Psalm 22

Is the crucifixion of Jesus predicted in Psalms 22?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)

     Most Christians believe that Psalm 22 is a prophesy that was fulfilled by Jesus Christ at Calvary when he was allegedly crucified at the behest of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. The reason why Christians think that Psalm 22 foretells Jesus’ alleged crucifixion is because their New Testament makes abundant references to it as Daniel Estes says, “Psalm 22 is regarded as a messianic psalm because it is frequently quoted or alluded to in the New Testament narratives of the passion of Christ.”[1] Hence if  a Christian were to be asked why is Psalm 22 taken as a passage that prefigures Jesus Christ the typical answer that will be given is, “because the New Testament says so.” This is an excellent example of the kind of circular reasoning that missionaries and evangelists fall into as they try to prove their version of Jesus. In this article we will analyse some of the those relevant passages often used in missionary circles and see whether the Christian claim holds any water or not.

   Most frequently cited is the first verse which reads in English as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Psalms 22:1). The relevant New Testament “citations” are Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46. Both places in modern versions of the Bible mention that Jesus cried out at the ninth hour the words, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”. At a simple glance both reports seem to correspond with one another verbatim, however upon further inspection we find that they do not exactly match in the textual witnesses available. In Mark 15:34 the transliteration in Greek variously reads, “ἑλωῒ ἑλωῒ λεμὰ σαβαχθανεί (Eloi eloi lema sabachtanei[Tischendorf]); Ελωι ελωι λαμμᾶ σαβαχθανι(Eloi eloi lamma sabachtani[Textus Receptus]); ελωι ελωι λιμα σαβαχθανι (Eloi eloi lima sabachtani[Byzantine text type]); ἐλωι ἐλωι λαμα σαβαχθανι (Eloi eloi lama sabachtani[Westcott/Hort]). In Matthew 27:46 the transliteration in Greek variously reads, ” ἐλώι ἐλώι λεμὰ σαβαχθανί (Eloi eloi lema saabachtani[Westcott/Hort); ἡλεὶ ἡλεὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθανεί (Elei elei lema sabachtanei [Tischendorf]); Ηλι ηλι λαμὰ σαβαχθανι (Eli eli lama sabachtani[Textus Receptus]); ηλι ηλι λιμα σαβαχθανι (Eli eli lima sabachtani[ Byzantine text type]). In a footnote to Matthew’s Eli, eli lema sabachtani Raymond E. Brown says:

“Variant ms. readings harmonize the form of God’s name in Mark/Matt so that both read Eloi or Eli. Similarly, there are attempts to harmonize the lama and lema difference, and witnesses in the Koine tradition read lima in Mark. The exotic sabachtani is written sabaktanei in Codex Vaticanus of Matt, sabapthanei in Vaticanus of Mark, and sabachtanei in Sinaiticus of Matt, sibakhthanei in Alexandrinus of Mark.”[2]

In the next footnote to the above Brown dismisses the variant Elei in Mark and Matthew as “an unimportant orthographic variant of Eli.” [3] What about Eli and Eloi and the other pervading variances? According to Brown the Eloi of Mark resembles Aramaic whilst the Eli of Matthew resembles Hebrew  and the lama of Mark resembles Hebrew whilst the lema of Matthew resembles Aramaic which has led some scholars to suggest a mixed Hebrew-Aramaic tradition that Brown says is not a necessary conclusion.[4] Brown also mentions that in Codex Washingtonensis of Matthew it reads Eli, eli ma sabachtanei. The following are the Aramaic and Hebrew renditions of Psalms 22:1/2 given by Brown[5]:

Mesoretic text in Hebrew: Eli, Eli, lama azabtani

Aramaic: Elahi, elahi, lema sebaqtani

Codex Bezae: Elei, elei, lama zaphthani

Though scholars may say that these differences are minor they do have an impact on our current concern namely, what exactly did Jesus say and “quote” if indeed he said or quoted Psalm 22:1/2 at all?

