In contrast, biblical Israel is characterized by the persistence of social
organization based on kinship ties.57 It is no wonder, then, that the initia-
tive for remedying a homicide lay with the victimā™s family. The lineage, the
association of families, in biblical Israel acted as a mutual aid society and,
therefore, in a case of homicide, blood feud ensued.
This understanding of Israelite social development contravenes the dom-
inant models of state formation, which dictate that a kin-based society, such
as that of a tribe or chiefdom, breaks down in a territorial state.58 These
theories assume that the development of society culminates in a state, a terri-
torially deļ¬ned, class-based society reļ¬‚ecting a fundamental change between
prestate and state societies. They equate kin-based structures with prestate
forms of organization. Statehood represents a fundamental reorganization
of society. Controversy has arisen, therefore, over when the Israelite polity
moved from stage to stage. A question that inspires heated debate is whether
ancient Israel was a full-blown state during the reign of David or only a
chiefdom.59 These models of state formation make an explicit contrast be-
tween kin-based tribes and chiefdoms and territorially based states, but this
distinction is insufļ¬cient.
More recent analyses have noted the striking persistence of kin-based
social structures in ancient Israel, and a different developmental theory has
become necessary. Israelite society, being patrimonial or segmentary, retained
kin-based structures while developing a limited amount of centralization.60
Israelite society was divided into households of extended families, that is,
patrimonies or segments based on kinship ties.
In general, patrimonial authority depends on the forces of tradition and
personal association. The master of a household has authority because of
his personal relationship with the members of a household and because of
57 J.David Schloen, The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol: Patrimonialism in Ugarit and
the Ancient Near East (Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant 2; Winona Lake,
Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2001), 46, 51, 135ā“183; Bendor, The Social Structure of Ancient Israel,
82ā“86; Yigal Shiloh, āThe Four-Room House: Its Situation and Function in the Israelite City,ā
IEJ 20 (1970), 180ā“190; Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh, 267, 298ā“302.
58 The reasons for the transformation differ among various theoreticians. Elman Service postu-
lates that societies developed from tribe to chiefdom to state. As societies became more densely
populated, they required stronger and more permanent coordination by a chief and his family,
who thereby gained power and prestige. Morton Fried posits that deepening social stratiļ¬cation
due to the rise of private property spawned authority structures on the level of the state. See
Daniel M. Master, āState Formation Theory and the Kingdom of Ancient Israel,ā JNES 60
59 Bellefontaine, āCustomary Law and Chieftainship,ā 47ā“72; J. W. Flanagan, āChiefs in Israel,ā
JSOT 20 (1981), 47ā“73; David W. Jamieson-Drake, Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah: A
Socio-Archeological Approach (The Social World of Biblical Antiquity Series 9; JSOTSup 109;
Shefļ¬eld: Almond Press, 1991), 138ā“145.
60 Capital cities in ancient Israel functioned as regal-ritual cities as deļ¬ned by Richard G. Fox,
Urban Anthropology, 16ā“57.
BLOOD FEUD AND STATE CONTROL
tradition that dictates their obedience. This model can be extended to the
relationship of individual houses to the leader of a group of households. An
entire society can be organized on the model of a single household. Just as
members of a household would obey the master of a house, so would indi-
vidual houses obey a ruler. This model can be applied to an entire state: The
coalescence of a kingdom does not necessarily involve change in all levels
of society. The development of a patrimonial state would add a higher level
of social organization on top of the existing level of social organization.
In the case of ancient Israel, what changed with the rise of the monar-
chy was the addition of another household, the royal household, at the
next higher level of social organization. Kin-based authority systems would
permeate such a society. The association of families in a lineage was the
fundamental metaphor of social and political relationships. The extended
household acted as the organizing model of society, and the entire social
order was an extension of the rulerā™s household. With this model in mind,
we no longer need to try to plot monarchic Israelā™s place on a trajectory
of development that dictates that kin-based society was necessarily effaced
in a state.
