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Psalms 22 – Catch 22 of a Crucifixion Prophecy?

Psalms 22 is retrospectively seen by Christians as a foreshadowing or a prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Rabbi sages do not considered the Psalms as a book of prophecy; however, renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi twice identified Psalms 22 verses as having futuristic implications involving David and the Messiah.

“Why have you forsaken me?” in the first verse is commented by Rashi saying, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later regarding verse 27, the Rabbi commented “The humble shall eat”  had a meaning of “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[2] In Rashi’s words, Psalms 22 referred, at least in part, to the Messiah.

Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until a full realization that it did, in fact, occur or perhaps is clarified by other prophecies.[1] Is Psalms 22 one of the prophecies depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah?

Written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist, to be prophetic Psalm 22 would need to predict details about a crucifixion that are precise enough to avoid conjecture. Challenging because a future Roman-style crucifixion would be a well-honed execution 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 when they came upon three of his Jewish acquaintances among many others 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.”[4]

Quoted not by Josephus nor by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. It was written by King David in Psalms 22 centuries before the Romans perfected the tortuous form of execution, yet the depiction matches in precise detail with that of a Roman-style crucifixion.[5]

Raising the bar for prophetic difficulty are two more very distinct predicted actions. In addition to the specific details foretelling men who gathered around the victim, laid him on the ground and pierced his hands, add in predictions of a quote and an unusual, explicit activity, all by persons other than the victim:

PS 22:8 “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”(NIV)

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

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

JN19:17-18 “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

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

MK15:24 “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.” (NIV)

A second predicted quote might tip the scales in favor of a prophecy fulfilled. Word-for-word from the opening verse of Psalms 22, shortly before he died on the cross Jesus cried out:

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 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 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.

Under these most severe conditions and near death, if Jesus was a fraud who still had the presence of mind to seize the moment in the face of his enemies by quoting from Psalms 22 to advance a false Messiah legacy, it would have been fully dependent on the prophetic nature of Psalms 22.

Catch 22.

In order to perpetrate a fraud of fulfilling a Psalms 22 Messiah prophecy, it was dependent on the Psalm being a Messiah prophecy. It was also dependent on the Jewish spectators recognizing Psalms 22 as a Messiah prophecy.

Factor in one other piece of the scenario. Under extreme circumstances where his mind at that moment would be muddled at best, Jesus would have to know the opportunity was about to present itself in order to perpetrate a fraud. He would have to have foreknowledge of actions by forces outside of his control – his arrest, trial, and execution by Jews in the most unlikely collusion with their hated Roman enemies.

Psalms 22 contains at least five precise details that had to be met if it were to become a 100% fulfilled prophecy. If true, according to the  Doctrine of Chances, the likelihood that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just a prophetic coincidence. The alternative is that Psalms 22 is not a Messiah prophecy and that the crucifixion of Jesus was no more than a multi-fold coincidence.

What are the odds it was just a coincidence?

 

Updated October 13, 2021.

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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] Psalms 22:14-17. NIV.
[5] Hotznagel, Fritz and Hehn, Paul. “King David Biography.” Who2.com. 2014.  <http://www.who2.com/kingdavid.html>

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