Matthew’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

Easy to forget, the Christmas Nativity story didn’t happen in a single night – it is a time-lapsed compilation of what took place over many weeks, if not months. Two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, are the sources of the Nativity story.[1]

Luke’s account starts just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ending when he was about a month old. Matthew’s account starts later, “Now after Jesus was born…”[2] No longer in a stable, “when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother.”[3]

Herod, King of Judea, was in his Jerusalem palace rather than one of his three other palaces in Herodium, Jericho and Caesarea.[4] Soon he would move to Jericho to live out his final days with a most miserable health condition.[5]

As strange as it may seem to have purveyors of mysticism in the story of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” in some translations appearing as “Magi.”[6] According to the Talmud, magi were from Persia, also known as “fire worshippers” and “Guebers.”[7] Magi had a long history of persecuting the Jews making them well-known, feared and disliked by the Jews.[8]

Calling upon the King, the Magi were promptly welcomed into his palace. Afterall, magi were highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires known as “king makers,” according to Plato.[9]

Greek Hellenism accepted all religions, especially Zoroastrianism with its magian priests who had a reputation for their ability to read the stars and make accurate predictions.[10] Herod openly embraced Hellenism even incorporating Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple causing great consternation with the Jews.[11]

These king-makers said something most alarming, shocking to King Herod. The Magi announced the reason for their visit and asked:

MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (NKJV)

Any king, especially Herod, would be distressed when these king-maker Magi said they were looking for a young “King of the Jews.” And, they didn’t use future tense; rather present tense – he was already a king. More disconcerting, the Magi said they had “come to worship Him” which seemed very likely the people might want to do the same.

Word of what the Magi had said leaked out to the people of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly they were also “troubled,” at the very least, because the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always worries the populace. If the child was the foretold Messiah, that speculation certainly stirred the pot more.

Herod’s next action clearly demonstrates he believed the Magi when he “gathered all the chief priests and scribes together asking them where the Christ was to be born.”[12] A change in language is of special note. The Magi inquired about the birth of a “King of the Jews” while Herod’s quote uses the Greek word Christos.

Whether this change in language is attributable to Matthew or if Herod connected the dots concluding the King of the Jews meant the Messiah, it didn’t make any difference. The chief priests and scribes understood what Herod was asking as evidenced by their specific answer.

Jewish chief priests and scribes – the Jewish leadership – reported to Herod that a Ruler was prophesied to be born “In Bethlehem of Judea.” Unambiguous, their answer included a quote from the prophecy of Micah 5:2:

MT 2:5-6 “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Reaction by Herod was telling. For the King, based on the response by the Jewish leadership, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat.

Mention by the Magi that they had seen “his star” initially was not an attention-getting detail overshadowed by the bombshell statement there was another King of the Jews. Now the “star” was important to Herod. Was it a supernatural appearance or is there a scientific explanation?

Regardless, Herod took it at face value that the Magi did, in fact, see “his star.” Undoubtedly, they saw something in the night sky compelling them to travel hundreds of miles “from the East.” But, the Magi they didn’t say when they had seen “his star.” Not needing to know all the details of astronomy, the King realized the time of the star’s appearance would determine the child’s age.

Wanting this single detail, Herod “secretly called the wise men” for one specific purpose – to “determine[d] from them what time the star appeared.”[13] The Magi still hadn’t yet received an answer to their question and agreed to meet with Herod again.

Information from the secret meeting served to be useful to both sides. Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” providing the Magi with the location of the child. Herod was able to determinewhen the Magi saw “his star” and thus the age of the child.[14]

Cunningly, Herod told the Magi, “when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Herod worshiped no one or thing – the trap was set. As for the Magi:

MT 2:9-10 “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

A second appearance of the “star” is a solid clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain the “star.” An extremely rare series of stellar conjunctions occurred during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC centered around Jupiter. Known as the “king star,” Jupiter came into two extremely close conjunctions 9 months apart with Venus, known as the mother or Queen star.[15]

Jupiter’s movement through the night sky after the second occultation (overlapping/fused) conjunction on June 17, 2 BC, continued its odyssey. Jupiter’s celestial path moved into a retrograde U-turn in the southwestern sky.

