Psalms – Are Any Messiah Prophecies?

Psalms are quoted in the New Testament more than any other book from the Old Testament, the Tenakh.[1] Often associated with King David such as praises, songs, travails, salvation; some describe characteristics of God; others are considered parallels to the Messiah – are any Psalms prophecies about the Messiah?[2]

Psalms identified by Jesus of Nazareth as prophecies to be fulfilled by him raises the bar to the highest level – he must fulfill them if his claim to be the Messiah is credible.

MT: 5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (NRSV) [*] [3]

Pharisees had been watching and listening to Jesus since early in his ministry. At one point, Jesus took an opportunity to engage them directly asking, “”What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”[4] Thinking the question was simple, they answered, “The son of David.” Jesus pointedly quoted from Psalms 110:1:

MT 22:43-45 …”How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” (NKJV)

PS 110:1 ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? (NKJV)

No answer came from the Pharisees, according to Matthew. They were unable to debunk Psalms 110:1 as a Messiah prophecy.

Visiting Bethany days just before entering Jerusalem for the last time, curiously the Pharisees warned Jesus to leave because Tetrarch Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. Ignoring the warning, Jesus said he was busy casting out demons and performing cures, then finished with a prophecy quoting from Psalms 118:26:

LK 13:35 “I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (NKJV)

PS .118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” (NKJV)

Days later, known in Christianity as “Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into the city seated on the unbroken colt of a donkey with the people of the crowd chanting and placing palm branches in his path:[5]

JN 12:12-13  “… a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!””[6]

All four Gospel authors write about that triumphal day when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Citing the Gospel of John, JewishEncyclopedia.com states: [7]

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm— and then called him “the King of Israel.”

Judaism regards Psalms 118 as the concept of salvation pointing to the arrival of the Messiah recited in the Hallel during Festival holidays.[8] JewishEncyclopedia.com articulates, “The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah (see Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 17, 21, 22; comp. Matt. xxi. 42).”[9]

MT 21:42 “”Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” (NRSV)

PS 118:22-23 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (NRSV)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi viewed Micah 5:1 (5:2 in Christian translations) as a prophecy predicting the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Breaking down the prophecy phrase by phrase, he commented “from you shall emerge for Me the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.” Intriguingly, Rashi did not provide a similar commentary for Psalms 118:22.

Teaching in the Temple just 3 days before he would be crucified, the Pharisees again questioned Jesus by what authority he was teaching. His answer included one of the few parables common to Mathew, Mark and Luke.[10]

Payment was due for the lease of his tenant’s crops so the owner of the vineyard sent one, then a second servant to collect the debt. Both were beaten and stoned by the tenants even killing the last one. The vineyard owner then sent his own son to collect the debt thinking surely they would respect him, but they killed his son, too.

“Bring those wretches to a wretched end!” responded the Pharisees.[11] For the second time in a week, Jesus then quoted from Psalms 118:22. Realizing the parable was about them, “They wanted to arrest Jesus, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”[12]

Passover meal became “The Last Supper” for Jesus.[13] As they were eating, Jesus identified a prophecy soon to be fulfilled and he didn’t want there to be any question about it. He quoted Psalm 41:9 as a prophecy of duplicity foretelling he would be imminently betrayed by one of his own Disciples.[14]

JN 13:18-19 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. (NIV)

PS 41:9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (NIV)

Once Judas Iscariot knew his unscrupulous intentions were known by Jesus, he quickly left the Passover meal. His act of betrayal occurred just hours later.[15]

During his nighttime trial by the Sanhedrin, Jesus spoke only once. When he did, it was consequential in more ways than one. Admitting he is the Messiah, he again quoted from Psalms 110:1. “‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand  of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”[16]

Psalms 22 is generally recognized by Christianity as either a foreshadowing or prophecy about the crucifixion of Jesus. The 1000-year older Psalm describes physical and metal effects that remarkably match an execution by Roman crucifixion as well as three specific actions by others, mocking, gambling and piercing. In his excruciating dying moments on the cross, Jesus quoted Psalms 22:1:

MK 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

PS 22:1 …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV)

“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.”[17]

If the Psalms identified by Jesus as prophecies later matched actual events that occurred during his life and crucifixion, is Jesus then the Messiah and does it make these Psalms Messiah prophecies?

