Psalm 22 is one of those texts in the First Testament that has a polemical history between Jews and Christians and is called by those of the Second Testament a Messianic text. In this short essay I cannot cover this topic in any detail and I will discuss some limited aspects of the text with a focus on Psalm 22:16 (17) and Psalm 22:20 (21). While a vertical argumentative and polemic approach to Psalm 22 may aid scholarly understanding a more lateral sharing of wisdom approach to the Biblical text and textual criticism may be more fruitful. This gleaning of wisdom approach is called bricolage by Altes. This is also the approach used by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and is called Likutey in Hebrew (gathering, gleanings). Levinas writes of “a wisdom older than the patent presence of a meaning in the writing. A wisdom without which the message buried deep within the enigma of the text cannot be grasped.” Thus this approach allows for a broader landscape that allows for different layers and approaches to enrich our understanding and our encounter of the text and of our rendezvous with others in their encounter of the text.
Psalm 22 is read by traditional Christians and Jewish believers in Yeshua in the light of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) and they read the text as a prophetic foretelling of the sufferings of the Messiah. Many Christians see Jesus’ cry from the cross, of the words of the opening of Psalm 22, as the Messiah drawing our attention to the whole of the prophetic meaning of the Psalm in regards to the passion of the Messiah Yeshua. Jewish readers see other Messianic figures in the text such as King David, King Hezekiah, Queen Esther and the Messiah Ephraim among others. Many commentators see the figure as a royal personage. Others see the Lamenter of Psalm 22 not as a single person but rather a personification of Israel or the Jewish people. Esther Menn mentions the concerns of some believers that the emphasis on a historical personage may take away its power as a prayer or cry of the ordinary believer. She also mentions Psalm 22 as being a part of the Jewish pre-exilic Temple ritual in regards to the rituals of healing for a person in distress.There is no reason that Psalm 22 can’t be read taking all these insights and perspectives into account. However Psalm 22 and the other Davidic Psalms are set in the social context of Judaism and its concerns, both cultural and religious. Some believe that the Psalms were composed in the pre-exilic period, others in the post-exilic. Croft mentions that some scholars such as Birkeland and Rosenbaum consider the role of the antagonists in the Psalm to be crucial in identifying whether the Psalms are a product of the history of the pre or post exilic periods.
Psalm 22:20 (in the Hebrew Bible it is verse 21) reads in Hebrew as הַצִּילָה מֵחֶרֶב נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד-כֶּלֶב, יְחִידָתִי. (ha-tzilah me-cherev nafshi; miyad kalev, y’chidti). This means “Deliver from the sword my soul; from the hand of the dog my only one (yachid). Rivka Ulmer discusses how Jewish sources connect this yachid (only one or only begotten son) in Psalm 22 with the yachid of the Akedah (Binding of Abraham and Isaac). She writes:
The interpretation of the verse Save my soul from the sword, yehidati [my only one] from the power of the dog (Ps.22:21) does not only focus upon the lemma “dog,” but also upon “my only one.” Genesis Rabbah 46:7 (see Sifre Deuteronomy 313) contains an interpretation relating this Psalm to the Aqedah, the sacrifice of Isaac. Rabbinic hermeneutics situate Psalm 22:21 in the context of sacrificing a son. Your only son (Gen.22:12) is implied and juxtaposed to my only one (Ps.22:21); the text states God said to Abraham: “I give merit to you, as if I had asked you to sacrifice yourself and you did not refuse it.” My only one in this case would indicate that God recognized Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. In another midrash, Numbers Rabbah 17:2, a lemma from Genesis Your only son, referring to Isaac, is changed to “your soul,” proof-text is Psalm 22:21. The ram sacrificed saves not only Isaac, but also Abraham. These passages show a nexus between Psalm 22:21 and Isaac, the “only son” of Abraham…
Many writers claim that Psalm 22 is not perceived as a Messianic text by Judaism whereas Ulmer one of the leading Jewish scholars in this field clearly demonstrates that Jews of the past did interpret it in a Messianic light. Christians saw this yachid in Psalm 22 and in the Akedah as alluding to the ‘only begotten son’ who is the suffering Messiah Jesus the son of Joseph and Miriam (Mary) and son of God the Father, which led to later Jewish authorities (due to the bitter polemics) to deny a Messianic significance to Psalm 22 in contradiction to past Jewish midrashim.
