The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Sixth Commandment
... chapter continued from previous file ...
This Commandment is no more a prohibition against murder than the previous Commandment was meant to inculcate filial respect, or the Fourth Commandment was meant to provide for a day of rest. It is an ancient taboo that has been carried down through the centuries by a people who have maintained their primitive culture, fears and superstitions. Like the five previous Commandments, it was formulated exclusively for the Hebrews, and was a taboo based on the superstitious belief in animism against spilling blood because of the fear of blood pollution. The confusion concerning its meaning today is due to the fact that it has been restated in language with a modern connotation, either designedly or through ignorance, which gives it an altogether different meaning from what the Commandment originally intended to prohibit.
This Commandment was based upon the ancient belief that blood was life and that the spirit of the slain would return and seek revenge. This belief prevailed among the Hebrews from the earliest times and was also prevalent among the other Semitic and primitive races. Beyond that it had no significance whatsoever, and was never intended to have any. It was devoid of any moral implication. No better proof could be adduced of the underlying motive of this Commandment than the following from the Bible itself -- Numbers, Chapter 35, verses 33 and 34:
33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
34. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.
Extremely significant as proof of the belief in blood pollution is the statement in the above verse that "the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it." This is the basis of blood atonement and was responsible for this Commandment being made part of the Decalogue of a superstitious and primitive people. The necessity for expiation or atonement is indicative of its ancient origin.
We also find this primitive belief in animism expressed in Genesis, Chapter 4, verses 8 to 13:
8. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10. And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.
12. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
"...The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." And this blood will pollute the earth and prevent it from yielding fruit. Verses 14 and 15, following also state that Cain is to be haunted throughout his life by the spirit of the one whose blood has been shed. [**70]
14. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
So deeply ingrained was the superstition that the spirit of life was in the blood that there is a specific warning to the Children of Israel against "eating" blood in Deuteronomy, Chapter 12, verse 23:
23. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.
There is a similar provision emphasizing the taboo against eating blood in Genesis, Chapter 9, verse 4:
4. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
This is the reason why orthodox Jews even today will eat only "kosher" meat. [**71] To be "kosher," the animal or fowl must be killed and prepared for cooking in such a way that no blood remains in its body. All meat must be soaked in water for at least half an hour, salted and kept on a board for another half hour, so as to make certain that every drop of blood is extracted. Otherwise the prohibition, "Thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh" would be violated. This accounts for the fact that porterhouse and tenderloin steaks and similar portions of the animal are not eaten by the orthodox. Before this meat could be eaten, all blood vessels would have to be removed to make it ritually edible. A propitiative prayer is always said at the slaughter of animals or fowl to avoid the sin of shedding blood. There is some progress even in this custom because the ancient Israelites, in order to conform strictly to this ritual performance, had to bring the live animal or fowl to the temple. There it was slaughtered by the priest, who then performed a sacrificial ceremony by dashing the blood against the altar. [*72]
This superstitious custom, based on the primitive belief in animism, is but another instance of the utter ignorance of the Biblical Hebrews regarding hygienic matters and the nutritional value of food.
According to a strict interpretation of a belief in blood contamination, blood transfusions would be forbidden, and as a result hundreds of thousands of lives that are now saved would be sacrificed to this superstition.
This animistic belief also carried with it the fear of revenge, in the belief that blood was life and possessed the spirit of God as revealed in Genesis, Chapter 9, verses 5 and 6:
5. And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.
6. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
Even in the story of Joseph, we find this same precaution against blood pollution on the theory that blood will have its revenge. Genesis, Chapter 37, verses 21 and 22:
21. And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
22. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him, that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
"Shed no blood" was the precautionary advice of Reuben, for fear that by doing so "he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again."
The following definition from the New Standard Bible Dictionary also throws important light on the meaning of blood pollution and the reason for this Commandment: "The important meaning attached to blood in the Oriental world was determined by the notion that the life principle either was the blood itself or had its residence in the blood." [*73] It is not difficult to understand how such a notion might originate when one considers that after the blood has run out of the body, life is extinguished in both man and the lower animals.
Even in the Psalms there is a prayer asking that we be spared the penalty of the guilt of blood. Psalms 51, verse 14:
14. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
"Bloodguiltiness" did not refer to killing, but to the contamination of blood without proper expiation. The use of the word "bloodguiltiness" reveals in itself the prevalence of the fear of blood pollution. Like all other superstitious peoples under the influence of taboos, the Hebrews were always provided with methods of atonement and expiation. They carried their superstitions to fanatical lengths, recording them in minute detail, and formulating their fears and taboos into a system of belief which became the dominant factor in their lives. This is plainly indicated in Leviticus, Chapter 4, verses 1 to 12:
1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2. Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
4. And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the Lord.
5. And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation:
6. And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the veil of the sanctuary.
7. And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
8. And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards.
9. And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away,
10. As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering.
11. And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung,
12. Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt.