From the vantage point of Jerusalem, Jupiter appeared to stop over Bethlehem beginning December 25, 2 BC, lasting until January 2, 1 BC.[16] Minimal nightly movement would have been indistinguishable giving it the illusion of stopping in its position.[17]

Finding the child in Bethlehem was probably not difficult – in a small town, everyone knows what’s what, just ask. Finding Jesus, the Magi “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented expensive gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Perhaps the most telling details of the Nativity story – Magi had traveled hundreds of miles to find and worship a child they described as the “King of the Jews” presenting him with very expensive gifts. Who would do this, much less for just a child? Considering the Magi’s reputation as “king-makers” and adversaries of the Jews, it was all the more remarkable.

King Herod’s perspective was completely different. So much, in fact, he took dramatic, merciless action to eliminate the threat to his kingdom.

MT 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. The King had undoubtedly believed the Magi concluding they had deceived him whereupon he took the drastic action of commanding all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. A 2-year range to remove any room for error fits Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile.

More than capable of such evil deeds, for Herod there were no bounds. He had killed countless Jews for simply disobeying Jewish law, not to mention killing his brother, three sons, a former Jewish High Priest, and plotted to have all the “principal men” of Judea killed upon his own death.[18]

At least 20 specific details are laid out in a logical sequence in 16 verses, much that is corroborated by history and science. Does this strengthen the credibility to Matthew’s account that sets the stage for presenting the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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REFERENCES:

All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

[1] Matthew 2; Luke 2.
[2] Matthew 2:1.
[3] Matthew 2:11.
[4] Burrell, Barbara; Gleason, Kathryn L.; Netzer, Ehud. “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace. BAS Library. 1993. <https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/19/3/7>  Geva, Hillel.  “Archaeology in Israel:  Jericho – the Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod>  “Herodium-King Herod-s Palace-Fortress.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2000. < https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/israelexperience/history/pages/herodium%20-%20king%20herod-s%20palace-fortress.aspx>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. William Whitson. Book XV, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. William Whitson. Book I, Chapter XXI.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  “Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. n.d. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/herod>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[6] Matthew 2:1. Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=1>
[7] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[8] Segal, Eliezer. “The Menorah and the Magi.” Sources. 1997. <https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/971219_MagiMenorah.html> Missler, Chuck. “Who Were the Magi?” Idolphin.org.1999. <http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html>
[9] Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Herodotus. The Histories.  Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79.  Missler. “Who Were the Magi?” Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>   Herodotus. The Histories. Book 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D1>  Polybius. Histories. Book 34, Chapter 2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=34:chapter=2&highlight=magi>  Herodotus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herodotus-Greek-historian>
[13] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.
[10] “Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter VIII; Book XVI, Chapter V; Book XVII, Chapters VI; VIII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXI.  “Hellenism” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>
[12] Matthew 2:4. Greek text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=4>
[13] Matthew 2:7.
[14] Matthew 2:8, 16.
[15] Phillips, Tony.  “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20170516003444/https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” Press Release – Marshall Space Flight Center. SpaceRef.com. 2000. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1819>  Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 4.  Larson, Frederick A. The Star of Bethlehem. 2014. <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. 2009.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016111146/http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm>
[16] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Larson. The Star of Bethlehem. “The Starry Dance.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[17] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” “The Star of Bethlehem.” Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society. 2006. <http://web.archive.org/web/20120103020452/http://www.eaas.co.uk/news/star_of_bethlehem.html>   Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[28] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Chapter XI; Book XVII, Chapters VI, IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters X, XXVII, XXXIII.