The following is a table comparing the variances in Matthew and Mark to the actual Aramaic and Hebrew of Psalm 22:1/2

 Mark/Matthew “quotation” of Psalms 22:1/2  Hebrew and Aramaic of Psalms 22:1/2 in the Old Testament
 1. Eloi eloi lema sabachtanei2. Eloi eloi lamma sabachtani

3. Eloi eloi lima sabachtani

4. Eloi eloi lama sabachtani

5. Eloi eloi lema saabachtani

6. Elei elei lema sabachtanei

7. Eli eli lama sabachtani

8. Eli eli lima sabachtani

9. Eli, eli ma sabachtanei

 1. Eli, Eli, lama azabtani2. Elahi, elahi, lema sebaqtani

3. Elei, elei, lama zaphthani

     Any reasonable reader will be able to come to the conclusion that none of the available variances in the New Testament match the available readings of the actual verse in the Old Testament. So what exactly did Jesus quote if he quoted anything at all? Let us move on to what could have been meant by Jesus according to the authors of Matthew and Mark.

    The translation offered by Matthew concerning his “quotation” in Greek is, “thee mou, thee mou, hinati me egkatelipes”(θεε μου θεε μου ινα τι με εγκατελιπες) and Mark’s translation is,”ho theos mou, ho theous mou, eis ti egkatelipes me”(ο θεος μου ο θεος μου εις τι εγκατελιπες με). However, Codex Bezae gives a variant witness to Mark: ho theos mou, ho theos mou, eis ti oneidisas me. Though the choice of words in Matthew and Mark differ they are essentially semantically the same, but the verse in Mark according to Codex Bezae takes a radical shift.The word egkatelipes in the standard Marcan reading which means ‘to desert’ is substituted by oneidisas which means ‘to revile or insult’ as Brown notes, “this codex has a remarkable rendition in oneidisas: “Why have you reviled me?”.”[6] Most Christians would abandon this reading and contend that the scribe handling Bezae changed the word from forsaken to reviled because the former was theologically offensive to him. However, Brown asks a rather pertinent question, “Is God’s reviling Jesus any less offensive than God’s forsaking him?” Brown also makes mention of the fact that Harnack gives an argumentation that Bezae’s rendering is actually the original verb rather than the standard egkatelipes which according to him is a later harmonisation with the LXX reading.[7] In my humble view to abandon someone in most cases is less offensive than insulting him especially if the person is one’s beloved. If Bezae’s scribe was a Christian it is unfit to suggest that he would have introduced a worse description for Jesus than what was already available especially in light of the fact that Matthew’s rendering remains intact in i.e. egkatelipes in the same codex. It is then quite possible if not likely that it was Matthew who modified the original reading from oneidas to egkatelipes in following the LXX rendering. The reading in Codex Bezae is supported by the maledixisti of Codex Bobiensis and in oprobrium dedisti of Porphyrius.[8] The LXX reading of Psalm 22:2 is ho theos, ho theos mou, prosches moi hina ti egkatelipes me(ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου πρόσχες μοι ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με). The LXX is a literal translation of the Mesoretic text but adds the first possessive pronoun and there is an insertion of a clause petitioning attention (prosches moi).[9] This means that though Matthew and Mark may have adopted certain wordings from the LXX they also omitted others as they saw fit. Is that a true report on what Jesus had actually said or meant? It is very possible that things were modified or quite possibly invented as well considering the facts discussed thus far. In addition, there is a curious tradition, albeit rejected as a later invention in the second century Gospel of Peter which has this reading for the verse under inspection: he dynamis mou, he dynamis, kateleipsas me(Η δυναμις μου, η δυναμις, κατελειψας με). This reading according to those who favour Mark and Matthew is inaccurate. If it was possible to invent a false reading and apply it to Jesus’ speech during a time when there was already much sophistication in the Christian communities i.e. more literacy what is to dismiss the possibility of the invention of Mark 15:34 during a time when there was less literacy and less sophisticated intellectual Christian communities? There is no way to clearly and unequivocally prove that Jesus actually said ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” since the witnesses are all but in disagreement.