The fear of blood pollution and the necessity of expiation for it are also shown in Samuel I, Chapter 14, verses 31 to 33:
31. And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
33. Then they told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against the Lord, in that they eat with the blood. And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me this day.
This phase of animism prompted Saul to tell his warriors to abstain from food after engaging in battle. However, that had nothing to do with the matter of disobeying Saul and "sinning" against the Lord. Their transgression had to be expiated, and of what did this ceremony of purification consist? The "sinner" had to "roll a great stone unto me this day," in the belief that this useless exertion of one's strength would expiate the violation of the taboo. [**74]
Throughout the Bible there are numerous passages to prove the prevalence of the belief in blood pollution. [*75] This Commandment is a survival of this animistic belief, and it prevails among many people of primitive culture even today.
Some Esthonians will not taste blood because they believe that it contains the animal's soul, which would enter the body of the person.
Marco Polo tells us that persons caught in the streets of Cambaluc (Peking) at unseasonable hours were arrested and, if found guilty of a misdemeanor, were beaten with a stick. Under this punishment victims sometimes died, but it was used to eschew bloodshed, for according to their Baosis it is an evil thing to shed man's blood.
In West Sussex, people still believe that the ground on which human blood has been shed is accursed and will remain barren forever.
Among the Latuka of Central Africa, the earth on which a drop of blood has fallen at childbirth is carefully scraped up with an iron shovel, put in a pot along with the water used in washing the mother, and buried outside the house on the left-hand side.
In West Africa, a drop of blood which has fallen on the ground must be carefully covered up, rubbed and stamped into the soil.
The natives of New Guinea are careful to burn any sticks, leaves or rags stained with their blood. [*76]
As already mentioned, fear of blood revenge formed an additional basis for this Commandment. According to early beliefs, the soul of a murdered man finds no rest until his death has been avenged. [*77] Even in primitive societies, where it is considered a meritorious act to kill an enemy, i.e., a member of another tribe, a ceremony of purification for shedding blood must take place.
The Ponka Indians believe that a murderer is surrounded by ghosts that keep up a constant whistling; that he can never satisfy his hunger, though he eat much food; and that he must not be allowed to roam at large lest high winds arise.
Among the Omahas, a murderer was obliged to pitch his tent about a quarter of a mile from the rest of the tribe when they were going on a hunt, lest the ghost of his victim should raise a high wind which might cause damage. They also believed that the spirits of those who had been killed reappeared after death, their errand being "to solicit vengeance on the perpetrators of the deed."
Among the North American Indians, it was found that "as they reckon they are become impure by shedding human blood," they observe a fast of three days. After a battle they ran through their village and made hideous noises for the purpose of preventing the ghosts of the departed combatants from entering the village. Among the Natchez, "those who for the first time have made a prisoner or taken off a scalp, must, for a month, abstain from seeing their wives or from eating flesh," or the souls of those whom they killed, or burnt, would effect their death, or they would never gain any advantage over their enemies.
The Kafirs and Bechuanas practice various ceremonies of purification after their fights. The Basutos say: "Human blood is heavy; it prevents him who has shed it from running away." They consider it necessary that on returning from battle "the warriors should rid themselves, as soon as possible, of the blood they have shed, or the shades of their victims would pursue them incessantly and disturb their slumbers"; hence, they go in full armor to the nearest stream; the moment they enter the water, a diviner, placed higher up, throws some purifying substance into the current.
Among the Bantu Kavirondo, "when a man has killed an enemy in warfare, he shaves his head on his return home, and his friends rub 'medicine' (generally the dung of goats) over his body to prevent the spirit of the deceased from worrying the man by whom he has been slain." Among the Ja-luo, a warrior who has slain an enemy not only shaves his hair but, after entering the village, prepares a big feast to propitiate the ghost of the man he has killed.
According to the laws of Manu, a person who has unintentionally killed a Brahman shall make a hut in the forest and dwell in it for twelve years; in order to remove his guilt, he must throw himself thrice headlong into a blazing fire, or walk against the stream the whole length of the river Sarasvati, or shave off all his hair.