 

How Can Jesus Be An Heir to the Throne of David?

If Mary miraculously conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, how then can Jesus have a legal claim to the royal inheritance rights of the House of David without a biological father? Ironically, the answer lies in the legalities of Jewish law.

In a normal situation, betrothal and marriage would have provided the legal means for Joseph to pass along to Jesus his rights of inheritance to the lineage of David. [1] But, Mary’s unique circumstances were anything but normal and Joseph was a wild card.

“… he who comes first in the order of hereditary succession transmits that right to his descendants, and that the father comes before all his descendants in hereditary succession…” – Jewish Encyclopedia

Joseph had a legitimate escape avenue. Knowing he was not responsible for Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had the legal recourse of a divorce during his betrothal. Acting on it would have immediately ended the royal inheritance rights of the unborn Jesus. It was an option Joseph actively considered.[2]

Jewish law certainly favored Joseph – he needed only to make the accusation of adultery.[3] And, he had very strong circumstantial evidence to support the charge. All Joseph needed to do was point to Mary’s state of pregnancy during their betrothal that began while she was out-of-town on a 3-month trip without him to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.[4]

Luke reports that before Joseph acted on the divorce option, he had a visitation by the “angel of the LORD” revealing that Mary’s conception of a son came from the Holy Spirit; his birth was a fulfillment of the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy and they were to name him Jesus.[5] Joseph had a big decision to make.

If he stayed with Mary, Joseph knew that in the eyes of the people he would be presumed to be the biological father. Whether he was the father or not embarrassment, public humiliation, scorn and other repercussions were certain.[6]

On the other side of the equation, he just had an encounter where the angel of the Lord who said Mary’s birth of a son was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and to name him Jesus. Still, few would believe the truth if Joseph defended himself saying Mary was a virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit.[7]

Something most profound did occur as evidenced by a sudden change of behavior – Joseph stopped considering a divorce.  Moreover, he made a full commitment to Mary and her future son, in-spite-of the inevitable adverse consequences, and proceeded to wed Mary without a consummation before Jesus was born. [8]

With divorce no longer a potential issue, lineage inheritance rights of the son and paternity by the father now relied on other Jewish laws and customs. Even for the highest purity lineage requirements of a priest, the law favored the rights of the unborn son who had no control over the circumstances of his own conception.[9]  

“Doubtful paternity involves not only the right of inheritance, but also, if the father be a kohen, the claim of priesthood with all its privileges and restrictions, including those regarding incest and prohibited marriage.  Biblical chronology ignores the mother in the lineal descent of generations.  The father was considered the stem of the family tree.  The census was conducted “after their families, by the house of their fathers” (Num. §, 2).  The father’s priesthood descended to his issue only by legal (with kedushlu) and lawful (not incestuous) marriage.” – Jewish Encyclopedia

Marriage preserved the lineage inheritance rights for Jesus regardless of Mary’s source of conception. A paternity claim by Joseph was a different matter. For a child impregnated by someone other than the husband, paternity was addressed by other Jewish legalities. [10]

“Acts of adultery by a wife living with her husband do not affect his paternity of her children, as the maxim is “The issue follows the majority of cohabitations by the husband” (Soṭah 27a).”

“Paternity can not be claimed for a child begotten out of wedlock when the alleged father disclaims it, even though the mother was his mistress and the child be born after he has married her.”  The mother’s own claim, when denied by the man, is not accepted.  But a man may establish his paternity of a son born out of wedlock, to entitle the son to the right of inheritance and of priesthood. A man may also disclaim the paternity of a child born to his legal wife; but he may not do so after that child has had a child (Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Eben ha-‘Ezer, 4, 29).” – Jewish Encyclopedia

Conception outside of marriage was not a disqualifying factor for the inheritance and lineage rights to the priesthood if the couple remained married, “The issue follows the majority of cohabitations by the husband.” The husband Joseph, the wild card factor, still had the option to disclaim paternity. 