    The next verse that is often cited as prophesy for Jesus’ alleged crucifixion is Psalm 22:16/17. Unlike the Psalm 22:1/2 this verse has absolutely no parallel in the New Testament. The rendition of Psalms 22:16/17 that is often grappled by Christians is as follows:

“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”

If the crucifixion involved piercing(or nailing) would the authors of the gospels not have utilised this verse? Were they unfamiliar with the verse? According to Daniel Estes cited earlier they were intimately familiar with Psalm 22 and he goes on to cite Mays who says:

“…features of the psalm’s description of the psalmist’s experience appear in the Gospel narrative (v. 7 in Mark 15:29, Matt. 27:39; v. 8 in Matt. 27:43; v. 15 in John 19:28; and v. 18 in Mark 15:24; Matt. 27:35; Luke 23:34; and John 19:24).”[10]

Notice that Mays does not mention John 20 which is the only place that somewhat alludes to the traditional depiction of the crucifixion i.e. nailing on the cross. Why does John 20 leave out Psalm 22:16? Why does Luke 24:30 leave out Psalms 22:16? Both authors do cite Psalms 22 in other passages such as the ones mentioned by Mays. It is inconceivable to accept that they chose to leave out Psalm 22:16 if indeed it is correctly rendered as,”they pierced my hands and my feet” and that the crucified Jesus was truly nailed on the cross. In his discussion on this very issue Raymond E. Brown cites John 20:25,17, Luke 24:39, the Gospel of Peter 6:21 where it says,”the nails from the hands of the Lord.”, Ignatius who says Jesus was “truly nailed”(Smyrneans 1.2), and the Commentary on the Diatessaron 20.31 (Armenian; SC 121.365) speaking of Jesus’ hands as nailed and his feet tied. After mentioning all those references he concludes, “…none of the above passages that refer to nails only in hands echoes the LXX wording or imagery of the psalm.” He goes on to say that some scholars are puzzled by the failure of the authors of the gospels “to exploit” the scriptural passage.[11] Brown also cites J. W. Hewitt who wrote, “There is astonishingly little evidence that the feet of a crucified person was ever pierced by nails.”[12] The next question that should be asked is, “does the verse really say pierced?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, it says ‘pierced’ in many translations of the Bible and no, it says something else in many other translations of the Bible. Before we review the accuracy of either translation allow me to produce a comparative table containing the translations of Psalm 22:16/17(in some versions the verse is designated as 16 whilst others designate it as 17) found in the first English versions and Bibles up to the recent major ones.

No ‘pierced’ With ‘pierced’
1.For many doggis cumpassiden me; the counsel of wickid men bisegide me. Thei delueden* myn hondis and my feet. (Wycliffe Bible, 1382)2. They have dug my hands and feet. (Douay-Rheims Bible, 1610)

3. For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet. (JPS Old Testament, 1917)

4. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled. (New Revised Standard Version)

5. For dogs have gathered around me. A group of sinful men stand around me. They have cut through my hands and feet. (New Life Bible)

6. Now packs of wild dogs come at me; thugs gang up on me. They pin me down hand and foot. (The Message Bible)

7. A pack of dogs surrounds me, a gang of villains closing in on me as if to hack off my hands and my feet. (The New Jerusalem Bible)

8. Dogs are all around me, a pack of villains closes in on me like a lion [at] my hands and feet. (The Complete Jewish Bible)

9. Dogs have come round me: I am shut in by the band of evil-doers; they made wounds in my hands and feet. (Bible in Basic English)

10. So wasted are my hands and feet (The New American Bible, 1970)

11. Tearing at my hands and my feet. (The Essential Study Bible, 2007)

12. They tear at my hands and my feet. (The Good News Bible, 1976)

13. They have bitten my arms and legs. (New Century Version, 2005)

1. They pearsedmy hondes and my fete. (Miles Coverdale Bible, 1535)2. they haue pearcedmy handes and my feete, (Bishop’s Bible, 1568)

3. they perced mine hands and my feete. (Geneva Bible, 1587)

4. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. (King James Version, 1611)

5. For dogs have compassed me: A company of evil-doers have inclosed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. (American Standard Version, 1901)

4. Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet. (Revised Standard Version, 1950s)

5. The hands and feet pierced. (Scoffield Reference Notes)

6. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. (New International Version)

7. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. (New Living Translation)

8. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. (New American Standard Version)

~Other Bibles in agreement with “pierced” include God’s Word Translation, Young’s Literal Translation, Darby Bible Translation etc.~

*delueden is Middle English for ‘to dig’. Had he meant pierced he would have used the word berien or brochen both of which means ‘to pierce’. [13]

Undoubtedly, most English versions of the Bible has the word ‘pierce or pierced’ in Psalm 22:16/17, but this does not necessarily mean that it is the correct rendering. Other equally well known and well attested versions of the Bible depart from ‘pierced’ and offer alternative translations as seen above. It is noteworthy that most if not all the translations that support the reading ‘pierced’ are Christian produced Versions and Bibles with vested interest in the crucifixion. The alternative renderings of the word provided in the left column in the table above vary from Christian to non-Christian productions. In fact, the value of something claimed against one’s own position is higher than that which compliments or promotes. What evidence is there to suggest that ‘pierced’ is an accurate representation of the original reading in Psalm 22:16/17? In researching this topic I have discerned that Christian apologists and missionaries make the following contentions to prove their case for “pierced’:

1. The Dead Sea Scrolls at Nahal Hever attests the reading ‘they pierced’.

2. The LXX attests the reading ‘to pierce’

3. The text only makes sense with the word ‘pierced’ in it.

Contention 1: The Dead Sea Scrolls at Nahal Hever attests the reading ‘they pierced’.

First and foremost none of the Bibles prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls(DSS) had any access to the Nahal Hever fragment (HHev/Se 4). All the major early English translations of the Bible were based on the Mesoretic text and the LXX. Hence the first contention has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the value of the translation ‘pierced’ given in the Coverdale Bible, Bishop’s Bible, the Geneva Bible and the King James Version. The Mesoretic reading of the word in question is כָּאֲרִי (ka’ari) which means ‘like a lion’. The same word occurs in several places such as in Numbers 24:9, Isaiah 38:13 and Ezekiel 22:25. The King James Version and others correctly translate the word as ‘like a lion’ in such places. Why then have they opted for ‘they pierced’ in Psalm 22:16/17 instead of ‘like a lion’ as in the JPS? The reason could vary from as simple as a conjecture made based on their theological beliefs to somewhat more complex ones like the import given to one variant reading in one manuscript or fragment over the other. The clue perhaps lies in the earliest English translation of the Bible, that is, the Wycliffe Bible where the word ‘to dig’ is favoured. The origin of this meaning can be traced back to the LXX that was indeed available to Bible translators prior to the DSS which we will discuss in the second contention. In the meantime let us return to the claim that the DSS at Nahal Hever supports the translation ‘they pierced’. The word in the Nahal Hever Psalms fragment is כּארי (ka’ari) which means ‘like a lion’, but missionaries have postulated that the final letter isn’t an elongated yod, but is rather a vav which would mean that the word is actually כּארו (ka’aru). Let us say that the missionary claim is true. Jewish critics have pointed out rightly that the word ka’aru does not exist in the Hebrew language. However, if the aleph is removed from the word then it would be karu whose root is karah which means ‘to dig’. This would resemble the LXX reading which we will see later. However, the word karah which occurs 15 times in the Old Testament such as in Psalm 57:6 is never understood as ‘pierced’. It means to dig a hole, trench,pit, ditch etc. Many Christians have claimed that the Mesoretic reading of the word is corrupt. Marko Marttila for example makes the claim that, “The third colon of the Mesoretic Text is corrupt. The expression כּארי does not make any sense in its context.[14] Magne Saebo notes that,”Ps. 22:17 a famous crux interpretum left Christian interpreters able to argue that Jewish scribes had altered a text that once read “they have pierced my hands and my feet”, a reading well adapted to the crucifixion of Jesus.” [15] Marttila reasons that because the expression found in the Mesoretic text, that is, ka’ari makes no sense in the context so it should be dismissed. This is the kind of circular reasoning that I mentioned at the beginning of the article that many Christians tend to fall prey to. Whoever made it a rule that every single passage and word in the Bible(s) have to be meaningful and understandable to readers? Today scholars admit that some words in the Bible are simply unknown such as Selah which occurs time and again throughout the Old Testament, yet no one knows what it really means. Of course, Christians will reject the Mesoretic reading since it does not support their Christological view as Samuel L. Terrien remarks, “The MT of Ps 22:17 does not support the image of Jesus’ hands and feet being pierced with nails, but the word is uncertain and may mean “like a lion” or “dug” as with an agricultural instrument (cf. LXX, Aquila, and Symmachus).”[16] Even if one were to agree that ka’ari is a corruption of ka’aru or karu it will still not yield the result that Christian apologists and missionaries would like.If the author wanted to convey the idea of piercing he could have used words like daqar or ratza that are commonly used to refer to piercing in the Old Testament as Asher Norman says:

