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Psalm 22 (Part 2) – they pierced my hands and feet?

The controversy throughout many years and particularly among Rabbi and Christian scholars is whether verse 16 should not have been translated to “they pierced my hands and my feet” but rather should be translated to “Like the lion my hands and my feet”? (though with some grammatical awkwardness).

Crucifixion bone and nail relic at the Israel Museum

Psalms 22:14-18 says:

Life Application Study Bible NIV - Zondervan

The footnote in the NIV states:

Even in the NIV Psalms Chapter 22 footnote it was stated that “... in some manuscripts of the Masoretic text, it was translated as “... as the lion...” and not “ ...they pierced my hands and feet...”. The correct translation is quite crucial here as the Messianic prophecy pertaining to the Crucifixion of Christ quite hinges on this statement. Getting the correct meaning of this verse is therefore of understated importance for both the Rabbi and Christian apologetics.

Hebrew manuscripts have k’ari which translates the verse “like a lion” and nothing to do with piercing. The word “ari” in Hebrew means lion. k’ari is “like a lion”. However, the oldest Hebrew manuscript (Nahal Hever manuscript, dated to the first century AD) (see below) says k’aru instead of K’ari. K’aru means “dug” or “bore”, and an acceptably translatable of “pierced”.

The Septuagint LXX translation which was done by pre-Christ Jews also has the translation of “pierced”. (See NIV footnote)

Luke Wayne in his article “Does Psalm 22:16 really predict Jesus' crucifixion?” further explained how he see the Septuagint translation is accurate:

“...... Christians claim that k’aru can be translated as dug, bore through or pierced. However, this could simply be a variant, not a separate reading like us Christians would want. There’s one other problem as well and that is the fact that there is an extra letter in the word. The manuscript reads k’aru and to have it translated as us Christians want, there would need to be one less letter. There is an aleph and the word that we would like doesn’t have an aleph. Aleph is the Hebrew equivalent of the letter A. To put it simply, we need k’ru and not k’aru.

If k’ru means dug or pierced, what does k’aru mean? No one knows what the word k’aru means. It matches no word that we are familiar with in Hebrew. At least this is the case in the modern world. Did they understand this word differently thousands of years ago? Did they view k’aru as dug or pierced? There is actually a way of figuring this out.

We need to look at how this word was translated. Thankfully we have a pre-Christian translation called the Greek Septuagint which predates Jesus and the Gospels. The Greek in this manuscript tradition reads:

ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας
The word ὤρυξαν is the word in question. It means to dig, gouge, or bore through. In this context with respect to hands and feet, it obviously means pierced. However, could the Septuagint be wrong in its translation? Maybe the translator of Psalm 22 in the Septuagint had k’ari in his Hebrew source text and he made a mistake? It’s possible since translators make mistakes all the time. What is interesting is that the word ari appears two other times in Psalm 22. Verse 13 reads:

They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.

Verse 21 reads:

Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.

In Hebrew, the word in these two verses is ari; the Hebrew word for lion. The Septuagint translates these both as the Greek word for lion – λέων. The translator of Pslam 22 obviously knows what the Hebrew word ari means. If Psalm 22:16 read as ari, then he would have translated it correctly as lion, just like the two other verses in this chapter.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the translator of Psalm 22 had the same reading in front of him as the Nahal Hever manuscript gives us. He also had no problem with the aleph. He translated it as ὤρυξαν knowing full well that the aleph was there. This shows that in the ancient world, this word in Hebrew wasn’t seen any differently whether it had the aleph or not......”

Such controversy apparently started to tone down in the more recent years after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls which basically confirms the k’aru at the end of the text.

The Psalm 22:16 Controversy: New Evidence from the Dead Sa Scrolls by Shon Hopkin, which was published in 2005 in the BYU Studies Quarterly Volume 44/ Issue 3.

In this paper the author showed text from a fragment of the Nahal Hever scroll which show that the final letter in the crucial word is a ‘waw’ and not a ‘yod’. This confirms the text should be translated “they pierced/dug”, rather than “like a lion”.

The final letter in the crucial word is a ‘waw’ and not a ‘yod’.

From Dead Sea Scrolls Bible Translations, by Craig Davis, detailing the the different possible translations. Davis website list out completely the translation to English of the Scrolls. Words that are missing or translated differently are also stated.

We have now come to a better grasp at the translation of a single verse of the old testament through the evidence from recent archaeological finds (the Scrolls). While the truth of His words are so often plainly displayed in the scripture, it also requires thankful diligence as well as full enlightenment from what He takes plans to reveal.
The amazing details are always there for the searcher, where He so wills.