Psalm 22 (LXX 21) and the Crucifixion of Jesus

Mark George Vitalis Hoffman


There are numerous allusions to Psalm 22 in the Gospel Passion narratives, but, lacking any pre-Christian evidence to indicate that this psalm was interpreted messianically, scholars have been unable to agree upon their significance. By illuminating the Scriptural context which shaped the interpretations of Psalm 22, by surveying its ancient textual transmission and translation, by examining how it was used in pre-Christian documents, and by studying the discussions involving it in the writings of the early Church Fathers and in the rabbinic corpus, this dissertation provides a firmer basis for answering the question, "How did the early Christians find Psalm 22 to be meaningful in understanding the crucifixion of Jesus?"

The results of this study provide new insights into the New Testament usage of particular details from Psalm 22 and also yield some cautions about how Psalm 22 is not to be interpreted or construed as having been used by the New Testament authors. Aspects of the psalm which connect it to traditions about a son of God, an heir of David, a servant (of the Lord), a prophet, or a righteous person are highlighted and shown to have provided the potential pathways for Psalm 22 to have become meaningful among early Christians in narrating and understanding the crucifixion of Jesus as Messiah.

While providing a valuable survey of the ancient interpretations of Psalm 22 and observing how Psalm 22 was found useful by early Christians, this dissertation suggests, however, that no unequivocal answer is possible for determining why Psalm 22 in particular became so crucial to them. Ultimately it is concluded that, perhaps because Jesus did indeed recite the opening words of Psalm 22 before he died, the potential ways of understanding Psalm 22 were explored by early Christians in order to claim that this psalm—which rightly could be and was read as being a psalm about a Davidic heir and a son of God—was about the Son of God, the Davidic heir acknowledged to be the Messiah.