« Blood-Brotherhood Blood-Revenge Blount, Charles »


BLOOD-REVENGE: A custom nearly universal in the tribal or clan stage of society, often surviving later, binding the kin of a murdered man to secure satisfaction for the murder by the death of the slayer or of one of his clan. The custom depends upon two fundamentals of that stage of civilization: (1) the sacredness of life and the solidarity of the clan; (2) the lex talionis. Its essence is execution of the slayer or some of his 206kin by the representatives of the slain, not by public authorities; it belongs therefore to private as opposed to public justice. In nomadic society the perpetuation of the clan depends upon its fighting strength and its sense of unity. Hence assault upon a member of the clan, if attended with even unintended fatal results, involves the tribe, clan, or family of the slain in what is felt to be a sacred duty, the avenging of the shedding of blood. The custom is important from the standpoint of utilitarian ethics, since the knowledge that reparation will be demanded by the clan of the assailed restrains a potential assailant from wanton attack and makes men more careful in ordinary intercourse. The duty set by the institution is binding, and so close is the relationship in the clan (see Comparative Religion, VI, 1, b, § 1) that all its members may become involved, the result being a blood-feud between the clans of the assailant and the victim. Usually, however, the duty devolves upon the next of kin. Refusal on his part to exercise his right and perform his duty subjects him to utter contempt and even to outlawry.

In the advance of civilization the State assumes exclusively the function of Capital Punishment and the custom becomes obsolete. The Hebrew legislation furnishes an example of an intermediate condition, by which the right of the family of a man deliberately (not wantonly) murdered to execute justice was recognized and the murderer, when captured, was delivered by the authorities to the avenger of blood (go’el haddam, Lev. xix, 11–13; Num. xxxv, 19, 21, 27; for the general law of murder among the Hebrews consult Gen. ix, 6; Ex. xxi, 12; Lev. xxiv, 17; Josh. xx). Even in the case of accidental killing, the avenger of blood might kill the slayer if before the death of the high priest he found him outside the city of refuge in which he had taken sanctuary. See Law, Hebrew, Civil and Criminal, III.

Geo. W. Gilmore.

Bibliography: A. H. Post, Studien sur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Familienrechts, pp. 113–137, Oldenburg, 1889; Smith, Kinship (invaluable for the Semitic peoples, cf. also his Rel. of Sem.); and for modern savage practise, Spencer and F. J. Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, London, 1899; idem, Northern Tribes of Central Australia, ib. 1904; DB. ii, 222–224; EB, ii, 1746–47.

« Blood-Brotherhood Blood-Revenge Blount, Charles »
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