 

[*] Greek word nomos translated as “law” means “anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, a law, a command” i.e. the word includes the Law of Moses as well as other established laws, customs or traditions.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] “44 Prophecies Jesus Christ Fulfilled.” Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, Swiss Cottage. n.d. <https://parish.rcdow.org.uk/swisscottage/wp-content/uploads/sites/52/2014/11/44-Prophecies-Jesus-Christ-Fulfilled.pdf> Kranz, Jeffrey. “Which Old Testament Book Did Jesus Quote Most?” 2014. <http://blog.biblia.com/2014/04/which-old-testament-book-did-jesus-quote-most> Morales. L. Michael “Jesus and the Psalms.” TheGospelCoalition.org. 2011. <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-and-the-psalms>  Wilson, Ralph F. “10. Psalms: Looking Forward to the Messiah.” (Psalms 2, 110, and 22).” JesusWalk.com. 2020. <http://www.jesuswalk.com/psalms/psalms-10-messianic.htm>
[2] “Hallel.” MyJewishLearning.com. 2020. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hallel>
[3] “nomos <3551>.” Greek text. Net.Bible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3551>  “G3551” LexiconConcordance.com. n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/3551.html>
[4] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV. NetBible.org. Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=22&verse=42> Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/5547.html>
[5] CR Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[6] NKJV.
[7] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna>
[8] “Psalms 118.” JewwishAwareness.org. 2011. <http://www.jewishawareness.org/psalm-118>  McKelvey, Michael G. “The Messianic Nature of Psalm 118.” Reformed Faith & Practice. 2017. <https://journal.rts.edu/article/messianic-nature-psalm-118> “Hallel” EncyclopædiaBritannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hallel>
[9] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna>  CR Mark 12:11; Luke 20:17.
[10] Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.
[11] Matthew 21:42. NIV, NASB.
[12] Matthew 21:46. NRSV.
[13] Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-20; John 13:1-3.
[14] CR Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-23.
[15] Matthew 26:46-56; Mark 14:42-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-11.
[16] Mark 14:62. NIV. CR Matthew 26:64. Luke 22:69-70.
[17] 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>

 

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

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).

Is Crucifixion Predicted in the Messiah Prophecies?

Unimaginably cruel mental images are wrought by descriptions of a Roman crucifixion. If an actual crucifixion victim were to describe the horrors of the experience, such as the sole surviving acquaintance of Josephus rescued from the cross, the victim might very well describe it this way:

“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.”[1]

Quoting not from any Roman historical account, the description was written centuries earlier before the Romans perfected this tortuous form of execution – a 1000 years earlier by King David in Psalms 22:14-17.  

Prophecies are seldom as clear as Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy predicting the Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem or Zechariah’s prophecy foretelling the King of Israel would come riding on the foal of a donkey.[2] Some are delivered in perplexing, oracle-style prophecies often requiring knowledge of historical context, intricacies of analogies or symbolisms, and intermingling the present and future.[3]

Historical context of crucifixion comes from Cicero, Rome’s most celebrated orator and lawyer. A victim of a Roman crucifixion was first scourged, “exposed to torture and nailed on that cross;” it was “the most miserable and the most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.”

Psychological torture design of crucifixion was to choose a location that would display the exposed crucified victim “within sight of all passersby” with “the express purpose that the wretched man who was dying in agony and torture” would lastly see the circumstances surrounding his death.[4]

Modern medical expert analysis of crucifixion concluded the act of breathing added to the excruciating pain by pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists while pushing up full body weight on nailed feet, just to take a breath. Victims most likely died from shock, if not first by asphyxiation, when they could no longer push up to take a breath.[5]

Historical and medical analysis context of a crucifixion serve as the basis for determining if prophecies are consistent with these facts. Three parashahs or passages from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, are the focus of potential crucifixion prophecies – Psalms 22:1-24, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Zechariah 12:8-14.

Some Psalms are identified by Jesus as ones that would be fulfilled by him. One is well-known yet controversial, Psalms 22, depicting a man who is enduring agony and humiliation. Physically, his “bones out of joint,” “heart has turned to wax,” “tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” and “they have pierced my hands and feet.”

Psychological suffering describes “a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.” “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads;” surrounded by men who are like vicious animals.

Isaiah 52-53 is similarly graphic where “My Servant” bears the mental anguish of “suffering of his soul” being “despised and rejected by men” and considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” Bodily, “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” As an intercessor, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment” for which “he poured out his life unto death,” ultimately “cut off from the land of the living.”[6]

Zechariah 12:10 succinctly says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”[7]

Jewish authorities recognize portions of these parashahs as messianic prophecies. In a split between the Rabbi contributors of Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52, one faction viewed Zechariah 12:10 as a Messiah prophecy:

“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son…”

Rabbi Rashi, renowned Jewish authority, commented on Zechariah 12:10 siding with this interpretation in Sukkah 52.  He wrote, “And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.”[8]

Jewish authorities are silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah depicting a crucifixion event; however, the Messiah prophecies throughout Isaiah’s book are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages. Sanhedrin 98a alone makes 9 references to Isaiah’s prophecies about the future Messiah.[9] Three prominent Rabbi sages independently identified 5 verses of the Isaiah 52-53 passage as all referring to the Messiah.

