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They have pierced my hands and my feet is an ambiguous phrase that occurs in English translations of Psalm 22:16.

The text of Psalm 22:16

This verse, which is Psalm 22:17 in the Hebrew verse numbering, reads כארי ידי ורגלי ("like a lion my hands and my feet") in the Masoretic Text. The syntactical form of the Hebrew phrase appears to be lacking a verb, and this is supplied in the Aramaic targum which reads "they bite like a lion my hands and my feet". The Septuagint has ωρυξαν χειράς μου και πόδας ("they have dug my hands and feet"). Among Christian interpreters, 'dig' was understood in the sense of 'pierced', hence the rendering in the Syriac ("they have pierced my hands and feet"). Aquila, a convert to Judaism, undertook two translations of the Psalms from Hebrew to Greek. In the first, he renders the verse "they disfigured my hands and feet"; in the second he revised this to "they have bound my hands and feet". Jerome, translating the Psalms for the Latin Vulgate also made two versions. The earlier, from the Hexaplar Greek, reads "they have dug my hands and feet"; the later, made directly from pre-Masoretic Hebrew texts, reads with Aquila "they have bound my hands and feet".

English translations

Translation Text
Wyclif "they delved mine hands and my feet"
Coverdale "they pierced my hands and my feet"
KJV "they pierced my hands and my feet"
NIV "they have pierced my hands and my feet"
ESV "they have pierced my hands and feet"

Wyclif's Bible of 1395 adopts a literal translation of Latin Vulgate term foderunt (from Jerome's Hexaplar Psalms). Miles Coverdale in 1535, most likely influenced by Luther's German translation as durchgraben (dig through, penetrate) chooses the English word pierce; and this has been retained in the majority of subsequent English versions.

Explanations and interpretations

Rashi follows the Masoretic Text and paraphrases the phrase as "like lions (they maul) my hands and my feet." Lions do feature prominently in the Psalm.

Gregory Vall noted that is possible that the LXX translators were faced with כארו; i.e. as in the Masoretic text, but ending with the longer letter vav (ו), rather than the shorter yod (י). This word is not otherwise known in Biblical Hebrew, but could be an alternative spelling derived from the root כרה, "to dig". Vall proceeds to note nineteen conjectural emendations, while Brent Strawn appeals to iconographical data in support of the MT reading. A Psalms scroll was uncovered at Qumranmarker, but is damaged at this point. However the editors of a psalms fragment from Nahal Hever do find in that text the word in question written as כארו, as Vall had previously speculated, and hence they support the reading "they dug at my hands and my feet".

While it is true that an interpretation of "they have pierced" was preferable to many Christian commentators on account of its christological implications, there is no evidence that either the Jews or the Christians tampered with the text. The phrase is not quoted anywhere in the New Testament, despite the Septuagint reading being of a form that might be thought to prefigure the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet.


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