They have pierced my hands and my feet

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They have pierced my hands and my feet is an ambiguous phrase that occurs in some English translations of Psalm 22:16.

Text of Psalm 22:16[edit]

This verse, which is Psalm 22:17 in the Hebrew verse numbering, reads in the Masoretic Text as: כארי ידי ורגלי ("like a lion my hands and my feet"). The full verse of the Masoretic text reads: כי סבבוני כלבים עדת מרעים הקיפוני כארי ידי ורגלי׃

The syntactical form of the Hebrew phrase appears to be lacking a verb, and this is supplied in the Aramaic targum which reads "they bite like a lion my hands and my feet". The Septuagint has ωρυξαν χειράς μου και πόδας ("they have dug/pierced my hands and feet"), evidently taking the Hebrew to be based on the root ‏כרה, supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hahal Hever (5/6Hev1b f8_9:12) ‏כר[ו ]ידי . 'Dig' has been understood in the sense of 'pierced' (as in Psalm 40:7/6), hence the rendering in the Syriac ("they have pierced my hands and feet").

Aquila of Sinope, a Christian convert to Judaism, undertook two translations of the Psalms from Hebrew to Greek. In the first, he renders the verse "they disfigured my hands and feet"; in the second he revised this to "they have bound my hands and feet". Jerome, translating the Psalms for the Latin Vulgate also made two versions. The earlier, from the Hexaplar Greek, reads "they have dug my hands and feet"; the later, made directly from pre-Masoretic Hebrew texts, reads with Aquila "they have bound my hands and feet".

English translations[edit]

Some English language translations, primarily those translated by or for Christian communities,[year needed] render the text as stating: "They have pierced my hands and my feet" though English translations are not uniform in this rendering.

Versions translated outside of Christian circles, such as the Jewish Publication Society and The Judaica Press, prefer different English renderings based on the Hebrew text.

Translation Text
Wycliffe "they delved mine hands and my feet"
Coverdale (1535) "they pierced my hands and my feet"
KJV (1769) "they pierced my hands and my feet"
NIV "they have pierced my hands and my feet"
ESV "they have pierced my hands and feet"
JPS "like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet"

Wyclif's Bible of 1395 adopts a literal translation of Latin Vulgate term foderunt (from Jerome's Hexaplar Psalms). Miles Coverdale in 1535, most likely influenced by Luther's German translation as durchgraben (dig through, penetrate) chooses the English word pierce; and this has been retained in the majority of subsequent English versions.

Explanations and interpretations[edit]

Rashi follows the Masoretic Text and paraphrases the phrase as "like lions (they maul) my hands and my feet."[1] Rashi bases his translation of Psalm 22:16/17 on the other uses of the phrase (כָּ אֲרִ י) K'ari, throughout biblical text. Rashi specifically cites Isaiah 38:13.The rendering by many English sources is a contentious point given that when the same Hebrew phrase used in Psalm 22:16/17 כָּאֲרִי (K’Ari) is used elsewhere, translators uniformly render the word as “Lion”, as is the case with Isaiah 38:13 as shown in the translations below:

Translation Text
Wycliffe " I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion he broke all my bones"
Coverdale " I thought I wolde haue lyued vnto the morow, but he brussed my bones like a lyon "
KJV " I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones"
NIV " I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion he broke all my bones;"
ESV " I calmed myself until morning; like a lion he breaks all my bones "
JPS " The more I make myself like unto a lion until morning, the more it breaketh all my bones "


The Masoretic Text reading presents the word ‏ארי . An additional form of the word for lion ( ‏אריה ) Arie, (without the prefix that denotes, like or as; as in [כָּ אֲרִ י] K'ari) occurs twice in Psalm 22, in verses 13/14 and 21/22. This translation in English is not fixed, providing the various rendering we see in English translations.

Gregory Vall noted that is possible that the LXX translators were faced with כארו; i.e. as in the Masoretic text, but ending with the longer letter vav (ו), rather than the shorter yod (י). This word is not otherwise known in Biblical Hebrew, but could be an alternative spelling derived from the root כרה, "to dig".[2] Vall proceeds to note nineteen conjectural emendations,[3] while Brent Strawn appeals to iconographical data in support of the MT reading.[4] A Psalms scroll was uncovered at Qumran, but is damaged at this point. However the editors of a psalms fragment from Nahal Hever do find in that text the word in question written as כארו, as Vall had previously speculated, and hence they support the reading "they dug at my hands and my feet".[5]

While it is true that an interpretation of "they have pierced" was preferable to many Christian commentators[year needed] on account of its christological implications, there is no evidence that either the Jews or the Christians tampered with the text. The phrase is not quoted anywhere in the New Testament, despite the Septuagint reading being of a form that might be thought to prefigure the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet. So the phrase remains an unresolved translation dispute.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cited in Strawn, Brent A. (2000). "Psalm 22:17b: More Guessing". JBL 119 (3): 439–451 [p. 442]. JSTOR 3268408. 
  2. ^ Vall, Gregory (1997). "Psalm 22:17b: The Old Guess". JBL 116 (1): 45–56 [p. 45]. JSTOR 3266745. 
  3. ^ Vall (1997), pp. 50–52.
  4. ^ Strawn (2000), p. 440.
  5. ^ Charlesworth and others, in consultation with J VanderKam and M Brady. Miscellaneous Texts from the Judaean Desert. DJD XXXVIII. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.