Crucifixion Predicted in the Messiah Prophecies?

 

Often asked is the question of whether crucifixion was predicted in the prophecies. When Jesus of Nazareth was asked this question, he pointed to prophecies to be fulfilled by the Messiah.[1]

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, analogies or symbolisms, and intermingling the present and future.[3]

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. Historical and modern medical analysis are consistent with them.

Historical context substantiating these prophecies first comes from Cicero, Rome’s most celebrated orator and lawyer. In a murder prosecution case, he described how 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.”[4]

Jewish historian Josephus wrote several accounts about the terrors of crucifixion and how it became a commonplace means to kill Jews, convicted or innocent. Rescued victims did not even survive an attempted crucifixion as attested by his own personal experience.[5]

Modern forensic medical expert analysis of a crucifixion provides further context. The act of merely trying to take a breath added to the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross by pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists while pushing up full body weight on nailed feet. Many of the crucifixion victims most likely died by asphyxiation. Add to that the psychological suffering from enduring scorn, humiliation, taunting and insults.[6]

Psalms prophecies might include the well-known yet controversial, Psalms 22, depicting a man whose “bones [are] out of joint,” “heart has turned to wax,” “tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” and “they have pierced my hands and feet.” The parashah also describes the psychological torture of enduring agony and humiliation.

Zechariah 12:10 succinctly says the Messiah will be killed 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.” While both Judaism and Christianity have disagreements, even among themselves, on the exact meaning of the prophecy, they agree the Messiah would be killed by being “thrust through” or “pierced.” Gospel accounts describe Jesus being pierced by nails and thrust with a spear.[7]

Isaiah chapters 52-53 parashah of “My Servant” describes the manner of death that is wholly consistent with a Roman crucifixion. His plight is depicted to have a physical “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Graphically, the parashah describes the mental anguish of “My Servant” who experiences “suffering of his soul,” is “despised and rejected by men” and is considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”[8]

Hebrew word chalal in Isaiah 53:5 is one of those words that have multiple meanings, in this case, over 20 definitions and variations. The primary definition in a negative context is “to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate” and in a positive sense, “begin.”[9]

Virtually all Bibles translate chalal, in about a 50/50 split, as either “pierced” or “wounded” including the Jewish Publication Society and the William Davidson translation of “wounded.” However, The Complete Jewish Bible translates chalal as “pained” with Rabbi Rashi’s commentary, “…he was chastised so that there be peace for the entire world.

Jewish authorities are virtually silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah’s graphic depiction being consistent with that of a  crucifixion and thus it does not foretell the death of “My Servant.” However, certain verses within this parashah of Isaiah are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages as Messiah prophecies.[10]

Rabbi Jose the Galilean quoted Isaiah 53:5 declaring the prophecy referred to “King Messiah” who would be “wounded” for our transgressions. Jose the Galilean was a Talmud contributor recognized for his authority on sacrifices and the Temple. Independently he wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53.7.[11]

Rabbi Maimonides similarly identified the Messiah as the subject of Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2. The Rabbi expounded the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders. Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.[12]

Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin said “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 refers to “King Messiah.” 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.[13]

Six of the 15 verses of the Isaiah 52-53 parashah – Isaiah 52:13,15, 53:2, 3, 5, 7 – are considered by various Jewish authorities to be prophecies about the Messiah. For this reason, it becomes challenging to claim the entire parashah is not a prophecy about the Messiah.

