Saturday, July 03, 2010

Third Reply to Mitch / "ProfMTH" (Video: "Jesus Was Not the Messiah, Part 3: Crucifixion Prophecies") / Zechariah 13:6 and Psalm 22


Mitch / "ProfMTH" is about 46 years old and is an atheist and former Catholic. In his video, The Book of Job - Part One (at 0:57 - 1:03), Mitch says he was getting ready to graduate from high school in 1981 and at the same time "was considering entering religious life, to study for the priesthood." In a comment under his August 2009 video, The "Real" Paul, Mitch states, "I teach various law courses and courses on debate."

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Professor Mitch states at 1:47 - 2:02 of his third video:

The prophetic portrait Christians present, heavily relies on misquotations, mistranslations, and misapplications of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures.

He starts out (2:01 - 2:35) by mocking differences in stated numbers of messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, with video of three Christian teachers giving counts of "about 300," "more than 300" and "about 191." Of course, reasonable men can differ on such things: that in itself is not a controversial notion (I should think, anyway).

What I find amusing, however, is Mitch's seeming unawareness of ancient and medieval Jewish commentators, who far outdid Christian exegetes in totals of messianic prophecies: by a ratio of about 3 to 2. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), the great Hebrew-Christian scholar, in his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols., 1883, revised eighth edition, 1912, vol. II), cited 456 passages in the Old Testament that Jewish commentators had interpreted as messianic (vol. II, Appendix IX: "List of Old Testament Passages Messianically Applied in Rabbinic Writings" / Talmudic Discussion of the Messiah," pp. 710-741). He stated on p. 710 (in the freely available Google Reader version):

The following list contains the passages in the Old Testament applied to the Messiah or to Messianic times in the most ancient Jewish writings. They amount in all to 456, thus distributed: 75 from ther Pentateuch, 243 from the Prophets, and 138 from the Hagiographa, and supported by more than 558 separate quotations from Rabbinic writings. . . . The Rabbinic works from which quotations have been made are: the Targumim, the two Talmuds, and the most ancient Midrashim . . . [and] from the well-known work Yalkut, because, although of comparatively late date, it is really, as its name implies, a collection and selection from more than fifty older and accredited writings, and adduces passages now not otherwise accessible to us.

This sort of information doesn't fit in with Mitch's goal of "proving" that Christians are arbitrarily and dishonestly misapplying and misquoting alleged messianic passages. Nor does it harmonize very well with his polemics to state that Jewish commentators have long since outdone we miserably dishonest and desperate Christians.

We only cite "about 300" messianic passages, after all, but the ancient rabbis come up with a whopping 456. Christians can only conjure up a paltry 66% of the texts that the rabbis cite. I guess that proves beyond all doubt that we are dishonest and the rabbis were not. Or else it shows that the whole lot of Christian and Jewish religious fanatics were and are dishonest: in which case, this should be noted, whereas our critic chooses only to go after the supposed dishonesty of Christians and ignore even "worse" manifestations of these alleged shortcomings among the ancient Jewish rabbis.

Mitch then makes the following claim (5:00 - 5:22) concerning the purported messianic passage Zechariah 13:6:

Unless Christian apologists wish to say that Jesus was a deceptive false prophet removed from the land by God, they can't claim Zechariah 13:6 as a messianic prophecy about Jesus' crucifixion. Why would Christian apologists misuse a passage like this?

I guess they would do so for the same reason that prominent Jewish commentators used when they applied the passage to the Messiah:

Abraham ibn Ezra (Spain, 1092-1167) was one of the greatest Jewish scholars. He considered Zechariah 13 messianic (see: The Doctrine of the Messiah in Medieval Jewish Literature, Joseph Sarachek, New York: Hermon Press, 1932).

Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508; originally from Spain) wrote more about the Messiah than any other Jew before him. He followed the Talmud and the Midrash in his interpretations, and considered Zechariah 9:9 and chapters 12-13 messianic.

So I suppose we are to conclude that ibn Ezra and Abravanel were too stupid to know that the context was referring to a false prophet and not the Messiah, thus sealing the fate of Zechariah 13:6 as a messianic passage? They, too, couldn't read or correctly interpret the simplest things, either, as Mitch thinks is the case with Christian apologists?

Or it could be a case of multiple application of a passage: a thing frequently seen in Scripture. One could possibly hold a number of plausible positions on the passage itself. That's not my immediate concern. My objection is, rather, to Mitch's hair-trigger, knee-jerk approach in saying that Christians are almost ubiquitously deliberately dishonest (or so one might get an impression from his polemics) when they interpret OT passages messianically.

Mitch then goes after Psalm 22, often used as a messianic passage by Christians. He states (6:20 - 6:33):

Psalm 22 in general, and Psalm 22, verse 16 in particular, is regarded as an apologetic brass ring, even though it's never cited by any New Testament writer in reference to Jesus.