The social structure of biblical Israel consisted of extended kin groups or
lineages, and this segmentary structure persisted through the First Temple
period and reappeared in the exilic and early Second Temple periods.61 Its
recrudescence was not an invention or revival of terms dormant for half a
millennium. This can be extrapolated from both textual and archaeological
remains. Although these data are fragmentary and originate from a wide
range of times of origin, including both evidence whose date can be ļ¬xed
with some degree of precision and evidence whose date of origin must re-
main approximate at best, they can provide a general picture of Israelite
society. Furthermore, textual and archaeological data are independent of
one another: If one source is found faulty, the other is not affected.
Both First Temple and Second Temple biblical texts express the identity of
individual Israelites in genealogical terms that refer to extended kin groups
(Josh 7:14ā“18; 1 Sam 9:11; Ezra 2; 8:1ā“14; Neh 7:4ā“72; 11; 1 Chr 2ā“9).62
Individuals are identiļ¬ed by tribe, lineage, and family, and their genealogies
go back generations to ancestry remote in family history.
61 Lawrence Stager, āThe Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,ā BASOR 260 (1985),
24; Avraham Faust, āThe Rural Community in Ancient Israel During Iron Age II,ā BASOR
317 (2000), 17ā“39.
62 Avraham Malamat, āMari and the Bible: Some Patterns of Tribal Organization and Institu-
tions,ā JAOS 82 (1962), 143ā“150; Malamat, āKing Lists of the Old Babylonian Period and
Biblical Genealogies,ā JAOS 88 (1968), 163ā“173. A useful comparison can be made to ļ¬rst
millennium Babylonia where individuals are named āpersonal name 1, son of personal name
2, descendent of personal name 3,ā where personal name 3 is not an individualā™s grandfather
but an ancestor or professional designation, akin to modern-day family names. (Cf. Van de
Mieroop, The Ancient Mesopotamian City, 107ā“109.)
48 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
Attachment to patrimonial property remained tenacious. A number of
textual examples can show this. The Priestly law in Lev 25:13ā“17 stipulates
that patrimonial property that has been sold reverts to the family in the
Jubilee year; it can never be alienated. Num 36:5ā“9 provides legislation
preventing patrimonial estates from shifting from tribe to tribe when the
only heirs are daughters, who are otherwise not entitled to the property. In
the tale of Nabothā™s vineyard (1 Kgs 21:1ā“15), set in the mid-ninth century,
Ahab the king wants to purchase Nabothā™s vineyard, but Naboth refuses
to sell the vineyard, which was part of his patrimonial estate, to the king,
stating: āThe Lord forbid that I give you the inheritance of my fathers.ā
The upset king realizes that he is obliged to accede to Nabothā™s refusal.
The prophet Jeremiah, active in the late seventh and early sixth centuries,
purchases the ļ¬eld of one of his cousins in their ancestral village of Anathoth
in obedience to the law of redemption, which offered the nearest kin the ļ¬rst
right of purchase (Jer 32:6ā“15).
The monarchy apparently had only a slight impact on the social structure
of biblical Israel at the local level. The provincial reorganization attributed
to Solomon preserved much of the premonarchic tribal boundaries intact.63
The continuing impact of the monarchy on society did not affect kinship
structures at the level of extended families. This is reļ¬‚ected in a variety of
biblical texts. The book of Deuteronomy, at least a version of which dates
from the late seventh century and which received a ļ¬nal redaction during
the exilic period, is addressed to a villager living away from the central
sanctuary in his ancestral village. Although the elders lost much of their
political authority during the monarchy, they did not lose it completely and
were called upon to exercise it in times of national emergency (1 Kgs 20:7;
2 Kgs 23:2), and the institution of the elders was restored in the exilic and
Second Temple periods (Jer 29:1; Ezek 8:1; 14:1; 20:1, 3; Ezra 5:5, 9; and
6:7, 8, 14; Ezra 2:68; 4:2; 8:1; Neh 7:70; Ezra 1:5; 4:3).64 The texts present
a segmentary social structure reļ¬‚ecting the prevalent way of life, consisting
of the settlement of extended families in small towns and rural settlements.
