Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Controversial Example of Textual Criticism Involving Messianic Prophecy

I'm pretty much going to be quoting (good artists borrow, great ones steal) from the Christian Thinktank's article on Psalm 22.

Here is the problem:
I don't know if this qualifies as a tough question but here goes. Recently I have been speaking with a Rabbi and we got into a discussion about psalm 22 and specifically verse 16. The verse, of course reads "...they have pierced my hands and my feet." and has been traditionally held as referring to the Crucifixion. However, the Rabbi sees the verse as saying " a lion my hands" and as I don't know Hebrew I cannot argue. Still, I have a suspicion that this is a late Hebrew rendering of the verse that has been a reaction to the christian point of view. Which rendering is correct? I have a feeling that the Septuagint might be able to answer this question as it will give a pre-christian Jewish interpretation of the passage in the Greek, which may be less ambiguous than the Hebrew. Thank you for your time Mr. Miller.

Dear Glen: I have read with great interest your work regarding the use of the LXX. I have an article that I could email to you where a Jewish counter-missionary is claiming that none of the books other than the Pentateuch were translated in pre-Christian times and that the rest of the LXX is a Christian translation and cannot be used to reflect pre-Christian ideas. Please help!! This comment came up when the counter-missionary was arguing that Christians deliberately changed Psalm 22:16 from "like a lion" to "they have pierced" and the fact that the LXX supports this reading is useless since the Christians translated the Psalms and put their own spin on it.

Ok, so here's the problem. Psalm 22 in the Masoretic reads "like a lions my hands and feat".

So if you've been following my non-expert advice, you consult the Septuagint and find that that translation reads "they have pierced my hands and feet." Furthermore, the New Testament (which is another source we can use) doesn't quote it.

So now you are faced with counter-missionaries who tells you the Septuagint was corrupted. What do you do now?

Consult all Masoretic texts you can find and look at the Dead Sea Scrolls (if possible).

And what do we find? The verse appears only once in the Dead Sea Scrolls and supports the Septuagint. Furthermore, there are textual variants within the Masoretic tradition which have the same reading.

In other words, the evidence doesn't look like Christians made this up. The textual evidence supports "they have pierced my hands and feet."

While this is a high-level review of the issue, I fully recommend reading the above article.

That's it for my much-delayed series on textual criticism. Please leave any questions in the comments section.

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Blogger Richard Grey said...

Regarding the previous issue of Psalms 22:16 perhaps being altered to fit the Christian view: The information on the Dead Sea Scrolls that I located stated the time period was somewhere between 20-78 CE they were written. How likely is it that the Jews converted to Christianity at this early time may have influenced the scrolls? This was a time when the Apostles were out preaching the Word like crazy shown in the book of Acts. Is there any other dated evidence that could verify the Psalms 22:16 written as "pierced my hands and feet"?

6/28/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...


The variant exists in the Masoretic family as well.

One can always come up with scenarios to get around the textual evidence. The Septuagint, the one Dead Sea Scroll reference, and the Masoretic variant. No one would say that Christians controlled the Masoretic transmission.

It is hard to argue against theories which have no evidence to support it except for a desire to get around the evidence. "A space alien came down and changed the text." Hey, that'll work just as well. Prove me wrong!

But it would be interesting to note that the New Testament doesn't quote this particular verse.

So the short answer is that there is a supporting variant in the Masoretic which agrees with both the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The weight of evidence is for that reading.

6/28/2007 10:03:00 PM  

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