Working from the previous entry (contradiction #345), the Torah, or Hexateuch to include the book of Joshua, speaks of the tradition of asylum in a number of different places. Arranged in roughly chronological order these are:
- Exodus 21:12-14 from the 9th-8th century Elohist tradition (see #345)
- Deuteronomy 4:41-43 & 19:1-13 from the 7th century Deuteronomic tradition
- Numbers 35: 9-28 from the 6th century Priestly tradition
- Joshua 20:1-9 which looks like a Priestly redacted text mixed with elements from the Deuteronomic tradition
I’ve already treated the Exodus tradition and its reference to Yahweh’s altars as a place of asylum rather than the later established cities. In this post and the two to follow, I’d like to look at the differences between the three remaining passages where this asylum tradition is spoken of.
The tradition preserved in Deuteronomy 19:1-13 is unique when compared to the other two passages. For it explicitly states that these cities of refuge are for any/every/all murderers to flee to.
“You shall distinguish three cities within your land which Yahweh your god is giving you to take possession of. You shall prepare the way and parcel out the territory of your land, which Yahweh your god will grant to you as an inheritance, [into three parts] so that every murderer (kol ratsach) may flee there.” (Deut 19:2-3)
The Hebrew adjective kol seems to be intentionally used here by the author and expresses the entire class of the noun modified, in this case murderers—so all, every, any murderer.
The text then continues by making a distinction within this category of “all” murderers.
- Those who commit murder unintentionally or by accident may flee to one of these cities and live there (vv. 4-10).
- And those who commit murder with intent and/or hatred who flee to one of these cities are to be dragged out and put to death (vv. 11-13).
The second case is not even permitted in the Priestly version (Num 35). But before I get there it should be noted that the second case in the Deuteronomic tradition above is similar to what we found in the Elohist version where the murderer who with intent and guile murdered another was dragged from Yahweh’s altar and put to death.
- Exodus 21:14: “But if a man acting presumptuously comes upon another to slay him with guile, you shall take him from my altar that he may die.”
- Deuteronomy 19:12: “But if there will be a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and gets up against him and strikes him mortally and he dies, and he will flee to one of the cities, then his city’s elders are to send for him and take him from there and place him in the hands of the avenger of blood so he will die.”
As noted in Contradiction #345, the earlier asylum at Yahweh’s altar is here replaced by asylum at one of the cities of refuge, seeing that according to the Deuteronomist there was now only one altar at Jerusalem (see also Contradiction #117).
Another feature unique to the Deuteronomic tradition, which we will look at in the next entry, is that there doesn’t seem to be any judicial proceedings here. Any and all murderers are to flee to one of the cities of refuge; and those who are found to have murdered intentionally are to be taken from the city of refuge and handed over to the avenger of blood to be, in turn, murdered themselves.
Contrary to the Deuteronomist’s claim that all (kol) murderers are to flee to a city of refuge, the versions represented in Numbers 35:9-15 and Joshua 20:1-9 are different. Both of these later passages immediately distinguish between murders done by mistake and those done intentionally and with malice. That is to say in these versions the cities of refuge are not open to “all” (kol) murders but only to those that happen by mistake or accident. These later versions, therefore, seem to be a further amendment on that of the Deuteronomic tradition.
“You shall establish cities: they shall be cities of refuge for you, and a murderer (ratsach) who strikes a life by mistake shall flee there.” (Num 35:11)
“These cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel and for the alien and for the visitor among them, for anyone who strikes a life by mistake to flee there.” (Num 35:15)