16

Psalm 22:16 seems textually quite difficult. The NET for example reads:

Yes, wild dogs surround me –
a gang of evil men crowd around me;
like a lion they pin my hands and feet.

Yet, they note that the Hebrew literally translates: "like a lion, my hands and my feet." and that "This reading is often emended because it is grammatically awkward," while suggesting that "perhaps its awkwardness is by rhetorical design."

The NIV, however, reads:

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce[a] my hands and my feet.

The footnote says: "Dead Sea Scrolls and some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Septuagint and Syriac; most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text me, / like a lion."

Even from a couple footnotes there is a lot going on here. Which rendering should be considered the older/original text?

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A good case can be made for the reading as a verb instead of a noun with a preposition prefixed.

Regarding verse 16, Walter Kaiser (The Messiah in the Old Testament, footnote 10 pg. 115 and 116) lays out his argument for the verb by referencing the Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Septuagint, all of which have verbs. He takes the form ka'ari as the irregular plural for ka'arim. This form is a plural participle of kur. While the proper form would be kar, the vowel points are not without precedent: Hosea 10:14 (qa'm); Ezekiel 28:24, 26 (sa'tim). He then defends the interpretation:

  1. The Hebrew Usage. kur is then synonomous with the verb karah - "to bore through," which often occurs. Such a permutation of the verbs ayin''waw and lamad''hah is common.
  2. The testimony of the LXX uses oruxzan cheiras mou kai podas mou ("they have dug/pierced my hands and feet") as well as the Syriac perforarunt and the Vulgate foderunt. (Jerome outside the Vulgate, translates the Hebrew into fixerant.)
  3. In Arabic, the agreement of kur with karah exists. Though this is not an argument ender, the appearance in a cognate language does lend support.

Regarding the Septuagint rendering the Hebrew as a verb, the rest of the psalm needs to be compared. If the Greek and Hebrew agree closely throughout the rest of the psalm, then we can be more sure that the Hebrew text was a verb. If other parts of this psalm are translated more loosely, then the testimony of the Septuagint here is lessened. Kaiser refers to the LXX as a direct translation. In places, it certainly is (Numbers has even been called "Greek vocabulary on top of Hebrew syntax"). However, in other sections of the Tanakh, the translation is rather freeform.

Aquila, in his Greek translation of the Tanakh first rendered the word in question with the verb eschuan, reading the Hebrew as a later Hebrew word meaning "make dirty." However, as he could not support this related to the rest of the psalm, his second edition agrees with that of Symachius and uses "they have bound." Both Aquila and Symachius are Jewish (converts to Judaism, it appears), though after the time of Jesus.

A discovery of a Hebrew scroll at Nahal Hever renders the word as כר[ו ]ידי. Very detailed grammatical information may be found here. Some scholars debate if the Septuagint translators had a text reading כארו instead of כארי. That is, the final letter is a longer waw instead of the short yod. Such a mistake between the yod and waw has been noted before1 and the misreading is easy to make. Others note that the Hebrew word for "lion" appears in the psalm both before (13/14) and after (21/22), but the spelling is different from verse 16/17. Before and after both use אריה.


  1. One of my seminary professors graduated from Hebrew Union. His best friend there did his doctoral dissertation on determining yod and waw in parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls where it could not be determined by sight if the letter was one of the above and Hebrew words could be formed by more than one option. His research involved calipers and magnifying glasses.
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  • 2
    While it is possible for sloppy handwriting to create ambiguity between כארי and כארו, the latter doesn't mean “pierce”. The scribe would have to also delete the alef, making כרו, which means “to dig”. Oct 12 '15 at 3:12
  • The vav vs. Yod is not a mistake, it is typical scribal practice of the day. youtu.be/MImJI68_-Po Jan 4 '19 at 10:23
  • 1
    Wasn't aleph sometimes used as a vowel indicator in the very ancient texts? Jan 4 '19 at 17:10
  • @SolaGratia, before the nikkud, yes, it was sometimes used for long, a-class vowels.
    – Frank Luke
    Jan 28 '19 at 1:39
  • @DanielbenNoach The aleph could be a spelling variation, and/or a vowel indicator. So כארו could mean the same as כרו without the need to delete the aleph.
    – barlop
    Sep 11 '19 at 0:19
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Overview

Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones close in on me; dlike lions [they maul] my hands and feet.d (Psalm 22:17 NJPS)
d-d With Rashi; cf. Isaiah 38.13
כי סבבוני כלבים עדת מרעים הקיפוני כארי ידי ורגלי

Commenting on this portion of the Psalm, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler say:

A graphic description of mortal illness. The psalmist feels his body stop working and disintegrate. He sees himself die , his body so dried up that it turns to dust. The scorners are like dogs (and lions, according to the NJPS) hunting prey (cf. v. 14). They gloat at his death and are eager to take his possessions.1

The difficulty with the verse stems from the word, כארי which appears to come from כָּרָה meaning to dig or to excavate. Ellicott's Commentary details the issue:

They pierced.—The word thus rendered has formed a battle-ground for controversy. As the Hebrew text at present stands the word reads kāarî (like a lion). (Comp. Isaiah 38:13.) But no intelligible meaning can be got out of “like a lion my hands and my feet.” Nor does the plan commend itself of dividing the verses differently, and reading, “The congregation of wicked men have gathered round me like a lion. On my hands and my feet I can tell all my bones.” The punctuation of the text must therefore be given up, and a meaning sought by changing the reading.2

As Ellicott notes, treating the word as "lions" creates problems, as the NJPS translation reflects. So "they maul" must be added to make sense of the passage and so "lions" is hardly an improvement. On the other hand, "they pierced" as in many Christian translations or "they pinned" as the NET, arguably are better than "lions;" yet they too fail to convey the proper sense of the Hebrew.

Exegesis
"Pierced" or "pinned" is seeing the passage through the lens of the Crucifixion. This may be criticized from the literal text, but it is Jesus' words from the cross which invite this perspective:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 Mark 15:34) [ESV]

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me...(Psalm 22:2 NJPS)

As Jewish commentators note, Isaiah 38:13 uses the same word, which is rendered as lions there. However, Isaiah also gives this message about the prophetic word:

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55)

The example from the natural world is the word of God works like rain and snow that come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth... Rain waters the earth when it falls, but snow waters later only after it melts. Thus, an initial and later meaning are possible in a passage which is prophetic. In Psalm 22, the "snow" is reading the passage in the light of the Crucifixion.

In that case, the question is how does "digging" my hands and feet apply? "Pierced" or "pinned" misstate the action by describing the result after they the hands and feet were "digged." The meaning of כָּרָה as it applies to the crucifixion is in the process of finding the correct spot in which to drive the nails. The Roman soldier would have to "dig around" Jesus' body to make certain of the placement of a nail before he could drive them through a hand or foot and into the cross.

Conclusion
Any passage which speaks prophetically is fully understood after the "rain and snow." In the case of Psalm 22, the later meaning is seen in the Crucifixion. While "pierced" or "pinned" is not inaccurate because they describe what happened because of the "digging;" it would be better if the correct meaning was given:

Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones close in on me; they dig my hands and feet.

The question then becomes how does "digging" my hands and feet make sense? The answer is, the nails must be correctly placed in order to support the body and so the Roman soldier would not simply nail a victim to the cross. They would carefully "dig" into the part of the body before driving the nail and in so doing avoid rupturing an artery of placing the nail in away which would not support the body.


1. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p.1306 (note the NJPS numbering is 22:17)
2. Ellicott

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