Musing on the misguided rantings of the Jewish “counter-missionary” Menashe Walsh about “Yeshua the Worm!?” (https://menashedovid1.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/yeshua-the-worm/)
“Blind men can’t see”.
There are two meanings to this simple phrase. First, the obvious meaning is that the person is physically blind, that is, the electrical signals from the eyes do not reach the brain and the only possible image “perceived” is complete darkness.
Physical blindness is overcome using other senses to properly perceive the world. But a second meaning is equally applicable. That is: a person whose disposition toward a “truth” is only based on bias, hate, or ignorance who simply refuses to see the truth and therefore is more “blind” than the person who physically can’t see.
If the title of Menashe Walsh’s article, “Yeshua the Worm!?” is not already clear, it refers to Psalm 22:6, largely regarded outside of Judaism, as a messianic prophecy. But Menashe Walsh, if you’ve never encountered him, is an Orthodox Jew who loudly exclaims that he “is not a believer in Jesus/Yeshua (or any name combinations) in any way whatsoever” – yet he is not shy to blog about his disdain for same.
In fact, Menashe apparently believes more strongly in Jewish Orthodoxy than in the true Words of the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) because he dedicates his entire “blog” attempting to counter anything “Jesus/Yeshua” for he apparently believes he and his fellow Jews are somehow “targets for conversion to some form/brand of Christianity.” In fact he writes: “according to Orthodoxy, for a Jew to practice Christianity or a variant of it, such as Messianic Judaism or Jewish Adventism, that Jewish person is placing themselves in a situation of potential spiritual excision or to be cut off from the world to come for practicing idolatry.” (Keep this in mind as well as you read the following for it goes a long way to reveal a narrow-minded bias.)
Menashe begins by referencing Psalm 22:6 “But I am a worm (תּוֹלָע), and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” with the claim that Psalm 22:6 is “abused” by Christians who “pounce” upon the Hebrew word תולעת (tolat, crimsom worm) in the verse “as being representative of Jesus/Yeshua.” He then displays a screen shot from a Facebook user expressing her amazement of the connection to the Hebrew תולעת (tolat) and its association with the “crimson” or “scarlet” worm and its parallels with Yeshua. Of course, Menashe can’t possibly agree so he argues that “Psalm 22 is a well maligned psalm by the missionaries in their quest to convert Jews” (this despite his agreement that תולעת (tolat) is a crimson worm.)
[Aside: While Menashe bashes Messianics & Christians for, as he says, “maligning” scripture, I can’t help but notice he seems to never point out when the rabbis do the same! Case in point: Job 25:6, which curiously involves the same Hebrew word, תולעת (tolat).
Job 25:6 (ISR) reads: “how much less man, a maggot [רמה , ri’mah], and a son of man, a worm [תולעה, to’le’ah]?!" [I have inserted the Hebrew words used in the verse; the first for “worm”, the second one, תולעה, to’le’ah, the word that Menashe agrees means “crimson worm”.]
But in the rabbinical JPS Tanakh (Jerusalem Publication Society; both the 1917 and the later, 2000, editions) the same verse reads: “How much less man, that is a worm [רמה , ri’mah]! and the son of man, that is a maggot [תולעה, to’le’ah]!” Note the roles of the “worm” and the “maggot” are reversed! Why, one wonders, was it important for the rabbis translating the JPS to reverse the roles of mortal man (worm/maggot) and the son of man (crimson worm)? Job 25:6 seems to be very clear evidence of rabbinical manipulation to obfuscate any “messianic” understanding. So it seems the claim of “maligning” can be argued from both sides.]
Menashe goes on in his attempt to negate any messianic understanding of Psalm 22 by citing verse 17: “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evildoers encircles me; like a lion (כָּאֲרִי), they are at my hands and feet” complaining that the “missionaries translate ‘ke’ari’ (כָּאֲרִי) in the verse as: ‘they have pierced my hands and feet’.”
[Note: Psalm 22:17 in the Hebrew Tanakh is verse 16 in most English Bibles. It is not important why the numbering is different so to avoid confusion this document will simply use “22:16”.]
So let’s stop right here and consider this problem.
Menashe says Psalm 22:16 reads: “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evildoers encircles me; like a lion (כָּאֲרִי), they are at my hands and feet.” Yet most English versions read something close to this translation: “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” (KJV).
A great volume of literature has been written about this very verse, not only because it is apparently corrupt and uncertain in meaning, but also because of its importance in Messianic interpretation. Much and I mean MUCH(!) is written about this verse!
Messianics and Christians will write, at length, for example, of how the verse (Psalm 22:16), is found in the very ancient Septuagint (also called the LXX) where it reads (from the Greek): “For encircled me dogs many; the gathering of the ones [acting] wicked compass me. They dug into my hands and my feet.” But the rabbis counter, at length,by refusing the authenticity of the LXX arguing that the Book of Psalms is a late addition to the LXX, in the 2nd Century CE, thus claiming (without defense) that 22:16 was “obviously” corrupted by early Christians.