“The Hebrew word, “ka’are” was mistranslated as “pierced,” although it means “like a lion”. If King David wanted to write, “pierced”, he would have said (in Hebrew) “daqar” or “ratza,” both of which are commonly used in the Hebrew Bible. Amazingly, the Christian Bible correctly translates “ka’are” in the same chapter of Psalms 22!”[17]

In addition, the Nahal Hever fragment is dated to the second century CE according to Geza Vermes[18] which means that it is quite possible that a Christian scribe changed כָּאֲרִי to כּארו(if this is indeed the correct reading in the fragment) hence making it appear like the word כָּרוּ (they dug) in hopes of aligning it with Christian doctrine. This would mean that instead of the Mesoretes corrupting the text seven to eight hundred years later it was actually the Christians who did.

Contention 2: The LXX attests the reading ‘to pierce’

Does the LXX really support the reading ‘pierced’? No, it does not. The word used in the LXX is ὤρυξαν(oruksan) which is the exact same word used in Psalm 57:6 which reads in English as, “They spread a net for my feet–I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path–but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah”. There isn’t a single English Bible that translates the word oruksan here as “pierced”! Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott in their An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon defines oruksan as ‘to dig’, as in [to] dig a trench. Nowhere do they suggest that the word could mean ‘pierced’. Although Marttila questions the meaningfulness of the LXX rendering he indicates correctly the meaning of the word and says,”…the Septuagint reflects this meaning in its rendering ὤρυξαν (basic form ορυσσω ‘to dig’).”[19] His concern for the meaningfulness of the LXX rendering need not move us as we have already shown that a word or expression in the Bible does not have to be meaningful to readers in order to be the correct reading.Is digging the same as piercing? No, it is not. Digging involves unearthing something by making a hole with tools such as a spade. It is the removal of medium to another location, hence creating a crevice in the ground. To pierce is not to dig. Poking a pole into the sand or ground(hence piercing it) has nothing at all to do with digging. So to suggest that the LXX supports ‘pierced’ is baseless as Marttila himself sees no connection between the two.

Contention 3: The text only makes sense with the word ‘pierced’ in it.

Does the notion of digging placed in the verse render it unintelligible as per Marttila’s assertion? Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator in his Expositio Psalmorum certainly did not think so. He favoured the rendering, “They have dug my hands and feet” and gave his interpretation based on that.[20] What about the Jewish rendering “like a lion”? Does it make sense? Jewish authorities certainly do think so. Norman says:

“King David’s metaphor of the dog and the lion (menacing beasts) symbolizes David’s bitter foes that continuously sought to destroy him. The verse is in the past perfect tense, “have surrounded me,” describing an historical event. It is not a messianic prophecy. The “me and my” in the text refers to King David, not the “son god”. There are no capital letters in Hebrew.”[21]

As we have seen the three contentions that are normally raised by missionary Christians do not at all prove their case for reading the text as ‘pierced’ in order to fit in the traditional crucifixion imagery. The missionary’s choice is obviously the King James Version’s rendering (or those other versions that retain “pierced” in the verse), but the latest revision of the KJV by 30 eminent Christian and Jewish scholars certainly disagree. The KJV reads as follows:

“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”

The Revised Standard Version on the other hand differs:

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled.

