Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
or revenge for bloodshed, was regarded among the Jews, as among all the ancient and Asiatic nations, not only as a right, but even as a duty, which devolved upon the nearest relative of the murdered person, who on this account was called הִדָּם גֹּאֵל goal' had-dam', the reclaimer of blood, or one who demands restitution of blood, similar to the Latin sanguinem repetere. (See AVENGER OF BLOOD).
1. Jewish. — The Mosaic law (Numbers 35:31) expressly forbids the acceptance of a ransom for the forfeited life of the murderer, although it might be saved by his seeking an asylum at the altar of the tabernacle in case the homicide was accidentally committed (Exodus 21:13; 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28). When, however, in process of time, after Judaism had been fully developed, no other sanctuary was tolerated but that of the Temple at Jerusalem, the chances of escape for such a homicide from the hands of the avenger ere he reached the gates of the Temple became less in proportion to the distance of the spot where the murder was committed from Jerusalem; six cities of refuge were in consequence appointed for the momentary safety of the murderer in various parts of the kingdom, the roads to which were kept in good order to facilitate his escape (Deuteronomy 19:3). Thither the avenger durst not follow him, and there he lived in safety until a proper examination had taken place before the authorities of the place (Joshua 20:6; Joshua 20:9), in order to ascertain whether the murder was a wilful act or not. In the former case he was instantly delivered up to the goal, against whom not even the altar could protect him (Exodus 21:14; 1 Kings 2:29); in the latter case, though he was not actually delivered into the hands of the goel, he was notwithstanding not allowed to quit the precincts of the town, but was obliged to remain there all his lifetime, or until the death of the highpriest (Numbers 35:6; Deuteronomy 19:3; Joshua 20:1-6), if he would not run the risk of falling into the hands of the avenger, and be slain by him with impunity (Numbers 35:26; Deuteronomy 19:6). That such a voluntary exile was considered more in the light of a punishment for manslaughter than a provision for the safe retreat of the homicide against the revengeful designs of the goel, is evident from Numbers 35:32, where it is expressly forbidden to release him from his confinement on any condition whatever. That the decease of the high-priest should have been the means of restoring him to liberty was probably owing to the general custom among the ancients of granting free pardon to certain prisoners at the demise of their legitimate prince or sovereign, whom the high-priest represented, in a spiritual sense, among the Jews. These wise regulations of the Mosaical law, so far as the spirit of the age allowed it, prevented all family hatred, persecution, and war from ever taking place, as was inevitably the case among the other nations, where any bloodshed whatever, whether wilful or accidental, laid the homicide open to the duty of revenge by the relatives and family of the slain person, who again, in their turn, were then similarly watched and hunted by the opposite party, until a family-war of extermination had legally settled itself from generation to generation, without the least prospect of ever being brought to a peaceful termination. Nor do we indeed find ir the Scriptures the least trace of any abuse or mischief ever having arisen from these regulations (comp. 2 Samuel 2:19 sq.; 2 Samuel 3:26 sq.). The spirit of all legislation on the subject has probably been to restrain the license of punishment assumed by relatives, and to limit the duration of feuds. The law of Moses was very precise in its directions on the subject of retaliation. (See GOEL).
(1.) The wilful murderer was to be put to death without permission of compensation. The nearest relative of the deceased became the authorized avenger of blood (גּאֵל, the redeemer, or avenger, as next of kin, Gesen. s.v. p. 254, who rejects the opinion of Michaelis, giving it the sig. of " polluted," i.e. till the murder was avenged; Sept. ὁ ἀ γχιστεύων; Vulg. propinquus occisi; Numbers 35:19), and-was bound to execute retaliation himself if it lay in his power. The king, however, in later times appears to have had the power of restraining this license. The shedder of blood was thus regarded as impious and polluted (Numbers 35:16-31; Deuteronomy 19:11; 2 Samuel 14:7; 2 Samuel 14:11; 2 Samuel 16:8; 2 Samuel 3:29, with 1 Kings 2:31; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Chronicles 24:22-31).
(2.) The law of retaliation was not to extend beyond the immediate offender (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:20; Joseph. Ant. 4:8, 39).
(3.) The involuntary shedder of blood was permitted to take flight to one of six Levitical cities, specially appointed out of the 48 as cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan (Numbers 35:22-23; Deuteronomy 19:4-6). The cities were Kedesh, in Mount -Naphtali; Shechem, in Mount Ephraim; Hebron, in the hillcountry of Judah; on the east side of Jordan, Bezer in Reuben; Ramoth, in Gad; Golan, in Manasseh (Joshua 20:7-8). The elders of the city of refuge were to hear his case and protect him till he could be tried before the authorities of his own city. If the act were then decided to have been involuntary, he was taken back to the city of refuge, round which an area with a radius of 2000 (3000, Patrick) cubits was assigned as the limit of protection, and was to remain there in safety till the death of the high-priest for the time being. Beyond the limit of the city of refuge the revenger might slay him, but after the high-priest's death he might return to his home with impunity (Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28; Joshua 20:4; Joshua 20:6). The roads to the cities were to be kept open. (Deuteronomy 19:3).