Further action was required – Joseph had to establish that he accepted the child as his own. One definition of establish by Merriam-Webster is: “to cause (someone or something) to be widely known and accepted.”[11]

As parents, Joseph and Mary had their 8-day old son circumcised and officially named him “Jesus” as each had been independently instructed by an angel:[12]

LK 2:21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

At the 30-day mark from the birth of Jesus, two more separate events took place as required by the Law – the purification of Mary after childbirth and the Redemption of the Firstborn, each with different requirements:

LK 2:22-24 “Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”” (NKJV)

Every mother was required to forego a purification ceremony. A mother was required 30 days after childbirth of a son, 60 days for a daughter, to offer a purification sacrifice.[13]

A father of a mother’s firstborn had responsibilities known as the Redemption of Firstborn ceremony when every firstborn son was to be presented to a priest. Redeeming a first-born required no sacrifice, only a nominal payment to the priest.[14]

Jewish custom expected the father to pronounce a blessing on his son to be followed by a feast. A priest attended the feast and had a dialog with the father to make an impression upon the attendees. One of the purposes of the Redemption of Firstborn ceremony was to affirm the right of inheritance of the firstborn:[15]

“Any doubt regarding the primogeniture of a child is decided in favor of the father.” – Jewish Encyclopedia

“Primogeniture” has two definitions according to Merriam Webster. The first, “the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents.”[16] The second relates to the first: “an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.”

Joseph publicly established paternity affirming the lineage and inheritance rights of Jesus through marriage and the Redemption of the Firstborn ceremony sanctioned by a priest. As a father, he presented Jesus to the Lord and gave him a first-born blessing. 

Jewish leaders never challenged Jesus being in the royal lineage the House of David. Prophecies by Isaiah and Jeremiah concurred by Rabbi sages set forth the one undisputed requirement that the Messiah must be born in the House of David. What is the probability that the birth of Jesus fulfilled those prophesies? 

 

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1]  “inheritiance.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8114-inheritance >  “adoption.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/852-adoption
[2] Matthew 1:19.  “Divorce.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5238-divorce> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4. p 586. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf>
[3] “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery>
[4] Matthew 1:18, 39-43; Luke 1:39, 56. Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 586.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 192-193.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[5] Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-28.
[6] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 13. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/kethuboth_13.html>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 143. 
[7] CR Mark 6:1-6
[8] Matthew 1:24.
[9] “Paternity.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11939-paternity>
[10] “Paternity.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  “primogeniture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12362-primogeniture>
[11] “establish.” Merriam-Webster. English Language Learners Definition of establish. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/establish>
[12] Leviticus 12:3; Matthew 1:19-25; Luke 1:31. “Circumcision.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4391-circumcision>
[13] Leviticus 12:2-8. “Childbirth” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4328-childbirth
[14] Numbers 18:15-16; Luke 2:22-24. CR Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:46-49, Deuteronomy 21:17. “First Born, Redemption of.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[15] “primogeniture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “First-born, Redemption of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.
[16] “primogeniture.” Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/primogeniture>

Science and the Psalms 22 Controversy

Psalms 22 poses a two-part controversy, unbeknownst to many, starting with Christian and Jewish Bibles translating one key verse very differently. That difference then plays a central role in part two of the controversy, whether Psalms 22 is a foreshadowing prophecy foretelling the crucifixion death of the Messiah.[1]

Christian Bibles are consistent with the New King James Version translation of Psalms 22:16. Appearing one verse later in Jewish Bibles, Psalms 22:17 translations are typically consistent with The Complete Jewish Bible:

“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. (NJKV)

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

One tiny detail is the point of contention – the single character of one Hebrew word that completely changes its meaning. In digital text, the difference is somewhat visually easy to see:

כאריכארו

Handwritten on an ancient scroll, the difference is almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye. It is important to remember that Hebrew is written and read from right to left.[2]  Taking special care not to miss such distinctions was even a challenge for the Rabbi authors of the Talmud:

“R. Awira…as it is written [Prov. xxv. 21]: “If thy enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; for though thou gatherest coals of fire upon his head, yet will the Lord repay it unto thee.”  Do not read ‏שלם‎ (repay it), but ‏שלים‎ (he will make him peaceful toward thee).[3]

In Hebrew, the slightest variation can alter the entire meaning of a sentence, even changing a noun to a verb.[4] In the case of Psalms 22:16 (17), the impact on the translation is striking:

כארו

(K’aru / Ka’aru) = they have bored / they have dug / they have pierced.

כארי

K’ari / Ka’ari) = like a lion my hands and feet

Jewish Bibles mostly translate the K’ari as “like a lion my hands and feet” although some read “like lions [they maul] my hands and feet;” others “like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.”[5] All are meaningfully different from the Christian Bible translation based on the word K’aru, “they have dug,” translated into either the word “pierced” or “pin.”[6]

Digging deeper, the root of the controversy lies with the source of the ancient Hebrew text.[7] In this case, one is over a millennium older than the other.

Septuagint LXX is the Hebrew-to-Greek standard translation dating to the period of 285-247 BC. According to Josephus, at the behest of Ptolemy Philadelphius, ruler of Egypt, the translation effort was performed by 72 Jewish scholars, 6 from each tribe, hence the Roman numeral “LXX”.[8]

Each translator was independently secluded until the end of the project. At the conclusion, the combined translation was presented for approval to all the priests, elders and the principal men of the commonwealth. Once approved, King Ptolemy ordered the finalized official translation to remain “uncorrupted.”

Jewish Bibles are based on two surviving Hebrew Masoretic texts (MT), the Aleppo Codex dated to 925 AD and the Hebrew Leningrad Codex c. 1008-10 AD.[9] About a third of the Aleppo text has been missing since 1947 when a riot broke out in Aleppo, Syria, where the text had been kept in a Synagogue.[10] Modern Hebrew translations now have a dependency on the more recent Leningrad manuscript to fill in the missing content.[11]

Masoretic Text is the culmination of many variations of textual sources, spelling changes, and interpretations compiled into a final text. Unlike the Septuagint, the MT lacked the benefit of a side-by-side comparison to the original “witnessing” Hebrew text. Menachem Cohen, Professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University of Israel and director of the Miqraot Gedolot HaKeter Project explained it this way: [12]

“…the aggregate of known differences in the Greek translations is enough to rule out the possibility that we have before us today’s Masoretic Text. The same can be said of the various Aramaic translations; the differences they reflect are too numerous for us to class their vorlage [original text] as our Masoretic Text.”

Professor Cohen’s project team, using the science of textual criticism, explains how the Masoretic text diverged from the 1250-year older Septuagint translation. The changes began at some point before the Roman’s destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD:[13]

“In any case, it seems that after the destruction the array of text-types disappeared from normative Judaism, and the Masoretic type alone remained.”

“During the same period, new Greek translations were being prepared in place of the Septuagint, which, by virtue of its becoming an official Christian text, was rejected by the Jews. These translations, especially that of Aqilas which was praised by the Sages, reflected the Masoretic text-type.[14]

A potentially game-changing scroll discovery was made in the 1950s at the Bar Kochba archeological site. A Jewish rebellion against Rome from 132-135 AD called the Bar-Kokhba revolt, was led by Simon ben Kochba, a rebel Jewish leader and military commander known for his strict adherence to traditional Jewish law.[15] Professor Cohen remarked:

“In the fifties, remnants of Scriptural scrolls used by Bar Kochba’s soldiers were found in the Judean desert (Wadi Murabba’at and Nahal Hever). They all show that Bar Kochba’s people used the same text which we call the MT, with only the slightest of differences.”