In its footnote to “shriveled” the RSV candidly states,”Meaning of Hebrew uncertain”. Perhaps they were incompetent to translate? Paul D. Wegner in his excellent work Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and the Development of the Bible says about the RSV:

“The translation committee for the New Revised Standard Version, still at work, is composed of thirty men and women from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish groups, many of whom are well-known scholars from large institutions: Joseph Blenkinsopp (Notre Dame), Paul D. Hanson (Harvard), Walter Harrelson (Vanderbilt), William Holladay (Andover-Newton), S. Dean McBride (Garrett), Patrick Miller (Union), and Marvin Pope (Yale)… The New Revised Standard Version became available in 1989, with and without the Apocrypha. On May 19, 1989, the National Council of Churchers met in Louisville, Kentucky, to authorize the revision for use in the churches of its membership and the motion was overwhelmingly approved.”[22]

The chairman of the translation committee was none other than Prof. Bruce Metzger himself from Princeton Theological Seminary who has been described as a “world-renowned authority on translating the New Testament from the original Greek” according to an article on him published in the New York Times.[23] Surely, these were competent scholars who knew what they were doing when they opted for “shriveled” over “pierced”? And when they say that the Hebrew is uncertain does that make them incompetent or honest in their translation endeavour? According to their credentials the former should be eliminated in favour of the latter. The KJV has thus far undergone seven revision beginning with the English Revised Version (NT, 1881; entire Bible, 1885) followed by the American Standard Version (1901), the Revised Standard Version (1952), New American Standard Bible (1971), King James II Version (1971), New King James Version (1982) and the latest New Revised Standard Version (1989).[24] Though the Revised Standard Version mainly relied on Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia for its Old Testament translation they were aware of both the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls including those found at Nahal Hever. As Bruce Metzger says:

“Following the publication of the RSV Old Testament in 1952, significant advances were made in the discovery and interpretation of documents in Semitic languages related to Hebrew. In addition to the information that had become available in the late 1940s from the Dead Sea texts of Isaiah and Habakkuk, subsequent acquisitions from the same area brought to light many other early copies of all the books of the Hebrew Scriptures (except Esther), though most of these copies are fragmentary. During the same period early Greek manuscript copies of books of the New Testament also became available.”[25]

They were certainly aware of the Hebrew word used in the Nahal Hever fragment of Psalms, yet they revised “pierced” to “shriveled” and admit that the Hebrew meaning is uncertain. This means that reasonable persons ought to dismiss the rendering found in all previous revisions of the KJV and the 1611 version itself. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible concurs with the NRSV and uses the same translation, “My hands and feet shrivelled”. In its footnote to the verse it also says, “meaning of Hebrew uncertain”.[26] Rodney R. Hutton in the New Oxford Annotated Bible also concurs with the NRSV finding retaining its translation, “My hands and feet are shrivelled” with a footnote stating, “textually obscure,:(lit.:”like a lion my hands and feet.)”.[27] Alternatively, a rather interesting translation is offered in the Catholic Study Bible (already cited in the comparative table above) which renders the verse as, “So wasted are my hands and feet”. [28] This particular translation is approved by the Administrative Committee/Board of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference. Some other scholars have suggested the meaning “bound”(they bound my hands and feet) from the Hebrew karkhu, but as Robert Alter who himself suggests this reading in his translation concedes that,”there is admittedly no ancient textual warrant for this reading.” [29] We have yet another unique translation from The Essential Study Bible which renders the verse as “tearing at my hands and my feet” with its footnote saying, “e. tearing at: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.” [30] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary describes the verse as “very difficult” saying, “17. Very difficult: lit., “Like a lion my hands and feet.” Suggested transls. include: “They have pierced [ lit., “dug”] my hands and my feet”; “they have picked clean my hands and my feet”; “my hands and my feet are shriveled up (by illness).” [31]

