Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Closer Look at the Crucifixion Psalm by Rabbi Tovia Singer

A Closer Look at the ‘Crucifixion Psalm’ by Rabbi Tovia Singer

A Lutheran Doesn’t Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn’t Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the ‘Crucifixion Psalm’


Dear Rabbi Singer
A Closer Look at the Crucifixion Psalm: "I am a Lutheran living in Switzerland and have been reading your web page with interest. I admire your commitment to your faith, yet I am perplexed as to why you so assuredly reject Jesus Christ as your messiah. He came not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews as well. He was born to a Jewish mother and came to the Jewish people."

Because you are a rabbi, I am particularly perplexed as to why you have not willingly accepted Christ. You surely have read the 22nd Psalm which most clearly speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion. Read verse 16. It states, “Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.” Of whom does the prophet speak other than our Lord? This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross. What greater proof is needed that Jesus died for the sins of mankind than this chapter which was written a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth?

I know that the Jews have been maligned and persecuted by so-called Christians. This has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Jewish people against Christ; but certainly you must know, rabbi, that these were not real Christians, for a believer in Christ must love the Jew, for his Savior is a Jew.

Many Jewish people accuse Christians of anti-Semitism, and one can understand from where this bias is coming; for the Jews have been persecuted by those who claim to be Christian, but they are not. The true Christian loves the Jewish people.



This is certainly one of the more surprising letters that I have received in recent memory. There is nothing about your question that is unusual or uncommon; I receive questions about this mostdebated Psalm regularly. It is rather the denomination with which you proudly identify that caught me by surprise.

How odd that a Lutheran would proclaim that the tormentors of the Jews “were not real Christians,” yet you apparently are not embarrassed to identify yourself with a denomination that is called after, and founded on, the teachings of Martin Luther. Among all the Church Fathers and Reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no tongue that uttered more vulgar curses against the Children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation whom you apparently revere. Even the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the church fathers pales in comparison to the invectives launched by Luther’s impious tongue during his lifetime.

In your letter you declared with certainty that those “so-called Christians” who “maligned and persecuted” the Jewish people “were not real Christians.” Do you believe that the founder of your church, Martin Luther, should be counted among those who are not real Christians? Have you not read his odious volume entitled, Of the Jews and Their Lies? If you are familiar with this and other indecent works of Luther, do you also believe that this German Reformer lost his salvation because his maniacal hatred for the Jew prevented him from being an upstanding member of Christendom? If this is in fact what you believe, why would you belong to a church that boasts his unblessed name?

These burning questions do not apply to you and other members of your denomination alone. Every member of the Protestant Church and every Christian who looks to the Reformers as vessels of God must wonder aloud whether God would use anti-Semites to carry out a sacred task? For virtually all the other leaders of the Reformation held the Jewish people in utter contempt as well. Martin Bucer’s sneering disdain for the Jews is legendary; and, although Calvin’s epithets against the Jews are less plentiful than Luther’s abundant invectives, this disparity is not due to Calvin’s piety. Rather, it is unlikely that Calvin, the father of the Presbyterian and Reformed Church, encountered any Jews at all during his lifetime. Although the Swiss Reformer lived in countries where Jews were forbidden to reside, his words were no less disturbing than those of Martin Luther.

Although evangelicals proudly declare that true believing Christians love the Jewish people, this assertion is not consistent with the annals of history. With few exceptions, the tormentors of the Jewish people emerged out of the fundamentalist Church. Remarkably, denominations that evangelical Christians regard as heretical, such as The Church of the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not have a strong history of anti-Semitism. Liberal-leaning Christian denominations such as the Unitarian and Methodist churches also have for the most part resisted this teaching of contempt that is so ensconced in Christendom’s shameful history.

The consistent and unyielding pattern of Jew-hatred that has for so long gripped the imagination of the true believer cannot be attributed to coincidence or to a remarkable quirk of history. The accounts in the New Testament — the most cherished book of the devout Christian — already display the animus of the early Church toward the Jews, portraying them as the people of the devil: cunning, traitorous, corrupt, deceitful, and conspiring. In essence, whatever it is that humanity abhors, that is precisely how Luther's Bookthe Jews are depicted in the Christian Bible. Without rest, post-canonical Christian literature continued to perpetuate this dark image of the Jew. There can be little doubt as to why Christians believe of the Jews what common sense would forbid them to believe of anyone else. To some extent, Luther and his countless followers who eagerly embraced his shameful message were together willing followers of a body of literature that scandalized, smeared, and ultimately condemned the children of Israel to an unimaginable history.

Moreover, in an effort to distance Christians from a compelling Jewish message, the founders and defenders of Christianity methodically altered selected texts from the Jewish scriptures. This rewriting of Tanach was not done arbitrarily or subtly. The Church quite deliberately tampered with the words of the Jewish Scriptures in order to bolster their most startling claim: The Old Testament clearly foretold that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. With this goal in mind, missionaries manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated, and even fabricated verses in Tanach in order to make Jesus’ life fit traditional Jewish messianic parameters and to make traditional Jewish messianic parameters fit the life of Jesus.

Bear in mind, the Jewish Scriptures were written in Hebrew, not in seventeenth century King James English. What has made Christian believers so vulnerable to Bible tampering is that almost none of them can read or understand the Hebrew Bible in its original language. Virtually no Christian child in the world is taught the Hebrew language as part of a formal Christian education. As you and countless other Christians earnestly study the Authorized Version of the Bible, there is a blinding yet prevailing assumption that what you are reading is Heaven-breathed. Tragically, virtually every Christian in the world reads the translation of men rather than the Word of God. On the other hand, every Jewish child in the world who is enrolled in a Jewish school is taught to read and write Hebrew long before he or she even heard the name of Luther.

