance, the verb µWq, kum, “to get up” is spelled with aleph in Hosea 10:14, Daniel 2:13; 3:3; 7:16, and the word µWr, rum, “to be high above” is likewise spelled with aleph in Zechariah 14:10. So there is at least a reasonable possibility that an original verb spelled kur was written with aleph, i.e., ka’ar. One of the verbs in Hebrew that means “to dig” is karah (hrk). Originally that verb could have been spelled rWk kur (final hey was added as an early “vowel marker”). This being the case, Wra}K; could be an alternate spelling for WrK;, “they dug.”

Interestingly, the Masorah itself suggests that there is something different going on in Psalm 22:16. The Masorah note attached to the word yria}K; indicates that it is found two times in this exact spelling (with the initial vowel chametz). The other occurrence is Isaiah 38:13. A Masoretic note attached to this verse (see Perowne, Psalms, p. 248) indicates that though the word is found in this exact form twice, the meanings are different (בתרי שני”. (Like a lion” certainly fits the sense of Isaiah 38:13, so apparently the scribes recognized a different meaning for the word in Psalm 22. We should conclude, then, that the original reading was likely the verbal form WrK;, karu with an archaic spelling, Wra}K;, ka’aru, meaning “to dig.” Thus, the versions did not change the meaning of the Hebrew text, but reproduced it faithfully

This prophetic picture of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, was in perfect harmony with the message of the later prophets. Isaiah 53:5 speaks of the Servant being “pierced through” (ll;jom], mecholal) for our transgressions, and Zechariah (12:10) describes the Messiah as “pierced” (Wrq;D;, daqaru). (Studies in the Biblical Text, by Tim Hegg, Psalm 22:16 – “like a lion” or “they pierced”?; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, the evidence shows that if anyone tampered with the text it certainly wasn’t the Christians!

The second problem is that the reading “like a lion,” makes absolutely no sense, just as some of the foregoing citations already noted. The following Christian author provides a more thorough explanation of why it doesn’t:

To start this discussion off, let me point out that the word in question here in Ps 22.16/17c is a NOTORIOUSLY difficult TEXTUAL (not ‘theological’) problem. To give you the sense of this, let me cite just two scholars:

“Ps. xxii 17c is an old crux which has never been satisfactorily explained. The MT’s ka’ari yaday weraglay, ‘like a lion my hands and my feet’, makes no sense, and most modern scholars agree the text is corrupt. They also agree in locating the problem in the word ka’ari, ‘like a lion’. All the ancient versions with the exception of the Targum read a verb here, and following their lead, most modern scholars emend the consonantal text from k’ry to k’rw or krw in order to obtain a verb in the 3mpl suffix conjugation.” [J.J.M. Roberts, Vetus Testamentum, Vol 23, pge 247f]

“MT’s ka’ari (“like a lion”) presents numerous problems and can scarcely be correct. One must suppose that incorrect vocalization of the consonantal text occurred” [Craigie, Peter C. Word Biblical CommentaryVolume 19: Psalms 1-50. Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1998.]

The reasons that ‘like a lion’ is generally rejected (even though it shows up in the printed Hebrew bibles as MT) are given by scholars as follows:

  1. As Roberts pointed out, the verse makes no sense with ‘like a lion’ there. He points out that attempts to salvage the MT reading fall into two approaches:
  2. you either make the verse elliptical and supply a verb from context; or
    b. you redivide the verse, so 16/17c STARTS a new verse, instead of ends one.

but points out that neither of these have produced convincing alternatives:

“Attempts to extract some sense from these enigmatic words without resorting to textural emendations generally take one of two forms. either one assumes an ellipsis of a verb in the line, or one redivides the line. Neither approach has produced a credible meaning, however. The Targum, following the first route, supplies a verb not found in the MT: ‘they gnaw my hands and my feet like a lion”, but such an ellipsis is incredibly hard and totally unexpected in the context.” [op.cit., p.247n2]

Rabbinic commentators (medieval to modern) side with the lion, taking the elliptical tactic:

So Rashi:

“As though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth, and so did Hezekiah say (in Isa. 38:13): ‘like a lion, so it would break all my bones.’” [tanknote: Isaiah is different than the Ps passage in that the verb “broke” is EXPLICIT in the Hebrew text. There is no verb in 22.16/17c, if the form is translated “like a lion”]

So a modern rabbi (A Rabbi Reads the Psalms), admitting that the MT reading is “rather strange”, takes the elliptical approach and supplies a verb from the first half of the verse:

“a company of evildoers has enclosed me; (they have enclosed) like a lion my hands and feet”

Modern commentators would be quick to point out that the notion of a lion ‘enclosing hands and feet’ borders on the senseless, and certainly makes no sense in context either.