    The clear absence of Psalm 22:16/17 in the New Testament even though it makes several references to other verses in Psalm 22 is a strong argument against its alleged connection to how Jesus was allegedly crucified. Had the authors of the gospels understood the verse as how Christian missionaries and evangelists today do they would certainly have made use of it. The verse itself does not say “pierced” despite missionary semantic games. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and the New Revised Standard Version all agree that the Hebrew is unclear and as such it is of no value in terms of proving the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.

   A careful reading of the entire passage will convince the unbiased reasonable observer that to suggest Jesus is being foretold by Psalm 22 is folly. Christian missionaries have to decide whether the passage covers the crucifixion only or a larger context than that lest they do violence to the passage and haphazardly force their christalogical interpretation into it. In verse two it says, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night but find no rest.” How long did the crucifixion last? According to the gospels it lasted only for a few hours and did not span from day to night. Further more, the same Christian missionaries claim that Isaiah 53:7 describes Jesus’ passion wherein it says, “he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” The verse says three times that he was silent and said nothing, yet according to verse two in Psalm 22, the person is crying out to God day and night! The Christian missionaries cannot have their cake and eat it too. In verse six the person agonises and says, “I am a worm, and not a human.” Is such language appropriate for the Messiah? Recently, I had a discussion with a Christian who goes by the nick name ‘the Bull’ on this site and on this same issue. He claimed that whilst on the cross bearing the sins of all he did indeed become like a worm. The verse itself does not actually say “like a worm” and nowhere does it indicate that the worm like nature was acquired for a limited time only on a specific occasion. The Christian has to import his theology from the New Testament and force it into the text in order to arrive at such an understanding. However, let us say for the sake of argument that it appropriately describes Jesus’ state of being while he was on the cross and that the the word worm is simply hyperbolic and figurative. The same expression is found in Job 25:6, ““how much less man, who is but a maggot–the son of man, who is only a worm!”. The context shows that this maggot of a man(all of mankind) and THE SON OF MAN who is only a worm are impure. Jesus is called ‘son of man’ 83 times in the New Testament. Is he impure like all men(maggots) in Job 25:6? Christian missionaries may say, “Yes, he was when he was on the cross he took all sin upon himself”. Notice that the verses do not really say this. Prior to Job 25:6, but still in the same book he says,””Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!”(Job 14:4). Wasn’t Jesus’ mother a woman? As a woman was she totally pure? Catholic theology (Immaculate conception) says yes, but the bulk of Protestants say no. Does that mean Jesus was impure since Job 14:4 says “no one can bring what is pure from the impure?”. Later in verse 7 of Psalm 22 it says, “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;”. Is this lamentation in line with what is presented in the gospels? Throughout Jesus’ ministry everyone who came to him accepted him with the exception of some scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 4:23-25 say, “News about him(his “fame” in the NRSV) spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” In the next chapter it says he had to go atop a mountain(not a hill or a rock) to speak to the congregation of people who came to meet him. That’s how accepted he was by the people. In Matthew 9:8, the multitude praised God for giving such authority to men(Jesus). The clever Christian missionary will say, “but you see Psalm 22:7 is not referring to Jesus’ entire ministry, but only when he was crucified.” Is that so? According to Matthew 27:32, a Simon of Cyrene went to assist Jesus with the cross which wouldn’t have made sense if he was of those who mocked Jesus. In John 19:25-26, Jesus’ mother, her sister and Mary Magdelene along with the “disciple whom he loved” were present when Jesus was allegedly on the cross. Surely the missionary Christians do not believe they mocked Jesus. The Christian missionary fails yet again upon their own criterion. Some of the authors of the New Testament may have believed that Psalm 22 prophesied Jesus’ crucifixion, but our discussion has shown that that is not the case at all.

