Both of my readers know that I am a glutton for punishment. If I’m not wading into the waters of bad Christian apologetics or exegesis, then I’m drowning in the waters of bad atheist exegesis. Today’s post will be the former.
On Twitter I followed an exchange between some atheists and a Christian with the handle @Cato_37. The thread to which this conversation belongs is weeks old and I don’t plan on recounting it here. What I want to discuss are these two tweets:
Kevin Peter shifts the conversation onto the subject of Psalm 22:16 which he contends “Christians mistranslated to make it fit” their particular narrative about Jesus. Here is the verse: “For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled” (NRSV). A footnote in the NRSV after the word “shriveled” reads, “Meaning of Heb[rew] uncertain.” By comparison, the ESV renders v. 16 as, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.” A footnote after “feet” reads, “Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet.” It is not my intention here to go over why there is such variation in translation. Rather, I want to focus in on Cato’s retort regarding the contested reading. He said, “The LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls, each of which predate the Masoretic Texts to which you refer by 1000 years, translate this word as ‘dug out,’ rather than ‘like a lion.’”
I’m not sure on the reading in the DSS so I won’t comment on it. The LXX is, however, something I’m familiar enough with, and Cato is correct: the reading in Psalm 22:16 (21:17 LXX) is, “They pierced my hands and feet.” Now, Cato sees in this a reference to the crucifixion but none of the NT authors did which is quite telling given their propensity to find Jesus everywhere. Regardless, this text need not describe crucifixion at all since there are other ways one’s hands and feet can become “pierced.” Here’s Allen Ross in his commentary on the psalms:
The expression “they pierced (punctured)” the hands and the feet fits the contextual description of scavenging dogs. They nip and bite, and in the process puncture the extended limbs.
In other words, in its own context the reference to the piercing of the psalmist’s limbs makes sense given the imagery of the text. He’s as good as dead and the “dogs” are ready to have their fill of him.
But let’s assume for a moment that it is about Jesus’ death and that the reading in the LXX to which Cato appeals is correct. What about v. 2 (v. 1 MT)? Here are the MT and the LXX side-by-side.
|Psalm 22:1 (MT)||Psalm 21:2 (LXX)|
|ʾēlî ʾēlî lāmâ ʿzbtny rāḥōwq mîšûʿātî dbry šaʾăgātî||῾O theos ho theos mou, prosches moi; hina ti enkatelipes me? makran apo tēs sōtērias mou hoi logoi tōn paraptōmatōn mou.|
|My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?||O God, my God, attend to me. For what purpose did you abandon me? Far away from my salvation are the words of my transgressions. |
(Lexham English Septuagint)
It should be apparent that the MT and LXX differ on a number of points, the most significant of which is the end of the verse. Whereas the MT speaks of “the words of my groaning,” the LXX refers to “the words of my transgressions.” This is problematic for Cato’s view.
In reply to Kevin Peter’s claim that the reason the NT writers didn’t quote Psalm 22:16 because “it doesn’t mean what [Cato is] claiming,” Cato responds by noting that “Jesus refers to the beginning of the chapter on the cross.” That is, even though the specific verse isn’t referred to (i.e. v. 16), because Jesus refers to the first part of the psalm then the whole psalm is clearly messianic and prophetic. But Cato also prefers the LXX’s reading over the MT. If he thinks the psalm is prophetic and about Jesus, then he must think that Jesus committed some kind of offense against God to warrant his death. Cato thinks Jesus is a sinner!
Or maybe Cato is just picking and choosing what he thinks fits and doesn’t on the basis of his Christocentric reading of the psalms, divorcing the language from its original context and imposing upon it a reading its original author and audience probably would not recognize.
In other words, eisegesis.
 Unless otherwise noted, all citations of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.
 Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 1:540.
 See the discussion in Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 115-116.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.