Archaeological data coincide with the textual presentation of Israelite
society. Samaria ostraca of the eighth century b.c.e. record place names that
also appear as names of the children of Manasseh in biblical genealogies
in Josh 17:2ā“3 and Num 26:30ā“33, reļ¬‚ecting the continuing integrity of
patrimonial structures centuries later.65 Excavations attest to the presence of
63 Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (2d edition; trans. and ed. by Anson F. Rainey;
Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 367; Baruch Halpern, The Constitution of the Monarchy in
Ancient Israel (HSM 25; Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981), 251ā“256.
64 Hayyim Tadmor, āTraditional Institutions and the Monarchy,ā in Studies in the Period of
David and Solomon and Other Essays (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1982), 240, 257;
Israel Ephā™al, āThe Western Minorities in Babylonia 6thā“5th Centuries,ā Or 47 (1978), 79.
65 Ivan T. Kaufman, āThe Samaria Ostraca: An Early Witness to Hebrew Writing,ā BA 45
(1982), 229ā“239; Schloen, The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol, 156ā“165.
BLOOD FEUD AND STATE CONTROL
family compounds, where a lineage would dwell, well into the Iron II period
at Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell Farā™ahm, and Tell en-Nasbeh and perhaps extending
into later periods as well.66 The presence of family tombs, which would be
used by a lineage for a number of generations, attests to the continuing
importance of kinship ties, and it is surmised that the tombs would serve as
a physical claim to patrimonial land.67
Israelite society was agrarian, settled in small towns. Although the monar-
chy produced a period of urbanization, the Iron Age II cities were almost
entirely given over to administrative structures and vacant of inhabitants.68
The Israelite population lived out in the countryside in villages and farm-
steads. Even Jerusalem at its greatest size of ļ¬fty to sixty hectares was only
15 percent the size of the central cities in Mesopotamia.69
Individuals in ancient Israel ļ¬tted into a social pattern that differed
sharply from that of Mesopotamia. The overriding fact in Mesopotamian
society was the state and its administrative subdivisions, whereas blood ties
bound Israelite society. This distinction had other effects. Patrimonial prop-
erty was not attested in Mesopotamian society because it was organized on
a nongentilic pattern, although a liberal policy of the sale and purchase of
land was in effect.70 Adoption, which abrogates blood ties, became a promi-
nent institution in Mesopotamian society; levirate marriage, which protects
blood ties, never did.71
Assyrian lawā™s distinctiveness conļ¬rms this argument. Assyrian legal pro-
cedure differs from other Mesopotamian law in that it posits a role for the
slayerā™s community and for the victimā™s family. This variance is probably
66 Stager, āThe Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,ā 22. Living in family compounds
may be reļ¬‚ected in textual evidence as well; cf. the household of Micah pursuing the abducted
Levite, Judg 18:22.
67 Burial evidence has mainly been attested in Judean territory during the First Temple period.
Cf. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs About the Dead (JSOTSup 123;
Shefļ¬eld: Shefļ¬eld Academic Press, 1992), 148ā“150. On the relationship between burial prac-
tices and social organization, cf. Anne Porter, āThe Dynamics of Death: Ancestors, Pastorialism,
and the Origins of a Third-Millennium City in Syria,ā BASOR 325 (2002), 1ā“36.
