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Psalm 22 - The Crucifixion Psalm

It is very clear that Psalm 22 is a match for the account of Messiah's crucifixion as Matthew tells his gospel account.

There is one key verse -- verse 16 -- that reads in the Dead Sea Scrolls' version from 125 BCE as "pierced my hand and feet."

However, the Masoretic text reads as "lion" and not as "pierced."  The difference is the last letter of the respective words. In the Dead Sea Scrolls a vav is the last letter, making the word mean "to dig, pierce" but the Masoretic version has the last letter as a yud, which makes the entire word mean lion.  However, arguably, the Dead Sea Scrolls wrote yud and vav the same, so it is not conclusively "pierce" versus "lion."(See Jeff Benner, Like a Lion in this PDF.) But as I explain below, the ancient Septuagint and Aramaic Peshita has "pierced" so that should confirm the original version of the Dead Sea Scrolls was "pierced" -- a vav was intended as the last letter.

Yet, recently I was contacted by a group of followers of Jesus as Messiah who apparently believe the Masoretic text first copied in the 900s AD by Jewish Scribes is without error. These Messianics were not addressing verse 16 when they tried telling me it is blasphemy to dispute the Masoretes' translation was 'totally inspired.'

Thus, I am curious if they have any explanations for the following regarding Psalm 22. Here I lay out solely the evidence for the fact there are variants, and they stack up 3-1 against the majority Masoretic text. That does not mean the Masoretic is wrong, but the other three all predate the Masoretic text: the Septuagint 257 BC translation, the Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrew version from 125 BC (at least as it is equally likely vav was the last letter of the key word), and the Aramaic Peshita. These versions have "pierced" rather than "lion" as the majority of Masoretic texts reads. It appears the older texts are more authentic than these Masoretic texts, and hence if true, then obviously it cannot be blasphemy to suggest the Masoretic text of 900s AD may be in error.

In Psalm 22, the Masoretic text from the 900s renders the word that in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Aramaic Peshita and Septuagint translated as "pierced" in Psalm 22:16 --- kaaru, with a different last letter than the vav. It is in the Masoretic version a yud. The change of letter changes the meaning from "pierced" as in "pierced my hands, and feet," into "lion", and thus the Masoretic Psalm 22:16 reads in toto "a lion they are at my hands and feet." See Note E to Psalm 22:16 NIV.

So the Jewish Publication Society's version of Psalm 22:16 (15) -- based upon the Masoretes' work of the 900s AD -- reads differently than the Dead Sea Scrolls and Aramaic Peshita from a millenia earlier:

For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet. (Masoretic text 900 AD)

However, the much earlier LXX  (Septuagint) has, like the Dead Sea Scrolls from 125 BC, "pierced." Note E, NIV.

The Aramaic Peshita (Syriac) also agrees with the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls. Note E, NIV.

Who is right?

Clearly, no surviving copy before the Masoretic clearly had lion, leaving the Masoretic as the only witness of its claim.

Let's read Psalm 22 in the NIV to begin our exploration on the impact of this difference. As you read, ask whether this is a prophetic message about Messiah?

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me
Why are you so far from saving me, 
so far from my cries of anguish? 
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, 
by night, but I find no rest.[b]

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; 
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust; 
they trusted and you delivered them. 
5 To you they cried out and were saved; 
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, 
scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 
7 All who see me mock me; 
they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, 
let the LORD rescue him
Let him deliver him, 
since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; 
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 
10 From birth I was cast on you; 
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me, 
for trouble is near 
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me; 
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey 
open their mouths wide against me. 
14 I am poured out like water, 
and all my bones are out of joint. 
My heart has turned to wax; 
it has melted within me. 
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd, 
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; 
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me, 
a pack of villains encircles me; 
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet
17 All my bones are on display; 
people stare and gloat over me. 
18 They divide my clothes among them 
and cast lots for my garment

19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. 
You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 
20 Deliver me from the sword, 
my precious life from the power of the dogs. 
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; 
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people; 
in the assembly I will praise you. 
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! 
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! 
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 
24 For he has not despised or scorned 
the suffering of the afflicted one; 
he has not hidden his face from him 
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; 
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows. 
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; 
those who seek the LORD will praise him— 
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth 
will remember and turn to the LORD, 
and all the families of the nations 
will bow down before him, 
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD 
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; 
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— 
those who cannot keep themselves alive. 
30 Posterity will serve him; 
future generations will be told about the Lord. 
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, 
declaring to a people yet unborn: 
He has done it!

Now footnote e in the NIV says the following supports "pierced":

Dead Sea Scrolls and some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Septuagint and Syriac; most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text me, / like a lion

The NIV also highlights that there is a minority tradition among the Masoretes as well as a majority tradition. And here the difference is material. The Jewish Publication Society publishes its edition using the majorty Masoretic text. So how can it ever be blasphemy to find fault with the Masoretic text when there is even a competing minority Masoretic text, as these Messianics have accused me for raising evidence of an error in the Masoretic text?


The prophetic element in Psalm 22 otherwise matches perfectly Jesus / Yahshua on the cross. Is it so hard for my Messianic friends to admit a Masorete error, and it should read "pierced," not "lion"? It is an important prophecy of Jesus' woes on the cross if we agree at least this one time that the Masoretes proved human. And hence, it is an unjustified calumny and defamation to suggest that anyone who mentions the possibility of a Masoretic error is guilty of blasphemy.

Study Notes

A further question about the validity of the Masoretic text is that both the Septuagint / LXX (257 BC) and Dead Sea Scroll manuscript 11 QPS (a) (circa 200 BC) have Psalm 145:13, but the Masoretic text from 900 AD lacks it entirely.