14

Why do different translations render Isaiah 53:8 differently in English:

מֵעֹצֶר וּמִמִּשְׁפָּט לֻקָּח וְאֶת דּוֹרוֹ מִי יְשׂוֹחֵחַ כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נֶגַע לָמוֹ.

One translation says that the plague would befall the people:

From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them. (Isaiah 53:8 Judaica Press Complete Tanach)

And another says it will befall the "suffering servant":

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:8 NIV)

Which is it? Will the people as a whole or the individual suffer?

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  • Obviously the suffering servant - can "my people" be distinct from the people of Israel? – Sola Gratia Feb 12 '20 at 22:00
  • No the suffering servant has been established in previous verses as Israel time and time again. – gustavoanalytics Feb 13 '20 at 16:23
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Identifying the Servant Israel in Isa. 49:3

The suffering servant in Isaiah 49:3 cannot be the nation of Israel. It is certainly true that the prophet Isaiah identified the servant in Isa. 49:3 by the name “Israel” when he wrote,

3 And said to me, “You are my servant, O’ Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

וַיֹּאמֶר לִי עַבְדִּי אָתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ אֶתְפָּאָר

However, notice what the prophet Isaiah wrote just a few verses later, writing the words of the servant:

5 And now said Yahveh who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, and Israel shall be gathered to Him, and I shall be glorious in the eyes of Yahveh, and my God shall be my strength— 6 And He said, “It is a small thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, so that you may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.”

וְעַתָּה אָמַר יַהְוֶה יֹצְרִי מִבֶּטֶן לְעֶבֶד לוֹ לְשֹׁובֵב יַֽעֲקֹב אֵלָיו וְיִשְׂרָאֵל לא1 יֵאָסֵף וְאֶכָּבֵד בְּעֵינֵי יַהְוֶה וֵאלֹהַי הָיָה עֻזִּי וַיֹּאמֶר נָקֵל מִֽהְיוֹתְךָ לִי עֶבֶד לְהָקִים אֶת שִׁבְטֵי יַעֲקֹב ונצירי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהָשִׁיב וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם לִֽהיוֹת יְשׁוּעָתִי עַד קְצֵה הָאָֽרֶץ

Notice that the servant named Israel in Isa. 49:3 is responsible:

  • “to bring back Jacob to Him” (Isa. 49:5)
  • “to raise up the tribes of Jacob” (Isa. 49:6)
  • “to restore the preserved of Israel” (Isa. 49:6)

If, as Orthodox Judaism contends, the servant named Israel in Isa. 49:3 refers to the nation of Israel, how then can the nation of Israel bring itself back to Yahveh, raise itself up, gather itself, and restore itself? Clearly, the servant Israel and the nation of Jacob/Israel are two distinct entities.

It is well attested in scripture that the son of David (i.e., the Messiah) would be responsible for gathering the dispersed of Israel and bringing them back to the holy land,1 the same tasks assigned to the servant Israel in Isa. 49:5–6.

The manner in which the prophet Isaiah names the servant Israel and then proceeds to mention another Israel whom the same servant Israel is supposed to bring back, raise up, gather, and restore, clearly indicates that the servant Israel is not same as the other Israel who is brought back; they are two distinct entities.

If the servant Israel is not the nation of Israel, then who is it? It’s easy to understand why someone would think the servant Israel in Isa. 49:3 is the nation of Israel. After all, the majority of the Tanakh focuses on the experiences of the nation of Israel. However, the name Israel originally belongs to the patriarch Israel.2 That being said, it is common for the King Messiah to be alluded to in scripture by the names of his ancestors. For example, in Jer. 30:9, we see that the Messiah is named “David.”3

In the same manner, the Messiah is named “Israel” in Isa. 49:3, after the patriarch Israel, his ancestor. We know this must be the case because of the manner in which the prophet Isaiah speaks of the servant Israel bringing back, raising up, gathering, and restoring another entity named “Jacob/Israel” which is evidently distinct from the servant Israel himself.

