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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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KIN (NEXT OF), KINSMAN, AVENGER OF BLOOD, GOEL . 1 . ‘Next of kin’ is the nearest equivalent in modern jurisprudence of the Heb. gô’çl , itself the participle of a verb originally signifying to claim ( vindicare ), then to buy back. The duties devolving on the goel belonged to the domain both of civil and of criminal law. If a Hebrew, for example, were reduced to selling a part, or the whole, of his property, it was the duty of his next of kin to purchase the property, if it was in his power to do so. The classical instance of the exercise of this ‘right of redemption’ is the case of the prophet Jeremiah, who purchased the property of his cousin Hanamel in Anathoth, on being asked to do so in virtue of his relationship ( Jeremiah 32:8 ff.). Similarly, should a sale have actually taken place, the right of redemption fell to ‘his kinsman that is next to him’ ( Leviticus 25:25 ). The case of Naomi and ‘the parcel of land’ belonging to her deceased husband was complicated by the presence of Ruth, who went with the property, for Ruth 4:5 must read ‘thou must buy also Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead. The true goel accordingly transferred his rights to Boaz, who came next to him in the degree of relationship. In all these cases the underlying idea is that the land is the inalienable property of the clan or ‘family’ ( Ruth 2:1 ) in the wider sense.

The duties of the goel , however, extended not merely to the property but also to the person of a relative. Should the latter have been compelled by misfortune to sell himself as a slave, it fell to his next of kin to redeem him. Hence arose an extensive use of the verb and its participle in a figurative sense, by which J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is represented as a goel (EV [Note: English Version.] redeemer ), and Israel as His redeemed (so esp. in Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:14 and oft.).

2 . The most serious of all the duties incumbent on the goel , in earlier times more particularly, was that of avenging the murder of a relative. In this capacity he was known as the avenger of blood ( gô’çl had-dâm ). The practice of blood-revenge is one of the most widely spread customs of human society, and is by no means confined to the Semitic races, although it is still found in full vigour among the modern Arabs. By the Bedouin of the Sinaitic peninsula, for instance, the hereditary vendetta is kept up to the fifth generation (see the interesting details given in Lord Cromer’s Report on Egypt, 1906, 13 ff.).

In primitive times, therefore, if a Hebrew was slain, it was the sacred duty of his next of kin to avenge his blood by procuring the death of his slayer. This, it must be emphasized, was in no sense a matter of private vengeance. It was the affair of the whole clan, and even tribe, of the murdered man (2 Samuel 14:7 ), the former, as it were, delegating its rights to the nearest relatives. Hebrew legislation sought to limit the application, and generally to regulate the exercise, of this principle of a life for a life. Thus the Book of the Covenant removes from its application the case of accidental homicide ( Exodus 21:13; cf. Deuteronomy 19:1-13 , Numbers 35:9-34 ), while the legislation of Dt. further restricts the sphere of the vendetta to the actual criminal ( Deuteronomy 24:16 ). In the older legislation the local high places appear as asylums for the manslayer, until his case should be proved to be one of wilful murder, when he was handed over to the relatives of the man he had slain ( Exodus 21:13-14 ). With the abolition of the local sanctuaries by the reforms of Josiah it was necessary to appoint certain special sanctuaries, which are known as cities of refuge (see Refuge [Cities of]).

An interesting feature of the regulations concerning blood-revenge among the Hebrews is the almost total absence (cf. Exodus 21:30 ) of any legal provision for compounding with the relatives of the murdered man by means of a money payment, the poinç of the Greeks (see Butcher and Lang’s tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of the Odyssey , 408 ff.) and the wergeld of Saxon and Old English law.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Kin'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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