"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21
Question: 

Dear Rabbi Singer,

I am a Lutheran living in Switzerland and have been reading your web page with interest.  I admire your commitment to your faith, yet I am perplexed as to why you so assuredly reject Jesus Christ as your messiah.  He came not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews as well.  He was born to a Jewish mother and came to the Jewish people.

Because you are a rabbi, I am particularly perplexed as to why you have not willingly accepted Christ.  You surely have read the 22nd Psalm which most clearly speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion.  Read verse 16.  It states, “Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”  Of whom does the prophet speak other than our Lord?  This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross.  What greater proof is needed that Jesus died for the sins of mankind than this chapter which was written a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth?

I know that the Jews have been maligned and persecuted by so-called Christians.  This has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Jewish people against Christ; but certainly you must know, rabbi, that these were not real Christians, for a believer in Christ must love the Jew, for his Savior is a Jew.

Many Jewish people accuse Christians of anti-Semitism, and one can understand from where this bias is coming; for the Jews have been persecuted by those who claim to be Christian, but they are not.  The true Christian loves the Jewish people.

Answer:

Yours is certainly one of the more surprising letters that I have received in recent memory.  There is nothing about your question that is unusual or uncommon; it is rather the denomination with which you identify that makes your letter so perplexing.

How odd that as a Lutheran you would proclaim that the tormentors of the Jews “were not real Christians,” yet you apparently are not embarrassed to identify yourself with a denomination that is called after, and founded on, the teachings of Martin Luther.  Among all the church fathers and reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no lips that uttered more vulgar curses against the children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation whom you apparently revere.  Even the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the church fathers pales in comparison to the invectives launched by Luther’s impious tongue during his lifetime.

You so loudly proclaim that those “so-called Christians” who “maligned and persecuted” the Jewish people “were not real Christians.”  Do you believe that Luther should be counted among those who are not real Christians?  Have you not read his odious volume entitled Of the Jews and Their Lies?  If you are familiar with this and other indecent works of Luther, do you also believe that this German reformer lost his salvation because his maniacal hate for the Jew prevented him from being an upstanding member of Christendom?  If this is in fact what you believe, why would you belong to a church that boasts his unblessed name?

These questions do not apply to you and your co-denominationalists alone.  Every member of the Protestant church and every Christian who looks to the reformers as God’s vessels must wonder aloud whether God would use men who regard the Jewish people with utter contempt to protest against the Roman Catholic Church; for none of the other leaders of the reformation held the Jewish people in esteem either.  Martin Bucer’s lack of affection for the Jews is almost legendary and, although Calvin’s epithets against the Jews are less plentiful than Luther’s abundant invectives, this disparity is likely explained by the fact that Calvin came into contact with very few Jews during his lifetime, if any at all.  Although the Swiss reformer lived where Jews were not permitted to reside, his words were no less disturbing than those of Martin Luther.

Although evangelicals repeatedly declare that true believing Christians love the Jewish people, the annals of history clearly do not support this slogan.  With few exceptions, the tormentors of the Jewish people emerged out of the fundamentalist genre of Christianity.  Remarkably, denominations that evangelical Christians regard as heretical, such as Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not have a strong history of anti-Semitism.  Liberal-leaning Christian denominations such as the Unitarian and Methodist churches also have for the most part resisted this teaching of contempt that is so well ensconced in Christendom’s shameful history.

The pattern of hate that has for so long gripped the imagination of the true believer cannot be attributed to coincidence or to a remarkable quirk of history.  The accounts in the New Testament — the most cherished book of the devout Christian — already display the animus of the early church toward the Jews in portraying them as the people of the devil: cunning, traitorous, corrupt, deceitful, and conspiring.  In essence, whatever it is that humanity abhors, that is precisely how the Jews are depicted in the Christian Bible.  Without rest, post-canonical Christian literature continued to perpetuate this dark image of the Jew.  There can be little doubt as to why Christians believe of the Jews what common sense would forbid them to believe of anyone else.  To some extent, Luther and his countless followers who eagerly embraced his twisted message were together willing victims of a body of literature that scandalized, smeared, and ultimately condemned the children of Israel to an unimaginable history.

Moreover, in an effort to distance Christians from a compelling Jewish message, the founders and defenders of Christianity methodically altered selected texts from the Jewish scriptures.  This rewriting of Tanach was not done arbitrarily or subtly.  The church quite deliberately tampered with the words of the Jewish scriptures in order to bolster their most startling claim which is: The Old Testament foretold of no messiah other than Jesus of Nazareth.  With this goal in mind, missionaries manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated, and even fabricated verses in Tanach in order to make Jesus’ life fit traditional Jewish messianic parameters and to make traditional Jewish messianic parameters fit the life of Jesus.