That the servant Israel in Isa. 49:3 referred to Christ was asserted by the New Testament authors4 as well as the early Church fathers.5

Exegesis of Isa. 53:8

Hebrew Text:

מֵעֹצֶר וּמִמִּשְׁפָּט לֻקָּח
וְאֶת דּוֹרוֹ מִי יְשׂוֹחֵחַ
כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים
מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי
ֹנֶגַע לָמו

English Translation:

From imprisonment and judgment he was taken,
And his generation, who shall consider?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
Because of the transgression of my people,
A plague was to him.

Debate involving this verse primarily concerns two matters:

  • the Hebrew word לָמוֹ (lamo), translated as “to him” or “to them”
  • the prefixed preposition מ in the word מִפֶּשַׁע (mipesha), altogether translated as “for the transgression” or “because of the transgression.”

First, the prefixed preposition מ. Some argue that this preposition should not be translated as “for” as it is in the King James Version. However, this translation is not impossible since the prefixed preposition מ is sometimes used in the sense of “for,” “because of,” “on account of.”6 Thus, the Hebrew phrase מִפֶּשַׁע means “for the transgression” or “because of the transgression.”

Next, the Hebrew word לָמוֹ. This is a unique word which consists of the preposition ל which is usually translated as “for,” combined with a rare pronominal suffix מו-. Some (most Jewish translations) translate this word as “for them,” indicating a plural object. Others (most Christian translations) translate this word as “for him,” indicating a singular object.

Jewish rabbi David Kimchi (רד"ק) was one of the first Jewish commentators to argue that the Christian translation as “for them” was a corruption of the actual meaning of the word לָמוֹ.

In his commentary on Psa. 2:12, he wrote,7

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והנוצרים שמפרשים אותו על ישו...

ואמ' נגע למו היה לו לומר לו כי למו הוא כמו להם לשון רבים

And the Christians who explain it about Yeshuʿa...and [the prophet] said, “A plague was ‘to them’ (למו), but [if it was about Yeshuʿa] he should have said ‘to him’ (לו), for למו is like להם, a plural expression.”

Kimchi argues that if the Christian translation as “to him” was correct, the word would have been לו, “to him,” rather than למו, which he asserts is equivalent to the plural להם, “to them.” However, Kimchi is incorrect as the pronominal suffix is not always understood as plural. In fact—and this is most noteworthy—Kimchi contradicts his own opinion. In his grammatical treatise entitled Sefer Mikhlol,8 he specifically wrote concerning the pronominal suffix מו:

enter image description here

מוֹ הוא בנוי הנסתרים בהתחבר עם הפעלים והשמות ומלים… ויש מוֹ בנוי היחיד המסתר: כִּי יִסְכּוֹן עָלֵימוֹ, וְיַמְטֵר עָלֵימוֹ בִּלְחוּמוֹ. כי המ"ם והו"ו כמו שכתבנו יש בו סימן רבים וסימן יחיד. כי המ"ם סימן הרבים הנסתרים והו"ו סימן היחיד הנסתר. לפיכך יבוא על הרבים ועל היחיד.

מוֹ is a 3rd person, masculine number, plural number suffix when joined with verbs, nouns, and words… מוֹ is also a 3rd person, masculine gender, singular number suffix: (Job 22:2) הַלְאֵל יִסְכָּן גָּבֶר כִּי יִסְכֹּן עָלֵימֹו מַשְׂכִּיל; (Job 20:23) וְיַמְטֵר עָלֵימוֹ בִּלְחוּמוֹ. For the מ and the ו (i.e., מוֹ), just as we wrote, contains the indication of the masculine gender, plural number and the indication of the masculine gender, singular number. For the מ is the indication of the 3rd person, masculine gender, plural number, and the ו is the indication of the 3rd person, masculine gender, singular number. Therefore, it (i.e., מוֹ) occurs for the [3rd person,] masculine gender, plural number and for the [3rd person,] masculine gender, singular number.


