Psalm 22:17

Another interpretation...


The Septuagint, Tanakh and English Bible have the following for Ps 22:17 (Ps 21:17 in the Septuagint):


ὅτι ἐκύκλωσάν με κύνες πολλοί συναγωγὴ πονηρευομένων περιέσχον με ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας

[ Lit: Because many dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me they have dug my hands and feet.]


כִּ֥י סְבָב֗וּנִי כְּלָ֫בִ֥ים עֲדַ֣ת מְ֭רֵעִים הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י יָדַ֥י וְרַגְלָֽי׃

[Lit: For dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me/like a lion my hands and feet.]


For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet.


So there are two three main questions here:

i)  What does the Hebrew text mean?

ii)  How can it be reconciled with the Greek text?

iii)  Can ‘dug’ really be the same as ‘pierced’?

What does the Hebrew text mean?

The simplest way of ‘saving’ the Hebrew text is to take the verb  הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי apo koinou with both both halves of the line, so we get:

*For dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me/like a lion [they have surrounded]my hands and feet.

This procedure is perfectly unexceptionable in the Hebrew Bible, especially the poetic passages.  The idea of a single lion ‘having surrounded’ something may be a little alarming, but the Hebrew past tense often has the force of a present in English, so if we say the lion ‘surrounds => prowls around’ that’s not an insurmountable problem.

The other possibility is to say that כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י  ‘like a lion’ will originally have been some suitable verb.  The Septuagint translators appear to have decided it was or should be כַּרוּ , from the verb כָּרָה ‘dig’.  That may be possible–there’s some discussion here and here.

Greek and English texts

If the LXX translators saw (or thought they saw) כָּרָה, then the obvious translation would have been ’ορύσσω,  aor 3 pl ὤρυξαν, as we see above.  Unfortunately, neither ’ορύσσω nor כָּרָה can really mean ‘pierce’.  One can argue that, as with the apo koinou construction, words can be–are–used in ‘unusual” senses in the Psalms; but in that case we have to assume that the Septuagint translators saw and failed to realise it didn’t really mean what it said, while modern Bible translators know better.


The most conservative answer is to take the verb in the Hebrew text apo koinou, and there seems no very strong reason to reject it.  It’s very difficult to see how the Septuagintists would have written ὤρυξαν if they meant ‘pierced’, when otherwise they seem to have used perfectly normal words for ‘pierce’, such as τετραίνω (2 Ki 18:21) and τρυπάω (Ex 21:6).

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One Response to “Psalm 22:17”

  1. Kit Says:

    Fascinating – but (as a guess) couldn’t “like a lion [they have surrounded] my hands and feet” be interpreted as “they have surrounded my hands and feet as [the mouth of] a lion would when biting them” – hence the interpretation “pierced”? It is poetry after all.
    from a non-typologist atheist …. keep up the good work!

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