My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
These are supposedly the last words famously attributed to Jesus on the cross which is found only in Matthew and Mark gospels. I normally see this passage a highly problematic in relation to salvation by the death on cross as it appears by this saying an abandonment of Jesus by God the Father. Why should Jesus have thought himself as being abandoned from God at the very moment when, according to christian theology, he was fulfilling God’s plan? Maybe I will talk about this matter for future post because this time I want to talk about this passage in the light of the hebrew and aramaic use of the passage.
For me this words of Jesus is really interesting, as this one of very rare place in the greek gospels which preserve the original language of Jesus allegedly quoted straight from the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels in Matthew 27:46, usually appear in Roman transliteration as:
Eli Eli lama sabachthani
NB: Mark 15:34 uses eloi instead of eli and this surely is an interesting discrepancy which I will talk about in future post
Christians have argued that this quotation turns out, is quoted from Psalm 22:2, which in Hebrew Bible it reads:
Eli Eli lamma azabtani אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי
Fine, now wait a minute, that “Eli Eli lama sabachthani ” is it an Aramaic or Hebrew expression? which language Jesus uses here?
Let’s check the Hebrew Translation of Matthew 27:46 (from the 1976 United Bible Society, ha Berit ha-Chadashah הברית החדשה)
הברית החדשה על-פי מיתי 27:46
There it says:
Eli Eli lema shebaqtani א ִלי ֵא ִלי ְלְמָה ְשַׁב ְקָתִּני Kelomar כּלומר (“which means”) Eli Eli lamma azabtani אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִ
Therefore it implies that “Eli Eli lema shebaqtani” is not an Hebrew words but rather a non-hebrew words which mean “Eli Eli lamma azabtani” in Hebrew.
So if it is not Hebrew, the question what language is “Eli Eli lema shebaqtani” / “Eli Eli lama sabachthani ” expression? We naturally assume that it is an Aramaic expression or is it?. Then one must ask if this quotation really was quoted from book of Psalms 22:2, which book Psalms is it which has this expression? We are left for just two options for the origin of this expression: whether (1) Jesus quoted Masoretic Hebrew text or (2) the Aramaic Targums.
- If Jesus did quote this expression from Masoretic Hebrew text, is it Ben Asher or Ben Nafthali version? I am interested if any christian can show us the expression “Eli Eli lema shebaqtani” in there.
- If Jesus meant to quote Aramaic Targums. is it Targum Onqelos, or Targum Yonathan or Targum Yerushalmi or Targum Neofiti? which one is it which say “Lema shebaqtani”. I doubt that there is such expression because Aramaic Targums do not say “Lema shebaqtani“א ִלי ֵא ִלי ְלָמָ֣ה ְשַׁב ְקָתִּני but instead “Eli Eli Methul ma shebaqthani” א ִלי ֵא ִלי ְמטוּל ַמה ְשַׁב ְקָתִּני although this Aramaic Targumic expression use a more correct root š-b-q ש ב ק in their translations of the Psalm 22, the Aramaic word used sabachtani which is used in most of Bible translation is based on the verb sebach/šebaq, ‘to allow, to permit, to forgive, and to forsake’, (please refer to the figure below). Interestingly enough “Eli Eli lama sabachthani ” really is a mix hebrew and Aramaic words.
Targum Jonathan Tehilim 22:2
Now since non of these two options do not have verbatim expression of “Eli Eli lama sabachthani” we are in a dilemma understanding what is going on, which Psalm 22 source then did Jesus quote this Aramaic expression from? Clearly Jesus is not quoting the canonical Hebrew Bible version (Eli Eli lamma azabtani) and but why then did Jesus mix Hebrew and Aramaic expression not found in known Aramaic Targum?
Does it turns out to be a case where Jesus actually refer to specific Targumic source no longer exist? or is it a case where jewish scribe did in fact changed the Aramaic Targums such is in the Targum Jonathan I just provide? Or I will argue that this expression may well be a case that whoever wrote the gospel of Matthew misquote the book of Psalms.
God Knows Best.