One of the most important clan duties then was plainly for the nearest of kin to hunt down and carry out the death-penalty on a person that had slain a member of the sept or family. That this idea of family retribution—which even to-day is by no means extinct in some comparatively civilized communities—was also current among the ancient Hebrews may be seen from Gen.
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It appears, furthermore, from Josh. The Hebrew religious justification for the system of family blood-revenge was undoubtedly the firm belief that God, in order to insure the sacredness of human life, had Himself fixed the deathpenalty for murder Gen. In the earliest times blood-money was not accepted either for murder or for excusable homicide.
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Such a payment would have made the land "polluted by blood" Num. Una venged blood "cried out" for vengeance to God Gen. The Avenger of Blood, then, was regarded as the representative, not only of the murdered man's family, but of Yhwh Himself, who was the highest avenger Ps. Such a stern system, however, could not, of course, survive unmodified after the community had begun to advance from the purely savage state.
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Abuses of the privilege of blood-revenge must have soon become evident to the tribal chiefs, as one finds in Ex. In order to establish a case of wilful murder, it must be shown that weapons or implements commonly devoted to slaughter were used, and that a personal hatred existed between the slayer and his victim Ex.
The law enumerates three exceptions to this general principle: a The slaying of a thief caught at night in flagrante delicto is not punishable at all; but if he is captured by day there is blood-guilt which, however, is not liable to the blood-revenge Ex. Its flesh in such a case might not be eaten.
If gross contributory negligence could be proved on the part of the animal's owner, he was liable only for blood-money Ex. The later codes develop at some length the very just distinction between wilful murder and accidental homicide see Murder. Six Cities of Refuge were appointed for the purpose of affording an asylum to the homicide, where he might be secure from the hand of the avenger Deut. According to the later procedure, at least two witnesses were necessary to establish a case of wilful murder Num.
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In case, however, it was not possible to apprehend the murderer or manslayer, the adjudication might take place and a verdict be rendered in his absence. It appears from Josh. If the case were simply one of unintentional manslaughter the slayer was immediately accorded the right of asylum in the city of refuge, where he had to remain until the death of the reigning high priest Num.
If the "go'el ha-dam" were to find the slayer of his kinsman outside the limits of the city of refuge, he had the right to kill him at sight. In a case in which the verdict against the slayer was one of wilful murder, the murderer incurred the blood-revenge without any restrictions. If he were already in a city of refuge, the elders of his own city were obliged to fetch him thence by force if necessary, and to deliver him formally to the Avenger of Blood, who thus became little more than a family executioner Deut.
Two very important restrictions should here be noticed: a Although the entire family or gens to which the murdered man belonged were theoretically entitled to demand the blood-revenge II Sam. According to the later Jewish tradition, when there was no heir, the court had the right to assume the position of the "go'el.
This is a most significant advance on the primitive savage custom that involved two gentes in a ceaseless feud.
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Anent this advance, it is interesting to note that, in the time of the kings, the king himself, as the highest judicial authority, was entitled to control the course of the blood-revenge II Sam. It is difficult to decide exactly how long the custom of blood-revenge by the "go'el" remained in vogue among the Hebrews.
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