The Catch 22 of Psalms 22 – a Crucifixion Prophecy?

Is Psalms 22 a prophecy depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah? 

Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until full realization after a future event has transpired or is clarified by other prophecies.[1]

Christians retrospectively see Psalms 22 as a foreshadowing prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Judaism does not consider the Psalms to be a book of prophecy like Isaiah or Zechariah. Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi; however, did twice see prophetic characteristics tied to David and the Messiah.

“Why have you forsaken me?” Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27 commenting on the phrase “The humble shall eat,” the Rabbi said this meant “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[2]

Psalm 22 was written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist meaning any specific prophecy about a “Roman-style crucifixion” would need to rely on prophetic details precise enough to avoid conjecture. Challenging, given Rome’s well-honed crucifixion process designed to extend death as long as possible while inflicting maximum pain and humiliation. 

Josephus described an occasion where he was traveling with the Roman military and came upon three Jewish acquaintances among many being crucified along the road to Thecoa, not far from Bethlehem.[3] Struck with compassion, he pleaded personally to Titus Caesar to have mercy on them. Titus commanded them to be take down from their crosses and treated by Roman physicians, but still only one survived.

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” (NIV)

Quoted not by Josephus nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. It was written by King David in Psalms 22:14-17 centuries before the Romans perfected this tortuous form of execution, yet the depiction matches in precise detail that of a Roman-style crucifixion.[4]  Coincidence?

If the portrayal of suffering were to include the specific actions taken by those at the scene inflicting the suffering, would this additional detail decrease the likelihood of a coincidence if both sets of circumstances were to come true? Ramp it to a factor of five – three actions already described where the men are gathered around the victim, laid him on the ground and pierced his hands and feet, then two more very unusual actions:

Ps 22:18 “They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.” (NIV)

Now, if the Psalms 22 scenario added the actual words spoken by those at the scene, would the bar be raised to the highest degree of complexity thereby all but eliminating the possibility of coincidence?

PS 22:7-8 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”” (NIV)

Inflicted extreme suffering, specific and unusual actions, and spoken words in Psalms 22 are amazingly similar to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. A montage of Gospel verses reflects the close similarities:

MT 27:36 “And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”

MK15:24 “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

LK 23:35-36 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him.”

JN19:28 “…Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”” (NIV)

One more quote, word-for-word, from the opening of Psalms 22 might tip the scales. Shortly before he died on the cross, Jesus cried out these words:

Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)

MT 27:45-46, MK 15:33-34 “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (NIV)

By the time Jesus wailed out these words he had already endured severe flogging, exposed raw flesh, severe blood loss, acute dehydration, exposure to the weather, hanging by nails from the cross, labored and painful breathing and in a state of shock. In his excruciating misery and naked humiliation, he would have seen and heard the gawking and sneering crowd with their taunts and insults.    

Near death, if Jesus was a fraud who still had the presence of mind in the face of his enemies to seize the moment by quoting from Psalms 22 to advance a false Messiah legacy, to do so would have been fully dependent on the prophetic nature of Psalms 22. 

Catch 22.

If Psalms 22 is not a Messiah prophecy, then these words quoted by Jesus in his dying moments on the cross were no more than happenstance. But there is more to consider than just these words…

Could a mortal man plan ahead to perpetrate such a fraud without any foreknowledge of the lethal circumstances about to happen to him by forces outside of his control – Jews in the most unlikely collusion with their hated Roman enemies – covering 18 hours from his arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion up to the point of breathing his last on the cross?

Was it merely the probability of chance that the three sets of circumstances in Psalms 22 – multiple points of suffering, five separate actions taken by those present and the words spoken by the mockers as well as by Jesus – all matched the documented details in the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?

Or is it easier to believe that the circumstances of Psalms 22 matching the four Gospel accounts were a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the crucifixion of Jesus?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm> Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html>
[2] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. K’tuvim – Scriptures | Tehillim – Psalms, Chapter 22.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Thecoa.” Bible History Online. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/thecoa.html>
[4] Hotznagel, Fritz and Hehn, Paul. “King David Biography.” Who2.com. 2014.  <http://www.who2.com/kingdavid.html>

Rabbi Rashi and the Messiah Prophecies

Rashi, one of Judaism’s greatest interpreters of the Talmud, emerged at a time when the Dark Ages were transitioning from rule by barbarian tribes like the Huns, Goths and Franks into the feudal era when kings, queens, knights & lords ruled Europe.[1] In the year 1040, Shelomoh Yitzha was born in Troyes, France.[2]

As a Rabbi, Rashi was renowned for his wisdom and interpretation of the Talmud in simple terms. Jewish academies widely accepted and valued Rashi’s commentaries mostly captured and documented by his students.[3]

Commentaries of Rashi include some Messiah prophecies which are also recognized by Christian authorities. One of the earliest is Jacob’s blessing of his son, Judah:

Gen 49:8-10 “Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you.  A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah.  From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples.” The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary

Rashi’s interpretation included three prophetic aspects. Judah like a lion foreshadowed David who would become like a lion when the people made him their king. The scepter represents the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.” Shiloh refers specifically to the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs.” [4] The Rabbi also commented on other well-known Messiah prophecies.

Moabite King Balak repeatedly pressed the Gentile prophet Balaam to place a curse on the approaching Hebrew nation as an alternative means to military confrontation. Balaam’s response was a prophecy doing just the opposite:

Num 24:17  “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.” NASB

Hebrew text translations vary between Christian and Jewish Bibles.  “I see him, but not now” is translated as in the Jewish version as “I see it, but not now.”  Hebrew text does not contain the pronoun for “him” which is inferred by the remainder of the prophecy of a king, a male.[5] Rashi’s commentary says the opening phrase refers to the “greatness of Jacob” at a future time.

