Psalm 22:16 5/6HevPs: “They Pierced My Hands and Feet” (Dr. Peter W. Flint’s Position)

The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, edited by Martin G. Abegg, Peter W. Flint and Eugene Charles Ulrich contains a footnote on the Psalm 22 fragment from the Dead Sea, which affirms that unlike the later Masoretic text, the Dead Sea fragment of Ps 22:16 cannot be taken as “like a lion my hands and feet” (whatever that may mean) but can only mean “they pierced my hands and my feet.” If this is correct, since the Dead Sea fragment is almost 1000 years older than the oldest extant witness of the Masoretic text, the case that that “they pierced” is not the original reading has essentially collapsed.[1] 

1. Peter Flint’s Position on 5/6HevPs (cf. Flint, Peter W., Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol 38 (Oxford) and brief bibliography below).

A. The Dead Sea Scolls Text (1st century AD; 5/6HevPs), according to Flint and all authorities who have handled the physical scroll, has:

KARU: “they have pierced” (KAR = “pierced”; U = “they”).

Note it is the leftmost letter (vav) which results in the reading KARU (Hebrew is written from right to left, i.e. in the opposite direction from English).

B. The Masoretic text (10th century AD) reads (according to most, but not all textual witnesses):

KARI: “like a lion” (K = “like”; ARI = “lion” -or transliterating with the later Masoretic vowel pointing underneath the consonants, ka’ari )

Note it is leftmost letter (yod) in the Hebrew, which gives us either KARI or KARU -compare both leftmost letters in the blue boxes to see the difference).

The main issue at hand concerning the Dead Sea fragment revolves around the identity of the last letter in the Hebrew word. Is it the “long” letter (vav) or the “short” letter (yod)? Does one not sometimes appear like the other? Can we tell at all? If so how so? Notice also that the critical letter in question is the leftmost one in the Hebrew word (Hebrew is read “backwards”).

2. Scroll Images (from Dead Sea Psalm fragment 5/6HevPs, enhanced).

Figure A: KARU


Above are two enhanced images of the word in question in the 5/6HevPs fragment, line 12 of column 10. The original of 5/6HevPs is published is in DJD 38. Figure A shows the word identified as KARU; Figure B shows KARU together with the word just after it, the first letter of which is a yod! Which Hebrew word in blue above do you think looks most like Figure A? Unfortunately this in and of itself is not decisive. We must keep in mind that the typographical Hebrew above has a smaller yod than was true of the Herodian Hebrew used in 5/6HevPs. We need to look at specifics.

3. Peter W. Flint’s Arguments.

A. The two occurrences of yod in figure B (fifth and seventh letters from the right) are half the size or less compared to the critical letter, the fourth letter from the right in both figures A and B. All authorities identify the fifth and seventh letters from the right in figure B as yods. Is the critical fourth letter also the shorter yod, or is it the longer vav?

If the critical letter is a yod rather than a vav, as some naysayers claim, it at least seems odd that the critical letter is twice the size of the yod right next to it. This requires some kind of explanation. Although all instances of the generally smaller yod are not always half the size of the larger vav, when a specific yod and a specific vav are right next to one another adjacently, and one IS actually half the size of the other, their identity is quite clear, according to Peter Flint, universally recognized as one of the leading authorities in the world on Herodian Hebrew: “vav and yod are usually distinguished, with vav generally longer than yod.” If Flint is correct here, this difference is decisive for the identity of the critical letter, as Flint maintains with a high degree of certainty.

B. The fourth letter from the right is roughly the same size as the consonant before it (resh/ “R”). If it were a yod, it would probably in this vicinity be roughly half the size of the resh at the longest, not because yods are of invariably roughly half the size of consonants (as is often so), but because the other immediately adjacent yods clearly are about half the size of the consonants they are next to (daleth and heth).

C. If Flint is correct, we have KARU: “They pierced…” in a text dating almost 1000 years earlier than the earliest extant manuscript of the Masoretic text (the Greek Septuagint translation, slightly earlier than 5/6HevPs, also has “they pierced”/ωρυξαν).

Peter Flint should not be taken lightly; he is one of the world’s leading experts in the DSS Psalm fragment, and edited DJD 38 which contains its image.

Finally, it should be stressed that not only does Flint identify the word as כארו, but he does so with a very high confidence level: “it is clearly a verb, not a noun and means they have bored or they have dug or they have pierced.” (The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, VanderKam, James & Flint, Peter, pg. 124; cf. also Flint, Peter W., The Dead Sea Psalm Scrolls and the Book of Psalms).

Peter W. Flint: A Brief Bibliography Dr. Peter W. Flint edited over 25 Dead Sea Scrolls for three volumes in the internationally acclaimed Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (Oxford University Press), edited by Emanuel Tov, the principle official edition of the scrolls, including the DJD fragment posted above. Flint’s work The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (HarperCollins, 2003), co-authored with James VanderKam, won the award for Best Book Relating to the Hebrew Bible for 2003 from the Biblical Archaeology Society in Washington, DC. This work is used in many university courses on the Dead Sea Scrolls as a textbook. He served as Editor of the major two-volume collection The Dead Sea Scrolls After Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment (E. J. Brill, 1998-1999). Dr. Flint serves as a General Editor of one series on the Old Testament: The Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature (E. J. Brill), as well as two series on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; and the Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He authored The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms (E. J. Brill, 1997), The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Interpretation, coauthored the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1999), and was coeditor, with Craig A. Evans, of Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans, 2001), co-authored the (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).


[1] Other early texts which also have “they pierced” include the LXX and the Syriac Peshitta.

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3 Responses to Psalm 22:16 5/6HevPs: “They Pierced My Hands and Feet” (Dr. Peter W. Flint’s Position)

  1. wind from the East says:

    Another instance where the ideological Masoretic editors tried to debunk the Septuagint and lost face…

  2. Mary says:

    Hi …. I would like to thank you for this great article, it is so neat!!
    I also would like to ask you are those pictures for the manuscripts “5/6HevPs are published in the book:
    The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, Volume 17
    By Peter W. Flint
    You have said that they are published in “DJD 38” which I did not understand what does it mean
    I have Jewish friends and it is very important to them “and to me” to know the reference of those pictures
    Thank you so much and God bless you

  3. David says:

    DJD refers to the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series; you can find info on vol. 38 at the following link and/or Inter-Library loan.

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