In a previous post, I reproduced Chris Heard’s summary of the argument of J. J. M. Roberts to the effect that none of the established roots of כרה - I: ‘dig [a pit], dig open [ears]; II: ‘get by trade, purchase’; and III: ‘give a feast’ in the standard lexica (BDB, HALOT, etc.) make sense in the context. Thus, Roberts “discovers” another כרה, כרה V on his reckoning, based on an Akkadian cognate. In this post, I present evidence from Aramaic and Akkadian that supports the plausibility of allowing for the possibility that כרה I in Hebrew might also mean ‘cut through, pierce,’ a sense which fits in Ps 22 with ‘dogs’ or ‘lion’ as subject. I also provide a (partial!) bibliography of articles on the issue at hand.
One of the great publishing events in the field of Northwest Semitic languages is the series of Aramaic dictionaries being published jointly by the Bar Ilan and Johns Hopkins University Presses (details below). No one working in the field of Aramaic literature or comparative philology can do without them. Without a doubt, they supersede previous efforts at producing dictionaries of the Talmud, Midrash, and the Targumim.
You have to be weird to do what I do, but there it is: I have a sort of combined dictionary of ancient Hebrew in progress among my files that melds information from eight Hebrew lexica (BDB, HALOT, DCH, etc.: see my Hebrew dictionary post). There is hardly an entry that will not eventually contain information culled from the Bar Ilan dictionaries. They are that important. They are goldmines of information.
The Aramaic cognate of כרה I is כרי. Now, כרה in ancient Hebrew is securely attested with the meaning of ‘to dig (a pit, well, grave)’ (see any dictionary). In Babylonian Aramaic, as Sokoloff shows, כרי is securely attested with the meanings 1. to dig (a pit, well. canal); 2. to dredge (a canal); 3. to breach, pierce (foliage serving as a fence ). With respect to meaning 3, the example Sokoloff gives is the following:
חזי(א)<ה> לההוא גברא דהוה קא כארי בהוצי
He saw a certain man who was making a breach in a fence of palm leaves Tan 24a (17; L)
Sokoloff also adduces Mandaic סיפא כאריא ‘the sword pierces’ (Mandaic is another Aramaic dialect). Note the added א in both examples. An added א of the same sort is presupposed by ancient versions and scholars alike who read כארי/ו in Ps 22:17 as equivalent to כרו. The addition of א in this sort of phonological context is frequent in a number of Aramaic dialects. It occurs in biblical Hebrew as transmitted to us – ex hypothesi, in Ps 22;17 - but not so commonly.
The L in Sokoloff’s citation refers to London BL Harley 5508 (400). Other manuscripts containing the relevant tractate have a somewhat different text. What is abnormally interesting, as Duane Smith would say, is that in place of כרי, another verb is found:
חזייה לההוא גוברא דהוה בדיק בהוצא למחזה בברתיה
He saw a certain man who was making a breach in a fence of palm leaves to look at his daughter Tan 24a (17)
I realize people will now run off to see what the Talmud says about this certain man. That’s good. Talmud Torah is good, but make sure you read Rashi's commentary, and others, in order to understand it better. Back to the subject at hand.
As Sokoloff notes, Aramaic בדק II found in this passage is cognate to batāqu in Akkadian. That’s interesting in its own right, because it turns out that Akkadian batāqu, Aramaic כרי I, and Hebrew כרה I have related semantic ranges. According to CDA, G batāqu means:
1. ‘cut off’ (parts of body, garments, land) - that is also the primary meaning in the D stem: ‘cut off’ (trees) and ‘cut’ (ropes) are also attested; 2. transf. ‘deduct, drop price’ -but only in Old Assyrian; 3. ‘cut through, pierce’ (a dyke, etc.).
It would be a mistake to assume that Akkadian batāqu, Aramaic כרי I, and Hebrew כרה I are absolute synonyms. It can be taken for granted that they were not. Still, the fact that Aramaic כרי I ranges in meaning from ‘dig’ a well, ‘cut through’ a barrier, and ‘pierce’ with a sword, and Akkadian batāqu ranges in meaning from ‘cut off’ body parts to ‘cut through’ a barrier, makes it plausible to suggest that Hebrew כרה I may also have ranged in meaning from ‘dig’ a well to ‘pierce,’ or perhaps even as far afield as ‘cut off’ body parts.
In light of the above, this is how I would propose to translate Ps 22:17 (reading כארו in place of MT כארי):
כִּי סְבָבוּנִי כְּלָבִים
עֲדַת מְרֵעִים הִקִּיפוּנִי
כָּאֲרוּ יָדַי וְרַגְלָי
16 For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evil-doers has encircled me;
they pierced11 my hands and my feet.
