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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Murder

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(properly קֶטֶל, which, however, is rendered "slaughter" in the Auth. Ver., from קָטִל, to "kill," φόνος ). The criminal law of the Israelites naturally recognised the distinction between wilful murder and accidental or justifiable homicide (Numbers 25:16 sq.), although in the legislative language itself the word רֹצֵח is used for both kinds of manslaughter (see especially Numbers 35:26; Deuteronomy 19:3, etc.). Murder was invariably visited with capital punishment (Leviticus 24:17; comp. Genesis 9:6), without the possibility of expiation. Mere homicide (the act of בַּשְׁגּגָה מִכָּה נֶפֶשׁ, Numbers 35:15, or דִעִת רֹצֵחִ אֶתאּרֵעֵהוּ בַּבְלַי, Deuteronomy 4:42) was, however, liable to a forfeiture of life according to all ancient national observances. Winer, 2:105. (See Ewald, Alterthiimer des V. Israel, pages 146-154.) (See BLOOD- REVENGE).

The principle on which the act of taking the life of a human being was regarded by the Almighty as a capital offence is stated on its highest ground as an outrage-Philo calls it sacrilege-on the likeness of God in man, to be punished even when caused by an animal (Genesis 9:5-6, with Bertheau's note; see also John 8:44; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 3:15; Philo, De Spec. Leg. 3:15, volume 2, page 313). Its secondary or social ground appears to be implied in the direction to replenish the earth which immediately follows (Genesis 9:7). The exemption of Cain from capital punishment may thus be regarded by anticipation as founded on the social ground either of expediency or of example (Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:15). The postdiluvian command, enlarged and infringed by the practice of blood- revenge, which it seems to some extent to sanction, was limited by the Law of Moses, which, while it protected the accidental homicide, defined with additional strictness the crime of murder. It prohibited compensation or reprieve of the murderer, or his protection if he took refuge in the refuge- city, or even at the altar of Jehovah, a principle which finds an eminent illustration in the case of Joab (Exodus 21:12; Exodus 21:14; Leviticus 24:17; Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:16-18; Numbers 35:21; Numbers 35:31; Deuteronomy 19:11; Deuteronomy 19:13; 2 Samuel 17:25; 2 Samuel 20:10; 1 Kings 2:5-6; 1 Kings 2:31; see Philo, 1.c.; Michaelis, On Laws of Moses, § 132). Bloodshed even in warfare was held to involve pollution (Numbers 35:33-34; Deuteronomy 21:1; Deuteronomy 21:9; 1 Chronicles 28:3). Philo says that the attempt to murder deserves punishment equally with actual perpetration; and the Mishna, that a mortal blow intended for another is punishable with death; but no express legislation on this subject is found in the Law (Philo, 1.c.; Mishna, Sanh. 9:2).

No special mention is made in the Law (a) of child murder, (b) of parricide, nor (c) of taking life by poison, but its animus is sufficiently obvious in all these cases (Exodus 21:15; Exodus 21:17; 1 Timothy 1:9; Matthew 15:4), and the third may perhaps be specially intended under the prohibition of witchcraft (Exodus 22:18; see Joseph. Ant. 4:8, 34; Philo, De Spec. Leg. 3:17, volume 2, page 315).

It is not certain whether a master who killed his slave was punished with death (Exodus 21:20; Knobel, ad loc.). In Egypt the murder of a slave was punishable with death as an example afortiori in the case of a freeman; and parricide was punished with burning; but child-murder, though regarded as an odious crime, was not punished with death (Diod. Sic. 1:77). The Greeks also, or at least the Athenians, protected the life of the slave (Miiller, Dorians, 3:3, § 4; Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 2:208, 209).

No punishment is mentioned for suicide attempted (comp. 1 Samuel 31:4 sq.; 1 Kings 16:18; Matthew 27:5; see 2 Maccabees 14:41 sq.), nor does any special restriction appear to have attached to the property of the suicide (2 Samuel 17:23); yet Josephus says (War, 3:8, 5) that suicide was dealt with as crime by the Jews. Striking a pregnant woman so as to cause abortion was punished by a fine; but if it caused her death it was punishable with death (Exodus 21:23; Joseph. Ant. 4:8, 33).

If an animal known to be vicious caused the death of any one, not only was the animal destroyed, but the owner also, if he had taken no steps to restrain it, was held guilty of murder (Exodus 21:29; Exodus 21:31; see Michaelis, § 274, volume 4, pages 234-5).

The duty of executing punishment on the murderer is in the Law expressly laid on the "revenger of blood;" but the question of guilt was to be previously decided by the Levitical tribunal. A strong bar against the licence of private revenge was placed by the provision which required the concurrence of at least two witnesses in any capital question (Numbers 35:19-30; Deuteronomy 17:6-12; Deuteronomy 19:12; Deuteronomy 19:17). In regal times the duty of execution of justice on a murderer seems to have been assumed to some extent by the sovereign, as well as the privilege of pardon (2 Samuel 13:39; 2 Samuel 14:7; 2 Samuel 14:11 : 1 Kings 2:34). During this period also the practice. of assassination became frequent, especially in the kingdom of Israel. Among modes of effecting this object may be mentioned the murder of Benhadad of Damascus by Hazael by means of a wet cloth (1 Kings 15:27; 1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 8:15; see Thenius, ad loc.: Jahn, Hist. 1:137; comp. 2 Kings 10:7; 2 Kings 11:1; 2 Kings 11:16; 2 Kings 11:20; 2 Kings 14:5; 2 Kings 15:14; 2 Kings 15:25; 2 Kings 15:30).

It was lawful to kill a burglar taken at night in the act, but unlawful to do so after sunrise (Exodus 22:2-3).

The Koran forbids child-murder, and allows blood revenge, but permits money-compensation for bloodshed (2:21; 4:72; 17:230, ed. Sale). (See MANSLAYER).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Murder'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/murder.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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