Psalm 22: Like a lion: Nothing about the lion of Judah

Setting: Palaestina פלשתינה

There was a man called Joshua – you might know another version of the story – who while out hunting came across a lion with a thorn in its paw. The lion saw the man, sat up on his haunches and held out his paw. The man removed the thorn and went on his way.

Two years later Joshua was accused of sedition and sentenced to be crucified. When a person gets crucified, his flesh gets torn and his limbs pierced. The odd thing about this crucifixion was that instead of nailing Joshua to the cross, they strung him up by ropes and brought a very hungry lion, sharp in tooth and claw. The lion rose up on his hind legs, but instead of tearing and piercing, he licked the man’s bloody feet.

androcles-and-the-lion

This, of course, is just a made up story. Here is the story from the Bible, Psalm 22, the English translation of the Jewish Publication society.

13 Many bulls have encompassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
14 They open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
15 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in mine inmost parts.
16 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and Thou layest me in the dust of death.
17 For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.

In “The lion dug the nail into my hand,” I examined whether the masoretic Hebrew verse 17 of Psalm 22 (verse 16 in the English translation) was the original text in classical times – circa 200 BCE, which was the period of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew text. The earliest extent manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, the masoretic text, does not predate the 10th century. The masoretic text added vowels to the text, which made it easier to read for those learning Hebrew.

22:17 (22:16 English)

כִּי סְבָבוּנִי כְּלָבִים עֲדַת מְרֵעִים הִקִּיפוּנִי כָּאֲרִי יָדַי וְרַגְלָֽי׃

“For dogs encircled me, An evil congregation surrounded me;

Like a lion  – ka’ari כָּאֲרִי –  my hands and my feet.”

In the Christian Bible, the same verse is translated as: An evil congregation surrounded me; They dug (pierced) my hands and my feet.

The Greek Septuagint translation had read the Hebrew word ka’aru, “they dug,” and not ka’ari “like lion.” Thus they translated ka’aru with the Greek word ὤρυξαν oruxsan, “they dug” or “they pierced.”

Here is one of the conclusions to Miller’s article on the “they pierced” controversy” (Glenn Miller  – “Did the Christians simply invent the “pierced my hands and feet” passage in Psalm 22?):

“So, where does this leave us on what the ‘original’ or ‘furthest back’ reading was [OF PSALM 22 – “like a lion,” “they pierced”]? “Like a lion” is rejected for a number of reasons by scholars: makes no sense, MT manuscript evidence against it, all the earliest translations (not interpretive paraphrases) reject it, its highly unusual form (for the ‘like a lion’ expression), the conclusive existence of the verb reading at Qumran, and even ancient rabbinic rejection of the meaning.” (See my Psalm 22: “They pierced” and the Septuagint).

Whatever one may say against the JPS translation, “like a lion” does make sense to me –  but not Jewish sense – because “like a lion”  could be a less graphic, a less poignant way, of saying “they pierced.” (Old French poignant “sharp, pointed” from Latin pungere “to prick”  -modern French poignard “dagger”).  Verse 14 prepares us for the lion’s next move:

JPS translation:

14 They open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and a roaring lion.

What do ravenous lions do? They ravish, pierce and tear – sooner or later.

15 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in mine inmost parts.
16 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and Thou layest me in the dust of death.
17 For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.

In the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) English translation, we have a lion who must surely be doing something like biting (with sharp teeth) or digging (piercing) with sharp claws into flesh – unless the lion takes the man on the cross for Androcles, or in my version of the story, for Joshua. How unsurprising, Jesus is Joshua.

Someone said at Rabbi Blumenthal’s 1000 Verses:

“In the words of Rabbi Tovia Singer: ‘When the original words of Psalm 22:17 are read, any allusion to a crucifixion disappears.’”

Some people know little about lions, and Nothing about The LION – the Lion of JUDAH.

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2 thoughts on “Psalm 22: Like a lion: Nothing about the lion of Judah

  1. I enjoyed this post; I will follow and read your other links on Psalm 22, especially the one on the LXX’s translation. I’ve faced the dilemma that the Masoretic text Vorlage read “Like a Lion…” since I’ve first learned of it a few years ago.

    • The Tim Hegg and Glen Miller articles are worth a read.

      On another note, I remember with nostalgia Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller in the “Glenn Miller story,” and Miller’s famous “In the mood.” So looong ago.

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