Eye for an eye

Eye for an eye

The phrase "an eye for an eye", (, ). Assuming the fulfillment of certain technical criteria (such as the sentencing of the accused whose punishment was not yet executed), wherever it is possible to punish the conspirators with the exact same punishment through which they had planned to harm their fellow, the court carries out this direct reciprocal justice (including when the punishment constitutes the death penalty). Otherwise, the offenders receive lashes ("Makot" 1:1; ibid., Bab. Talmud 2a based on critical exegesis of discusses the only form of remotely reciprocal justice not carried out directly by the court, where, under very limited circumstances, someone found guilty of negligent manslaughter may be killed by a relative of the deceased who takes on the role of "redeemer of blood". In such cases, the court requires the guilty party to flee to a designated city of refuge. While the guilty party is there, the "redeemer of blood" may not kill him. If, however, the guilty party illegally forgoes his exile, the "redeemer of blood", as an accessory of the court, may kill the guilty party. Nevertheless, the provision of the "redeemer of blood" does not serve as true reciprocal justice, because the redeemer only acts to penalize a negligent killer who forgoes his exile. Furthermore, intentional killing does not parallel negligent killing and thus cannot serve directly as a reciprocal punishment for manslaughter, but as a penalty for escaping punishment ("Makot" 7a–13a). (According to traditional Jewish Law, application of these laws requires the presence and maintenance of the biblically designated cities of refuge, as well as a conviction in an eligible court of 23 judges as delineated by the Torah and Talmud. The latter condition is also applicable for any capital punishment. These circumstances have not existed for approximately 2,000 years.)

Based on the literal reading of ) and to deter potential criminals from violating the law ("And the rest shall hear and be daunted, and they shall no longer commit anything like this wicked deed in your midst", , NRSV)

The passage continues with the importance of showing forgiveness to enemies and those who harm you. This saying of Jesus is frequently interpreted as criticism of the Hebrew Bible teaching, and often taken as implying that "an eye for an eye" encourages excessive vengeance rather than an attempting to limit it.

It was one of the points of 'fulfilment or destruction' of the Hebrew law which the Church father St. Augustine already discussed in his Contra Faustum, Book XIX. [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/140619.htm Contra Faustum] , Augustine of Hippo, NewAdvent.]

The opinion that seems to prevail among Christian theologians is that such an interpretation is a misunderstanding of this section of Matthew. But scholars of Christianity have found particular pride in this commandment and others from the Sermon on the Mount, as in badges of distinction for the religion; and Leo Tolstoy went so far as to keep only the Gospel and especially this part of it, and throw the rest of the Bible out.

Lex talionis in Islam

In Islam the Quran permits exact and equivalent retribution. The Quran, however, softens the law of an eye for an eye by urging mankind to accept less compensation than that inflicted upon him or her by a Muslim, or to forgive altogether. In other words, Islam does not deny Muslims the ability to seek retaliation in the equal measure. But it does, however promote forgiveness and the acceptance of blood money not as a mandatory requisite, but rather as a good deed that will be eventually rewarded (Quran 5:45).

Non-Abrahamic traditions


Some alternative penalty systems exist which primarily concern the impact of the punishment on the sanctioned offender and/or on society, while demanding non-parallel penalties.

For example the "correctional" prison system (first instituted in the USA in the early 20th century) is based on the idea that the purpose of law enforcement is to correct the deviant nature of criminals by compelling them to reflect and regret their crimes during a lengthy incarceration; another alternative, the reformatory, was invented to "reform", i.e. re-educate, young offenders etcetera.—


The vengeance-based non-biblical forms of "Lex Talionis" have been criticized; its critics maintain that merely limiting vengeance is not enough as even limited retaliation continues a potentially endless cycle of violence. Mahatma Gandhi remarked: "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

Even though it may be hard to do in practice, certain belief systems (such as Christianity) teach individuals to forgive those who wrong them, rather than seek retribution for a wrong. Other belief systems adhere to similar concepts, such as the Taoist "wu wei" which encourages a wronged individual to simply accept the infraction and to take the least "resistive" action to correct it, if any action need to be taken at all. Buddhism stresses the weight of karma: one can take retributive action, but that retributive action is not without its consequences, and living on a finite planet guarantees that the suffering incurred by a retributive action will return to the individual who was wronged (as well as the one who did the wrong-doing). Some subscribe to the Golden Rule of ethics rather than any law of retaliation.cn|date=October 2007

It can also be seen as an extension of the informal logical fallacy, two wrongs make a right.