Messianics and Christians will also write, at length, about the scroll fragment found at Nahal Hever, http://dssenglishbible.com/scrollnhpsalms.htm#_ftn1, pointing out that one scrap of these Dead Sea scrolls contains Psalms 22:16 and reads “ka’aru” (כארו) instead of “ka’ari” (כארי), but the rabbis simply argue that the ending “vav” was misunderstood as it should be a “yud”, and state that there is no such word as “ka’aru” (כארו) in ancient or modern Hebrew and that the Nahal Hever scroll fragments, as with the Psalms in the LXX, may also be from the 2nd Century CE as well and thus the scroll fragment is also assumed corrupt. (http://thejewishhome.org/counter/Psa22.pdf, pg 9).
Nevertheless, it is true that most English versions of Psalms 22:16 read “pierced”, while modern Hebrew versions read “like a lion”.
So where does that leave us? It seems there are no unbiased linguistic arguments on either side for “like a lion” or “they pierced” in Psalms 22:16! What to do? Will this ever be resolved?
It may not ever be resolved, as neither side can produce a single, ancient, original Hebrew manuscript of Psalms 22. In fact, the rabbis can’t produce a single, ancient, unadulterated Hebrew Tanakh! The entire thing is lost! Today’s “official” Tanakh is the “Masoretic Text” (MT), which is a product largely from the 6th to 10th centuries of our common era (CE). It is a compilation and retranslation into Hebrew from a variety of ancient Greek and Hebrew fragments of manuscripts which included, by the way, parts of the LXX, (which today Judaism rejects as corrupt)! In fact, the “official” Hebrew text of Judaism, the MT, was not “finished” until about the 10th century of the CE after centuries of rabbinical debate and adding vowels and cantillation marks not found in ancient Hebrew writing! And even then, the MT has been “republished” numerous times since the 10th century, with all the associated and inevitable changes one would expect. In fact, the King James Version, 1611 was based not on the earliest MT, rather it is from a 16th century MT rendition.
Curiously, modern Judaism supports and defends the Masoretes of the 6th to 10th centuries CE, yet dismisses the authority of the 70 (or 72) Jewish rabbis who created the far older Septuagint during the 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century CE. So, again the question remains: What about Psalm 22:16? What is the correct reading?
The answer is in the verse itself.
The astute reader immediately sees that Menashe’s translation is not understood as it does not actually make sense. “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evildoers encircles me; like a lion (כָּאֲרִי), they are at my hands and feet.” How so is it not understood? Let me explain.
The verse describes a “company of evildoers”, men, whom David, the Psalmist, has declared as “dogs”. So we already know these are villainous/evil men who are “at his hands and feet”, and they have “encompassed him”. Why then, change the villains from “dogs” to “lions”? In fact, the verse begins with “kelev’im (כלבים, dogs) surround me”… but it is important to know this does not refer to the modern domesticated animal we know in our time! The domestication of dogs did not happen until the Persian and Hellenistic periods within Israel during the 6th to 4th centuries BCE.
At the time of David, our Psalmist, about 1000 BCE, the term “dog” was a derogatory one meant to make a statement about the character of a person and did not refer to the modern, beloved “dog”. We find evil people of David’s time are often referred to in scripture as “dogs”. To compare a human to a dog or to call them a dog was to imply that they were of very low status (see for example: 2 Kings 8:13; Exodus 22:31; 2 Samuel 3:8; Proverbs 26:11; Ecclesiastes 9:4; 2 Samuel 9:8; 1 Samuel 24:14).
On the other hand, lions in this era were generally revered in Judaism. In more than 150 references in the Tanakh: for example, the tribes of Judah (Genesis 49:9) and Dan (Deuteronomy 33:22) are compared to the lion (וכלביא, u’ch’lavi; and אריה, a’ryeh respectively); Balaam said of the Israelites: "Behold a people that riseth up as a lioness (כלביא, che’la’vi), and as a lion (וכארי, v’cha’ari) doth he lift himself up" (Numbers 23:24); the mother of the kings of Judah was compared to a lioness (ארית, a’ra’yot) and her sons to lion (גוריה, gureha) cubs (Ezekiel 19:2-3). David, of whom it was said that his "heart is as the heart of a lion" (האריה, ha’a’ryeh) (2 Samuel 17:10), declared in his lament over Saul and Jonathan that: "they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions" (מאריות, me’a’rayot) (2 Samuel 1:23).
