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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(אִסַּיר , assir, δέσμιος ). Imprisonment does not appear to have been imposed by Moses as a punishment among the Hebrews, though he describes it as in use among the Egyptians (Genesis 39:20-21; Genesis 40:1-4). He seems to have used it merely for the purpose of keeping the culprit safe until judgment was given (Leviticus 24:12). As execution immediately followed the sentence, there was little occasion for incarceration. The great variety in the names of prisons in the Hebrew would lead us to imagine that they were more frequently used in the latter than in the earlier periods of the Hebrew nation; and that they were not only used in the detention of criminals, but as a means of punishment and correction (2 Chronicles 16:10; 1 Kings 22:27; 2 Kings 25:29; Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 37:21; Jeremiah 52:31; Isaiah 24:22; Isaiah 42:7; Matthew 4:12; Acts 12:4). Prisoners were often confined in stocks, or with chains (Job 33:11; Jeremiah 40:4); and the keepers of the prisons often had a discretionary power to treat their prisoners as they pleased. The torture was often applied to extort a confession from the accused. In later periods the Jews confined those in prison who failed in the payment of their debts. They had the liberty to punish the debtor with stripes (Wisdom of Solomon Jeremiah 2:19; Matthew 5:26; Matthew 18:28-34). The Romans, in some instances, fastened their criminals by one or both hands to a soldier: such appear to have remained in their own houses (Acts 28:16). It was not unfrequently the case that the keepers of prisons, when those who were committed to their charge had escaped, were subjected to the same punishment which had been intended for the prisoners (Acts 12:19; Acts 16:27). (See PRISON).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Prisoner'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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