2 thoughts on “An Eye for an Eye

  • June 13, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    I have always heard “The Golden Rule” to actually refer to comments by Jesus in the Gospels of Luke Chapter 6 and and Matthew Chapter 7. These contain the “Love your neighbor as your self” passages. But if you take the full chapters as context Jesus is encouraging people to go out of their way to treat people well, especially if they wrong you. He is advocating addressing harm with love, which is an explicit contradiction to the Old Testament “eye of an eye.” And that makes perfect sense in terms of the rest of the article, and even the subtitle of your blog “Curious instead of Furious.”
    I totally agree with your observation of the all the immediate revenge messages in media. Those messages must be popular because they strike a chord with so many people who feel treated unfairly. You say people all define “fair” for themselves which makes it hard to be objective about. But I would go so far as to say we define fair as both, “equality” meaning everyone gets the same, and we also use fair to mean “according to relative needs, you get what you need and deserve.” If someone has more than us its easy to feel discriminated against, and if everyone gets exactly the same its easy to feel extra entitlement because we are acutely aware of our own needs and sufferings, but less likely to know the full extent of others suffering and needs. And then we define fair by which ever definition is convenient at the time.

  • June 14, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Critics of Western religion also often cite the famous biblical law, “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,” etc. as another example of an immoral biblical law. But this law — known by its Latin name, lex talionis, the law of retaliation — was another great moral advance. It was not meant to be taken literally, and it never was — for the simple reason that it’s impossible to exactly duplicate bodily harm. Only “a life for a life” was meant literally and taken literally: there is capital punishment for premeditated murder.

    So, then, what did it mean?

    For one thing, lex talionis is the ultimate statement of human equality. Every person’s eye is as precious as anyone else’s. The eye of a prince is worth no more than the eye of a peasant. This was completely new in history. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, for example, legislated that the eye of a noble was of much greater value than the eye of a commoner.

    Second, the principle of “an eye for an eye” ensured only the guilty party was punished for his crime. In other law codes and in common practice, if you killed someone’s daughter, your daughter would be killed. That was expressly prohibited in the Bible and by the “eye for an eye” code. Now the killer would be punished, not the killer’s daughter.

    Third, lex talionis prohibited unjust revenge. In the ancient world, if a man gouged out another man’s eye, the victim, if he could, would gouge out both the attacker’s eyes, or kill him, or hurt his children, and so on. In contrast, “eye for an eye” ensured the victim receive appropriate compensation for the damages he suffered, but the punishment had to fit the crime. Dennis Prager.


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