References in books and popular culture

*Mahatma Gandhi used the phrase "An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind", in reference to his Satyagraha philosophy of nonviolent resistance.
*Martin Luther King Jr. used this phrase (probably inspired by Gandhi) by changing it to "An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind", to show what violence between races cause.
* The book AN EYE FOR AN EYE by John Sack
*"An Eye for an Eye" is a novella in the Noughts & Crosses series by Malorie Blackman, written for World Book Day 2003.
*The Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Bad Moon Rising", after recounting the narrator's parade of horribles, says, "one eye is taken for an eye".
*Charlie Daniels's song "Simple Man" includes the line, "Well, the Good Book says it, so I know it's the Truth: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
*Harold Bishop, a devoutly Christian character in the Australian soap opera Neighbours, used the expression "an eye for an eye" when confronting tyrannical manager Paul Robinson.
*For more motion pictures and TV productions, see [http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=eye+for+an+eye IMDb references]
*British band Editors song is called "An Eye For An Eye", which is a b-side off the single Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors.
*Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds's signature tune, The Mercy Seat, contains the chorus "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth/And anyway I told the truth".
*The Bruce Springsteen song "Empty Sky" has lyrics "an eye for an eye."
*The self-titled Soulfly album features a song called "eye for an eye."
*The Bright Eyes song named "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and be Loved)" contains the lyrics: "we'll take eye for an eye/until no one can see/and we will stumble blindly forward/repeating history"
*Villanova University's athletic fight song includes the line, "It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
*G-Unit feature a song called "Eye For Eye" on their Beg for Mercy Album
*The Audioslave song, Wide Awake, contains the line "were it an eye for an eye"
*The Temptations 1969 song "Ball of Confusion" has the line, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth vote for me and I'll set you free."
*In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Panic in the Sky", Flash mentions that Grammy Flash always used to say that "the trouble with an eye for an eye is that everyone ends up blind."
*The band UNKLE has a song titled "Eye for an Eye".
*The musician Derek Webb has a song titled "I for an I" from the album "The Ringing Bell" with the lyrics, "An eye for an eye / will never satisfy / 'til there's nothing left to see."
*"Eye for an Eye", a film where a mother played by Sally Field seeks revenge against the just paroled killer of her daughter, played by Keifer Sutherland
*In the game World of Warcraft, [http://www.wowwiki.com/Eye_for_an_Eye "Eye for an Eye"] is a name of a Paladin (World of Warcraft) talent in the Retribution tree
*On the May 17, 2007 edition of TNA Impact!, James Mitchell mentions lex talionis, but mistakenly translates it as "the law of the jungle."
*The Greece based black metal band Rotting Christ has a song called 'Lex Talionis' from their 2002 album Genesis.
* The Daemonarch project has a song called 'Lex Talionis'
* The British progressive blackened death metal band Akercocke has a song called 'Lex Talionis' on their 2005 album Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone.
* In the movie Lucky Number Slevin, the Boss (played by Morgan Freeman) cites 'Lex Talionis' as a law for the crime family that both he and the Rabbi are a part of, and that the Rabbi's son must suffer the same fate (death) as his son.
* American thrash metal band Exodus (band) mention 'Lex Talionis' in the song 'Riot act' on the 2008 album 'The atrocity exhibition - exhibit A'
* In episode 18 of the English dubbed version of Death Note, L attacks Light in response to an assault saying "An eye for an eye, my friend." In the Japanese version, it is translated loosely as "one for one".
* "Eye For An Eye" is the title of an episode of the Nickelodeon animated series Danny Phantom.
* The television court show "Eye for an Eye" features a concept where the guilty party is punished by the television court by having a prized possession of theirs destroyed in an unusual way (a large screen television being cut in half with a chainsaw, for instance) instead of the usual monetary compensation.
* In an episode of Veronica Mars, Veronica and her father, Keith, are talking about a revenge that Veronica took on an enemy. Veronica says, "You know me, I'm old school, an eye for an eye." Keith replies, "I think that's Old Testament."
* In the fictional World of Darkness the Lextalionis refers to the system of capital punishment used by the vampires.

ee also

*Turn the other cheek
*Code of Hammurabi
*Retributive justice
*Proportionality (law)
*Quid pro quo


ources and external links

* [http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/torah.htm Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations explanation of the Torah and Lex Talonis]
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom05.ii.ii.v.ii.html#ii.ii.v.ii-p63 Calvin's Commentary on Exodus 21:22–26]
* [http://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.xlix.html#ix.xlix-p8 Calvin's Commentary on Matthew 5:38]
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/catena1.ii.v.html Aquinas' collation of commentaries on Matthew 5:38–42]
* [http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/tolstoj/tolstoy.htm Tolstoy's Legacy for Mankind: A Manifesto for Nonviolence, Part 1] & [http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/tolstoj/tolstoy2.htm#contents Part 2]
* [http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/02/20/miller/print.html The fine art of revenge] : Salon interview with Professor William Ian Miller, author of "Eye for an Eye", about the "Lex talionis".
* Shubow, Justin. [http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5421 Blind Justice] : a review of William Ian Miller's "Eye for an Eye". "First Things", December 2006.

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