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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Avenger of Blood

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AVENGER OF BLOOD . The practice of blood-revenge has been very widely spread among societies in a certain stage of civilization, where there has been no central authority to enforce law and order, and where the certainty of retaliation has been the only guarantee for security of life. Among the Semites the custom was in full force from the earliest times, and it is still the only spring of order in Arabia. It depends for its maintenance upon the solidarity of the clan or tribe. All the members of the tribe, whatever may be the immediate parental relationship, are counted as being of one blood; a wrong done to one is a wrong done to all, to be avenged if necessary by all the offended clan upon all the clan of the offender. The phrase used by the Arabs is, ‘Our blood has been shed.’

Of the form of blood-revenge that involved the whole clan or tribe in the murder of a single individual there are still traces in the OT (Joshua 7:24 , 2 Kings 9:25 ). Naturally, however, the duty of avenging the shedding of blood fell primarily upon him who was nearest of kin to the slaughtered man. This next of kin was called the gô’çl . The word in Hebrew law was used in a wide sense for him whose duty it was to redeem the property or the person of an impoverished or enslaved relative ( Leviticus 25:26 ; Leviticus 25:47-49 , Ruth 4:1 ff.), but it came to be used specially of the man who had to perform this most tragic duty of kinship. The steady effort of Hebrew law was to limit this ancient custom so as to ensure that a blood feud should not perpetuate itself to the ruin of a whole clan, and that deliberate murder and accidental homicide should not come under the same penalty. It is possible to trace with some definiteness the progress of this sentiment by which the gô’çl was gradually transformed from being the irresponsible murderer of a possibly blameless manslayer to being practically the executioner of a carefully considered sentence passed by the community. See Kin [Next of].

R. Bruce Taylor.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Avenger of Blood'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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