Related articles:

A Critique on the Crucifixion

A Critical Study of Isaiah 53


[1] Estes, D. J. (2005). Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

[2] Brown, R.E. (1994). The Death of the Messiah: from gethsemane to the grave: a commentary on the Passion narratives in the four Gospels, Vol. 2 . New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. pp. 1051

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. pp. 1052

[5] Ibid. pp. 1051

[6] Ibid. 1055

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 1054

[10] cited in Estes, D.J. Op. Cit.

[11] Brown, R.E. Op. Cit. pp. 949

[12] Ibid. pp. 950

[13] Mayhew, A.L. & Skeat,W.W.(n.d.). A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 to 1580. Dodo Press. pp. 69, 92, 149.

[14] Marttila, M. (2006). Collective Reinterpretation in the Psalms: A study of the redaction history of the Psalter. Tubingen : Mohr Siebeck. pp. 91

[15] Hobbs, R.G. (2008). Pluriformity of Early Reformation Scriptural Interpretation. In Magne Saebo(ed.), Hebrew Bible Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation. Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 507

[16]Terrien, S. L. (2002). The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co. pp. 233

[17] Norman, A. (2007). Twenty-six reasons why Jews don’t believe in Jesus. Los Angeles, California: Black White and Read Publishing. pp. 250

[18] Vermes, G. (1999). An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls. Fortress Press. pp.24

[19] Marttila, M. Op. Cit.

[20]  Senator, F. M. A. C. (1990). Expositio Psalmorum (P. G. Walsh, Trans.) Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press.  pp. 224 (Original Work published 580)

[21] Norman, A. Op. Cit. pp. 251

[22] Wegner, P. D. (2004). Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. pp. 332


[24] Wegner, P.D. Op. Cit. pp. 334

[25] Ibid. pp. 251

[26] Harelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press. pp. 771

[27] Hutton, R.R. (2010). Psalms. In Michael D. Coogan (Ed.), The New Oxford annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 790

[28] Senior, D & Collins, J.J. (2006). The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford University Press. pp. 697

[29] Alter, R. (2007). The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: Norton. pp. 74

[30] American Bible Society(2007). The Essential Study Bible. New York: Penguin Group. pp. 720

[31] Kselman, J.S. & Barre, M.L. (1990). Psalms. In Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (Eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 530

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12 Responses to “Psalm 22”

  1. The friendly Samaritan says:

    there is a old chinese saying:

    ”You can fool others but will be unable to fool yourself”

    I believe this shoe will fit you perfectly. Yet feel free to proceed in your rebellion. Its you that will carry the consequences.

    With kind regards

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      There is an old common sense saying:
      “if you don’t have anything of value to contribute just shut up.”

      I believe this saying fits you like a glove, yet feel free to continue in blindness. It’s you that will face the consequences.

      With kind regards

      • Tridax says:

        Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something. — Plato

  2. Ibn Anwar says:

    Assalamu’alaikum akhi Tridax…so what do you think of my article on Psalms 22?

  3. Tridax says:

    Wa alaikumussalam wr wb. Article is brilliant as usual. I am quite impressed by the wealth of information you have provided and it’s replete with sound reasoning throughout when defending your thesis. It’s job well done. You can rest assured atleast one person you have left dumbfounded as obvious from the first comment. May be others are still reading that one mile long article.

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      Thank you Tridax. I certainly did try to make it as simple yet as informative as possible. I’m glad to see that you think I have done just that.

  4. menj says:

    Interesting stuff indeed.

  5. Jesus says:

    It sounds like you already had your conclusion and then set out to prove it. You threw out the LXX because it said dug? We know it said dug. You need it to say lion, which it doesn’t.

  6. Slave of Allah says:

    السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ

    Dear brother Ibn Anwar, may I use ur articles in my page on Facebook…?? 🙂

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      Wa’alaikum salam warahmatullah,
      You most certainly can akhi. You didn’t really have to ask my permission ;). Jazakumullah.

  7. Abu Shuja'ah says:

    As Salaamu ‘Alaykum,

    This was informative, jazakallah khayr.

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