Unbeknownst to you and parishioners worldwide, the King James Version and numerous other Christian Bible translations were meticulously shaped and painstakingly retrofitted in order to produce a message that would sustain and advance Church theology and exegesis. This aggressive rewriting of biblical texts has had a devastating impact on Christians throughout the world who unhesitatingly embrace these corrupt translations. As a result, Christians earnestly wonder, just as you have, why the Jews, who are the bearers and protectors of the divine oracles of God, have not willingly accepted Jesus as their messiah.

What evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that the passionate resistance of the Jew to the teachings of Christianity has little to do with the Church’s bad manners. Rather, it is the direct result of the Church’s contrived and therefore implausible message. This stunning conclusion, however, is impossible for Christians to accept without bringing injury to their own faith and world view.

In Christian theology the Jews are not portrayed as a tribe whose beliefs conflict with the teachings of the Church. Quite the contrary, the religion of Christianity readily concedes that the Jews were God’s “firstborn” — the people who were chosen to receive and protect the divine Oracles of God. The spiritual principles of such a priestly nation cannot be dismissed lightly. As a result, Christendom systematically engaged in a thorough ad hominem assault against the Jewish people, slandering them as a nefarious, demonic nation. It isn’t difficult to understand how polemical literature against the Jews became a common feature in Church writings. By declaring that the Jew rejects the claims of the Church as a result of Christian anti- Semitism, as you insist, or the Jew’s spiritual blindness, evangelicals spare themselves the festering anguish that self-searching and selfdoubt invariably create.
To understand the brazen manner in which Christendom tampered with the Jewish scriptures, let’s examine the verse that you insist “proves” that Jesus is the messiah. Psalm 22:16 in the King James Version (KJV) reads,
Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Christians are so confident that this verse contains a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. “This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross.” “Of whom other than Jesus could the Psalmist be speaking?,” missionaries ask. They insist that the Bible could not be referring to any other person in history but the man that bore the marks of the Cross.
Apparently, you were so impressed by this argument that you wondered how a rabbi like myself could miss this reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Paradoxically, well-educated Jews are utterly repelled by the manner in which the church rendered the words of Psalm 22:17.1
To understand how Christian translators rewrote the words of King David, let’s examine the original Hebrew words of this verse with a proper translation.

Read the full article*

1. Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16. So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.
2. In the Book of Luke, Jesus’ last dying words are, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are “It is finished.”
3. Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24.
4. Rosen, Moishe. Y’shua. Chicago: Moody, 1982, p. 45-46.
5. This Letter of Aristeas (2nd-3rd century B.C.E.), written by a Hellenistic Jew, describes the events leading up to and surrounding the writing of the original Septuagint. There is considerable disagreement as to the date when this was written.
6. Tractate Megillah, 9a.
7. Josephus, preface to Antiquities of the Jews, Sec 3. For Josephus’ detailed description of events surrounding the original authorship of the Septuagint, see Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XII, ii, 1-4.
8. For example, St. Jerome, in his preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions, addresses this issue and concedes that, “Add to this that Josephus, who gives the story of the seventy translators, reports them as translating only the Five Books of Moses; and we also acknowledge that these are more in harmony with the Hebrew than the rest.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Peabody: Hendrickson, Volume 6. P. 87.
9. Ptolemy II, also known as “Philadelphus,” reigned from 283 to 245 B.C.E.
10. Tractate Megillah, 9a-9b.
11. Of these 15 phrases which appeared in the original Septuagint (Genesis 1:1; 1:26; 2:2; 5:2; 11:7; 18:12; 49:6; Exodus 4:20; 12:40; 24:5; 24:11; Leviticus 11:6; Numbers 16:15; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3), only Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 12:40 are found in the current Septuagint.

The above image was digitally enhanced, and it is difficult to discern by studying the faint, ancient text whether the word in question ends in a elongated י (yud) or a shortened ו (vav). Unlike other ancient texts, the writing on this script found at Nahal Hever is not sharp or uniform. If, for arguments sake, we conclude that the debated word written in the Nahal Hever script is כארו (ka’aru), as Rosen and Flint argue, it is obvious that this anomaly is the result of the scribe’s poor handwriting or spelling mistake. There is clear evidence, in fact, from an obvious spelling mistake in the script itself that the second century scribe was not meticulous. The very next word after the debated word is “my hands.” The Hebrew word in Psalm 22:17 is ידי (yadai). The Nahal Hever scribe, however, misspelled this word [as well] by placing an extra letter ה (hey) at the end of the word. Thus, the Nahal Hever 5/6HevPs reads ידיה instead of the correct ידי. The Hebrew word ידיה (yadehah) means “her hands,” not “my hands.”

Moreover, as explained above, there is no verb in the Hebrew language as כארו (ka’aru). In order to create the word “dig” or “excavate” in the Hebrew language, the א (aleph) would have to be removed from the word כארו as well. Again, כארו (ka’aru) is Hebrew gibberish.

Rosen is not the only church apologist to use scribes and rabbis of antiquity to defend the Christian translation of Psalm 22. In fact, missionaries more frequently refer to the Septuagint to justify the manner in which Christian Bible translators render Psalm 22:17. They argue that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the entire Old Testament, which was completed by 72 rabbis more than 200 years before the Christian century, renders the last phrase of Psalm 22:17 as “they pierced my hands and my feet.” They conclude from this translation that even the rabbis who lived before the first century believed that the last clause of this verse reads “pierced” rather than “like a lion.”

Evangelists are typically quite fond of this response because it enables them to circumvent the oftentroubling original Masoretic Hebrew Bible. This notion may seem strange at first glance. Yet, although Christians typically launch their assault on Judaism by swearing staunch allegiance to the Hebrew Scriptures, more often than not, they will renounce this vow in order to rescue their dubious proof-texts.

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