It's true that Psalm 22:16 is never directly cited, but Psalm 22 is indeed cited by the NT writers and applied to Jesus. Since this is the case, then Psalm 22:16 is applied to Jesus by straightforward logical deduction, since the entire passage is a unity, about one figure. In other words, attribution and application can occur logically, without the necessity of direct quotation. Matthew and Mark both clearly cite Psalm 22:1:

Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Here is the most direct citation and attribution of fulfilled prophecy, in regard to Psalm 22:

John 19:23-24
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; [24] so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfil the scripture, "They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."

Psalm 22:18 they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.

Compare very similar passages and likely cross-citations in Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, and Luke 23:34. Since this cites Psalm 22:18: a passage that is a mere two verses away from 22;16 and clearly in reference to the same person, again, logically speaking, it follows that the NT writers also think that 22:16 applies to Jesus (just as they think 22:1 does as well). Here is yet another citation:

Hebrews 2:11-12 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, [12] saying, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee."

Psalm 22:22 I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:

Direct references are made to three passages: 22:1, 18, and 22. In fact, it has been observed that no Psalm is cited more frequently than Psalm 22 in the New Testament (seven times: tied with Psalm 110). Mitch admits himself that all these passages are cited, in his Part IV of this series. But he wants to continue, for some odd reason, to say that it is highly significant that Psalm 22:16 itself is not quoted. And so he asserts (8:54 - 9:09, 9:24-29):

As I noted earlier, not one of the Gospel writers, indeed, none of the New Testament writers cites Psalm 22, verse 16 in reference to Jesus' crucifixion. Let's face it. They didn't set the prophetic selection bar all that high. . . . all of them passed on Psalm 22:16.

He continues on, making an interesting linguistic argument about Psalm 22:16 and whether "pierced" is an acceptable translation of the literal "like a lion". At least this actually has some degree of force.

I would submit in reply, a contextual argument. What does a lion do with prey, in the first place? Well, it pierces them with its teeth. What is "the power of the dog"? What is the danger of a "wide" mouth of a wild animal and "horns of the wild oxen"? Again, biting or gorging and piercing of flesh . . . That is clear enough. The context alludes to piercing of various sorts as well:

[13] they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion. . . .

[20] Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
[21] Save me from the mouth of the lion,
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!

Therefore, following this possible line of argument, "pierce" at Psalm 22:16 would not be merely a Christian interjection designed to provoke images of crucifixion (as he insinuates), but rather, an acceptable rendering of what attacking lions do, with regard to context (Mitch's argument thus being reduced mostly to a distinction without a difference; i.e., "piercing" and what lions do with prey not being all that widely different concepts). See other examples of the same Hebrew word (Strong's word #738), referring to a lion:

1 Samuel 17:37 And David said, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

1 Kings 13:26 And when the prophet who had brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, "It is the man of God, who disobeyed the word of the LORD; therefore the LORD has given him to the lion, which has torn him and slain him, according to the word which the LORD spoke to him."

Psalm 17:12 They are like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.

Ezekiel 22:25 . . . like a roaring lion tearing the prey . . .

Joel 1:6 For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and without number; its teeth are lions' teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness.

Micah 5:8 . . . like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

Nahum 2:12 The lion tore enough for his whelps and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh.

In Psalm 57:4, evil men are compared to lions: ". . . their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords." Psalm 58:6 refers to the "fangs" of lions. Daniel 6:24 states, "the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces."

An alternate argument (one that I myself favor, because it is more objective and based on hard manuscript evidence) would be to posit a textual dispute or change of some sort. The Septuagint (c. 150 B.C.) and the Vulgate (c. 400 A.D.) both had "piercing" and they were translated from Hebrew (the NT writers routinely followed Septuagint Greek readings), leading some scholars to believe that older Hebrew manuscripts had a "pierced" reading. In fact, one such ancient Hebrew manuscript from the Dead Sea area has been translated (5/6HevPsalms Scroll). The textual difference between "like a lion" and "they pierced" is a single letter.

The above paragraph is a summary of an argument made by Conrad R. Gren, in his superb and fascinating article, "Piercing the Ambiguities of Psalm 22:16 and the Messiah's Mission" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48.2 [2005]: 283-99). I cite pages 287-288, and 294:

The Qumran Psalters do not contain this verse. However, a scroll from the same era found at nearby Nahal Hever known as 5/6HevPsalms reads, "They have pierced my hands and my feet"! [Abegg, Flint, Ulrich, Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 519] Though the documents were found in 1951 or 52, this reading was not discovered until around 1997! Further, it did not appear in print until The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible was published in 1999. The implications are enormous. Here we have a Hebrew text over 1,000 years older than the oldest known copy of the standard Hebrew Masoretic text, which supports the reading found in the Greek Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate. No longer can Hebrew scholars claim that the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate are here faulty reflections of the original Hebrew. . . .

We will therefore expect English translations prepared after this scroll's reading came to press in 1999 to reflect and cite the reading in the Nahal Hever scroll. . . . Future editions of the NRSV, NJB, REB, and NAB may read "pierce," because they are usually at the forefront of versions that make use of Qumranic readings.

