of lost property. In the same manner, the victimā™s blood is lost and needs to
12 H. ĀØ
Graf Reventlow, āSein Blut komme uber sein Haupt,ā VT 10 (1960), 311ā“327, and Klaus
Koch, āDer Spruch ā˜Sein Blut Bleihe auf seinem Hauptā™ und die Israelitische Auffassung vom
vergossenen Blut,ā VT 12 (1962), 396ā“416.
13 Daube, āLex Talionis,ā in Studies in Biblical Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
14 The title to the land was not retained by the redeemer but devolved to the original owner.
Apparently in some cases, the redeemer purchased the property directly from the relative forced
to sell it without the intermediate sale to a nonrelative (Jer 32:7ā“8; Ruth 3:12; 4:3ā“4). In
Jer 32:7ā“8, Jeremiah assumed title to the land because he had both the right of inheritance and
the right of redemption: In the end, he would have gained the title to the land. Contra Baruch
Levine, āLate Language in the Priestly Source: Some Literary and Historical Observations,ā
in Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1981, Panel Sessions: Bible
Studies and Hebrew Language (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1983), 75.
POLLUTION AND HOMICIDE
be recovered.15 The function of !dh lag is to undo the unlawful spilling of
his relativeā™s blood by spilling the killerā™s blood. Blood in its capacity as a
purifying agent removes the stain caused by the spilling of innocent blood,
and when the killer is executed, the pollution is removed. Otherwise, the
The use of two different titles raises the question of whether the re-
deemer, lag, and the blood redeemer, !dh lag, were one and the same person.
It is likely that two titles indicate different people.17 It appears to me that
lag is the superordinate category, of which !dh lag is a subunit. If the lag
is the closest male relative, it would be reasonable to assume that !dh lag
is also the closest male relative, subject only to the physical strength nec-
essary to fulļ¬ll the required task. The actual difference between the two,
then, is the physical ability required of someone who must pursue and strike
down the slayer. In a percentage of cases, the lag has the capacity to act as
!dh lag; in others, another relative with the requisite characteristics must act
as !dh lag. While it is clear that the lag is the closest relative ā“ the story of
Ruth and Boaz is based on the existence of a relative closer in degree than
Boaz whose primacy must be respected ā“ the avenger, by contrast, most likely
arose from the familyā™s consensus about which family member possessed the
appropriate characteristics to pursue and strike down another person. The
slayer would not meekly assent to be killed and would most likely ļ¬ght back.
!dh lag had to undertake a duty that many would shy away from18 and that
many could not undertake. The existence of a special title for the lag involved
in remedying a homicide reļ¬‚ects the concern with the deleterious effects of
spilled blood, the incurring of pollution. This lag is given the special title of
!dh lag, the lag for the blood whose spilling incurred pollution.
A threat of pollution is taken with great seriousness in the Bible. In the
priestly tradition, the Day of Atonement is devoted to purging the sanctuary
of impurity (Leviticus 16): The sanctuary requires decontamination from
pollution created by bodily impurities and also from Israelā™s transgressions
15 Daube, āLex Talionis,ā in Studies in Biblical Law, 136.
16 The implication of Num 35:33 is that execution of the killer is equivalent to puriļ¬cation. Cf.
Jeffrey M. Tigay, Deuteronomy (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication
Society, 1966), 473.
17 Although, in fact, Num 35:12 refers to the lag, not to !dh lag.
18 One author notes in his analysis of the machinations involved in constituting a vengeance
group, as depicted in the Icelandic sagas, that most people tended to avoid being drafted and
attempted to excuse themselves: āVengeance, whether in its pure form or legitimated as the
enforcement of an outlawry judgment, was a frightening prospect for avenger and wrongdoer
alike. Vengeance-taking was no easy task; it involved many risks many were understandably
reluctant to incur. Its difļ¬culty and the thinly disguised averseness of avengers to undertake
their grim duty is the main theme of a good portion of the saga corpus. . . . Settlements must
have occasioned as many sighs of relief from reluctant avengers as from anxious wrongdoers
and their kinā (Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, 299). In general, being an avenger was
an unhappy business, not eagerly assumed.