To these particulars the Talmudists add, among others of an absurd kind, the following; at the crossroads posts were erected bearing the word מקלט, refuge, to direct the fugitive. All facilities of water and situation were provided in the cities; no implements of war or chase were allowed there. The mothers of high-priests used to send presents to the detained persons to prevent their wishing for the high-priest's death. If the fugitive died before the high-priest, his bones were sent home after the high-priest's death (P. Fagius in Targ. Onk. Ap., Rittershus. de Jure Asyli, in the Crit. Sacr. 8:159; Lightfoot, Cent, Chorogr. c. 50, Op. ii, 208).
(4.) If a person were found dead, the elders of the nearest city were to meet in a rough valley untouched by the plough, and, washing their hands over a beheaded heifer, protest their innocence of the deed. and deprecate the anger of the Almighty (Deuteronomy 21:1-9) (See HOMICIDE).
2. Other Ancient Nations. — The high estimation in which blood-revenge stood among the ancient Arabs may be judged of from the fact that it formed the subject of their most beautiful and elevated poetry (comp. the Scholiast. Taurizi to the 16th poem in Schultens' Excerp. Hamas). Mohammed did not abolish, but modified, that rigorous custom, by allowing the acceptance of a ransom in money for the forfeited life of the murderer (Koran, ii, 173-175), and at the worst forbidding the infliction of any cruel or painful death (ibid. .vii, 35). It was, and even still is, a common practice among nations of patriarchal habits, that the nearest of kin should, as a matter of duty, avenge the death of a murdered relative. The early impressions and practice on this subject may be gathered from writings of a different though very early age and of different countries (Genesis 34:30; Hom. II. 23:84, 88; ixiv, 480, 482; Od. 15:270, 276; Muller on AEschyl. num. c. ii, A and B). Compensation for murder is allowed by the Koran, and he who transgresses after this by killing the murderer shall suffer a grievous punishment (Sale, Koran, ii, 21, and 17:230). Among the Bedouins and other Arab tribes, should the offer of blood-money be refused, the " Thar," or law of blood, comes into operation, and any person within the fifth degree of blood from the homicide may be legally killed by any one within the same degree of consanguinity to the victim. Frequently the homicide will wander from tent to tent over the desert, or even rove through the towns and villages on its borders with a chain found his neck and in rags, begging contributions from the charitable to pay the apportioned blood-money. Three days and four hours are allowed to the persons included within the "Thar" for escape. The right to blood-revenge is never lost, except as annulled by compensation: it descends to the latest generation. Similar customs, with local distinctions, are found in Persia, Abyssinia, among the Druses and Circassians (Niebuhr, Descr. de l'Arabie p. 28, 30; Voyage, ii, 350; Burckhardt, Notes on the Bedueins, p. 66, 85; Travels in Arabia, i, 409, ii, 330; Syria, p. 540, 113, 643; Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 305307; Chardin, Voyages, 6:107-112). Money-compensations for homicide are appointed by the Hindoo law (Sir W. Jones, vol. 3, chap. vii); and Tacitus remarks that among the German nations " a homicide is atoned by a certain number of sheep or cattle" (Germ. 21). By the Anglo-Saxon law also, money- compensation for homicide, zver-gild, was sanctioned on a scale proportioned to the rank of the murdered person (Lappenberg, ii, 336; Lingard, i, 411, 414).
Of all the other nations, the Greeks and Romans alone seem to have possessed cities of refuge (Serv. ad .En. 8:342; Liv. i, 8; Tac. Ann. 3:60), of which Daphne, near Antioch, seems to have been one of the most prominent (2 Maccabees 4:34; comp. Potter's Greek Archceol. i, 480), and to have served as a refuge even for wilful murderers. The laws and customs of the ancient Greeks in cases of murder may be gathered from the principle laid down by Plato on that head (De Legib. 9:in t. 9:p. 28 sq.): " Since, according to tradition, the murdered person is greatly irritated against the murderer during the first few months after the perpetration of the deed, the murderer ought therefore to inflict a punishment upon himself by exiling himself from his country for a whole year, and if the murdered be a foreigner, by keeping away from his country. If the homicide subjects himself to such a punishment, it is but fair that the nearest relative should be appeased and grant pardon; but in case he does not submit to that punishment, or dares even to enter the temple while the guilt of blood is still upon his hands, the avenger shall arraign him before the bar of justice, where he is to be punished with the infliction of a double fine. But in case the avenger neglects to proceed against him, the guilt passes over to him (the avenger), and any one may take him before the judge, who passes on him the sentence of banishment for five years." (See ASYLUM).
3. In Christendom. — That such institutions are altogether at variance with the spirit of Christianity may be judged from the fact that revenge, so far from being counted a right or duty, was condemned by Christ and his apostles as a vice and passion to be shunned (Acts 7:60; Matthew v, 44; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14 sq.; comp. Romans 13, where the power of executing revenge is vested in the authorities alone).
In Europe the custom of blood-revenge is still prevalent in Corsica and Sardinia, where, however, it is more the consequence of a vindictive character than of an established law or custom. A Corsican never passes over an insult without retaliation, either on the offender or his family, and this cruel and un-Christian custom (vendetta traversa, mutual vengeance) is the source of many assassinations. The celebrated General Paoli did his best to eradicate this abominable practice, but his dominion was of too short duration for the effective cure of the evil, which has gained ground ever since the first French Revolution, even among the female sex. It is calculated that about four hundred persons yearly lose their lives in Sardinia by this atrocious habit (Simonot, Lettres sur la Corse, p. 314). (See MURDER).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Blood-Revenge'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/blood-revenge.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12