Bear in mind, the Jewish scriptures were written in Hebrew, not in seventeenth century King James English.  What has made Christian believers so vulnerable to Bible tampering is the almost unimaginable reality that only a very tiny group of them can read their Bible in its original language.  As you and countless other Christians earnestly study the authorized version of the Bible, there is a blinding yet prevailing assumption that what you are reading is the inerrant word of God.  Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

The King James Version and numerous other Christian Bible translations were meticulously altered in order to produce a message that would sustain and advance church theology and exegeses.  This aggressive rewriting of biblical texts has had a remarkable impact on Christians throughout the world who unhesitatingly embrace these twisted translations.  As a result, Christians earnestly wonder, just as you have, why the Jews, who are the bearers and protectors of the divine oracles of God, have not willingly accepted Jesus as their messiah.

What evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that the passionate resistance of the Jew to the teachings of Christianity has little to do with the Church’s bad manners and everything to do with the Church’s contrived and therefore implausible message.  This conclusion, however, is nearly impossible for Christians to accept without bringing injury to their own faith and world view.

Remember, in Christian theology the Jews are not just another worldly tribe whose beliefs conflict with the teachings of the church.  Quite the contrary, the religion of Christianity readily concedes that the Jews were God’s “firstborn” — the people who were chosen to receive and protect the divine oracles of God.  The spiritual principles of such a priestly nation cannot be dismissed lightly.  As a result, Christendom sought to systematically undermine the vision and trustworthiness of the Jewish people.  It isn’t difficult to understand how polemical literature against the Jews became a common feature in church writings.  By declaring that the Jew rejects the claims of the church as a result of Christian anti-Semitism, as you insist, or the Jew’s spiritual blindness, evangelicals spare themselves the festering anguish that self searching and self doubt invariably create.

To understand the extent and the manner in which the church tampered with the Jewish scriptures, let’s examine the verse that you insist “proves” that Jesus is the messiah.  Psalm 22:16 in the King James Version (KJV) reads,

Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Christians are so confident that this verse contains a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Of whom, missionaries ask, other than Jesus, could the Psalmist be speaking?  To which other individual in history, whose hands and feet were pierced, could the Bible be referring?

1Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16.  So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.

Apparently, you were so impressed by this argument that you wondered how a rabbi like myself could miss this obvious reference to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Paradoxically, well-educated Jews are utterly repelled by the manner in which the church rendered the words of Psalm 22:17.1

To understand how Christian translators rewrote the words of King David, let’s examine the original Hebrew words of this verse with a proper translation.

Dogs have encompassed me. A company of evildoers has enclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.

Notice that when the original words of the Psalmist are read, any allusion to a crucifixion disappears.  The insertion of the word “pierced” into the last clause of this verse is a not-too-ingenious Christian interpolation that was created by deliberately mistranslating the Hebrew word kaari as “pierced.”  The wordkaari, however, does not mean “pierced,” it means “like a lion.”  The end of Psalm 22:17, therefore, properly reads “like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.”  Had King David wished to write the word “pierced,” he would never use the Hebrew word kaari.  Instead, he would have written either daqar orratza, which are common Hebrew words in the Jewish scriptures.  Needless to say, the phrase “they pierced my hands and my feet” is a Christian contrivance that appears nowhere in the Jewish scriptures.

Bear in mind, this stunning mistranslation in the 22nd Psalm did not occur because Christian translators were unaware of the correct meaning of this Hebrew word.  Clearly, this was not the case.  The word kaari can be found in a number of other places in the Jewish scriptures.  Yet predictably, the same Christian translators who rendered kaari as “pierced” in Psalm 22 correctly translated it “like a lion” in all other places in the Hebrew Bible where this word appears.

For example, the word kaari is also found in Isaiah 38:13.  In the immediate context of this verse Hezekiah, the king of Judah, is singing a song for deliverance from his grave illness.  In the midst of his supplication he exclaims in Hebrew  Notice that the last word in this phrase (moving from right to left) is the same Hebrew word kaari that appears in Psalm 22:17.  In this Isaiah text, the King James Version correctly translates these words “I reckoned till morning that, as a lion . . . .”  As I mentioned above, Psalm 22:17 is the only place in all of the Jewish scriptures that any Christian Bible translates kaari as “pierced.”