1 22:16 I.e., with their teeth; so with LXX, Syr., DSS XHev/Se4, and some medieval mss.; The MT reads Like a lion
A few additional remarks before concluding. Peter Craigie also averred – before he went on to support a conjectural emendation – that it seems best to read כארו or כרו in Ps 22;17. He refers the interested reader to a discussion of the medieval manuscript evidence in favor of this reading found in De-Rossi, IV, 14–20.
As noted in ISV’s apparatus, XHev/Se4 also reads כארו, but as Kirsten Swenson points out (640, n. 12), it is not easy to verify that Peter Flint’s reading כארו rather than כארי is attested by the manuscript. Yodh and waw are often hard to distinguish in manuscripts of the period.
Craigie also notes that LXX’s translation ‘they pierced my hands and feet’ (ὤρυξαν), would appear to presuppose a verb כרה, ‘to dig,’ or כור (II), ‘to pierce, bore.’ But he also remarks that a כור II in Hebrew is dubious. It can safely be set aside.
Aquila’s second edition (ἐπέδησαν), Symmachus (ὡς ζητοῦντες δῆσαι), and Jerome (vinxerunt) appear to have read כארו and assigned it the meaning of ‘bind, tie.’ That translation is difficult to account for. It is as if אסרו ‘bind’ were read. A conjectural emendation to that effect has occasionally been proposed. Or might one reach for an Arabic cognate in order to suggest that כארו means such (for a valiant defense of this hypothesis, see Vall’s recent article). Aquila’s first edition had ἥσχυναν; in that case, כארו would seem to have been interpreted in light of Aramaic כאר = כער ‘soil, mar.’
A final possibility is that originally, the text read כארי כרו ‘like a lion they pierced.’ On this hypothesis, כרו would have dropped out via homoteleuton. ֡I cotton to this hypothesis, though it is hard to defend, since it is not very good method to propose a conjecture when in fact an attested variant, plain כארו, is not improbable. Still, the assumption that כארו, which is not well-attested in the Hebrew trasmission traditon = כרו, is bothering. Though Bob MacDonald is right that mention of a lion in Ps 22:17 is unnecessary, even superfluous, poets don’t always write according to our standards of judgment.
It would be splendid if one were to find a text in Akkadian in which batāqu and kīma nēši ‘like a lion’ or the like co-occur, preferably with some body part as the object complement. I would not give over my hands and feet to be mauled by animals to have the whole corpus of Akkadian literature searchable online. But I would love to see a foundation or university department take it upon themselves to do it. Would Martha Roth oversee it if someone gave her the money to make it happen? Heck, I would do cartwheels in a kilt in front of Bill Gates if I thought that would convince him to ante up for the project.
Bar Ilan Dictionaries Bibliography
Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of the Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period (Second edition; Dictionaries of the Talmud, Midrash and Targum 2; Publications of the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project; Ramat-Gan / Baltimore: Bar Ilan University Press / Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002 ); idem, A Dictionary of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Tamudic and Geonic Periods (Dictionaries of the Talmud, Midrash and Targum 3; Publications of the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project; Ramat-Gan / Baltimore: Bar Ilan University Press / Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); idem, A Dictionary of Judean Aramaic (Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2003). To buy at the best prices: go here, here, and here.
Psalm 22:17 Bibliography
Michael Barré, “The Crux of Psalm 22:17c: Solved at Long Last?,” in David and Zion: Biblical Studies in Honor of J. J. M. Roberts (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004) 287-306; Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 with 2004 Supplement by Marvin E. Tate (second edition; WBC 19; Nashville: Nelson, 2004 ; Peter Flint, The Dead Scrolls and the Book of Psalms (STDJ 17; Leiden: Brill, 1997) 83, 87; John Kaltner, “Psalm 22:17b: Second Guessing ‘The Old Guess,’” JBL 117 (1998) 503-06; Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002 , 5:199; Gary A. Rendsburg, “Philological Notes,” HS 43 (2002) 21-30; J. J. M. Roberts, “A New Root for an Old Crux: Ps 22:17c,” VT 23 (1973) 247-52); Brent A. Strawn, “Psalm 22:17b: More Guessing,’ JBL 119 (2000) 439-51; Kristin Swenson, Psalm 22:17: Circling around the Problem Again, JBL 123 (2004) 637-648; Gregory Vall, “Psalm 22:17B: ‘The Old Guess,’” JBL 116 (1997) 45-46
CDA = Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate, A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian (SANTAG 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz; 2000)