[ . . . ]

The deciphering of the contents of the 5/6HevPsalms Scroll has changed the tenor of all future discussions of the Hebrew text underlying Ps 22:16. . . . It is one of three Psalms scrolls found outside the Qumran (Dead Sea) area. This scroll is written in a Herodian bookhand dating between ad 50 and 68. Flint believes that the scroll originally contained all 150 psalms known in today’s Bible, but only portions from Psalms 7–18, 22–25, and 28–31 survive today . . .

This scroll’s surviving text relevant to our discussion is found in col. XI, which contains Ps 22:4–9, 15–21.

[Dave: it appears on p. 519 in the 2002 edition linked above; viewable with the amazon "Look Inside" feature]

The Mitch-generated Christian conspiracy to cynically insert "pierced" into the text is a questionable one, in any event, because many major English translations fail to do so (e.g., NAB, JB, NJB, NEB, REB, NRSV, Moffatt, Good News, NCV). But those don't reflect what is now the oldest known Hebrew manuscript (c. 50-68 A. D.). Other translations do a better job:

5/6HevPsalms They have pierced my hands and my feet.

KJV they pierced my hands and my feet.

ASV They pierced my hands and my feet.

NASB They pierced my hands and my feet.

NKJV They pierced My hands and My feet.

RSV they have pierced my hands and feet.

Confraternity they have pierced my hands and my feet;

Knox they have torn holes in my hands and feet;

Amplified they pierced my hands and my feet.

NIV they have pierced my hands and my feet.

Will he concede this argument and modify his opinion, in light of this, and retract this charge towards the dreaded "Christian apologists"? The answer (perhaps not surprisingly) is no. I discovered in Part IV, after I initially wrote this reply, that Mitch is aware of this new textual discovery, and isn't a bit fazed by it. He continues to act as if Christians are still at least guilty of an undue overconfidence.

Perhaps, however, he has toned down his insinuations of dishonesty regarding Psalm 22:16. Now, he uses the language of this not being a "compelling" messianic prophecy. But he didn't seem aware of the new evidence at the time of Part III, when the following "Masoretic-centered" analysis was his expressed opinion (6:42 - 8:45):

Christian apologists want this passage (Psalm 22, verse 16) and they put up quite a fight for it. . . . . "They pierced my hands and my feet." [NASB] Of course, the latter sounds a lot like a reference to the crucified Jesus, but "like lions [they maul] my hands and feet" [The Jewish Study Bible -- 2004] not so much. So what's going on here? Well, to put it in the light most favorable to Christian apologists, Psalm 22:16 is an extremely controversial and uncertain passage. To be sure, that's what some used to call a left-handed compliment, but it's the best, I think, that can be said for the Christian position. In the overwhelming majority of manuscripts that comprise the Hebrew Masoretic text: the official version of the Scriptures for Jews, Psalm 22:16 does not say, "they pierced my hands and my feet." It literally says, "like a lion my hands and feet." . . . the variants are several and it seems, none are determinative.

Lastly, Edersheim (ibid., p. 718) documents Jewish attribution of Psalm 22:7 (8 in Hebrew) and 22:15 (16 in Hebrew) to the Messiah, in the Yalkut. Again, therefore, regarding Psalm 22 in messianic fashion is not (exclusively) some disingenuous Christian invention for the sake of polemics and (as Mitch says) "misquotations, mistranslations, and misapplications of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures."

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4 comments:

I.M Fletcher said...

Well done Dave. I learned something new again today :)
ps, I don't want to appear mean in saying so, but ex-Catholics are the WORST when it comes to slagging off the Catholic faith. They seem to have it in for anyone who is Catholic, go out of their way to promote anything that attacks religion in general and Catholicism in particular, and always seem to be pushing Atheism (I have someone on facebook like this).

It's almost like Atheism is their religion, which is strange because it is the belief in ... nothing ...

Dave Armstrong said...

Glad you like it. I was excited to learn more about the new Qumran-related discovery regarding the text of Psalm 22:16. That's great stuff.

Jordanes said...

It's telling that anti-Christian polemicists would claim that Christians are mistaken to accept the majority reading "they have pierced my hands and my feet" rather than the later Masoretic reading, "like a lion my hands and my feet." Does it not occur to them that non-Christian Jews might have as much a motive to "tweak" the text here to deprive the Church of a compelling prooftext as Christians might have to argue for the reading that is attested by the ancient manuscripts (and now by the earliest available Hebrew text)?

Even apart from the Qumran discovery, context and grammar alone give us good reason to accept the ancient manuscript testimony. KARU (they have pierced) differs from KARI (like a lion) by only one letter, but KARU makes more grammatical sense than KARI.

Dave Armstrong said...

Excellent point, my friend. Everything has to prove Christian bias and ignorance: so it seems in atheist polemics. We can only do our best to puncture the bubble of the host of fallacies employed for this purpose.