It must be noted that the authors of the New Testament were not responsible for inserting the word “pierced” into the text of Psalm 22:17.  This verse was undoubtedly tampered with years after the Christian canon was completed.  Bear in mind, during the latter half of the first century, when the New Testament writers were compiling their Greek manuscripts, Psalm 22:17 was still in pristine condition; thus, when the authors of the New Testament read this verse, they found nothing in the phrase “like a lion they are at my hands and my feet” that would advance their teachings.  As a result, Psalm 22:17 is never quoted in the New Testament.  Missionaries, who insist that the Christian translation of this verse reflects the original words of King David, must wonder why there was not one New Testament author who deemed this supposed allusion to the crucifixion worthy of being mentioned in his writings.

The Bible tampering that has occurred in this verse becomes especially obvious with only a cursory reading of the entire 22nd Psalm.  Throughout this chapter, King David is using an animal motif to describe his enemies.  His poignant references to the “dog” and “lion” are, therefore, not foreign to this author.  In fact, David repeatedly makes reference to the “dog” and “lion” both before and after Psalm 22:17.  For the Psalmist, these menacing beasts symbolize his bitter foes who continuously sought to destroy him.  This metaphor, therefore, sets the stage for the moving theme of this chapter.  Although David’s predicament at times seems hopeless, this faithful king of the Jewish people relied on God for his deliverance.  As the Psalmist eagerly looks to God for deliverance from his adversaries, he conveys the timeless message that it is the Almighty alone who can save man in times of tribulation.  Let’s examine a number of verses in this chapter that surround Psalm 22:17 as they appear in the King James Version.

Psalm 22:12-13 (KJV) Psalm 22:20-21 (KJV)
Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me around.  They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravenous and a roaring lion. Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.  Save me from the lion’s mouth; for thou hast heard me from horns of the wild oxen.

As mentioned above, it is obvious when reading this larger section of the 22nd Psalm that King David is using an animal motif — most commonly lions — as an animated literary device, in order to describe his pursuers and tormentors.  This striking style is pervasive in this section of the Bible.  In fact, each and every time the word “lion” appears in the Book of Psalms, King David is referring to a metaphoric lion, rather than a literal animal.

For example, in the 17th Psalm King David appeals to the Almighty to rescue him from the hands of his enemies, the “lion.”  Bear in mind, an examination of the 17th Psalm is of great relevance to our study because in many respects Psalm 17 and 22 are identical, both with regard to their literary motif and driving theme.  In the 17th Psalm, King David is looking for deliverance from his adversaries as in Psalm 22.  In Psalm 17:8-12, the Psalmist pleads with God for deliverance from the “lion,” as he cries out,

Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.  They are enclosed in their own fat; with their mouths they speak proudly.  They have now compassed us in our steps; they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, like a lionthat is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.

Again, in Psalm 35:17, in a similar supplication, King David entreats the Almighty for salvation from “lions” as he exclaims,

Lord, how long wilt thou look on?  Rescue my soul from their destruction, my darling from the lions.

Moreover, missionaries are confronted with another remarkable problem as they seek to project the words of this Psalm into a first century crucifixion story.  In the simplest terms, this text that Christians eagerly quote is not a prophecy, nor does it speak of any future event.  This entire Psalm, as well as the celebrated Psalm that follows it, contains a dramatic monologue in which King David cried out to God from the depths of his personal pain, anguish, and longing as he remained a fugitive from his enemies.  Accordingly, the stirring monologue in this chapter is all in the first person.  The author himself is crying out to God, and there is no doubt who the faithful speaker is in this Psalm; the very first verse in this chapter explicitly identifies this person as King David.

Trinitarian Christians are further confronted with another staggering problem.  The opening verses of this Psalm clearly make little sense in the mouth of a god/man.  In the beginning of this chapter the author wonders aloud,

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.

Why would Jesus, whom Trinitarians insist is God, complain that “God is so far from helping me?”  How could God, the first Person of the Trinity, not hear the cries of God, the second Person of the Trinity?  To whom is this supposed “God” complaining?  Finally, why would God be complaining to God altogether?  The speaker here is moaning that God is not listening to him day and night, and in the verses that follow, questions his feelings of abandonment when enumerating the times when God did listen and intervene for his ancestors.  How can God not understand his own predicament?  Who are God’s ancestors?  Applying the words of Psalm 22 to Christendom’s Jesus challenges even the most fertile imagination and places an enormous strain on church teachings.