The ancient Greeks believed that one who had suffered a violent end was angry with the one who had caused his death. The bloodguilty individual, as though infected with a miasma, shunned all contact and conversation with other people, and avoided entering their dwellings. [*78] The legend of the matricide Orestes, how he roamed from place to place pursued by the Furies of his murdered mother, and how none would sit at meat with him, or take him in until he had been purified, reflects faithfully the real Greek dread of being haunted by the angry ghosts of the slain. [*79]
The Jbala of North Morocco, though they no longer believe in ghosts, are still convinced that a person who has shed blood is in some degree unclean for the rest of his life. They believe that poison oozes from beneath his nails; hence, anybody who drinks the water in which he has washed his hands will fall dangerously ill. The ignorant savage, unable to account for the ill effects of drinking impure water, attributes it to an evil influence, which results in the multitude of prohibitions and taboos that are universally a part of all religious systems.
In Central Africa, after killing a slave, the master is afraid of Chilope. This means that he will become emaciated, lose his eyesight, and ultimately die a miserable death. He therefore goes to his chief and gives him a certain fee (in cloth, or slaves, or such legal tender), and says, "Get me a charm [lusai], because I have slain a man." When he has used this charm, which may be either drunk or administered in a bath, the danger is supposed to pass away.
In Chinese books there are numerous stories about persons haunted by the souls of their victims on their deathbeds, and in most of these cases the ghosts state expressly that they are avenging themselves with the special authorization of Heaven. [*80]
The people of Paloo in Central Celebes take the heads of their enemies in war and afterwards propitiate the souls of the slain in the temple.
Among the tribes at the mouth of the Sanigela River in New Guinea, "a man who has taken life is considered impure until he has undergone certain ceremonies; as soon as possible after the deed, he cleanses himself and his weapon.... After elaborate ceremonies, a hunt is organized and a kangaroo is selected from the game captured. It is cut open and the spleen and the liver rubbed over the back of the man. He then walks solemnly down to the nearest water and, standing straddle-legged in it, washes himself.... The following day, at early dawn, he dashes out of his house, fully armed, and calls aloud the name of the victim. Having satisfied himself that he has thoroughly scared the ghost of the dead man, he returns to his house.... A day later his purification is finished."
The Yabim of New Guinea believe that the spirit of a murdered man pursues his murderer and seeks to do him mischief. Hence they try to drive away the spirit with shouts and beatings of drums.
According to Yakut beliefs, a person who is murdered becomes a yoro, that is, his ghost never comes to rest. The Cheremises imagine that the spirits of persons who have died violent deaths cause illness, especially fever and ague. The Burnese believe that persons who meet a violent death become gnats and haunt the place where they were killed.
In Warend, Sweden, the people maintain that the unsatisfied ghost of a murdered man visits his relatives at night and disturbs their rest, and it was an ancient custom among them that, if the murderer was not known, the victim's nearest relation, before the knell began, went forward to the corpse and asked the dead man himself to avenge his murder. [*81]
Among the Bageshu of East Africa, a man who has killed another smears his chest, his right arm and his head with the entrails of a sheep. When a Nandi of East Africa has killed a member of another tribe, he paints one side of his body, spear and sword red, and the other side white. For four days he is considered unclean. He finally purifies himself by taking a strong purge of a segetet tree and by drinking goat's milk mixed with blood.
In the Pelew Islands, those who have been out fighting for the first time, and who have touched the slain, are shut up in a large council house and become taboo. After three days they go together to bathe as near as possible to the spot where the battle took place.
It is a common rule among many tribes and peoples that royal blood should not be shed at any time, and when members of the royal family are to be put to death a mode of execution is selected which avoids the spilling of blood. [*82]
In New Zealand, anything on which a drop of a high chief's blood chances to fall becomes taboo or sacred.
When Kublai Khan defeated his uncle, Nayan, who had rebelled against him, he caused Nayan to be put to death by being wrapped in a carpet and tossed to and fro till he died, "because he would not have the blood of his line imperial spilt upon the ground or exposed in the eye of Heaven and before the Sun." It was considered highly improper for the blood of a great Khan to be spilt on the ground. [*83] This taboo was carried over to early Christianity when heretics were burned at the stake in order to avoid the taboo of spilling blood. The Christian doctrine was that "the hands which had to distribute the blood of the Lamb were not to be polluted with the blood of those for whose salvation it was shed"!
Another very significant passage which has an important bearing on the origin and meaning of this Commandment is the one that deals with the establishment of a sanctuary for those who have killed accidentally, that they may escape the revenge of the deceased and save the land from the curse of blood pollution. I quote Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, verses 1 to 9:
1. When the Lord thy God hath cut off the nations, whose land the Lord thy God giveth thee and thou succeedst them, and dwellest in their cities, and in their houses;
2. Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.
3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither.