This leads us to the rather polemic discussion of ‘the pierced one’ mentioned by Christians but is translated by Jewish scholars as ‘like a Lion’ in Psalm 22:16 (or 17). The textual evidence is complex as some Masoretic texts do have karu (they pierce or dig) rather than ka’ari (like a lion) and one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Nachal Chever text) also has karu. The Septuagint also has pierced (ωρυξαν). Here in Psalm 22 we seem to have the concept of a pierced one (karu) and a uniquely begotten son (yachid) and this is also found in Zechariah where it speaks of the people of Jerusalem and the House of David looking upon an apparition of a pierced one who is also a yachid.
However if we read the text of Psalm 22:16 (17) as “like a lion” (ka’ari) it can also be read in a Messianic manner as the Messiah is perceived as a Lion. The symbol of Judah is the Lion (Gen.49:9) and the Messiah Yeshua is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the Apocalypse of John. While some lions are mentioned in Psalm 22 in a negative way (along with dogs) the Hebrew for them is the aryeh form rather than ari. Thus the lion here which reminds us moderns of a kind of Aslan figure and may allude to the story in antiquity of Apion’s “Androcles and the Lion” and Aesop’s fable of the “Lion and the Mouse”. Both these stories tell of a Lion with a thorn piercing his paw (foot) and a kind one digging it out of its foot. These common tales may have been appealing to Jews of the Roman period and the rabbis may have used ka’ari as an alternative reading and then later, due to the polemical debates between Jews and Christians, ka’ari (like a lion) became the preferred reading of the Jewish community. It is common in Jewish rabbinic discussions to read certain words in the Hebrew texts differently and give a deeper meaning by the use of these alternative readings.
If instead of reading this as referring to a male but rather as a female, then the Lion becomes a Lioness and alludes to Queen Esther which is another Jewish reading of Psalm 22. This story of Esther also speaks of a wooden gallow that Haman builds to hang or crucify Mordechai. Mordechai is perceived as a type of the messianic Tzadik (the righteous one) according to the teaching of Rebbe Nachman and the Breslov rabbis. Tkacz also writes that St Jerome also knew of traditions that ascribe the role of the lamenter of Psalm 22 to Esther and Mordechai. Mordechai is perceived as a type (behinat) of the humble Tzadik (of Zechariah 9:9) and Queen Esther is a type of the Shekhinah (feminine Presence of God). The name Gazelle of the Dawn (Ayelet haShahar) as the title of Psalm 22 alludes to the weeping Shekhinah who unites with the Tzadik to chant this lament. Some Jewish sources see this lament of Psalm 22 as voiced by both Esther and Mordechai together.
Esther’s husband the Persian king is described by Esther as a dog and a lion according to the Talmud. This account in the Babylonian Talmud places the events of Esther’s story in the context of Psalm 22. In this passage Esther’s royal pagan husband is associated, by her using the words of Psalm 22: 20-21 (21-22 in the Hebrew Bible), with both the concepts of the dog and the lion.
R. Levi said: When she reached the chamber of the idols, the Divine Presence left her. She said, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me. (Ps. 22:2) Is it possible that You punish the inadvertent sin like the presumptuous one, or one done under compulsion like one committed willingly? Or is it because I called [Ahasuerus] “dog,” as it says Save my soul from the sword, my only one from the power of the dog?(Ps. 22:21) She immediately retracted and called him “lion,” as it says. Save me from the lion’s mouth (Ps 22:22).
The Zohar also alludes to the apparitions of a dog and lion in regard to the Temple offerings. When the offerings were accepted an image of a Lion crouching over its prey (the symbol of Judah) appears above the sacrificial altar while the dogs hide themselves away. The dogs represent the gentiles. However when the people sin the Lion is killed by the Tzadik and an image of a demonic dog appears and consumes the sacrifices. The Zohar seems to be saying that this Tzadik (righteous one) killed the two lions of God (Ariels) which represent the two Temples due to sin. The concept of the two lions- The Lion and the Lioness in Zohar 1:6b also alludes to the lion and the lioness of Genesis 49:9. Thus we see that the lamenter of Psalm 22 can refer to an individual, to Israel as a collective and as the Temple. Whether one perceives the lamenter as a king or queen, or the personification of Israel or the Temple, or a prophecy of the Jewish Messiah (whether Yeshua or the future Mashiach Ephraim or Joseph or David) it can only be understood in the context of a Hebrew perspective rooted in the rites, customs, culture and ethics of Judaism.
Ulmer speaks of how the early Gentile Christians interpret the ‘adat m’rei’im’ of Psalm 22:16 (17) as ‘a synagogue of evil doers’ which for them meant the Jewish people. As demonstrated by the Zohar and Rebbe Nachman the word rei’im often means lovers or friends rather than evil doers. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Likutey Moharan 36 links the concept of "devouring me" (the Davidic King Messiah) of Psalm 27:2 with the consecrated flesh of Haggai 2:12 and the "Eat lovers" of Song of Song 5:1. He teaches:
…“to devour my flesh”-This alludes that their eating- as it is said "Eat lovers"(Song of Songs 5:1)- namely their strengthening is "Consecrated flesh"(Haggai 2:12). This is to devour my flesh, the aspect of "The ascent of Yesod until Abba and Imma" ....
