Why didn't the Jews remove Psalm 22?

When the Jews decided after Jesus had died to put their book together why did they keep Psalm 22 in it considering it obviously fits with Jesus?

What do the modern Jews think Psalm 22 means?


As I understand it, the Jews interpret Psalm 22 as referring to the sufferings of Israel, not necessarily those of a Messiah, which many do not believe in, or think is still to come–not to set up a spiritual kingdom but a physical one only, of peace and justice.

As for Psalm 22, and how the Church views it, it is seen as a witness to Christ’s sufferings, not as a proof for his sufferings. The difference is an important one. :slight_smile:

‘Their book’? Do you mean their Sacred Scriptures? The ones used well before Jesus was born?

I would imagine that “the modern Jews” think Psalm 22 means exactly what it says. Have you detected something in it that is inconsistent with the beliefs of Judaism? Would you care to share your discovery with us?

Because they are reading it in the literal sense.

If we were to read it in the literal sense, and not just the spiritual sense, we would view it as poetry written about the lamentations of the psalmist, and the hope of a coming Messiah.

As Christians, we read it in light of the passion narratives from the Gospels.

First off, the Jews didn’t decide “after Jesus had died” to put “their” book together. They compiled a canon after the second Jewish revolt and the diaspora. It wasn’t a reaction due to the fact that Jesus died but to the destruction of the temple and the dispersal of their people.

Secondly, why would they remove it? I’m sure to the Jewish mind of then it didn’t “obviously” fit with Jesus. Many of the psalms were traditionally from King David so I don’t understand why you think that they would just muck about with them. Are you insinuating that the ancient Jews were some sort of proto-protestants, excluding things that didn’t fit their mindset? If that was the case, why wouldn’t they omit the verse from Isaiah about the maiden bearing a son, too?

The OP is referring to when the Pharisees ratified their canon around 90 AD and removed some scripture.

Jews did not decide to put a book together after Jesus died.

The Psalms, including Psalm 22, have always been a part of Jewish Scripture. The advent of Christ did not change that.


Well, removed isn’t quite what happened. :slight_smile: They simply didn’t recognize certain books as Scripture. That had more to do with the Greek vs. the Hebrew versions of which the Greek had more books. They went strictly with the Hebrew version.

The obvious reference to crucifixion in verse 16 or 17, “they have pierced my hands and feet,” reads differently in the current Hebrew text of verse 17, “like a lion my hands and feet.” Haydock discusses this difference at some length in his commentary on Psalm xxi. 17., link.

It’s not so much that they ‘removed’ Scripture. I’m assuming that this is a reference to the so-called ‘Council of Jamnia’, which itself was simply a 19th-century theory based on a reference in the Mishnah about a minor dispute regarding whether Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs do ‘defile the hands’ (i.e. are sacred).

All Holy Scriptures defile the hands. Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands. Rabbi Judah says, “Song of Songs defiles the hands but there is a dispute regarding Ecclesiastes.” Rabbi Jose says, “Ecclesiastes does not defile the hands, and there is a dispute about Song of Songs.”

Rabbi Simeon says, “[The status of] Ecclesiastes is one of the lenient rulings of the School of Shammai, and one of the strict rulings of the School of Hillel.” = The School of Shammai opines that Ecclesiastes is not sacred - ‘does not defile the hands’; the School of Hillel on the other hand does.]

Rabbi Simeon ben Azai said, “I have a tradition from the seventy-two elders (of the Sanhedrin) that on the day when Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was appointed head of the Academy, it was decided that Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands.” (This is pretty much where the idea of a ‘Council of Jamnia’ came from: the Rabbis supposedly finally determining the status of the two books on the day Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (post AD 70-early 2nd century) became the head of the academy at Yavneh (Jamnia). Though as you might notice, the actual reference is pretty vague. And of course, there’s also the issue of whether the tradition Rabbi Simeon received is accurate/factual.)

Rabbis Akiva said, “God forbid! No one in Israel disputed about Song of Songs, saying that it does not defile the hands. For all of eternity in its entirety is not as worthy as the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies. And if they are disputed at all, they disputed only regarding Ecclesiastes.”