4. And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;
5. As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:
6 Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.
7. Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.
8. And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;
9. If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:
Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, verse 10, reveals the reason:
10. That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.
These cities of sanctuary were provided so that blood shed within the confines of the tribe might be expiated, and thereby prevent the curse of blood pollution from falling upon the whole tribe. In nearly all primitive societies, the shedding of human blood is prohibited and sanctuary provided for those who must be purified.
In some Indian nations there were several peaceable towns, which were called "old beloved, ancient, holy or white towns"; they seem formerly to have been "towns of refuge," for within the memory of the oldest inhabitant human blood was never shed in them. Those who were to be punished had to leave and were put to death elsewhere. The Aricaras of Missouri have in the center of their largest village a sacred lodge called the "medicine lodge," as no blood is on any account whatsoever to be spilled within it, not even that of an enemy.
In Athens, the prosecution for homicide began with debarring the criminal from all sanctuaries and assemblies consecrated by religious observance. In ancient Greece, purification was an essential preliminary to an acceptable sacrifice.
In many parts of Morocco, a man who has slain another person is never afterwards allowed to kill the sacrificial sheep at the "great feast." [*84]
The Druids of Gaul never went to war, it is said, because they wanted to keep themselves free from blood pollution; the human sacrifices that they made to their gods were burnt, so as to avoid spilling blood. [*85]
The following passage also reveals the taboo regarding the shedding of blood. I quote I Chronicles, Chapter 28, verses 2 and 3:
2. Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said, Hear me, my brethren, and my people: As for me, I had in mine heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building:
3 But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build a house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood.
David could not build a temple to the Lord because it would have been a violation of this Commandment, and, according to Biblical tradition, the building of the temple was left to Solomon, David's son. [*86]
The early Hebrew priests refrained from shedding blood, except for sacrificial purposes, and then only when accompanied by expiatory prayer. The "holy" men of the North American Indians likewise refrain from shedding blood. [*87]
It was inevitable that this superstition would develop into a strict religious rite. The "uncleanness" resulting from the shedding of blood was transformed into spiritual impurity, which required some form of ritual expiation.
It is not uncommon today to hear people say that the spirit of the slain person will haunt his murderer to his grave. Such is the tenacity of a superstition.
Thus we find that the origin of the Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," had its basis in the superstition of blood contamination based on the primitive belief in animism, and was never even remotely intended as a precept of moral suasion.
The Animistic Belief in Blood Pollution
How can this Commandment be construed as a prohibition against killing for moral reasons when the Lord gives the Children of Israel the rules and methods of warfare? Not only does the Bible God command the Israelites to kill, but he urges them to practice deception as a prelude to wholesale slaughter.
I quote Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, verses 10 to 18:
10. When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13. And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14. But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.
15. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16. But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
17. But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:
Small wonder the Bible God is called the God of War: "The Lord is a man of war." [*88] What a mockery it is to include in the Decalogue a Commandment against the taking of human life!
That the Hebrews themselves, after receiving this Commandment from Sinai, waged war on neighboring tribes is additional proof that this Commandment was not formulated as a moral prohibition against killing. I quote Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 1 to 13:
1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2. Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
3. And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the Lord of Midian.
4. Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
5. So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
6. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.
7. And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
8. And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
9. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
10. And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
11. And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
12. And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
13. And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
"And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males." I repeat verse 7 to prove two very significant points: First, if this commandment was a prohibition against killing, the Bible God himself violated his own precept; secondly, the Israelites violated the Commandment in obeying the command of their God.
The Children of Israel were avenged. All the males of Midian were slain! They burnt all the cities! Destroyed all their goodly castles with fire! They took all the women of Midian captive! They took all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods! What a vengeance! This was "the spoil" of war that they brought to Moses, as the Lord commanded him that they should do. And how did Moses express to them his appreciation of their triumph and their victory? The Bible can tell it best in its own words in Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 14 to 16:
14. And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
15. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16. Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
What made Moses wroth with the officers of Israel? Had they failed to accomplish all that was demanded and expected? Did the soldiers fail to kill enough? In addition to slaying all the males, should they have slain all the females also? Yes, the females too should have been slain. Having failed to kill the females, what was to be done with them? The "inspired" brain of Moses solves the problem, and the solution is revealed in Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 17 and 18:
17. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
In all history there is no confound more revolting to human sensibilities. It is the most damnable that ever fell from human lips. "Kill every male among the little ones," Moses tells them. And yet that is not enough! Every mother must die also! And so he commands that they "kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him." But "all the women children [that is, the young girls], that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Could anything be more inhumane than the ravishing of children by brutal soldiers who had but recently killed their parents?
