[b-hebrew] Psalm 22 Translation Help

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Wed Sep 13 19:36:14 EDT 2006

Dear John,

>(1) Any suggestions on Psalm 22:16, which is often rendered "They pierced  my 
>hands and my feet"?
>The word rendered "they pierced" (LXX and many English translations) looks  
>like it's actually "Like a lion"   But then it's hard to make sense of  the 
>flow of the line ("Like a lion [they clawed?] my hands and my feet"  perhaps).  
>As far as I can tell, though, there's no way to get "they  pierced" from the 
>root of this Hebrew word.  On the other hand, they *did*  actually pierce Jesus' 
>hands and feet.  On the third hand, this verse isn't  explicitly cited in 
>connection with that piercing....

HH: There is now suppprt from the Dead Sea Scrolls for the variant 
reading: "they pierced my hands and my feet."

>(2) How do you understand the last word of v. 21 (yehidati)?  It seems  to 
>mean "my only one" and to be parallel with "my soul/life" (naphshi) in the  
>previous stich.  Does it mean "my only life" -- that is, I only have one  and it's 
>precious to me?

HH: Yes, it is something like that.

>(3) How about Psalm 22:21?  The cola are nicely balanced:
>     Rescue me from the mouth of the lion
>     And from the horns of the wild oxen you have  answered me
>But the second line doesn't make a lot of sense in English (maybe not in  
>Hebrew either?).  It appears to mean "You have answered my request, which  was 
>that you would deliver me from the horns of the wild oxen."  And so  some 
>English translations treat the two "from" clauses together and connect them  with 
>"rescue" and make the "answered" clause separate:
>     Rescue me from the mouth of the lion
>     And from the horns of the wild oxen!
>    You have answered me.
>The gist turns out to be the same -- the cry has been answered -- but is  
>there something to the first translation that better gets at the meaning of the  
>Hebrew than the second, more interpretive one?

HH: The parallelism is against your idea, as is the pointing. Are you 
familiar with the precative perfect? It is the understanding that the 
perfect in the context of prayers or wishes can express a prayer or 
request. That is the way the NIV has handled the verse:

NIV Psa. 22:21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the 
horns of the wild oxen.

HH: Here is a note on the precative perfect from the NET Bible, on Song 
of Solomon 1:4. But first I will give the traditional translation of the 

Song 1:4 Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.

HH: The NET Bible translates the first part this way:

1:4 Draw me after you; let us hurry!
May the king bring me into his bedroom chambers!

HH: One of the NET notes is:

21tn Or “has brought me.” The verb הֱבִיאַנִי (hevi’ani, Hiphil perfect 3rd 
person masculine singular בּוֹא, bo’, “to bring” + 1st person common 
singular suffix) may be classified in two ways: (1) perfect of past 
action: “The king has brought me into his chambers” or (2) precative 
perfect: “May the king bring me into his chambers!” (J. S. Deere, “Song 
of Solomon,” BKCOT, 1012). While some older grammarians denied the 
existence of the precative (volitional) function of the perfect in 
Hebrew (e.g., S. R. Driver, Tenses in Hebrew, 25-26; GKC 312-13 §106.n, 
n. 2), its existence is accepted in more recent grammars (e.g., IBHS 
[Waltke & O'Connor] 494-95 §30.5.4d; Joüon 2:365 §112.k). While the 
perfect of past action is the more common use of the perfect, the 
context suggests the more rare precative. As IBHS 494-95 §30.5.4d notes, 
the precative can be recognized contextually by its parallelism with the 
other volitive forms. The parallelism of precative הֱבִיאַנִי (“bring me!”) 
with the volitives in the two preceding parallel colons – מָשְׁכֵנִי 
(mashÿkheni, “draw me!”; Qal imperative 2nd person masculine singular 
from משַׁךְ, mashakh, “to draw” + 1st person common singular suffix:) and 
נָּרוּצָה (narutsah, “let us run!”; Qal cohortative 1st person common plural 
from רוּץ, ruts, “to run”) – favors the precative function of the 
perfect. The volitive function of consonantal הביאני is reflected in 
Syriac. The BHS editors suggest revocalizing MT to הֲבִיאֵנִי “bring me!” 
The precative function of the perfect הֱבִיאַנִי may explain the origin of 
this variant vocalization tradition reflected in Syriac. In terms of 
connotation, the precative functions as a volitive as an example of the 
irreal modal or optative function of the perfect (IBHS 494-95 §30.5.4d; 
Joüon 2:365 §112.k). In contrast to the use of the irreal perfect for 
situations which the speaker expresses as a wish without expectation of 
fulfillment (contrary-to-fact situations, hypothetical assertions, and 
expressions of a wish that is not expected to be realized), the 
precative refers to situations the speaker expresses his desire for and 
expects to be realized (IBHS 494-95 §30.5.4d). It is used most often in 
contexts of prayers to God which the speakers expect to be answered 
(e.g., Pss 3:8; 22:22; 31:5-6). Here, she expresses her desire that her 
lover consummate their love in his bedroom chambers; she expects this 
desire to be realized one day (e.g., 4:1-5:1). There are, however, 
several problems with nuancing the form as a precative: (a) this would 
demand emending MT חֲדָרָיו (khadarav, “his chambers”) to חַדְרֶךָ (khadrekha, 
“your chamber[s]”) – which is, however, reflected by Syriac Peshitta and 
Symmachus, and (b) it would demand nuancing the article on הַמֶּלֶךְ 
(hammelekh) as a vocative (“O king!”).

HH: Do you notice that the NET note refers to Ps 22:22. That would be Ps 
22:21 in English Bible enumeration, or just the passage you are asking 
about. The NRSV, more conservatively, makes the second line the 
beginning of a new paragraph:

Psa. 22:21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!

¶ From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

HH: I believe that the parallelism favors the NIV handling of the verse.

Harold Holmyard

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