100 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
penetrating the sphere of the sacred from afar.19 The architecture of the
rebuilt Temple in the vision of Ezekiel was adjusted from that of the old
Temple in order to prevent ritual impurity from imperiling the new Temple:
Huge gatehouses were to be built to protect the entrances, and two court-
yards were to be constructed so that the laity could be banned from the inner
courtyard, next to the Temple building itself.20 In so doing, intruders would
not be able to imperil the purity of the Temple.
The concept of impurity that affects ritual was extended to impurity that
results from ethical violations.21 āRitualā impurity is incurred as a result of
contact with any one of a number of natural processes and substances: the
remains of dead animals (Lev 11:1ā“47), childbirth (Lev 12:1ā“8), scale dis-
ease (Lev 13:1ā“14:32), genital discharges (Lev 15:1ā“33), and human corpses
(Num 19:1ā“22). Its effect is temporary and, in general, limited to the indi-
vidual who incurred it. It is removed by bathing and by waiting for a certain
amount of time to pass ā“ a mild sanction. By contrast, āethicalā impurity
is incurred by the committing of certain acts by an individual or individuals
(Lev 18:24ā“29; 19:31; 20:1ā“3; Num 35:33ā“34; Deut 19:10). It has an ef-
fect on entities beyond the physical reach of the offense, whether the nation
of Israel as a whole, the Land of Israel, or the sanctuary (Lev 18:25; 20:3;
Ezek 5:11; 36:17). It desecrates without being in direct contact with the
object of its desecration. Its deļ¬lement can only be removed by atonement,
punishment, or exile. Ethical pollution is severe and, worse, dynamic: It is
persistent, contagious, and difļ¬cult to remove.
The deļ¬ling effect of spilled blood extends beyond that of the victimā™s
family and the duties of the blood redeemer. Homicide causes ethical pol-
lution as well as ritual pollution.22 It threatens the well-being of the entire
19 Jacob Milgrom, āIsraelā™s Sanctuary: The Priestly Picture of Dorian Gray,ā RB 83 (1976),
390ā“399. Baruch J. Schwartz argues that P does not hold that Israelā™s transgressions translate
into actual deļ¬lement, whereas H and Ezekiel do. According to Schwartz, in P they do not meta-
morphose into deļ¬lement but infect the sanctuary in a process distinct from, though analogous
to, deļ¬lement (Schwartz, āThe Bearing of Sin,ā 17).
20 Moshe Greenberg, āThe Design and Themes of Ezekielā™s Program of Restoration,ā Int 38
(1984), 192ā“193, 205ā“208. Moreover, before the Israelites can return to their land, they must
be puriļ¬ed of both the ritual impurity and the ethical impurity that caused them to be expelled
(Ezek 36:16ā“18, 22ā“25).
21 Cf. David Z. Hoffman, Das Buch Leviticus (Berlin: M. Poppelauer, 1905ā“1906), 1.303ā“304;
Tikva Frymer-Kensky, āPollution, Puriļ¬cation, and Purgation in Biblical Israel,ā in The Word
of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of his
Sixtieth Birthday (ed. Carol L. Meyers and M. Oā™Connor; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns,
1983), 399ā“414; Jonathan Klawans, āThe Impurity of Immorality in Ancient Judaism,ā JJS
48 (1997), 1ā“16; Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2000), 21ā“42.
22 The idea that the blood of the victim polluted the slayer is attested in ancient Greece, but only
Plato was moving in the direction of moralizing pollution. At the same time that Plato retained
the concept of ritual pollution by prescribing that accidental killing required puriļ¬cation, he
also held that the individual who used an agent to kill someone else was polluted in soul and
POLLUTION AND HOMICIDE
Israelite polity. It is the incentive for establishing the procedures to adjudi-
cate homicide. The slayer offends not only against the victim and his family
but also against God, who does not abide in a polluted place or among a
polluted people. Even foreign lands, where God does not dwell, are turned
into desolation because of bloodshed (Joel 4:19).
The fear of spreading pollution explains what happens to the accidental
killer. According to Num 35:28, the accidental slayer is to remain in the
city of refuge until the death of the high priest. If he is found to have killed
accidentally, why should he be forced to remain in the city of refuge? Moshe
Greenberg points out that the answer lies in the two aspects that the city
of refuge has in Numbers 35.23 It is both a refuge that protects the fugitive
and a place of conļ¬nement that serves as exile. This is manifested in the
technical term used in the Bible in connection to the cities of refuge, flqm.
