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).

David – the Iconic King of Israel

Prophecies say the Messiah would come from the House of David. Who was this iconic king of Israel and why would the Messiah need to be born in David’s lineage?

Red-headed David as the youngest of 8 boys drew the short straw assigned to be the shepherd of his father’s sheep.[1] Alone in the wilderness, he became an expert with a slingshot and singlehandedly killed lions and bears who threatened the flock.[2]

Summoned by his father, Jesse, one day to come back home in Bethlehem of Judea much to David’s surprise the prophet Samuel was there waiting. He anointed David as God’s choice to be the next King of Israel.[3] David’s legendary fame would begin and grow soon thereafter.

Three of David’s brothers were fighting in Israel’s army supported by their father who routinely sent David to them with supplies. During one visit to the battle front, David was astonished to see Israel’s army afraid of a giant Philistine ace warrior named Goliath who challenged and taunted the army daily.

Asking King Saul’s permission to battle Goliath, the shepherd boy was ridiculed by his older brothers and Saul tried to talk him out of it, but the King relented. David defiantly announced to Goliath he will kill him in the name of the Lord and cut off his head. And he did just that – with a slingshot and a single stone then using Goliath’s own sword to cut off his head. That very day David was placed in the service of King Saul.[4]

David’s fame eventually made Saul jealous who tried to hunt down and kill him.[5] Failing to seek and obey God’s guidance would cost Saul his own life and that of his sons in battle. After his death, the people of Israel anointed David as their king, but he had no throne.[6] The fortified city of Jebus seemed the perfect place.

As a skilled formidable warrior serving in King Saul’s army, David had become well-known to his enemies.[7] Equipped with this savvy and fame, he gathered people of Israel, formed an army and advanced toward Jebus.

Hurling insults at David’s approaching army, the Jebusites yelled “the blind and the lame” could fight off Israel while arrogantly positioning lame and blind people on the city walls in mockery.[8] Taking great offense, David offered the army’s commanding general position to whomever led the army to victory over Jebus.[9] Joab became that commanding general.

Soon after taking the city, it expanded to encompass the Mounts Moriah and Zion. Jebus, formerly known as Salem, now was called by a new name – Jerusalem, the City of David.[10] 

More good news came from God through the prophet Nathan saying David’s future son would be the one to fulfill promises God made to Moses to build the House of God and to Jacob that http://theodds.website/?p=40591the scepter would never leave his family:[11]

2 Sam 7:12-13  “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” [12]

Basking in the glory of his kingdom, David decided to take a census contrary to God’s past instructions.[13] General Joab pressed the King not to do it, but David persisted.[14]

Punishment for David’s sin was heavy upon the nation and the King pleaded with God to punish only himself and his family because Israel was innocent. The prophet Gad delivered God’s response instructing David to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah on Mount Moriah and offer an atonement sacrifice for the people of Israel.[15] 

David purchased the threshing floor, the oxen and materials, then built the altar himself. To his astonishment, God sent fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Moved deeply, David declared:  “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.”[16]

The promised House of God, the Temple, was to be built on Mount Moriah, the place where a 1000 years earlier Abraham took his only son, Isaac, to be sacrificed, then spared at the last moment with a substitute sacrificial ram.[17] Incredible coincidence?

Lord Acton’s quote “absolute power corrupts absolutely” applied even to David. From his palace rooftop, David watched his neighbor’s wife taking a bath whose name, ironically, was Bath-Sheba. The King sent his men to bring her to his palace where he seduced her and she became pregnant.[18]

Bath-Sheba’s husband, Uriah, was one of the King’s top military officers away fighting a war – how would Bath-Sheba explain away her pregnancy? David devised a cover-up plan.

Uriah was summoned from the battlefield under the pretense of earning a well-deserved leave from duty. The true reason was to give Bath-Sheba an opportunity to have marital relations with her husband to legitimize her pregnancy. The plan backfired when the loyal Uriah did not think it would be fair to his troops back on the battlefield if he were at home enjoying the pleasures of his wife.

David’s back-up scheme was much more sinister. He sent Uriah to the front lines of the war in hopes he would die in battle. Indeed, Uriah was killed in action. A royally planned and executed murder plot seemed foolproof – except to God. The prophet Nathan exposed David’s sin bringing judgment upon David and Bath-Sheba.[19]

In spite of his major human failures, God still honored His promise to David. Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah over the following centuries would prophesy that the Messiah would come from the House of David; prophecies confirmed by renowned Jewish Sages Rashi andMaimonides.[20]

David wrote many of the Psalms, some deemed to be prophetic.[21] First words of Psalms 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” were cried out by Jesus shortly before he died on the cross. The full 22nd Psalm depicts the dramatic image of a man dying in agony and humiliation remarkably consistent in specific detail with the circumstances of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus a millennium later.

As a mortal, Jesus would have no control over being born a 1000 years later into the royal lineage of David in his same hometown of Bethlehem, especially exceptional considering that up until the last moment Jesus was expected to be born in Nazareth, a week’s long journey away. What are the odds of improbability it was simply by chance?

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REFERENCES:

[1] 2 Samuel 11, 16.
[2] I Samuel 17.
[3] I Sam. 16; Chronicles 2, 10.
[4] I Samuel 18.
[5] I Samuel 19.
[6] 2 Samuel 2, 5.  1 Chronicles 10, 11.
[7] 1Chronicles 11.
[8] I Chronicles 11; 2 Samuel 5. Josephus.  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter III.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[9] 2 Samuel 5.  I Chronicles 11. Josephus.  Antiquity. Book VII, Chapter III.1.
[10] I Chronicles 17:1. Josephus. Antiquity. Book VII, Chapter III.1-2. Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. “Jebus <2982>”  <https://net.bible.orgLexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  Hebrew “Jebuw <2982>” (Brown-Driver-Briggs). <http://lexiconcordance.com>  Dolphin, Lambert. “Mount Moriah, Site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”  TempleMount.org. 1996.  <http://www.templemount.org/moriah2.html> “Zion.”  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd>
[11] Genesis 49; 2 Samuel 5; 1 Chronicles 11, 17; Chronicles 5; 1Kings 2; Judges 1; Psalms 76.  Josephus.  Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter III.2.
[12] NASB.  I Chronicles 17.
[13] Exodus 30.
[14] I Chronicles 21; 2 Samuel 24.
[15] I Chronicles 21; 2 Chronicles 3; 2 Samuel 24.
[16] NKJV.  I Chronicles 21-22.  2 Samuel 24. “Araunah.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com> “The Site – The Temple Mount.”  Bible-History.com.  n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEThe_Site.htm>  Josephus.  Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter III.
[17] I Chronicles 22; 2 Chronicles 3.
[18] 2 Samuel 11.  “Lord Acton writes to Bishop Creighton…” Online Library of Liberty. 2017. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/214>
[19] 2 Samuel 12.
[20] Isaiah 9; Jeremiah 23; 33; Zechariah 12.  The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Rashi commentaries: Gensis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Zechariah 12:12; Micah 5:2. Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Chapter 11. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>
[21] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. Rashi commentaries on Micah 5:2 and Psalms 118:22. “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.