The lion was seen as the essence of strength, courage, and majesty. To be compared to a lion was lauding the person or group. ( https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-lion-in-judaism). Dogs, in these Biblical times, were not revered as were lions. David’s attackers were described as dogs because David was describing evil people, and they weren’t just “at” his hands and feet! What do angry dogs do when they attack? They viciously “nip” and “bite” at one’s hands and feet or perhaps “dig at” the hands and feet or…maybe… they “pierce” the hands and feet as they sink their teeth into the skin.
The context of Psalm 22:16 makes far more sense if David used a word to describe the vile action of these “dogs” – than to suddenly change from the derogatory term “dogs” to beloved and noble “lions”! (Remember, original Hebrew had no vowel markings, so the interpretation of a phrase requires understanding the context while reading from the original manuscript – but, no original manuscript survives.)
Keep in mind Menashe charges that a word in Psalm 22:16 has been “mistranslated” by Christians as “they pierced”. Here again is his version, the offending word underlined: “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evildoers encircles me; like a lion (כָּאֲרִי), they are at my hands and feet.” Menashe says: “The phrase ‘like a lion’ is a direct translation of the Hebrew word ‘ke’ari (כָּאֲרִי)’.” But the MT itself is also a translation! It is certainly not valid to argue that “like a lion” is a direct translation when the translation is from a text that is known to be inauthentic. As mentioned earlier, rabbis cannot produce a single, original Hebrew manuscript of the Tanakh to prove the relatively modern MT is correct, and the MT itself has been revised over the centuries. Dismissing the far older Septuagint and the far older Nahal Hever scroll fragment as “corrupt” while claiming authority of a text that also has an uncertain history is disingenuous.
And thus, the claim of “abuse” can also be applied to the Rabbis who can be said to be “manipulating” scripture! Why would they do that? Clearly so the scriptures are void of any “messianic” reference! (Refer back to Menashe’s own words! He “is not a believer in Jesus/Yeshua (or any name combinations) in any way whatsoever.”) Orthodox rabbis simply can’t permit a Tanakh scripture to reference the Messiah they don’t accept!
So it seems that maybe the rabbis themselves played games with Psalm 22:16 - perhaps because they did not want it to be read as or understood as a messianic prophecy! This deception is not unprecedented! There are other examples of manipulation in the Tanakh (besides Job 25:6, already cited above) where the rabbis altered the text to avoid a messianic reference. Here is another:
Turn to Zechariah 12:10. In the 1917 Jerusalem Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh the verse reads:
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.”
But the same JPS Tanakh, published in 2000, Zechariah 12:10 reads this way:
“But I will fill the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a spirit of pity and compassion; and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain wailing over them as a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.”
Take some time to compare these two rabbinic versions of the same verse! See how much the meaning has changed! This is most damning to Menashe’s argument that only Christians “abuse” scripture! Here, we see that the rabbis have clearly altered scripture to negate the clear messianic reference! Consider:
- In the 1917 JPS Tanakh, the “messianic” meaning is still present: “they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him”
- In the 2000 JPS Tanakh, the “messianic” meaning is completely removed, negated: “they shall lament to Me about those who are slain wailing over them”
Let’s examine some of the comments on this very same verse by the great Jewish sages who documented their thoughts far earlier than the 1917 and 2000 JPS Tanakh:
- Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a (5th century CE): “It is well with him who explains that the cause [of the mourning] is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, ‘And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son;’”
- Rashi in his commentary to Sukkah 52a (11th century CE): “The words, ‘The land shall mourn,’ are found in the prophecy of Zechariah, and he prophesies of the future, that they shall mourn on account of Messiah, the son of Joseph, who shall be slain in the war of Gog and Magog.”
- Ibn Ezra (12th century CE): “All the heathen shall look to me to see what I shall do to those who pierced Messiah, the son of Joseph.”
- Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel (15th century CE): “It is more correct to interpret this passage of Messiah, the son of Joseph, as our rabbis of blessed memory have interpreted in the treatise Succah, for he shall be a mighty man of valour, of the tribe of Joseph, and shall, at first, be captain of the Lord’s host in that war, but in that war shall die.”
- Moshe Alshich (16th century CE): “I will do yet a third thing, and that is, that ‘they shall look unto me,’ for they shall lift up their eyes unto me in perfect repentance, when they see him whom they pierced, that is Messiah, the son of Joseph;”
So, it seems that it is not just the Messianic or Christian communities who are so guilty of “massaging” scripture to highlight Messianic references in the Tanakh; the Jewish community is similarly guilty of blatantly altering scripture to reduce, remove, and deny the Messiah in the same Tanakh!
I am reminded of the old Latin saying: “Caveat lector”: “[Let the] reader beware.”
In closing, let me remind the reader of the opening phrase highlighting the dual meaning of “blind men can’t see”. Who do you think most represents the blind in these disparate understandings of Psalm 22?