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Deuteronomy 21:1-9

Laws Concerning Unsolved Murder

21:1 If a homicide victim 1  should be found lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you, 2  and no one knows who killed 3  him, 21:2 your elders and judges must go out and measure how far it is to the cities in the vicinity of the corpse. 4  21:3 Then the elders of the city nearest to the corpse 5  must take from the herd a heifer that has not been worked – that has never pulled with the yoke – 21:4 and bring the heifer down to a wadi with flowing water, 6  to a valley that is neither plowed nor sown. 7  There at the wadi they are to break the heifer’s neck. 21:5 Then the Levitical priests 8  will approach (for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve him and to pronounce blessings in his name, 9  and to decide 10  every judicial verdict 11 ) 21:6 and all the elders of that city nearest the corpse 12  must wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley. 13  21:7 Then they must proclaim, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, nor have we 14  witnessed the crime. 15  21:8 Do not blame 16  your people Israel whom you redeemed, O Lord, and do not hold them accountable for the bloodshed of an innocent person.” 17  Then atonement will be made for the bloodshed. 21:9 In this manner you will purge out the guilt of innocent blood from among you, for you must do what is right before 18  the Lord.

1 tn Heb “slain [one].” The term חָלָל (khalal) suggests something other than a natural death (cf. Num 19:16; 23:24; Jer 51:52; Ezek 26:15; 30:24; 31:17-18).

2 tn The Hebrew text includes “to possess it,” but this has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

3 tn Heb “struck,” but in context a fatal blow is meant; cf. NLT “who committed the murder.”

4 tn Heb “surrounding the slain [one].”

5 tn Heb “slain [one].”

6 tn The combination “a wadi with flowing water” is necessary because a wadi (נַחַל, nakhal) was ordinarily a dry stream or riverbed. For this ritual, however, a perennial stream must be chosen so that there would be fresh, rushing water.

7 sn The unworked heifer, fresh stream, and uncultivated valley speak of ritual purity – of freedom from human contamination.

8 tn Heb “the priests, the sons of Levi.”

9 tn Heb “in the name of the Lord.” See note on Deut 10:8. The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.

10 tn Heb “by their mouth.”

11 tn Heb “every controversy and every blow.”

12 tn Heb “slain [one].”

13 tn Heb “wadi,” a seasonal watercourse through a valley.

14 tn Heb “our eyes.” This is a figure of speech known as synecdoche in which the part (the eyes) is put for the whole (the entire person).

15 tn Heb “seen”; the implied object (the crime committed) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

16 tn Heb “Atone for.”

17 tn Heb “and do not place innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.”

18 tn Heb “in the eyes of” (so ASV, NASB, NIV).

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