68 Zeev Herzog, Archaeology of the City: Urban Planning in Ancient Israel and Its Social Im-
plications (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1997), 270, 276. Indeed, only modest remains can
be dated to the United Monarchy, which biblical scholars generally consider to be a period of
69 Jamieson-Drake, Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah, 153.
70 Malamat, āMari and the Bible: Some Patterns of Tribal Organization and Institutions,ā 150.
Johannes M. Renger, in āInstitutional, Communal, and Individual Ownership or Possession
of Arable Land in Ancient Mesopotamia from the Fourth to the End of the First Millennium
B.C.,ā Chicago-Kent Law Review 71 (1995), 269ā“320, argues for a more cautious analysis of
the documents regarding the possession and sale of arable land. He contends that in Babylonia,
state control over land, owing to state involvement in irrigation, gave way gradually to the
increasing control of entrepreneurs, whereas in Assyria, collective ownership over land was
replaced by manorial control as the rural populace became impoverished.
71 E. A. Speiser, āā˜Peopleā™ and ā˜Nationā™ of Israel,ā JBL 59 (1960), 161.
50 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
due to Assyriaā™s geographic difference from Babylonia and Sumer, and that
geographic difference had an profound impact on Assyrian social structure.
The fact that Assyria was assured of sufļ¬cient rainfall for dry farming meant
that there were more permanent rural settlements further from cities than in
Babylonia and Sumer, where permanent settlements were possible only near
natural or artiļ¬cial bodies of water.72 The association of families persisted
in a rural environment.
In sum, the organization of society had a profound effect upon the con-
cept of justice and the process of law in the Bible, and the treatment of
homicide in biblical Israel was directly linked to the social structure of
biblical Israel. Although the most inļ¬‚uential culture of the ancient Near
East, Mesopotamia, left its mark on almost every chapter of the Bible, the
Mesopotamian adjudication of homicide differed radically from that in bibli-
cal Israel because of the profound differences in social organization between
the two cultures. In Israel, kinship ties were strong, and the family acted as a
mutual aid society, whereas in a heavily urban and centralized Mesopotamia,
a bureaucracy had control. This is striking because biblical law was based
upon Mesopotamian law and yet at the same time differed so greatly. The
institutions that ensured that a homicide would be investigated and remedied
in biblical law were vastly different from those in Mesopotamian law. The
difference originates in disparate conceptions of the organization of society.
APPENDIX ONE: THE IDENTITY OF
āTHE BLOOD AVENGERā
Biblical interpreters almost without exception hold that !dh lag is a blood
relative.73 This is so because of the linguistic connection with the lag, the re-
deemer who acted on behalf of a powerless person in the restoration of lost
freedom or sold property. However, a few scholars have departed from iden-
tifying !dh lag as a relative of the victim. Mayer Sulzberger argues that the
!dh lag was not a member of the victimā™s family but, rather, an ofļ¬cial whose
duty was to avenge murders.74 Since it was the countryā™s purity or guiltless-
ness that was threatened by the killing, a federal sheriff was entrusted with
the duty of executing the offender. The term !dh lag was selected because of
the analogy of the positive beneļ¬t ā“ in Sulzbergerā™s word, āfriendlinessā ā“ to
72 Van de Mieroop, The Ancient Mesopotamian City, 8.
73 Cf. S. R. Driver, Deuteronomy (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1901), 232; Moshe Greenberg,
āAvenger of Blood,ā IDB 1.321; S. David Sperling, āBlood, Avenger of Blood,ā ABD 1.763ā“
74 Mayer Sulzberger, The Ancient Hebrew Law of Homicide (Philadelphia: Julius H. Greenstone,
1915), 53ā“54, 58.
BLOOD FEUD AND STATE CONTROL
the community in warding off the danger. The establishment of an ofļ¬cial to
avenge murders was, according to Sulzberger, a Deuteronomic innovation,
part of the assumption of exclusive jurisdiction by the state over all homicide
cases. Another scholar, Anthony Phillips, adduced four proofs in arguing that
!dh lag was the representative of the local elders who would plead the case
on their behalf at the city of refuge and then execute the killer:75 1) There is
no evidence that blood feud was practiced against fellow Israelites: If there
were blood vengeance, the Book of the Covenant would have used a formula
other than the one referring to normal communal execution; that is, it would