References

Driver, Samuel Rolles; Neubauer, Adolf Abraham. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters. Vol. 1. Oxford: Parker, 1876.

Driver, Samuel Rolles; Neubauer, Adolf Abraham. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters. Vol. 2. Oxford: Parker, 1876.

Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.

Kimchi, David (דוד קמחי). Sefer Mikhlol (ספר מכלול). Venice: Bomberg, 1545.

Pococke, Edward. The Theological Works of the Learned Dr. Pocock. Trans. Twells, Leonard. Vol. 1. London: Mitre and Crown, 1740.

The First Book of the Psalms according to the Text of the Cambridge MS. Bible add. 465. Ed. Schiller-Szinessy, Salomon Marcus. Cambridge: Deighton, 1883.

Footnotes

1 cp. Isa. 11:12
2 cp. Gen. 32:28
3 Consider the following commentaries or translations of Jer. 30:9:

  • David Kimchi’s commentary on Jer. 30:9:

אפשר שאמר זה על דוד המלך שיקימנו מעפרו בעת תחיית המתים, ואפשר שיאמר על המשיח בנו ויקרא שמו דוד.

“It is possible that it said this about King David who will be raised from the dust at the time of the resurrection of the dead. And, it is possible that it says this about the Messiah, his son, and it called his name ‘David.’”

  • Targum Yonatan on Jer. 30:9:

וְיִפלְחוּן קְֹדָם יוי אֲלָהֲהוֹן וְיִשתַמעוּן לִמשִיחָא בַר דָוִיד מַלכְהוֹן דַאֲקִים לְהוֹן׃

And they shall serve Yahveh their God and listen to the Messiah the son of David their king whom I shall raise for them.

  • Metzudat David commentary on Jer. 30:9:

זהו מלך המשיח הבא מזרע דוד

This is the King Messiah who comes from the seed of David.

4 Luke 2:32 cp. Isa. 49:3, 49:6; Matt. 2:15 cp. Exo. 4:22; Hos. 11:1
5 Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Ch. C, CXIV, CXXVI
6 cp. Joel 3:19; also, see Gesenius, on מִּן, p. 482–3, 2. e.
7 Kimchi’s commentary on Psalms was one of many Jewish works in which Christian censors deleted passages deemed offensive to Christianity. However, a few manuscripts of his commentary on Psalms did survive with the relevant passages intact. The first image is from Schiller-Szinessy’s The First Book of the Psalms according to the Text of the Cambridge MS. Bible Add. 465 with the Longer Commentary of R. David Qimchi, critically edited from nineteen manuscripts and early edition, p. 11. The second image is from Edward Pococke’s Porta Mosis, Vol. 1, p. 244–245, wherein he cites another edition of Kimchi’s commentary on Psa. 2:12.
8 Folio רסו—(p. 266)

0
1

Let's start off by examining the word in question lamow in Hebrew in different verses.

  1. https://biblehub.com/text/deuteronomy/33-2.htm
  2. https://biblehub.com/text/job/24-17.htm
  3. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/44-3.htm
  4. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/55-19.htm
  5. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/66-7.htm
  6. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/73-18.htm
  7. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/16-4.htm
  8. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/30-5.htm
  9. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/48-21.htm
  10. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/1-19.htm
  11. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/1-22.htm
  12. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/4-10.htm
  13. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/4-15.htm

In all those verses mentioned above from a Christian website the translation of the world lamow is equal to? Third person masculine PLURAL "they, or them". The translators of the Christian version of the Bible had to go in and change the actual word so it could be a messianic prophecy pointing to "the messiah" who will suffer.

Now one would imagine is there a form of lamow that would translate to a form of "He" in some type of form similar which there is not.

Lamow is merely a poetic synonym of "lahem", where the 'suffix', "-mo", replaces the "-hem".

There isn’t a single case in the Hebrew where the poetic suffix ־מוֹ (-mō) has a singular meaning and, from a purely morphological point of view, the mĕm in lamō is directly linked to the mĕm in lahĕm; the singular form is לוֹ lō (“to him”), which has no mĕm.