Strictly speaking "Eat Lovers" should be translated as "Eat companions or friend (rei'im or rei'in)" whereas lovers is dodim. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov does not interpret mrei'im of Psalm 27:2 as evildoers but in accord with Song of Songs 5:1 and other passages in Tenakh as friends or lovers (rei'im). Thus Psalm 22:16 may be read as “While dogs encompass me (a band of friends are about me) they (the dogs) pierce my hands and feet.” Thus ‘the synagogue of evildoers’ transforms from an anti-Jewish interpretation to a Jewish friendly ‘synagogue or band of friends’.
The original context of Psalm 22 in regards to King David may have been when he fled from his son Absalom. Absalom is described like a young lion with his beautiful mane of hair and David is the old lion who feels forsaken by God. His greatly beloved son (yachid) Absalom is pierced by Joab with three darts (parallel to the three nails on the cross) on a tree in which he is caught by his hair. One immediately is reminded of the ram of sacrifice of the story of the Akedah caught in the thorns. The pathos of the opening verse of Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” match those of 2 Samuel 18:33 “…O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”. This death of Absalom occurred in Ephraim’s Wood thus providing another link to the Messiah Ephraim which some Jewish writers see as the lamenter of Psalm 22. Hosea 5:14 also alludes to Ephraim and two lions. Ephraim is described as a lion cub. If this leonine messianic figure refers to King Hezekiah then the Assyrian King Baladan refers to the dog according to the Talmud and the Zohar.
There are many deeper levels of understanding the surface text which can enrich the spiritually of both Jew and Christians. Personally I don’t think reading the text in regards to great personalities takes away from its power to reflect the feelings and emotions of the ordinary believer who may be consoled even more so, knowing that even the great saints of God went through dark and troubled moments like we do. There is no reason why the genesis of this Psalm’s composition couldn’t have begun with David even if later hands such as Solomon, Hezekiah, Ezra and others may have refined it and shaped it along with the other “Psalms of David” for the purposes of the Temple liturgy and synagogal prayer. There is also a possibility that the author of Psalm 22 drew on earlier lyrical elements coming from the Israelite lyrical tradition and thus drew from the stories of Moses and Abraham and incorporated them into his lyrics. This drawing on sources does not take away from the author’s creative originality as an author and it is the finished product which for believers is the infallible Word of God guaranteed by our faith communities or churches.
Whatever the original form, purpose or authorship of Psalm 22 it has been used in the Judeo-Christian traditions for a myriad of purposes. Many of us who have suffered greatly in life or felt under severe attack can resonant with the ever new and living words of Psalm 22 and perceive ourselves as the lamenter of Psalm 22. Many Christians and Messianic Jews will continue to enter into a deeper identification with the passion and death of their crucified Messiah and Tzadik through contemplation of Psalm 22 who recited the opening words of this Psalm on the Cross. Many Jews will also identify deeply with the lamenter of Psalm 22 being a personification of Israel or the Jewish people especially in the light of the passion and death of the Jewish people in the Shoah (Holocaust) of our own times and the growing isolation of the State of Israel. The remnant of practicing Christians in the West and the persecuted Christians of the Middle East may also find new solace in the words of this ancient Psalm of lament both as individuals and as messianic collective (Church). In this new suffering will the children of the First Covenant and the children of the Second Covenant be drawn together in messianic and eschatological hope of an anointed one?
 Liesbeth Korthals Altes, “A Theory of Ethical Reading” Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility (Palgrave Macmillan; Gordonsville VA, USA, 2006), 17.
 Chanani Haran Smith, Tuning the Soul; Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, 59.
 Emmanuel Levinas, In the Time of the Nations (London, Athlone Press, 1994), 38.
 Catherine Brown Tkacz. “Esther, Jesus, and Psalm 22”. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Oct 2008; 70(4), 709.
 Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46,
 Holly J.Carey. Jesus' Cry From the Cross. (London, GB: T & T Clark International, 2009),3-4.
 Esther M. Menn, “No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22”
(University of Virginia in Harvard Theological Review October 2000),302.
 Menn No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22; 308, 310.
 Rivka Ulmer, "Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus." The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation (2011), 106
 Menn No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22, 309.
 Menn No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22, 303.
 Menn No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22, 304ff
 Steven J. L. Croft. Identity of the Individual in the Psalms. London, GB: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987, 15.