Indeed, biblical images of lions include much more violent actions like:

Devouring prey/drinking the blood of the slain (Num 23.24, referring to Israel; Jer 2.30)

Tearing the arm and the crown of the head (Deut 33.20)

Tearing and killing a man (1 Kgs 13.24; also 20.36)

Tear and drag away (Ps 7.2; 17.12–with the common ‘lurking’; Hos 5.14)

Seizing and dragging off the prey (Is 5.28)

Tearing prey and eating (Ezek 19.6; 22.25; Hos 13.7)

Crushing bones (Dan 6.24)

Professional translators (e.g., UBS) acknowledge the difficulty, and point out that “the majority of translations use a word appropriate to the action of ‘a pack of dogs’” (e.g., nipping at hands and feet), referring to the image in play at the beginning of the verse [A Handbook on Psalms, Robert G. Bratcher and William D. Reyburn, UBS Handbook Series:1991, p.221].

  1. A second reason it is sometimes rejected (and emended to a verb) is that there is Hebrew manuscript evidence against it–even within the MT text-family. BHS lists two variants in the critical apparatus:

k’rw(“a few mss”, Kennicott gives seven), a 3 personal plural verb form from the biblical Hebrew root kara(h), meaning “they dug/pierced”

krw(“2 mss”; Kennicott adds “in the margin of three”), also a verb form.  [Actually, this is the same word as k’rw, less the aleph which has ‘intruded’]

It should be noted that these variants occur in MT-family manuscripts.

[For the uninitiated, there is no such ‘thing’ as “the MT”…”MT” designates a family of manuscripts, no two of which agree in all details, and there is no hard-and-fast assumption that the MT is the ‘original’. Tov, in the standard work on OT/Taanach, tries to get this across to his readers:

“It has become clear from the preceding paragraphs that one of the postulates of biblical research is that the text preserved in the various representatives (manuscripts, editions) of what is commonly called the Masoretic Text, does not reflect the “original text” of the biblical books in many details. Even though the concept of an “original text” necessarily remains vague, it will always be legitimate to recognize the differences between the Masoretic Text and earlier or different stages of the biblical text. Moreover, even were we to surmise that MT reflects the “original” form of the Bible, we would still have to decide which Masoretic Text reflects this “original text,” since the Masoretic Text is not a uniform textual unit, but is itself represented by many witnesses… Similar problems arise when one compares MT with the other textual witnesses, such as the Qumran scrolls and the putative Hebrew source of the individual ancient translations (tanknote: such as the LXX). We do not know which of all these texts reflects the biblical text faithfully. Thus, it should not be postulated in advance that MT reflects the original text of the biblical books better than the other texts.” [OT:TCHB:11, italics his-bold mine]

  1. All of the very early translators(except the somewhat later Targumic writers, doing the interpretive-paraphrase thing) obviously had textual variants in the Hebrew text in front of them(or emended the text because of the difficulties mentioned above) as they translated–none of them had “as a lion” in front of them!

