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Deuteronomy 19:14-21

Context
Laws Concerning Witnesses

19:14 You must not encroach on your neighbor’s property, 1  which will have been defined 2  in the inheritance you will obtain in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 3 

19:15 A single witness may not testify 4  against another person for any trespass or sin that he commits. A matter may be legally established 5  only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 19:16 If a false 6  witness testifies against another person and accuses him of a crime, 7  19:17 then both parties to the controversy must stand before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges 8  who will be in office in those days. 19:18 The judges will thoroughly investigate the matter, and if the witness should prove to be false and to have given false testimony against the accused, 9  19:19 you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused. In this way you will purge 10  evil from among you. 19:20 The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. 19:21 You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot. 11 

1 tn Heb “border.” Cf. NRSV “You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker.”

2 tn Heb “which they set off from the beginning.”

3 tn The Hebrew text includes “to possess it.” This phrase has been left untranslated to avoid redundancy.

4 tn Heb “rise up” (likewise in v. 16).

5 tn Heb “may stand.”

6 tn Heb “violent” (חָמָס, khamas). This is a witness whose motivation from the beginning is to do harm to the accused and who, therefore, resorts to calumny and deceit. See I. Swart and C. VanDam, NIDOTTE 2:177-80.

7 tn Or “rebellion.” Rebellion against God’s law is in view (cf. NAB “of a defection from the law”).

8 tn The appositional construction (“before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges”) indicates that these human agents represented the Lord himself, that is, they stood in his place (cf. Deut 16:18-20; 17:8-9).

9 tn Heb “his brother” (also in the following verse).

10 tn Heb “you will burn out” (בִּעַרְתָּ, biarta). Like a cancer, unavenged sin would infect the whole community. It must, therefore, be excised by the purging out of its perpetrators who, presumably, remained unrepentant (cf. Deut 13:6; 17:7, 12; 21:21; 22:21-22, 24; 24:7).

11 sn This kind of justice is commonly called lex talionis or “measure for measure” (cf. Exod 21:23-25; Lev 24:19-20). It is likely that it is the principle that is important and not always a strict application. That is, the punishment should fit the crime and it may do so by the payment of fines or other suitable and equitable compensation (cf. Exod 22:21; Num 35:31). See T. S. Frymer-Kensky, “Tit for Tat: The Principle of Equal Retribution in Near Eastern and Biblical Law,” BA 43 (1980): 230-34.



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