The question that naturally comes to mind is: Why did the King James Versioncorrectly translate the Hebrew word kaari in Isaiah 38:13 as “like a lion,” yet incorrectly translate this same word as “pierced” in Psalm 22:17?  These Christian translators were clearly aware of the correct meaning of the wordkaari, as evidenced by their translation of Isaiah 38:13.  Why then did they specifically target Psalm 22 for such Bible tampering?

To grasp what is behind this church revision of the 22nd Psalm, it is essential to be aware of the central role this chapter plays in traditional Christian teachings.  Church fathers have always cherished Psalm 22 as a chapter that supposedly describes in vivid detail the agony of the passion narratives and provides the script for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Segments of this Psalm are quoted extensively in the New Testament as a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy of the crucifixion.  The most notable quote from Psalm 22 appears in the first two Gospels and is found in the chapter’s opening verses, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  Matthew and Mark place this desperate monologue in the mouth of the crucified Jesus as his last dying words.2 These two Gospels resourcefully use Psalm 22 as one of many palettes from which to paint the brutal picture of a tormented crucified savior.  All of the Gospels3 similarly use Psalm 22:19 (22:18 in a Christian Bible) in their crucifixion narratives, and Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22:23 to explain why the messiah had to suffer for humanity.

Psalm 22 has, therefore, always been a vital text to the church and was used repeatedly in order to retroject the life of Jesus back into the “Old Testament.”  In so doing, missionaries sought to lend credibility to their claim that Jesus is the messiah as was foreordained by the ancient Jewish prophets.  For Christendom, the Psalmist’s original intent was superseded by their interest in applying this entire chapter to Jesus’ passion, no matter how extensive the revisions would be.  The church, therefore, did not hesitate to tamper with the words of the 22nd Psalm so that its verses would reflect and sustain its Christian message.  Isaiah 38:13, on the other hand, possesses no Christological value to the church and was neither quoted nor used by the church fathers to propagate their teachings.  The church, therefore, had no need to mistranslate it, and thus it was left intact.

Interestingly, the stunning mistranslation in this chapter did not escape the notice of the missionary world.  In fact, this controversy has attracted quite a bit of attention from Christians dedicated to Jewish evangelism.  For example, Moshe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, advances a rather inventive response to this controversy over the appearance of the word “pierced” in Christian translations of Psalm 22.  In his widely distributed book, Y’shua, Rosen readily concedes that the Hebrew word kaari does mean “like a lion,” and not “pierced”; yet it is on this very point where he makes his argument.

He suggests that although the word “pierced” does not exist in the Hebrew Masoretic text, it is possible that a scribe may have inadvertently changed the word “pierced” into “like a lion” by modifying one small Hebrew letter.  In his own words he writes,

We can probably best understand what happened when we realize that, in Hebrew, the phrase “they have pierced” is kaaru while “like a lion” is kaari.  The words are identical except that “pierced” ends with the Hebrew letter vav and “lion” with a yod.  Vav and yod are similar in form, and a scribe might easily have changed the text by inscribing a yod and failing to attach a vertical descending line so that it would become a vav.4

While Rosen’s proposition is quoted frequently by missionaries, it contains numerous remarkable flaws.  Transforming kaari into kaaru by changing the letters kafalefraishyod , which means “like a lion,” into kafalefraishvav,does not create the Hebrew word for “pierced,” as Rosen suggests.  In fact,kaaru doesn’t mean anything.  In other words, this word kaaru does not exist in the Hebrew language; it’s little more than Semitic gibberish.  Rosen’s claim that some anonymous scribe may have inadvertently changed kaaru into kaariis wholly unfounded and completely untenable.

In order to concoct a word that resembles kaaru, one would not only have to change the letter yod into a vav, but the letter alef would have to be removed altogether.  This alteration would create the three-letter word karu, spelled caf,raishvav.  Karu, however, doesn’t mean “pierced” either.  It means to “excavate” or “dig.”  As mentioned above, the words used in Tanach for “pierce” or “stab” are daqar or ratza, never karu.

Rosen is not the only church apologist to use scribes and rabbis of antiquity to defend the Christian translation of Psalm 22.  In fact, missionaries more frequently refer to the Septuagint to justify the manner in which Christian Bible translators render Psalm 22:17.  They argue that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the entire Old Testament was completed by 72 rabbis more than 200 years before the Christian century, renders the last phrase of Psalm 22:17 “they pierced my hands and my feet.”  From this they conclude that even the rabbis who lived before the first century believed that the last clause of this verse reads “pierced” rather than “like a lion.”