Rabbi Yohanan ben Joshua the son of Rabbi Akiva’s father-in-law said, “As according to Ben Azzai, so did they dispute and so did they determine [that both Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands].”

  • Mishnah, Yadayim 3.5

The problem with the ‘Council of Jamnia’ theory is that it’s not just that we aren’t really sure whether the Mishnah is recording an event that really happened (see, the Jewish Rabbis have a different view of history than we do; from our perspective, they often engaged in what we would today call revisionist history - they recorded “this was how things should have been” rather than “this was how things were”), or if it did happen, whether it was not embellished or something along those lines, but also that the source/s doesn’t really say anything about any canon being ratified or any books being included or thrown out.

If anything, when the Rabbis discussed scriptures at Jamnia, they discussed works which were already de facto considered ‘sacred’ (i.e. the protocanonical books) and basically only ruminated about whether they really merited that designation or not. They weren’t talking about whether to consider more books ‘sacred’ or to subtract from the list. It was purely internal problems that troubled them, such as theology, apparent contradictions, or seemingly unsuitable content. That’s why in this excerpt, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are discussed: some Rabbis wondered whether they were really ‘sacred’, because on the face of it, they don’t look so ‘sacred’ at all. (In fact, Ecclesiastes is the only scriptural book that was charged by some Rabbis with ‘heresy’.)

What seems to have really happened is that the Jews just stuck with the books that they had held as special/holy for years: the 22/24/39-book OT protocanon. They ‘closed’ it. It was Christians that elevated and added certain other works - often ones that were popular like Tobit or Sirach - to (nearly) the same level as these sacred books.

I think it wasn’t that even.

The problem with the idea of the ‘Septuagint/Greek/Alexandrian canon’ is that it kind of assumes that the earliest Greek translations (aka Septuagint or Old Greek) were already compiled into a fixed collection. But the problem is: (1) while this theory rests on the assumption that Hellenistic Jews were kind of disconnected from Palestinian Judaism - where the 22/24/39 book canon was becoming the de facto standard - and so came up with their own idea of the canon, that doesn’t really seem to be the case. In fact, Hellenistic Jews are probably more conservative than Palestinian Jews.

There’s the fact that early biblical manuscripts are really just of single books (say, a scroll of Isaiah, a scroll of Deuteronomy) or single categories of books (a Torah scroll, a scroll of the Minor Prophets). In the case of the LXX/Old Greek versions, one should probably think not of a fixed collection of translations, but independent translations and versions circulating around. In other words, there was already the belief that certain writings (for example, the Torah, the Psalms, the book of Isaiah) were sacred and occupied an important place in Jewish religion and culture, but nobody had physically compiled all these ‘sacred’ writings into a single volume yet. For a few hundred years, these sacred writings continued to be circulated separately and independently of each other.

It would be Christians in the 4th-5th century who would come up with the idea of putting all these (translations of) books considered authoritative into a single volume together. It’s really telling that it’s Christians who have produced most of the ‘Septuagint’ manuscripts that we have today.

In other words, the ‘Greek canon’ was something devised by Christians. In other words, it pretty much all boils down to: ‘did the early Church have the authority to determine the canon of Scripture (to include books as seen fit)’?


Your two posts, #11 and 12, are very informative, but I still have a question:
What can be said, with any certainty, about the dating of the Jewish canon in its present-day form, the Tanach?

That’s really three questions in one, since it involves:

The definitive ruling about which books are in and which are out
The division into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings
The canonical order of the books within each of the three parts.


I wished to keep it simple for the OP. Maybe that was a mistake. :shrug: I also didn’t claim that the Jews had a canon before they settled on their current list of books. It’s a complex subject worthy of its own study and too lengthy to put into a post on a forum, although you did as good a job of doing that as anyone could. :slight_smile:

I’m very sorry if I sounded too smart-alecky. :o

I took no offense in anything your wrote. No worries. :smiley:

Okay. Well, all I know about is, we really can’t say anything much - there’s still a lot of blank areas and guesswork.

