In this short post I will provide internal evidence from Psalm 22 that “they have pierced my hands and my feet” is the correct reading.
Here are the two alternate renderings of v. 16 (v. 17 in some translations):
“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.” New International Version (NIV)
“Because dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has encircled me. Like the lion they are at my hands and my feet.” Lexham English Bible (LEB)
The readers may not be aware of the fact that the Psalm employs a literary device known as a chiasmus(1), a very common linguistic feature employed in many biblical books.
What is also not commonly known is that this chiastic structure actually supports the reading “they have pierced” (Heb. ka’aru/karu), instead of “like a lion” (ka’ari).
Pay close attention to this Psalm’s chiastic form.
|“Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; For there is none to help.” v. 11 NIV||“But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!” v. 19 NIV|
|“Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion.” vv. 12-13 NIV||“Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen!” v. 21 NIV|
|“For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;” v. 16 NIV||“Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog.” v. 20 NIV|
The Psalm’s chiastic structure where v. 16 is meant to be paralleled with v. 20 strongly supports the reading ka’aru since the reading “like a lion” does not fit in with the reference to sword, which evokes the image of cutting or piercing someone through.
Additional corroboration for the parallelism between sword and pierce comes from the following OT verses:
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced (daqaru). Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Zechariah 12:10 NIV
“‘Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered; Then I will turn My hand against the little ones.’” Zechariah 13:7 NIV
Despite the fact that Zechariah employed a different word for pierce (daqar), the meaning nonetheless is the same.
Interestingly, Zech. 12:10 is interpreted by rabbinic Judaism as a prophecy of the slaying of the Messiah son of Joseph:
as one mourns over an only son: As a man mourns over his only son. And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain. (The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16216/showrashi/true#v10; emphasis mine)
We, thus, have a parallel case to that of Ps. 22 where the terms sword and pierce are used in close proximity in texts that also have a clear messianic significance.
PSALM 22:16: LIONS ON THE PROWL OR A PIERCED MESSIAH?
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(1) Here is how some online sources define the term:
a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases, as in “He went to the country, to the town went she.”…
rhetoric reversal of the order of words in the second of two parallel phrases he came in triumph and in defeat departs (Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/browse/chiasmus)
In rhetoric, chiasmus (/kaɪˈæzməs/ ky-AZ-məs) or, less commonly, chiasm (Latin term from Greek χίασμα, “crossing”, from the Greek χιάζω, chiázō, “to shape like the letter Χ“), is a “reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses – but no repetition of words”.
A similar device, antimetabole, also involves a reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses in an A-B-B-A configuration, but unlike chiasmus, presents a repetition of words.
Chiasmus balances words or phrases with similar, though not identical, meanings:
But O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves.
— Shakespeare, Othello 3.3
“Dotes” and “strongly loves” share the same meaning and bracket, as do “doubts” and “suspects”.
Additional examples of chiasmus:
By day the frolic, and the dance by night.
— Samuel Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1794)
Despised, if ugly; if she’s fair, betrayed.
— Mary Leapor, “Essay on Woman” (1751)
For comparison, the following is considered antimetabole, in which the reversal in structure involves the same words:
Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.
— Lord Byron, in Don Juan, (1824)
Both chiasmus and antimetabole can be used to reinforce antithesis. In chiasmus, the clauses display inverted parallelism. Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Ancient K’iche’ Maya, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. Many long and complex chiasmi have been found in Shakespeare and the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible. It is also found throughout the Quran and the Book of Mormon. (Chiasmus – Wikipedia)