Rabbi Jose the Galilean was a Talmud contributor recognized for his authority on sacrifices and the Temple. Quoting Isaiah 53:5 and 53:6, he declared they referred to “King Messiah” who would be “wounded” for our transgressions.[10]

Rabbi Maimonides similarly identified the Messiah as the subject of Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2. The Rabbi expounded that, according to this Isaiah 52-53 parashah, the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders.[11]

Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin is renowned for his twelfth century authorship of “Sefer ha-Musar” meaning the Book of Instruction. Crispin boldly disagreed with the prevailing Jewish view that “My Servant” is a metaphor referring to the nation of Israel. Instead, Crispin said “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 refers to “King Messiah.” [12]

Jesus of Nazareth himself referred to the prophecies describing the manner of death for the Messiah. Days before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus forewarned his Disciples predicting in precise detail that he was about to endure what was foretold by the prophets: 

LK 18:31-33 “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”[13]

History affirms that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of crucifixion described by Cicero and modern forensic science analysis, consistent with the Gospels.[14] Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies of Psalms, Isaiah and Zechariah foretelling the manner of suffering and death by the Messiah?

Rabbi Crispin profoundly summed up the challenge for each person to arrive at his or her own conclusion about the prophecies saying:

“… if any one should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here:  if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.[15]

 

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REFERENCES:

[1]NIV.
[2] Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9.
[3] Psalms 78:1-3; Hosea 12:10. Boucher.  “The Parables.”   Bugg. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.”
[4] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. In Verrem Actionis Secundae M. Tulli Ciceronis Libri Quinti.  “Secondary Orations Against Verres. Book 5. 70 B.C.  The Society for Ancient Languages   University of Alabama – Huntsville.  10 Feb. 2005. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160430183826/http://www.uah.edu/student_life/organizations/SAL/texts/latin/classical/cicero/inverrems5e.html>  Quintilian, Marcus Fabius. Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory. 1856. Trans. John Selby Watson. Book 8, Chapter 4. <https://web.archive.org/web/20170815223340/http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>
[5] Cilliers, L. & Retief F. P.  “The history and pathology of crucifixion.”  South African Medical Journal.  Dec;93(12):938-41.  U.S. National Library of Medicine|National Institute of Health.  <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495>  Zugibe, Frederick T.  “Turin Lecture:  Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  E-Forensic Medicine. 2005. <http://web.archive.org/web/20130925103021/http:/e-forensicmedicine.net/Turin2000.htm>  Maslen, Matthew W. and Mitchell, Piers D.  “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.  J R Soc Med. 2006 April; 99(4): 185–188.  doi:  10.1258/jrsm.99.4.185.  National Center for Biotechnology Information. Search term Search database. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788>  Alchin, Linda.  “Roman Crucifixion.”  Tribunes and Triumphs. 2008.  <http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/roman-crucifixion.htm> Zias, Joe. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.” JoeZias.com. 2009. <http://web.archive.org/web/20121211060740/http://www.joezias.com/CrucifixionAntiquity.html>  Champlain, Edward. Nero. 2009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=30Wa-l9B5IoC&lpg=PA122&ots=nw4edgV_xw&dq=crucifixion%2C%20tacitus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[6] NIV.
[7] NIV.
[8] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10  <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sukkah 52a. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[9] Isaiah 53:3.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 98a footnotes: Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22; footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 38a, footnote #9 to Isaiah 8:14. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_38.html>
[10] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson.  “Part I.  Historical and Literary Introduction to the New Edition of the Talmud, Chapter 2.”  pp 10, 12-13.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t10/ht202.htmThe Babylonian Talmud. Derech Eretz-Zuta. “The Chapter on Peace.”  Yose the Galilaean. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. Quote. Siphrej. pp 10-11. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Jose&f=false>
[11] Moses Maimonides. Neubauer, Adolf. And Driver, Samuel Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. 1877. “Letter to the South (Yemen).” pp xvi, 374-375.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[12] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters  “Sefer ha-Musar.” pp 99-101.
[13] NIV.
[14] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary, William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVIII, Chapter III.3. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. 109 AD. Trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.  Internet Classic Archive. 2009. Book XV.  <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html>  Lucian of Samosata. “The Death of Peregrine.” The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Volume IV. Trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler. 1905. p 82. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm>   Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 11. 2nd Edition. “Jesus.” pp 246-251.  <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/infomark.do?action=interpret&eisbn=9780028660974&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=imcpl1111&type=aboutBook&version=1.0&authCount=1&u=imcpl1111>  “Last Days of Jesus.” PBS.org. TV show. Air date: April 4, 2017. <http://www.pbs.org/program/last-days-jesus>
[15] Crispin. “Sefer ha-Musar.” p 114.