Now the next question always posed by people is, how then can the nation of Israel bring itself back to God, raise itself up, gather itself, and restore itself?

Easily, by following the commandments given to Israel from God. All over the Hebrew scriptures we see God saying this and the prophets.

Nowhere does it say or any of the prophets say we have to worship the messiah.

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  • Hi Gustavo, welcome to BHSE. This is a great first answer - looking forward to seeing more of your contributions. Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance. I'd be careful not to import too many assumptions into answers - how did you decide that this approach to translating the passage wasn't pre-Christian? – Steve Taylor Feb 19 '20 at 10:42
  • It wasn't pre christian because the word lamow is a 3rd Person Masculine Plural. When a jewish bible translates it to "he" it's already knows that the reader has read the chapters before it, that "he" in question is the Nation of Israel as stated many times over in chapters before this. – gustavoanalytics Feb 20 '20 at 11:16
  • Christians weren't the first people to translate the Tanakh out of Hebrew, though. Due to variances in different Hebrew text traditions, scholars use other early witnesses (particularly the LXX) to help inform our understanding of the original texts. In cases like this where the LXX (earlier text, wrong language) and the Masoretic (later text, right language) diverge, it can be hard to know for sure which way to go - which is more faithful to the original text? Either way, it doesn't look like Christians were the source of this divergence, though they are obviously favouring it today. – Steve Taylor Feb 20 '20 at 11:32
  • The thing is there is no divergence. the word lamow always means they/them 3pmp. There is no form of the word lamow that translates to singular. – gustavoanalytics Feb 21 '20 at 17:40
  • We have no divergence specifically thanks to the Masoretes, who developed techniques for astoundingly accurate copying. However, that only fixed the text tradition by the 7th Century at the earliest, and were based on texts that themselves had been edited in some places. So we have to weigh up evidence from earlier translations and consider the possibility the Masoretic won't always be the most accurate source. Either way, you're arguing against a pre-Christian tradition, right? – Steve Taylor Feb 22 '20 at 8:29
1

This is a great question!

Actually, there is a big chance that the Masoretic text we have is corrupted. The obvious problem with the text is the word לָמוֹ which as @gustavoanalytics correctly points out is an archaic form of the word לָהֶם which always means "them" and never "He". Hence the translation of the Judaica Press because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them, but the problem is who is them in the text referring to? Shouldn't the text rather say a plague befell him, i.e., the servant, since the theme of the entire chapter is that the servant is suffering for the people's sins? The NIV tries to rectify precisely this difficulty, but there is no justification from the hebrew text for their correction, hence the OP's frustration with the different translations for the same text.

That's why I propose we look somewhere else. The answer I believe can be found in the LXX. According to the Brenton Septuagint Translation this is how the end of verse 8 reads:

for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.

The NETS also agrees with this translation (The Douay–Rheims however does not agree with this. Although I am no Greek scholar I trust the Brenton and NETS over the Douay–Rheims, the latter which is known for its inaccuracies).

What's actually going on here is that the LXX's text is very different from the MT. This is how the LXX's hebrew text reads:

כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נִגַשׁ לַמָוֶת

If we juxtapose the LXX with the MT we get this:

נִגַשׁ לַמָוֶת
נֶגַע לָמוֹ

One can easily see how the original text became corrupted and evolved into the MT we have today. The shin of נגש (led) was swapped with an ayin (plauge), and the Taf of למות (to death) was dropped at the end leading to the word למו (them). Thus, we can say with a fair amount of confidence that the original text read like the LXX, i.e., the servant was led to death. The text actually reads very nicely like this:

his life is cut off from the land of the living (thrown into dungeon)
He is led to death (he's sentenced to execution)

The parallels are very clear indeed and complement each other.