The root of flqm in rabbinic Hebrew means āto receive; to contain.ā The
ļ¬rst meaning is the commonly used one: It is reļ¬‚ected in the role that the city
of refuge played in protecting the killer from !dh lag. The second meaning is
also extant in the Hebrew Bible, where the root f-l-q is used as an antonym
to the root [-r-`, āto extendā24 in Lev 22:23. The word flqm, therefore, may
be rendered as ācontainment.ā These cities, therefore, can be understood as
āconļ¬nement citiesā or āprison cities.ā25 This is not simply a formal exercise
in philology ā“ there is a profound difference between understanding flqm ry[
as āa refuge/sanctuaryā or as āa prison.ā A flqm possessed both aspects. Any
killer of a human being, even accidentally, was considered guilty.26 This is
must be dealt with exactly like the actual killer. In general in ancient Greece, the language of
pollution was used to describe outrageous behavior ā“ a misdeed made its perpetrator impure ā“
but puriļ¬cation was not required. General cleanliness was required for formal, respectful be-
havior of any kind, whether making a sacriļ¬ce or speaking to an assembly. Homicide never
incurred ethical pollution, despite the idea that pollution did not require direct contact to deļ¬le
those with a connection to the dead. A death would make the relatives of the victim impure even
if they were far away. When, for example, the news of a civil conļ¬‚ict in which 1,500 men were
killed reached the Athenian assembly, a puriļ¬cation of the assembly was immediately carried
out. Furthermore, the stain that affected a city or kingdom due to a homicide committed by
its leader or one of its citizens was caused by two factors: 1) the anger of the victim and the
avenging entities working on his behalf, and 2) the social isolation imposed on the killer and
by extension on his associates. Neither one of these factors was deļ¬lement. Cf. Robert Parker,
Miasma: Pollution and Puriļ¬cation in Early Greek Religion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983), 5,
21, 35ā“36, 106ā“108, 112; Michael Gagarin, Drakon and Early Athenian Homicide Law (New
Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1981), 17; Douglas M. MacDowell, Athenian Homi-
cide Law in the Age of the Orators (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1963), 145;
S. C. Todd, The Shape of Athenian Law (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 140ā“141, 272, 274.
23 Greenberg, āThe Biblical Concept of Asylum,ā in Studies in Bible and Jewish Thought, 47.
24 This meaning is also found in Lev 21:18; Isa 28:20.
25 Sulzberger, The Ancient Hebrew Law of Homicide, 17.
26 Greenberg, āThe Biblical Conception of Asylum,ā 45. Even an accidental fall from a roof
unprotected by a parapet incurred bloodguilt for the death, albeit on the building or household
102 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
why he had to remain in the city of refuge, exiled from his ancestral home,
family, and usual occupation. Num 35:27 explicitly states that the avenger
does not incur bloodguilt if he strikes down the accidental killer outside of
the city of refuge. The accidental killer is still guilty in some sense, and the
blood avenger can kill him if he ventures out of the city of refuge. This idea is
paralleled in other biblical texts.27 Even Deuteronomy 19, with its concern
for preventing the death of the fugitive before he reaches the city of refuge,
does not regard the avenger who kills him on the way to the city of refuge
to be culpable. If the city of refuge is not easily accessible, the community is
responsible, not the blood avenger (Deut 19:10).
The accidental manslayer, while protected within the boundaries of the
city of refuge, is still in danger if he ventures beyond them. He has to remain
within the limits of the city of refuge in order to avoid meeting the blood
avenger. Whether the accidental slayer waits inside the city of refuge for a
short or a long period of time, the blood avenger might still be prepared to
kill him. Indeed, Num 35:26ā“27 warns of this possibility.
