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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Goel

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גאל , the avenger of blood. The inhabitants of the east, it is well known, are new, what they anciently were, exceedingly revengeful. If, therefore, an individual should unfortunately happen to lay violent hands upon another person and kill him, the next of kin is bound to avenge the death of the latter, and to pursue the murderer with unceasing vigilance until he have caught and killed him, either by force or by fraud. The same custom exists in Arabia, and it appears to have been alluded to by Rebecca: when she learned that Esau was threatening to kill his brother Jacob, she endeavoured to send the latter out of the country, saying, "Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?" Genesis 27:15 . She could not be afraid of the magistrate for punishing the murderer, for the patriarchs were subject to no superior in Palestine; and Isaac was much too partial to Esau for her to entertain any expectation that he would condemn him to death for it. It would therefore appear that she dreaded lest he should fall by the hand of the blood avenger, perhaps of some Ishmaelite. The office, therefore, of the goel was in use before the time of Moses; and it was probably filled by the nearest of blood to the party killed, as the right of redeeming a mortgage field is given to him. To prevent the unnecessary loss of life through a sanguinary spirit of revenge, the Hebrew legislator made various enactments concerning the blood avenger. In most ages and countries, certain reputed sacred places enjoyed the privileges of being asylums; Moses, therefore, taking it for granted that the murderer would flee to the altar, commanded that when the crime was deliberate and intentional, he should be torn even from the altar, and put to death, Exodus 21:14 . But in the case of unintentional murder, the man-slayer was enjoined to flee to one of the six cities of refuge, which were appropriated for his residence. The roads to these cities, it was enacted, should be kept in such a state that the unfortunate individual might meet with no impediment whatever in his way, Deuteronomy 19:3 . If the goel overtook the fugitive before he reached an asylum, and put him to death, he was not considered as guilty of blood; but if the man-slayer had reached a place of refuge, he was immediately protected, and an inquiry was instituted whether he had a right to such protection and asylum, that is, whether he had caused his neighbour's death undesignedly, or was a deliberate murderer. In the latter case he was judicially delivered to the goel, who might put him to death in whatever way he chose; but in the former case the homicide continued in the place of refuge until the high priest's death, when he might return home in perfect security. If, however, the goel found him without the city, or beyond its suburbs, he might slay him without being guilty of blood, Numbers 35:26-27 . Farther, to guard the life of man, and prevent the perpetration of murder, Moses positively prohibited the receiving of a sum of money from a murderer in the way of compensation, Numbers 35:31 . It would seem that if no avenger of blood appeared, or if he were dilatory in the pursuit of the murderer, it became the duty of the magistrate himself to inflict the sentence of the law; and thus we find that David deemed this to be his duty in the case of Joab, and that Solomon, in obedience to his father's dying entreaty, actually discharged it by putting that murderer to death,

1 Kings 2:5 ; 1 Kings 6:28-34 . There is a beautiful allusion to the blood avenger in Hebrews 6:17-18 .

The following extracts will prove how tenaciously the eastern people adhere to the principle of revenging the death of their relations and friends—"Among the Circassians," says Pallas, "all the relatives of the murderers are considered as guilty. This customary infatuation to revenge the blood of relations generates most of the feuds, and occasions great bloodshed among all the tribes of Caucasus; for unless pardon be purchased, or obtained by intermarriage between the two families, the principle of revenge is propagated to all succeeding generations. If the thirst of vengeance is quenched by a price paid to the family of the deceased, this tribute is called thliluasa, or, ‘the price of blood;' but neither princes nor usdens accept such compensation, as it is an established law among them to demand blood for blood." "The Nubians," observes Light, "possess few traces among them of government, or law, or religion. They know no master, although the cashier claims a nominal command of the country. They look for redress of injuries to their own means of revenge, which, in cases of blood, extends from one generation to another, till blood is repaid by blood. On this account they are obliged to be ever on the watch, and armed: and in this manner even their daily labours are carried on; the very boys are armed." "If one Nubian," remarks Burckhardt, "happen to kill another, he is obliged to pay the debt of blood to the family of the deceased, and a fine to the governors of six camels, a cow, and seven sheep, or they are taken from his relations. Every wound inflicted has its stated fine, consisting of sheep and dhourra, but varying in quantity, according to the parts of the body wounded." "When a man or woman is murdered," says Malcolm, "the moment the person by whom the act was perpetrated is discovered, the heir-at-law to the deceased demands vengeance for the blood. Witnesses are examined, and if the guilt be established, the criminal is delivered into his hands, to deal with as he chooses. It is alike legal for him to forgive him, to accept a sum of money as the price of blood, or to put him to death. It is only a few years ago that the English resident at Abusheher saw three persons delivered into the hands of the relations of those whom they had murdered. They led their victims bound to the burial ground, where they put them to death; but the part of the execution that appeared of the most importance, was to make the infant children of the deceased stab the murderers with knives, and imbrue their little hands in the blood of those who had slain their father. The youngest princes of the blood that could hold a dagger were made to stab the assassins of Aga Mahomed Khan. When they were executed, the successor of Nadir Shah sent one of the murderers of that monarch to the females of his harem, who, we are told, were delighted to become his executioners."


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Goel'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/g/goel.html. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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