They have pierced my hands and my feet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

They have pierced my hands and my feet is a phrase that occurs in some English translations of Psalm 22:16. This phrase does not appear in the original Hebrew, though scholars are divided over whether it is a deliberate mistranslation.

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 (lit: "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׃

When translated into English, the syntactical form of the Hebrew phrase appears to be lacking a verb, as verbs are commonly omitted in the Hebrew present tense and otherwise inferred through context. In this context the phrase is commonly explained as "they bite like a lion my hands and my feet". The Septuagint has ωρυξαν χειράς μου και πόδας ("they have dug my hands and feet"), which Christian commentators argue could be understood in the general sense as "pierced".

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". The Jewish Publication Society translates the phrase a "Like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet".

English translations[edit]

Some English language translations, primarily those translated by or for Christian communities, 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, use different English renderings based on the original Hebrew text.

Translation Text
Wycliffe "Thei delueden myn hondis 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 highly contentious 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.

To explain how this divergence from the biblical text came about, Gregory Vall, a Christian professor of Religious Studies at Trinity Western University, speculated that the LXX translators were faced with כארי; i.e. as in the Masoretic text, but ending with the longer letter vav (ו), rather than the shorter yod (י), or כארו "Kaaru" . This is not a word in the Hebrew language, but when you omit the aleph it becomes כרו, "dug", "mined", or "excavated".[2] The majority of biblical and Hebrew scholars, such as Brent Strawn, support the MT reading of כארי based on its appearance in the vast majority of Hebrew bibles.[3] An exception to this is a psalms fragment from Nahal Hever, where the word in question is written as כארו, "Kaaru", which becomes "dug" when omitting the aleph, as Vall had previously speculated. This finding is called into question by the Nahal Hever scribe's other numerous misspellings, such as one in the very same sentence, where ידיה is written instead of the correct ידי, making the Hebrew word ידי yadai "hands" into ידיה yadehah, “her hands". [4]

While it is true that the translation "they have pierced" was preferable to many Christian commentators on account of its christological implications, there is no evidence that they deliberately tampered with the text. Fueling further controversy, the phrase is not quoted anywhere in the New Testament, despite the Septuagint Greek reading "dug" that might be thought to prefigure the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet. Thus it remains a translation dispute.

See also[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. ^ Strawn (2000), p. 440.
  4. ^ Charlesworth and others, in consultation with J VanderKam and M Brady. Miscellaneous Texts from the Judaean Desert. DJD XXXVIII. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.