If the accidental manslayer was to be conļ¬ned to the city of refuge because
of his guilt, why would it be possible for him to leave the city of refuge at
all? Furthermore, if conļ¬nement was considered the proper punishment for
accidental homicide, would not a ļ¬xed term be appropriate? A release based
on the time of death of the high priest could vary greatly. The high priest
might expire soon after the slayer was judged to be an accidental killer, and
the killer would be freed after spending just a short time in the sanctuary. By
contrast, another accidental killer might have to wait years before the high
priest would die. To add to the mystery, generally a reprieve is granted at the
accession of a leader, not his death; that a high priestā™s death should be the
occasion of an amnesty is puzzling.28
27 This concept is extended even further by rabbinic texts, which explicitly call the ļ¬‚ight to a
city of refuge tWlļ¬ , and which identify certain acts of accidental homicide as so guiltless as not
to require ļ¬‚ight to a city of refuge at all. See m. Makkot 2:1ā“2.
28 Greenberg argues correctly that an amnesty extended at the death of a high priest is unusual
because in general, amnesties occur at the accession of a king so that a new monarch could gain
the favor of the populace (āThe Biblical Conception of Asylum,ā 45). Generally, Mesopotamian
kings proclaimed mĀÆ sarum decrees during their ļ¬rst year of rule, remitting speciļ¬c types of
debts and pecuniary obligations. They were not pardoning capital crimes. Cf. J. J. Finkelstein,
āAmmisaduqaā™s Edict and the Babylonian ā˜Law Codes,ā™ā JCS 15 (1961), 102. There is an
exception to this, the reform of UruKAgina (Ukg. 4 xii 13ā“22 [ = Ukg. 5 xi 20ā“29]; Piotr
Steinkeller, āThe Reform of UruKAgina and an Early Sumerian Term for ā˜Prison,ā™ā AuOr
9 , 227ā“233). This amnesty was promulgated at the beginning of UruKAginaā™s reign,
ca. 2350 b.c.e., and included the release of a variety of offenders, including those who had
The citizens of Lagash ā“ the one who had lived in indebtedness, the one who had set
up a [false] gur-measure [and] the one who had [improperly] ļ¬lled [the accurate gur-
measure] with barley, the thief, [and] the murderer ā“ he swept their prison clean [of
them and] established their freedom.
POLLUTION AND HOMICIDE
The answer lies in the status of the high priest. Many scholars have
recognized the expiatory aspect of his death.29 Only the high priest has the
ability to purge guilt for others. Two examples may sufļ¬ce as proof: 1) In
Lev 4:13ā“21, he30 makes expiation for the entire community. 2) The gold
plate that the high priest wears on his forehead acts as expiation for the guilt
the people incur (Exod 28:36ā“38).31 The death of the high priest, whether
soon upon the conļ¬nement of the accidental slayer or after many years,
would serve as expiation for the killing. An animal sacriļ¬ce would not be
sufļ¬cient. Only a human death can undo the killing of a human being, even
if it is accidental. The accidental killer must remain in the city of refuge until
the offense he has committed has been purged by the death of the high priest,
who alone can expiate the guilt of others.32 The stay of the accidental killer
in the city of refuge has a cultic valence. According to Numbers 35, after the
high priestā™s death, the accidental murderer is no longer pursued by !dh lag,
because the expiatory death of the high priest is accepted by !dh lag.
Deuteronomy secularizes the stay of the accidental killer, a tendency that
is already at work in Deuteronomyā™s conceptualization of the cities of refuge.
There is no mention in Deut 19:1ā“9 of a requirement that the accidental
killer be detained within the conļ¬nes of the city. Yet the text does not specify
that he can leave the refuge at all. Deut 19:6 identiļ¬es āthe hot angerā
of the blood avenger as the impetus for the fugitiveā™s ļ¬‚ight to the city of
refuge. The implication, then, is that the accidental killer can depart when
the anger of the blood avenger is appeased. S. R. Driver extrapolates from
the speciļ¬cation of the emotions of the blood avenger that the length of the
accidental killerā™s stay in the city of refuge depends entirely on the feelings
of the blood avenger.33 When the blood avenger calms down and reļ¬‚ects
on what occurred, according to Driver, he will realize that it was only an
accident and will no longer seek to kill the slayer. Of course, it is possible
that the avengerā™s rage will never subside, and the accidental slayer will then
be forced to remain in the city of refuge until the avenger dies or the slayerā™s
Alexander RofĀ“ argues that an emotional reconciliation is not sufļ¬cient.34
After the emotions settle, he supposes, the city elders will arrange a mon-
etary settlement. The accidental killer will not have to be concerned about
the hot anger of the blood avenger once the victimā™s family is paid com-