Nahal (Nachal) Hever scrolls, as they are now called, date to the years between 2 BC – 68 AD predating the Leningrad Codex Masoretic Text by about 1000 years, yet some 200-300 years after the Septuagint LXX translation. Essentially coinciding with the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth, the dating of these scrolls serve to dispel the charge of Christian manipulation of the Septuagint text to fit the Gospels written years after his crucifixion.[16]

One of the Nahal Hever scrolls surviving relatively intact is Psalms 22 where the potentially game-changing text of Psalms 22:16(17) uses the word K’aru (כארו).[17] A translation of Psalms 22:14-18 by Dr. Martin Abegg Jr., Dr. Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich reads:[18]

“[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.  [My strength is dried up like a potsherd], and my tongue melts in [my mouth.  They] have placed [me] as the dust of death.  [For] dogs are [all around me]; a gang of evil[doers] encircles me.  They have pierced my hands and feet.  [I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among themselves and they cast lots for my] clothes.” * [19]

Archeological discovery and textual analysis of the Nahal Hever scrolls corroborate the much older Septuagint text of Psalms 22:16(17), both saying the subject in the passage was “pierced,” translated from כארו (K’aru). Do these scientific discoveries strengthen the position that Psalms 22:14-18 is a foreshadowing prophecy of the Messiah’s manner of death?