Jewish tradition/legend claims that the OT protocanon was fixed during the time of Ezra (5th century BC). Many modern scholars are skeptical about this claim, since they believe that a few of the protocanonical books date from after Ezra’s time (for example, Daniel).

But they do agree that the Torah/Pentateuch was indeed given its present form and considered as having a special/sacred status as the official national ‘history’/constitution of sorts at around this time or slightly later, not least because Ezra-Nehemiah describes public Torah readings, and Chronicles - probably written during the 5th-4th century BC - already shows a familiarity with it. Not to mention that the Samaritans (which were really a sect that broke away from (other) Jews for political/religious reasons probably somewhere during the post-Exilic period) accept the Torah, and the Torah only.

So the Law/Torah was essentially the first section of the Bible to be fixed. This was later followed by the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel-Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the twelve Minor Prophets - note, Daniel is not included in this section). We don’t know exactly when the Prophets section as a category was fixed, but it was probably somewhere around the 3rd century BC or later. That explains why “the Law and the Prophets” or “Moses and the Prophets” became a stock term for Jewish sacred literature.

That only leaves the ‘Writings’ section (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles), which was the last of the three sections of the Hebrew Bible to be fixed (1st century BC-1st century AD). It’s likely that the Writings section contain the last protocanonical books of the Old Testament to be written (hence Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles, and as a number of people argue, Daniel) or fixed in their current form (for example, the Psalms).

What kind of complicates things is, while the order of the Torah and the Former Prophets (Joshua to Kings) was stable and unchanging, there was more fluidity in much of the ‘Prophets’ and ‘Writings’ sections. For example, the traditional authors of some books (David or Daniel) are sometimes - not always - considered to have spoken or written in the spirit of prophecy, and so their books are sometimes considered ‘prophecies’ as well. (The thing is, some writers can really be too liberal about who gets to be called ‘prophet’; Josephus, for instance, seems to consider most anyone who lived in the post-Moses biblical period - which for him ends in the 5th century BC - and who had a book under their names to be a ‘prophet’.) Other times, there was a clear distinction between “the Law and the Prophets” and the Psalms and other writings - so people could speak of “Moses and the Prophets and David” or “Laws, and oracles delivered through the mouth of prophets, and psalms.”

Thank you, Patrick. That is very illuminating.

Based on your information here, would it be fair to say that:

By the time of Alexander the Great (333 BC) the Torah (Pentateuch) was already fixed in its present form, but the other two parts were not yet settled and some of the books possibly not even written yet.

By the time of the Maccabees (141 BC) the middle section, the Prophets, was probably, but not certainly, already settled in its present form.

Even as late as the time of Jesus, the Writings may still perhaps have been in a fluid or unsettled state.

I’ve read that the Holy Scriptures in codex form, as a bound book with pages, came into Christian use at an early date, whereas the scroll remained the standard form in Jewish use for several centuries longer. I wonder whether the simple act of compiling the books of the Bible into a bound codex meant that the Christian Church was forced to make up its mind about a canonical order, beginning with Genesis and ending with Malachi, whereas the looser arrangement of a set of scrolls kept side by side on a shelf meant that Jewish communities never felt quite the same need to agree on a single, universally accepted canonical order.

I think you’re absolutely right about the codex–which probably came into existence in the fourth century; before the bound book was invented you didn’t really need to decide what should go in it.

And the earliest biblical codices we have show that different conclusions were reached by the various compilers.

This link takes you to a rather detailed response from a rabbi who was questioned by a Lutheran. You do have to scroll past numerous paragraphs of “How can you be a Lutheran considering how anti-Semitic he was?”


Anyway. Where it says “pierced” in our Bibles, this rabbi says the actual Hebrew word does not mean “pierced.” Correctly translated, it would read “they are around my hands and feet like a lion.”

There’s quite a lot of detail besides that. I haven’t discussed this with any Protestants who know Hebrew, but I’ll have it on my list of things to do.

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