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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Blood-Revenge, 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.

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). If, however, after Judaism had been fully developed, no other sanctuary had been tolerated but that of the Temple at Jerusalem, the chances of escape of such an homicide from the hands of the avenger, ere he reached the gates of the Temple, must have become less in proportion to the distance of the spot where the murder was committed from Jerusalem: six cities of refuge were therefore 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 willful act or not. In the former case he was instantly delivered up to the Goel, or avenger of blood, 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 high-priest (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 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 Mosaic law, as 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 willful or accidental, laid the homicide open to the duteous revenge of 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 in the Scriptures the least trace of any abuse or mischief ever having arisen from these regulations (comp. 2 Samuel 2:19, sq.; 3:21, sq.).

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 5:44; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14, sq.; comp. Romans 13, where the power of executing revenge is vested in the authorities alone).





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Blood-Revenge'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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