What brought about the MT is most probably just a scribal error. Some would love to attach more significance to it and say that the text was deliberately altered to purge the text from Christian undertones, but this is obviously baseless since such fears could only have existed long after the rise Christianity, which at that point the MT was long standardized and canonized. In any case, as I point out in the sidenote, the text itself gives no evidence that servant was actually killed and resurrected, although this interpretation has been very popular with Christian preachers and commentators.


There is another possible reconstruction of the text, if we keep the (לַמָוֶת) from the LXX and introduce the (נגע) from the MT we get this:

נִגַע לַמָוֶת
He was afflicted until death

We just play around with the nekudot, and instead of נֶגַע (affliction/plague) as the masoretes vocalize we change the vocalization to נִגַע (he was afflicted). This actually also fits the context very well.


Sidenote: The text doesn't tell us that the suffering servant actually died contrary to what Christians want the text to say, according to the LXX the text is clearly describing the servant as being led to death, but in the end he is not actually executed, as is evident from the following verses that promise him a long life and lots of grandchildren (although the beginning of the verse seems to describe his actual death, that may refer to him being thrown into a dungeon which is compared to being "cut off from the land of living" someplace else. Cf. Psalms 88 where the psalmist in v. 7 is clearly describing himself being thrown into a pit). V. 9 also agrees with this reading.

For more on this point see Goulder, M. “Behold My Servant Jehoiachin.” Vetus Testamentum, vol. 52, no. 2, 2002, pp. 175–190. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1585088. Goulder also gives a Christian-independent interpretation and alternative identity to the suffering servant. It is a fascinating and enjoyable read!

-1

For Isaiah 53:8, my understanding is that the Dead Sea scrolls used the singular pronoun “בומתו” -- and that this word was changed to a plural in Jewish texts around 800 A.D.

2
  • 2
    Can you please identify your source? Thanks. – Ruminator May 9 '18 at 10:21
  • Their statement is clearly conjecture as for since the beginning of time, NO DOCUMENTS have been brought to validate this claim. This blurb is usually passed down because it is something that cannot be proven by any evidence whatsoever and works on the persons biased knowledge of what they have been taught of Jewish people. – gustavoanalytics Feb 12 '20 at 4:58
-1

Who will suffer plague/punishment in Isaiah 53:8?

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:8 NIV)

"He " refers to the "Messiah" and the prophesy of Isaiah refers to the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, when he wrote:

Isaiah 53:8 (NET Bible)

8 "He was led away after an unjust trial, but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded."

Jesus was taken away after an unjust trial by his oppossers, he was humiliated by his enemies, because they did not conduct a fair treatment to which even a common criminal was entitled. The trial was a mockery.

1/ The trial should have been carried out during the day time at the Sanhedrin, and not at the house of the high priest during the evening.

2/ No trials could be held during the Sabbath or festival.

3/ The religious leaders resorted to bribery (Luke 22:2-6)

Deuteronomy 16:19 (NET Bible)

19 "You must not pervert justice or show favor. Do not take a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and distort[a] the words of the righteous."

4/ They paid attention to false witness.

Mark 14:55 (NASB)

5/" Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any."

3
  • The question is why does the text in the JPS say "they" and Christian bibles say "he". That is because the christian translators had to change the meaning of the word. In no way shape or form is the word in hebrew EVER translated into He in any other of its appearances. – gustavoanalytics Feb 12 '20 at 22:34
  • gustavoanalytics : Noted , thanks. Translation and Interpretation are not absolutely separable. I do not know Hebrew grammar, the NET Bible gives excellent comments on the Hebrew grammar in its footnotes. – Ozzie Ozzie Feb 13 '20 at 19:45
  • Ozzie, If you scroll above I have included where you can find the word "he" and it is a third person masculine plural. Just because one interprets something and literally changes what a word mean is incorrect. You don't need to speak hebrew to see the word is "they" it's just a matching game. 13 times lamow is translated as "they/them" interesting enough only in that verse it translates to "He" and it still correctly keeps the 3rd person masculine plural. If the word "He" was supposed to be used they have a hebrew word for that. – gustavoanalytics Feb 20 '20 at 11:14

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