* The words appearing in brackets were missing from the manuscript and have been supplied from other texts, if available.  The words appearing in italics are those that differ from the later Masoretic text.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Davidson, Paul. “A Few Remarks on the Problem of Psalm 22:16.” Is That in the Bible?  2015. <https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/a-few-remarks-on-the-problem-of-psalm-2216> “Psalm 22.”  Heart of Israel.  n.d.  <http://www.heartofisrael.net/chazak/articles/ps22.htm>  <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016070503/http://www.heartofisrael.net/chazak/articles/ps22.htm>   Barrett, Ruben.  “Bible Q&A:  Psalms 22.”  HaDavar Ministries.  27 May 2008.   Archived URL.  Archive.org.  23 Aug. 2012.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20120823025747/http://www.hadavar.net/articles/45-biblequestionsanswers/54-psalm22questions.html>
[2] Hegg, Tim.  “Studies in the Biblical Text – Psalm 22:16 – “like a lion” or “they pierced”?” Torah Resource. 2013. <https://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Ps22.16.pdf>
[3] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson.  Book 4: Tracts Pesachim, Yomah and Hagiga, Chapter V.
[4] Fox, Tsivya. “Aleph, the First Hebrew Letter, Contains Depths of Godly Implications.” August 30, 2016. <https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/74824/adding-aleph-helps-bring-redemption> Benner, Jeff A. “Introduction to Ancient Hebrew.”  Ancient Hebrew Research Center.  2019. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction.htm>  Benner, Jeff, The Ancient Hebrew Alphabet. 2019. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction.htm>  Benner, Jeff A. “The Ancient Pictographic Alphabet.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2019. <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/6_02.html>  Benner, Jeff A. “Parent Roots of Hebrew Words.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2019. <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/introduction.htm>  Benner, Jeff A. “Anatomy of Hebrew Words.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2019. <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/vocabulary_anatomy.html> “Punctuation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12441-punctuation>
[5] “Psalms 22.” The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243>  “TEHILIM (Book of Psalms) Chapter 22.” Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. <http://www.breslov.com/bible/Psalms22.htm#17>  “Psalms 22.” Sefaria. <https://www.sefaria.org/Psalms.22?lang=bi>
[6] Bible Hub. “Psalms 22.” 2018. <https://biblehub.com/psalms/22-1.htm>  Bible.org. “Psalms 22.” 2019. <http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Psa&chapter=22>
[7] “Psalm 22.”  MessianicArt.com. 2004.<http://web.archive.org/web/20120627010236/http://messianicart.com/chazak/yeshua/psalm22.htm>  “Psalms 22 Questions and Comments.”  JewishRoots.net. 2014. <http://jewishroots.net/library/prophecy/psalms/psalm-22/psalm-22-comments-from-hadavar-ministries.html> “”They pierced my hands and my feet” or “Like a lion my hands and my feet” in Psalm 22:16?” KJV Today. n.d. http://kjvtoday.com/home/they-pierced-my-hands-and-my-feet-or-like-a-lion-my-hands-and-my-feet-in-psalm-2216> Delitzsch, Franz. The Psalms.1880. pp 42-43, 317-320.<http://archive.org/stream/commentarypsalm01deliuoft#page/n9/mode/2up>  Benner, Jeff A. “Psalm 22:17 – “Like a lion” or “they pierced?”.” 2018. <https://www.patreon.com/posts/psalm-22-17-like-22030018>
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.1-6. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. 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>   “The Septuagint (LXX).” Ecclesiastic Commonwealth Community. n.d. <http://ecclesia.org/truth/septuagint.html>   “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.Net. 2018.  <http://septuagint.net>  “Septuagint.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Septuagint>
[9] Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex.” USC West Semitic Research Project. 2012. University of Southern California. 8 Jan. 1999. <https://web.archive.org/web/20170403025034/http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtml> Abegg, Jr., Martin G., Flint, Peter W. and Ulrich Eugene Charles.  The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:  the oldest known Bible translated for the first time into English. “Introduction”, page x. (page hidden by Google Books). 2002. <https://books.google.com/books?id=c4R9c7wAurQC&lpg=PP1&ots=fQpCpzCdb5&dq=Abegg%2C%20Flint%20and%20Ulrich2C%20The%20Dead%20Dead%20Sea%20Scrolls%20Bible%2C&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Isaiah&f=false>  Aronson, Ya’akov.  “Mikraot Gedolot haKeter–Biblia Rabbinica: Behind the scenes with the project team.”  Association Jewish Libraries. Bar Ilan University. Ramat Gan, Israel. n.d. No longer available free online – available for purchase:  <http://www.biupress.co.il/website_en/index.asp?category=12&id=714>
[10] Ben-David, Lenny. “Aleppo, Syria 100 Years Ago – and Today.” 23/07/15. Arutz Sheva 7 | isralenationalnews.com.  <http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/198521> Ofer, Yosef. “The Aleppo Codex.” n.d. <http://www.aleppocodex.org/links/6.html>  Bergman, Ronen. “A High Holy Whodunit.” New York Times Magazine. July 25, 2012. <https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/magazine/the-aleppo-codex-mystery.html>
[11] Leviant, Curt. Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. “Jewish Holy Scriptures: The Leningrad Codex.” <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-leningrad-codex>  “Leningrad Codex.” Bible Manuscript Society. 2019. <https://biblemanuscriptsociety.com/Bible-resources/Bible-manuscripts/Leningrad-Codex>
[12] Cohen, Menachem. “The Idea of the Sanctity of the Biblical Text and the Science of Textual Criticism.” Eds. Uriel Simon and Isaac B Gottlieb. 1979. Australian National University. College of Engineering & Computer Science. <http://cs.anu.edu.au/%7Ebdm/dilugim/CohenArt>
[13] “Siege of Jerusalem.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/event/Siege-of-Jerusalem-70>
[15] “Shimon Bar-Kokhba (c. 15 – 135).” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/shimon-bar-kokhba> “Bar Kochba.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019.< https://www.livius.org/articles/concept/roman-jewish-wars/roman-jewish-wars-8/>
[16] “Psalm 22.”  Heart of Israel.
[17] Hegg. “Studies in the Biblical Text – Psalm 22:16 – “like a lion” or “they pierced”?”
[18] Abegg, et. al. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. p xiv (hidden by Google Books).
[19] Abegg, et. al. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. p 518. (hidden by Google Books).