The great Jewish translator Aquila(125 AD), in his first edition of his Greek translation of this passage, rendered this by aschuan–“ashamed” or “disgraced” (reading ka’wr, instead of ka’rw, a simple case of transposition of letters–which he corrected in his second edition) [instead of “as a lion”!] [KD, vol 5, in. loc.(p.318ff)]

Aquila’s second edition had a different rendering. He renders it by the same meaning (but different Greek words) as Symmachus (Jewish translator for Origin) and Jerome, meaning “they have bound/tied”. Aquila used epedasan (aor of pedaw, “to shackle”), whereas Symmachus used hos zatountes dasai (“as seeking to bind”). Again, note that this rendering is both  (a) a verb and; (b) not a lion…(smile)

The LXX(earlier than Aq/Sym/Jerome)  and the Syriac (about the same time as Aquila) both have the same Hebrew word in front of them, but understand the root meaning of “to dig” [kara(h) I]. They both see the verb “they pierced” in front of them. The Hebrew root would have been the same root as found in Psalm 7.15 (“a hole he digs”) kara(h). It is interesting in that the Syriac is aware of the LXX, but shows no preference for using the LXX over the proto-MT of the time [Mikra:296]

The LXX reflects a more ancient text that the Syriac, though: “In the study and use of ancient versions pride of place goes, of course, to the LXX, which may reflect a Hebrew text older than, or at least different from the Masoretic text known to us. In general this is not the case with the Peshitta (Syriac version). A great many studies on the relation between the text of the Peshitta and MT, agree that the Hebrew text which is reflected in the Peshitta is practically identical with MT, or at least very close to it. This suggests that the Peshitta originated after the early Masoretic text had more or less been established, which means after the middle of the first century C.E.” [Mikra:258f]

  1. Even the other incidences of the phrase “like a lion” are different than this form.

The phrase ‘like a lion’ (with the kap “as” prefix) appears in 19 unquestioned passages. Of these,

Four  cases involve a different word for lion (Job 10.16; Hosea 5.14; 13.7; Jer 25.38)

Three cases have a consonantal form similar to ours, but with a different vocalization [patahinstead of qames] under the initial kap (Num 23.24; 24.9; Ezek 22.25)

Only one case has the same exact form as ours (Is 38.13)

One form is the dominant one (with a final sere/h), occurring in 11 cases (Gen 49.9; Ps 7.2/3; 10:9; 17.12; Jer 2.30; 12.8; 49.19; 50.44; Dan 7.4; Hos 11.10; Mic 5.8/7)

Note that the only other case in Psalms (e.g., 7.2) has a completely different pointing/end than the form under discussion. Every single vowel point is different.

On the basis of usage, then, we can suggest that if the author of Psalm 22 would have wanted to say “like a lion”, then he/she would have either (a) used the form elsewhere used in the Psalms; or (b) used the most common form in the Hebrew bible–both of which are different from the form in our passage. This suggests that ‘like a lion’ is NOT the preferred meaning (although it does not suggest in itself what might be the preferred meaning). The LAST form he/she would have picked was that used only one other place in the Hebrew bible (i.e., our form here).

  1. There is recognition even in the rabbinics that this form does NOT mean the same as the “as a lion” form in the Isaiah 38 passage!

Keil and Delitzsch bring this data to light in their discussion of this passage:

“Perceiving this [difficulty of the translation ‘like a lion’ in the context], the Masora on Isa xxxviii. 13 observes, that k’ari in the two passages in which it occurs (Ps. xxii. 17, Isa. xxxviii. 13), occurs in two different meanings, just as the Midrash then also understands k’ri in the Psalm as a verb used of marking with conjuring, magic characters”

Let’s restate this for clarity:

  1. Since the Isaiah passage clearly means “like a lion” and since the Masora says the Psalm passage has a “different meaning”, then it cannot mean “like a lion”.
  2. The Midrash understands the form in the psalm as (a) a verb [instead of ‘like a lion’] and (b) meaning “marking hands and feet with symbols”.

This last point alone should be sufficient to eliminate “like a lion” from consideration as the preferred translation, but when coupled with the other points above, makes the case very, very strong. Whatever the form means, it is LEAST LIKELY to be “like a lion”.