 Croft. Identity of the Individual in the Psalms, 16ff
 An interesting study would be to reflect on this in the light of the sword that pierced the soul of Our Lady. In fact the whole Queen Esther dimension of reading this Psalm allows for a deeper Marian reading which Catholics would find incredibly enriching of their faith.
 A professor of Jewish studies, Ulmer is a world authority in midrash, or rabbinic interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.
 Ulver Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus, 110.
 See Ulmer, Rivka. "The Contours of the Messiah in Pesiqta Rabbati." Harvard Theological Review 106, no. 02 (2013): 115-144.
 We see this today when many spokesmen for the Jewish communities will deny that in Jewish sources that it speaks of a resurrected suffering Messiah while at the same time a leading branch of Hasidic Jews, using Jewish sources, claims that their late Rebbe may be the Messiah son of Joseph and will rise from the dead.
 Ulver Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus, 107-108.
 Zechariah 12:10. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced (karu), and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (yachid), and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”
 Melila Hellner-Eshed, A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar, (California; Standford University Press; 2009).
. Catherine Brown Tkacz. “Esther, Jesus, and Psalm 22”, 709ff.
 Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett,, ESTHER A Breslov Commentary on the Megillah (Jerusalem/New York; Breslov Research Institute;1992).
 Catherine Brown Tkacz. “Esther, Jesus, and Psalm 22”, 719.
 Rabbi Leah Novick On the Wings of Shekhinah: Rediscovering Judaism's Divine Feminine (Wheaton; Quest Books; 2008),64-65.
 The Shekhinah is also called the Gazelle (Hind/Deer/Doe), the Matronita and Kneset Yisrael in the Jewish mystical tradition found in the Zohar and Kabbalah. As the weeping mother and sorrowful soul of all Israel she is also known as the Supernal Rachel and Miriam. See Song of Songs 6:10 “Who is she that sees forth like the dawn…? And psalm 110:3 “…the womb before the dawn…”.
 Catherine Brown Tkacz. “Esther, Jesus, and Psalm 22”, 721-22.
 Psalm 22:20-21a: “Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword: my only one from the hand of the dog.
Save me from the lion's mouth;…”
 Babylonian Tamud, Megillah 15b
 Zohar 1:6b
 Genesis 49:9
 Ulmer Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus, 109-110
 Zohar 1:6b
 Ulmer Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus, 109
 Likutey Moharan 36
such as Job 17:5; Proverbs 18:24 and 19:4; Jeremiah 3:1
 2 Sam.15.
 2 Sam.14. The Douay Rheims says in Isaiah 51:38 : “They shall roar together like lions, they shall shake their manes like young lions.”
 That the Lamenter of Psalm 22 is seen under the metaphor of a Lion is found in the use of the word roaring in Psalm 22:1.
 2 Sam.18.
 Babylonian Talmud:Sanhedrin 96a and Zohar 16b
 Menn No Ordinary Lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22, 303.
Altes,Liesbeth Korthals, “A Theory of Ethical Reading” Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility Palgrave Macmillan; Gordonsville VA, USA, 2006.
Carey, Holly J. Jesus' Cry From the Cross. London, GB: T & T Clark International, 2009.
Croft, Steven J. L. Identity of the Individual in the Psalms. London, GB: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.
Hellner-Eshed,Melila. A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar, (California; Standford University Press; 2009).
Levinas, Emmanuel. In the Time of the Nations London, Athlone Press, 1994.
Matt, Daniel Chanan. The Zohar, volume 1. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 2004.
Menn, Esther M. "No ordinary lament: Relecture and the Identity of the Distressed in Psalm 22." Harvard Theological Review 93, no. 04 (2000): 301-341.
Mykoff, Moshe (trans), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov Likutey Moharan Vol.5 (lessons 33-48) ; Jerusalem/New York; Breslov Research Institute; 1997.
Novick, Leah (Rabbi) On the Wings of Shekhinah: Rediscovering Judaism's Divine Feminine (Wheaton; Quest Books; 2008),64-65.
Smith, Chanani Haran. Tuning the Soul: Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav IJS Studies in Judaica; Volume 10; Brill Academic Publishers; Boston; 2009.
Starrett, Yehoshua (Rabbi). ESTHER A Breslov Commentary on the Megillah Jerusalem/New York; Breslov Research Institute;1992.
Tkacz, Catherine Brown. “Esther, Jesus, and Psalm 22”. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Oct 2008; 70(4), 709-728.
Ulmer, Rivka. "Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus." The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation (2011): 106-128.
Ulmer, Rivka. "The Contours of the Messiah in Pesiqta Rabbati." Harvard Theological Review 106, no. 02 (2013): 115-144.