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>

Caesar Augustus – Beyond the Nativity Story

Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, is well-known for being named in the Nativity story of Luke, but he was also a factor in other aspects of the story of Jesus of Nazareth:[1]

MT 2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…”

LK 2:1-3 “…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.” (NKJV)

Adopted son of Julius Caesar, his birth name of Octavius was officially changed by the Roman Senate in 27 BC to Augustus meaning “the exalted one.” At that time, the Senate granted him full powers as Emperor of Rome, then reigning as Caesar until his death in 14 AD.[2]

Previously, Octavius was one of three Roman triumvirate rulers with Marcus Lepidus and Marc Antony.[3] It disintegrated when Antony split off to join forces with his lover, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, to challenge the rule of Rome ending with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavius won, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Herod convinced Augustus to allow him to retain his crown as Judea’s king rather than be executed for his former allegiance to Antony and Cleopatra.[4]

In a drama that had future implications to the Nativity story, Herod had put two of his sons on trial for a murder plot against him. Cleverly, Herod asked Augustus for his official guidance documented by Josephus:[5]

“With these directions Herod complied and came to Berytus [Beirut] where Caesar had ordered the court to be assembled…The presidents set first, as Caesar’s letters had appointed, who were Saturninus, and Pedanius, and their lieutenants that were with them, with whom was the procurator Volumnius also…after whom sat the principal men of all Syria…”

Caesar named two Syria province Presidents and a Procurator as judges – three at the same time with governing responsibilities in Syria.[6] It opens the door to solving the secular historical timeline conundrum posed by Luke citing Quirinius governing Syria in the BC era a few years later when Jesus was born while Herod was king.

Commencing with the thirteenth consulship of Augustus on February 5, 2 BC, the Roman Senate celebrated his Silver Anniversary as Emperor.[7] To mark the occasion, Augustus was proclaimed Pater Patriae, the “Father of the Country,” an honor he included in his self-authored “The Deeds of the Divine Augustus” (Res gestae divi Augusti).[8]

Historians in modern times have uncovered evidence the 2 BC Silver Anniversary was marked by a special census of the entire Roman Empire. It was not one of the three Roman lustrum censuses Augustus claimed in The Deeds – one of two problematic historical Nativity timeline difficulties.  The closest lustrum to the birth of Jesus was taken in 8 BC several years earlier.

Dr. Earnest Martin’s research points to the special set of circumstances in 2 BC concluding that Augustus decreed a “registration” to be taken of the entire Roman Empire claiming allegiance to him as Pater Patriae.[9] From a different perspective, historian Gerard Gertoux also makes the case that Luke’s “census of the world” was not for taxation purposes; rather, it was a new type of “registration” census taken in the BC era by Quirinius in the Syria province, which included Judea at that time.  This registration census was intended to quantify the resources for the Breviarium, part of Augustus’s will to be read at his funeral along with the unveiling of Res gestae.[10]

Once more Augustus played into the timeline enigma of Luke’s reference to a census taken by Quirinius while Herod was king. Rome had annexed Judea as a province in 6 AD and Augustus assigned Quirinius as governor of Syria along with Procurator Coponius to implement the new Judea provincial tax laws. The resulting Jewish tax revolt is well-documented in history and mentioned in the Book of Acts.[11]

The longstanding problem for historians – the 6 AD taxation census under Quirinius cannot be tied to the timeline where Herod’s death and the birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred no later than 1 BC.[12] That difficulty is resolved by Gertoux’s finding of the “registration” census administered by Quirinius in the Syria province while Herod was still alive.

Herod’s death again drew Caesar Augustus into circumstances impacting Jesus of Nazareth. The succession of the kingdom to Herod’s son, Archelaus, was challenged by his brother Antipas, who appealed to Caesar.[13]

Augustus decreed the former Judean kingdom to be ruled by the three surviving sons of King Herod as tetrarchs– half by Archelaus which included Galilee and the remaining half divided among Philip and Antipas.[14] Herod Archelaus, also known as just Herod in the Gospels, would continue to be a threat to Jesus throughout his adult life.[14]

Do connections to the historical life of Augustus increase the credibility of the Gospels or play into the claim by skeptics that the Gospels are a fabrication?

 

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 2. “Augustus.”  Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014.  <http://www.livius.org/person/augustus>  Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. 14 AD. Internet Classic Archive. 2009. <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html
[2] Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. n.d. Book II. Chapter 94. University of Chicago|Bill Thayer.  2016.  <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/home.html>  “Augustus.”  UNRV History |The Roman Empire.  United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php>  Augustus.” Livius.org.
[3] “Second Triumvirate.” Livius.org. 2015. <http://www.livius.org/articles/concept/triumvir/second-triumvirate>
[4] “Augustus.” UNRV.  “Did Caesar and Cleopatra really have a son?”  The Ancient Standard. 2010. <http://ancientstandard.com/2010/12/03/did-caesar-and-cleopatra-really-have-a-son>  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews.  Book XIV, Chapter 14; Book XV, Chapters V-VI. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Google Books. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Smith, Barry D. “The Reign of Herod the Great, King of the Jews (37-4 BCE). Crandall University. 2010. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/InTest/Hist7.htm>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVI, Chapter XI.  Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Google Books. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   “Herod the Great – King of the Jews.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great/HERODKing_of_the_Jews.htm>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapters 9, 10; Book XVI1, Chapters 1, 5. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter 27.
[7] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 12. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. <http://web.archive.org/web/20161222174550/http://www.askelm.com/star/star014.htm>   Adams, John Paul.  “The Roman Festival Calendar:  Julio-Claudian Additions.”  California State University – Northridge. 2009.  <http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/feriae.html>   Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” n.d.  Academia.edu. <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>
[8] Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). The Internet Classics Archive.  2009.  <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>   “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma.  2007.  <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma) >  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  2017.  <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae> Martin.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13. <http://web.archive.org/web/20170917115234/http://www.askelm.com/star/star015.htm>  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d.  <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>
[9] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma.  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.”
[10] Davis, William Steams, ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Res Gestae Divi Augusti, c. 14 CE.” 1912. Fordham University. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/14resgestae.asp>  “Augustus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2017.  Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews.  Book XIV, Chapter III.  Josephus.  Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XVIII.  Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 1854. University of Chicago. n.d. <http://perseus.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.11:1:505.geography
[11] Mathew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25. Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. p151. 1981. Google Books.   <http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[12] Adams, John Paul. “Roman Census Figures.” California State University – Northridge. 2010.  <http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/romancensus.html>  Davis, John D. “Quirinius” (Quirinus), cwui-rin’i-us, Publius Sulpicious.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 1953.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2004. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc09/htm/iv.vi.xii.htm>  Schaff, Philip.  “Chronology of the Life of Christ.”  History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. 1890.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html> Ramsay, William M. “Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?” 2017. Biblehub.com. n.d. <http://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/chapter_10_chronology_of_the.htm> Sieffert, F. “Census.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 1952. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2004. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.vi.ccxxx.htm
[13] Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.
[14] Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:1, 19. Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapters VI, XII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[15] Matthew 2, 14; Mark 3, 6, 8, 12; Luke 3, 9, 13, 23; John 14; Acts 12.