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 of what he was about to endure as foretold by the prophets: 

LK 18:31-32 “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.”(NIV)

History, Judaism and Christainity affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of a crucifixion consistent with accounts of historians and modern forensic science analysis. Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies 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:

“… 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.”[14] – Rabbi Crispin

 

Updated February 5, 2023.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 18:31-34; 22:37.
[2] Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9.
[3] Psalms 78:1-3; Hosea 12:10. Boucher, Madeleine I. “The Parables.” Excerpt from The Parables. Washington, DE:  Michael Glazier, Inc. 1980.  PBS|Frontline. n.d. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/parables.html>   Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm>
[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] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XIV. Book V, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Chkoreff, Larry. International School of The Bible. “Is There a New World Coming?” crucifixion. image. 2000. <http://www.isob-bible.org/world-new/04world_files/image019.gif>
[6] 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>
[7] 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>  Chkoreff, Larry. International School of The Bible. “Is There a New World Coming?” crucifixion. image. 2000. <http://www.isob-bible.org/world-new/04world_files/image019.gif>
[8] Isaiah 53:3.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. 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>
[9] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm> Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. Benyamin Pilant. 1997. <http://www.breslov.com/bible> William Davidson Talmud, The. Talmud Bavli. The Sefaria Library. <http://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud> Isaiah 53:5. NetBible. Hebrew text. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Isa&chapter=53&verse=5> Chalal <02490> NetBible. definitions. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=02490> H2490. Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/2490.html> Isaiah 53:5. BibleHub. 2022. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/isaiah/53-5.htm > <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/isaiah/53-5.htm > <https://biblehub.com/isaiah/53-5.htm> 
[10] 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>
[11] 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 10-16. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Jose&f=false>
[12] 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> Isaiah 53:3. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>  CR Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 12-16.
[13] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters “Sefer ha-Musar.” pp 99-101.
[14] Crispin. “Sefer ha-Musar.” p 114.

Psalms 22 – Catch 22 of a Crucifixion Prophecy

 

Psalms 22 is retrospectively viewed by Christians as a foreshadowing or a prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Some say it is not either but rather a falsehood.[1] Is Psalms 22 a prophecy depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah?

Prophecies are challenging due to many factors. 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 it may be clarified by other prophecies.[2]

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.

To be prophetic, Psalm 22 would need to predict details about a crucifixion that are precise enough to avoid conjecture. Written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist, it is more challenging because a Roman-style crucifixion was not yet invented. Crucifixion was 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]

Not quoted by a crucifixion victim known by Josephus, nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. The description was written by King David in Psalms 22 centuries earlier, yet the depiction is wholly consistent with that of a Roman-style crucifixion.

Raising the bar for prophetic difficulty are two more very distinct actions in Psalms 22 – a quote and an unusual, explicit activity. Since both were by persons other than the victim, they could not be replicated by the victim:

PS 22:7-8 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”(NIV)

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 quote, “Why have you forsaken me?” opens the first verse of Psalms 22. These words were also uttered by Jesus when he was dying on the cross:

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)

Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in the chapter, verse 26, the Rabbi commented “The humble shall eat” meaning “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[5] In Rashi’s words, Psalms 22 referred, at least in part, to the Messiah.

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 in 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, Psalm 22 had to be a Messiah prophecy. Even more remarkable, Jewish participants said and performed actions in precise detail that matches Psalms 22.

Factor in one other piece of the scenario. Jesus would have to know in advance before he was arrested that the opportunity would present itself in order to perpetrate a fraud – his arrest, trial, and execution by crucifixion at the hands of 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, when applying the Doctrine of Chances, the likelihood that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just a prophetic coincidence. The alternative is that the Psalm is no more than a multi-fold coincidence to the crucifixion of Jesus. What are the odds the Psalms 22 was just a coincidence to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated October 21, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Green, James. Psalm 22: Is it a Prophecy about Christ?” CultoftheLivingGod. n.d.<http://www.cultofthelivinggod.net/islam/Psalm%2022%20-Prophecy%20about%20Christ.htm> Berkovitz, Abraham J. The Torah. ““My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” — Jesus or Esther?” 2022. <https://www.thetorah.com/article/my-god-my-god-why-have-you-forsaken-me-jesus-or-esther>
[2] 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>  “Plaster Miodu. Psalm 22: Na krańce ciemności.” (translated:  “Honeycomb. Psalm 22: To the ends of darkness.”) YouTube. image. 2015. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/rUjYzzjEHfw/maxresdefault.jpg>
[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] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Online English translation of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) with Rashi’s commentary. n.d. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true