The Law Concerning Violence

12 Jun

Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution. Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death. Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. (Exodus 21:12-27, NRSV)

This is a passage that gets quoted a lot, with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But do we use that passage correctly?

Do we understand what it means?

It means and this whole passage attests to, you can seek no more from a person than what they took from you. If a person cut off your hand, you can not kill them, or take their arm. The most you can do according to this passage is take their hand. The same hand. If they took you non-dominant hand, you can’t take their dominant hand, you have to take their non-dominant hand.

It is for justice. And not divine retribution. You can not take more than was taken from you.

It is not about getting even in the way we think of that today, but a way to make sure that people pay for what they have done by doing to them what they did to someone else.


Are you just in your dealings in the world?


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