Continued from Chapter 37d

The Masoretic text has a qamatz (vowel sound) under the kaph in ka-’ari, this results from an assimilated definite article. Thus, the literal translation is “Like the lion” (cf. Isaiah 38:13).

While in English, a noun used in a general sense is recognized by having no article, neither definite nor indefinite, in Hebrew, as well as in many 5 languages, such nouns take the definite article. For example, “Work is good for man” in Hebrew would be “The work is good for man.” (cf. Amos 5:19, literally: “As if a man did flee from the lion” with its English translation, “As if a man did flee from a lion”). Examining Psalm 22, we find that verses 17, 21, and 22 express parallel thoughts. In verse 17, the psalmist speaks of “dogs” and “the lion,” which are metaphoric representations of his enemies. In verses 21 and 22 respectively, he beseeches the Almighty to save him “from the dog’s paw” and “from the lion’s mouth.” This parallel structure adds to the understanding that the correct interpretation of verse 17b involves comparing the psalmist’s enemies to certain animals. Furthermore, the psalmist uses an elliptical style.

Ellipsis is an apt rhetorical device for a composition in which extreme suffering and agony is described. A person in this condition does not normally express his feelings in complete sentences. Such a person is capable of exclaiming only the most critical words of his thoughts and feelings. Hence, the psalmist wrote: “Like a lion … my hands and my feet!” Similarly, in verse 2 we find broken phrases rather than whole sentences: “Far from helping me … the words of my cry.” Hence, we see that the Masoretic text is not in need of emendation. Its grammatical awkwardness is by design. It imitates a person’s reaction on being attacked by a lion. Pinned to the ground by a lion one is not worried about grammatical correctness but gripped by an encompassing terror he cries out in panic and pain.

Some Christians have questioned why when the word lion is mentioned in 5 verses in Psalm 22 the word ’aryeh is used instead of ’ari? But, both are synonymous Hebrew words for “a lion” and can be used interchangeably. Perhaps it was due to the psalmist’s poetic style that he interchanges them. Christians have also asked: Why would the psalmist write “the lion” when the enemy in the context of the psalm is mostly in the plural: verse 7—“the people,” verse 8—“all they,” verse 13—“bulls,” verse 17—“dogs,” verse 22—“wild oxen”? These Christians miss the point of the psalmist intent. “The lion” is not a reference to a particular lion, but is speaking of the inherent behavior of lions to which the psalmist compares his enemies’ behavior. “They” behave like “the lion,” and so “Like the lion, they are at my hands and my feet (verse 17b) … save me from the lion’s mouth (verse 22a).”

The metaphorical terminology the psalmist uses to express his mental anguish in physical terms is comparable to similar usage found in Jeremiah 23:9, where the prophet exclaims: “My heart within me is broken, all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine has overcome.”

“They divide my clothes”

Psalms 22:19 (18 in some versions) reads: “They divide my clothes among them, and for my garment they cast lots.” A misunderstanding by the author of the Gospel of John influenced the way he applied this verse to his version of the division-of-the-clothing episode (John 19:24; cf. Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34). He misinterpreted the Hebrew parallelism as referring to two separate acts. In biblical poetry, which is often based on parallel structure, the repetition of an idea does not indicate its duplication in reality (cf. Zechariah 9:9). John states that the soldiers divided Jesus’ garments among themselves. However, they could not divide the inner garment, which was seamless— so they cast lots for it. John writes: “They said therefore to one an5: ‘Let us not tear it, but let us decide by lot whose it will be’; that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They divided my outer garments among themselves, and for my apparel they cast lots’” (John 19:24).

Evidently, John created this legendary crucifixion event to meet what he believed to be a messianic requirement of Psalm 22. In this way, the crucifixion tradition was rounded out to agree with what John thought was the prophetic message of this psalm.

© Gerald Sigal