Hebrew word shebet is translated in the Jewish version as “staff” whereas the same word is translated as “scepter” in Jacob’s prophecy.[6] Consistently, the Rabbi’s commentary likewise says shebet represents “a king who rules dominantly.” While Balaam’s prophecy has strong Messiah implications, Rashi does not explicitly say it such as he did in his commentary on Jacob’s prophecy.

Micah 5:2 appears as verse 1 in the Jewish Bible, a prophecy making specific reference to Bethlehem Ephrathah, home town of King David, and a future ruler of Israel:

Mich 5:1 (or v.2) “And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah – you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah-from you [he] shall emerge for Me, to be a ruler over Israel; and his origin is from of old, from days of yore.” The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary

Micah’s prophecy is understood by Rashi to mean the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah in the royal lineage of King David which stands opposed to some critics, including Jewish, who challenge the interpretation.[7] His remarkable phrase-by-phrase breakdown:

“And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah”:  [Rashi]: “whence David emanated, as it is stated (I Sam. 17:58): “The son of your bondsman, Jesse the Bethlehemite.” And Bethlehem is called Ephrath, as it is said (Gen. 48:7): “On the road to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.”

“you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah”: [Rashi]: You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you.

“from you shall emerge for Me”: [Rashi]: the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.”  

“and his origin is from of old”: [Rashi]: “Before the sun his name is Yinnon” (Ps. 72:17).

The Rabbi expressed his distaste of Ruth, a Gentile, being in the prophetic lineage of the Messiah, facts unsavory to a Hebrew lineage.[8] He cites “the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess” as the reason Bethlehem is called “the lowest of the clans of Judah.”

Another Gentile appears in the lineage of David and the Messiah. Rahab, the prostitute, was spared from death after she helped the two Hebrew spies escape the Jericho King’s posse.[9] Rahab then married a Hebrew, their grandson being Boaz who married Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi whose inheritance was redeemed by Ruth’s marriage. Boaz and Ruth were the grandparents of Jesse, great grandparents of King David.

Leaving no doubt his interpretation is that of a messianic prophecy, Rashi explicitly said the future ruler of Israel would be “the Messiah, Son of David” citing Psalms 118:22 as another messianic prophecy. The Messiah’s divine characteristic, “and his origin is from of old,” is called Yinnon by Rashi, a Hebrew epithet meaning “be continued.”[10]

Christianity’s relatively close agreement with Rashi on the Messiah prophecies of Jacob, Balaam and Micah, parts company on another prophecy, Isaiah 7:14.[11] Rashi taught Isaiah’s prophecy was not about a virgin birth, rather it referred to Manoah’s wife, mother of Sampson, the Biblical strongman.[12]

As a Rabbi, Rashi obviously did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah due in part to a particular disqualification – the fact that Jesus was killed. Specifically, according to JewishEncyclopedia.com citing Rashi, it is the circumstances of his death:

“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).”[13]

Crucifixion of Jesus as a historical fact is undisputed by Judaism. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the royal lineage of the House of David are also undisputed facts by Judaism. The ultimate question between Christianity and Judaism remains…what are the odds Jesus was a fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies?


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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] “Dark Ages.” New World Encyclopedia. 2013. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dark_Ages>  “Middle Ages,” “Feudalism,” & “Renaissance.”  Encyclopædia Britannica.  2017. <https://www.britannica.com/event/Middle-Ages> <https://www.britannica.com/topic/feudalism> <https://www.britannica.com/event/Renaissance>  “feudal system.” Vocabulary.com. n.d. <https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/feudal%20system>
[2] “Rashi (Solomon Bar Isaac).” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12585-rashi-solomon-bar-isaac>  “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi).”  Chabad.org. 2017. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/rabbi-shlomo-yitzchaki-rashi> Segal, Eliezer.  “Rashi’s Commentary on the Talmud.”  University of Calgary.  n.d.  <http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMap/Rashi.html>
[3] “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi).”  Chabad.org.
[4] Rashi. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Gensis 49. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9952#showrashi=true>  “Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki).”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2017.  Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi).”  Chabad.org
[5] Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php>
[6] Net.bible.org. Hebrew text shebet <07626>  Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary  Commentary.
[7]  “Jesus of Bethlehem.” MessianicJewishTruth.com. n.d. Archive.org. 2013.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20131103080951/http://www.messianicjewishtruth.com/Jesusbethlehem.html>      “Who will emerge from Bethlehem.”  Teshuvas HaMinim.  2011.  Archive.org. 2012.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20120902023316/http://www.teshuvashaminim.com/michah51.html>    
[8] Mendel. “Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki).” 
[9] Joshua 2.
[10] Yinon (Yinnon).” eTeacherHebrew.com.  2016. <http://eteacherhebrew.com/Hebrew-Names/yinon-yinnonInterlinear Bible.  Psalms 72:17. BibleHub.com.  2014. <http://biblehub.com/interlinear>
[11] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary.  Isaiah , Chapter 7.  “Who is the Almah’s son?” Teshuvas HaMinim. 2011.  Archive.org.  2012.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20120425022737/http://www.teshuvashaminim.com/isaiah714.html>  Robinson, B.A. “Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…””  Religious Tolerance. 2007. <http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_proi.htm>  Gill, John.  John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible.  Isaiah 7:14.  2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb.html>  
[12] The Compete Jewish Bible- with Rashi Commentary.  Isaiah 7:14. CR Judges Chapter 13.
[13] “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.