• Blood Feud and State Control: Differing Legal Institutions for the Remedy of Homicide During the Second and First Millennia B.C.E.

    Pamela Barmash (see profile)
    Ancient Jew Review, Ancient Near East, Biblical Studies, Hebrew Bible / Old Testament
    Law, Comparative ancient history, Criminal law
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    Since the discovery of the Laws of Hammurapi in December 1901–January 1902,1 the dependence of biblical law upon Mesopotamian law has been hotly debated. Among the most contentious issues is the abjudication of homicide, and the discussion has focused on particular odd cases in biblical law, such as an ox that gored or assault on a pregnant woman, that appear to have been borrowed from Mesopotamian law.2 The more common occurrences of fatal assault and the procedures to remedy them, however, have been largely ignored. What institutions insured that homicide was punished in biblical law, and what relationship did they have to Mesopotamian legal process? I will argue that the institutions that insured that a homicide would be investigated and remedied in biblical law were vastly different from those in Mesopotamian law and that the difference originates in disparate conceptions of the organization of society. Mesopotamian texts reflect the extensive involvement of the state in the process of remedying homicide. The members of the victim’s family participated in the process insofar as they had the right to make a claim on the slayer, but there does not seem to be any apprehension generated by the possibility of a blood avenger waiting to strike down the killer. By contrast, blood feud operated in biblical law, and places of sanctuary were needed to protect the killer.
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    8 months ago
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