From what has already been quoted, it becomes evident that this Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," has no bearing on, no connection with, a prohibition against killing and murder as such. It was a command formulated solely because of the fear that the spirit or soul of the victim would return to haunt or take revenge on the one who had killed him. This is conclusively proved by the following testimony from Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 19 and 20:
19. And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.
20. And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.
And the following quotation from Numbers, Chapter 31, verse 21, gives the final evidence:
The superstitious fear of blood itself, for the shedding of which purification was necessary, was the underlying reason for this Commandment, for the Bible is the authority that "this is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses." It was applicable only to "whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain." There was no divine injunction against killing the Midianites and slaying their kings; there was no wrong committed in burning their cities and destroying their castles. There was no sin involved in slaying the mothers and ravishing the young girls; purification was demanded because of the stain of blood that might still be on the body, the garments or the weapons.
The crime of murder needed no purification, nor did that of spoliation or rape. Acts of murder, rape or theft needed no atonement. There was no stain on the character for all this. But the fear that there might be a stain of blood on the garments, or on the goat's hair of the raiment' or imbedded in some weapon of war -- this "contamination" required the seven days of purification!
It was the fear that the blood of those killed might be carried within the camp and their spirit wreak vengeance on the tribe, that made purification necessary. That is why the stain of blood had to be purged "by fire" and "purified with the waters of separation." I quote Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 22 to 24:
22. Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,
23. Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.
24. And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
Just as the Kafirs and the Bechuanas still practice various ceremonies after their fights to avoid the stigma of the stain of blood, so did the Hebrews. As the Basutos still consider it essential to purify themselves of the blood of those they have killed, so did the Israelites. Only the ceremonies were different.
Another significant Biblical passage indicating the ancient belief that blood spilt within the camp would bring retaliation unless proper expiation were made, is recorded in Deuteronomy, Chapter 21, verses 1 to 9: [**89]
1. If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
2. Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
3. And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take a heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
4. And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley.
5. And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the Lord; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
6. And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
7. And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
8. Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
9. So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.
It is to be noted that the discovery of the dead man became important because he had been slain and there had been no proper expiation for the blood which had been spilled. Since it was not known who had committed the deed, it was necessary to purge the place nearest to where the man was found. Was a search made for the murderer to administer the proper punishment, to demand an equitable recompense for the loss of that man's life to his family? By no means. The expiation consisted in killing an innocent heifer "which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley." In addition, "...all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley; and they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it." Doubly significant becomes the fact that the slain man's nearest kin were obliged to take part in the expiatory ceremonies that they might not be victims of the revenging spirit of the slain man's blood. And so, as is the custom in all primitive societies where the belief in animism prevails, the stain of blood had to be removed by some form of expiation, thereby freeing the family and the clan from contamination.
In some primitive communities, expiation is effected by sprinkling the perpetrator with the spurted blood of a slain suckling pig. [*90] The ceremony of the ancient Hebrews differs only in method. The superstition is the same.
That killing the heifer and washing the hands of the elders had absolutely no relationship to the murder of the man or to expiating the crime could not be understood by the ignorant people of Biblical times. Even one who had merely touched the body of a dead person was unclean and had to be "purified," for "this is the ordinance of the law which the Lord hath commanded." [*91]
I quote Numbers, Chapter 19, verses 11 to 13:
11. He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.
12. He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.
13. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.
So strong was the fear of blood pollution that if a man failed to purify himself as provided in the previous verses of this chapter, he "defileth the tabernacle of the Lord," and his "soul shall be cut off from Israel."
Not only were the garments of all those who had slain in battle to be purified, but anything that might retain the slightest possibility of contamination -- "this is the ordinance of the law which the Lord hath commanded." I quote Numbers, Chapter 19, verses 14 and 15:
14. This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
15. And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean.
The following verses reiterate the importance of purification -- Numbers, Chapter 19, verses 16 to 22:
16. And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
17. And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:
18. And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave:
19. And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.
20. But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.
21. And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even.
22. And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even.
No better summary of the explanation of the provisions of this Commandment can be given than by quoting again Numbers, Chapter 35, verses 33 and 34:
33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
34. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.
That this Commandment was applicable only to the Hebrews is additionally substantiated by the warning in verse 34, which states: "Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel."
This means, of course, that blood could be spilt or shed without fear of contamination in a land outside the tribe of the Israelites. It makes it distinctly a provisional edict.
It was fear of the sin of spilling blood and the resulting contamination, and not any humane, moral or ethical reason, that was responsible for the formulation of this Commandment as part of the Decalogue of a primitive people obsessed with the superstitious belief in animism.
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