Evangelicals are typically quite fond of this response because it enables them to circumvent the often-troubling original Masoretic Hebrew Bible.  This notion may seem strange at first glance; yet, although Christians typically begin their assault on Judaism by swearing allegiance to the Hebrew scriptures, more often than not, they will renounce this vow in order to rescue their dubious proof-texts.

Furthermore, and this is quite secondary, although Christians will rarely state this openly, the church has always had a more favorable view of Jews and rabbis who lived prior to the first century than those who lived after it.  The translators of the Septuagint are of course pre-Christian, and are, therefore, held in higher regard in the eyes of the church than those Jews who rejected the claims attributed to Jesus.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of the contention that the Greek translation of 72 rabbis supports the use of the word “pierced” in Psalm 22:17, this explanation is completely without merit.  It is universally conceded and beyond any question that the rabbis who created the original Septuagint only translated the Five Books of Moses and nothing more.  This undisputed point is well attested to by the Letter of Aristeas,5 the Talmud,6 Josephus,7 the church fathers,8 and numerous other critical sources.  In other words, these ancient 72 rabbis did not translate the Book of Psalms.  The Book of Psalms belongs to the third section of the Jewish scriptures called the Ketuvim, the Writings.  This is an entirely different segment of Tanach from the Torah, which was the only section translated by the 72 rabbis.  In essence, this missionary argument is predicated on a fabrication.

Moreover, and this is merely an aside, even the current Septuagint covering the Five Books of Moses is an almost complete corruption of the original Greek translation that was compiled by the 72 rabbis more than 2,200 years ago for King Ptolemy II of Egypt.9 This fact is well known to us because the Talmud10records how these 72 translators distinctly rendered 15 phrases of the Torah in their translation.  Of these 15 unique translations, only two of them are currently extant.11 Extrapolating from this, we can safely conclude that the vast bulk of the current Septuagint even of the Torah is unrelated to the translation of the original 72 Jewish translators.

The Septuagint that is currently in our hands — especially the sections that are of the Prophets and Writings — is a Christian work, amended and edited exclusively by Christian hands.  There is therefore little wonder that theSeptuagint is esteemed in Christendom alone.  In fact, in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Septuagint is regarded as Sacred Scripture. (I have addressed the subject of the Septuagint more thoroughly in a previous article entitled “A Christian Defends Matthew by Insisting That the Author of the First Gospel Used the Septuagint in His Quote of Isaiah to Support the Virgin Birth.” (Go to article)

Although Christendom is predisposed to a reverence for scripture written in Greek, the children of Israel regard only the Hebrew Bible given to us by our prophets as holy and authoritative.  It is these sacred texts that we diligently pore over day and night.  No translation of the Bible, no matter how widely used by churches and academicians, holds any influence over our people.  Do not think in your heart that the Jewish people have missed the stirring messianic message contained in Tanach or we somehow do not understand our own Bible.  It is our nation which is ordained to protect the integrity of these holy scriptures, our people who brought these sacred oracles to the world’s nations, and it is our people to whom these promises were addressed.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

I remain very sincerely yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer

 

Footnotes:

Click on the footnote to return to the article
1Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16.  So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.

2In the book of Luke, Jesus’ last dying words are, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are “It is finished.”

3Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24.

4Rosen, Moishe.  Y’shua.  Chicago: Moody, 1982, p.  45-46.

5This Letter of Aristeas (2nd-3rd century B.C.E.), written by a Hellenistic Jew, describes the events leading up to and surrounding the writing of the originalSeptuagint.  There is considerable disagreement as to the date when this was written.

6Tractate Megillah, 9a.

7Josephus, preface to Antiquities of the Jews, Sec 3.  For Josephus’ detailed description of events surrounding the original authorship of the Septuagint, see Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XII, ii, 1-4.

8For example, St. Jerome, in his preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions, addresses this issue and concedes that, “Add to this that Josephus, who gives the story of the seventy translators, reports them as translating only the Five Books of Moses; and we also acknowledge that these are more in harmony with the Hebrew than the rest.”  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.  Peabody: Hendrickson, Volume 6.  P.  87.

9Ptolemy II, also known as “Philadelphus,” reigned from 283 to 245 B.C.E.

10Tractate Megillah, 9a-9b.

11Of these 15 phrases which appeared in the original Septuagint (Genesis 1:1; 1:26; 2:2; 5:2; 11:7; 18:12; 49:6; Exodus 4:20; 12:40; 24:5; 24:11; Leviticus 11:6; Numbers 16:15; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3), only Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 12:40 are found in the current Septuagint.

 

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