But there is actually a final piece of data that constitutes extremely strong evidence against ka’rai (“like a lion”), and that is from the single occurrence of the verse in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

The DSS scrolls pre-date (historically) the Massoretic Text by centuries (even the latest DSS). Psalm 22.17 occurs in one of these scrolls from Nahal Hever (XHev/Se4, f.11, line 4), and the collection is dated to 50-100 AD (The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, Peter W. Flint, Brill:1997, p.43)–again, centuries before the MT witness. The form in this earliest copy of the Psalm in existence is k’ry, with the waw ending y indicating a 3 personal plural verb form (“they”). This is decisive evidence against “like a lion” (although it will not necessarily help us decide between the competing “they X” variants below). And remember from above, this k’ry variant also showed up in the later MT variants. [Data on the DSS manuscript can be found in The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, Peter W. Flint, Brill:1997, p.83]

This makes the two earliest witnesses refute the “like a lion” option…

This is exceptionally strong data, from very strong scholars [e.g., Ulrich is the chief editor of the biblical scrolls from Qumran, and is the John A. O’Brien Professor of hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame], that “like a lion” is NOT the original reading.

So, if someone changed the text, it was in the other direction…(smile) (Glenn Miller, Good Question–did the Christians simply invent the “pierced my hands and feet” passage in Psalm 22?

With the above in view, note how the Targum and Midrash interpret this specific passage:

  1. Because the wicked[131] have surrounded me, who are like many dogs; a gathering of evildoers has hemmed me in, bitingmy hands and feet like a lion. (The Psalms Targum: An English Translation, Edward M. Cook, 2001

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.


  1. 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.”
  2. Apparently, R. Nehemiah takes ka’ari as related to the Greek chara, “favor,” or “blessing.” (Midrash on Psalms, translated by William Braude [Yale University Press])

Not only does the Targum rearrange the consonantal text in Aramaic, but it also had to supply words not found in the original in order to make sense of the Hebrew. And in the case of the Midrash, the rabbis didn’t even bother to go with “like a lion,” since they obviously saw that this reading makes absolutely no sense.

Finally, even if we accept for argument’s sake that “like a lion” is the true rendering, this still in no way undermines the fact that this is a clear prophecy of the painful death and subsequent resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As the leading Messianic Jewish Scholar explains:

“As for Psalm 22:16[17], almost all of the standard medieval Hebrew manuscripts (known as Masoretic) read ka’ari, followed by the words ‘my hands and my feet.’ According to Rashi, the meaning is ‘as though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth,’ while the commentary of Metsudat David states, ‘They crush my hands and my feet as the lion which crushed the bones of the prey in its mouth.’ Thus, the imagery is clear: These lions are not licking the psalmist’s feet! They are tearing and ripping at them. Given the metaphorical language of the surrounding verses (cf. cc. 12-21[13-22]), this vivid image of mauling lions graphically conveys the great physical agony of the sufferer. Would this in any way contradict the picture of a crucified victim, his bones out of joint, mockers surrounding him and jeering at him, his garments stripped off of him and divided among his enemies, his feet and hands torn with nails, and his body hung on pieces of wood?

“‘But you’re avoiding something here,’ you argue. ‘Where did the King James translators come with this idea of “piercing” of the hands and feet? That’s not what the Hebrew says.’

“Actually, the Septuagint, the oldest existing Jewish translation of the Tanakh, was the first to translate the Hebrew as ‘they pierced my hands and feet’ (using the verb oruxan in Greek), followed by the Syriac Peshitta version two or three centuries later (rendering with baz’u). Not only so, but the oldest Hebrew copy of the Psalms we possess (from the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating to the century before Yeshua) reads the verb in this verse as ka’aru (not ka’ari, ‘like a lion’), a reading also found in about a dozen medieval Masoretic manuscripts–recognized as the authoritative texts in traditional Jewish thought–where instead of ka’ari (found in almost all other Masoretic manuscripts) the texts say either ka’aru or karu. (Hebrew scholars believe this comes from a root meaning ‘to dig out” or “to bore through.’)

So, the oldest Jewish translation (The Septuagint) translates ‘they pierced’; the oldest Jewish manuscript (from the Dead Sea Scrolls) reads ka’aru, not ka’ari; and several Masoretic manuscripts read ka’aru or karu rather than ka’ari. This is not a Christian fabrication. I have copies of the manuscript evidence in front of my eyes as I write these words.” (Dr. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish objections to Jesus – Messianic Prophecy Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2003], Volume Three, 4.25, pp. 125-126; bold emphasis ours)

So much for this anti-Christian polemic!

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