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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Bloodguiltiness, Bloodguilt
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Bloodguiltiness, Bloodguilt

BLOODGUILTINESS, BLOODGUILT are trs. of the Heb. דָּמִ֛ים, the intensive “bloods,” as found frequently in the OT. KJV renders Psalm 51:14 by “bloodguiltiness,” and the ASV and RSV use it elsewhere as well; e.g., RSV has it in Exodus 22:2; 1 Samuel 25:26, 33; 2 Samuel 21:1; and Hosea 12:14. In these instances guilt incurred by bloodshed is denoted. Elsewhere, as in Ezekiel 18:13, a variety of sins—robbery, bloodshed, adultery, oppression of the poor, dishonesty, idolatry, taking of interest—makes one guilty so as to be worthy of death: “He shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.” Where there is guilt worthy of bloodshed, bloodguiltiness has been incurred. This may be the meaning of Psalm 51:14 where the psalmist prays for deliverance from bloodguiltiness. Not only bloodshed but all sin worthy of death, or for which death was the punishment in Israel, may be intended (cf. Ps 39:8).

In Israel bloodshed was said to pollute the land (Num 35:33f.), and this bloodshed which defiles is said to have been “innocent blood” (Deut 19:10; 21:8; 1 Kings 2:5) which must be avenged (1 Kings 2:31ff.). “The guilt of bloodshed,” “the guilt of innocent blood,” and “guilt for blood” is mentioned. Jahweh informs His people that He will not listen when they offer their frequent prayers because their hands are full of blood (Isa 1:15). Judicial execution, killing in self-defense, and unintentional murder are excluded in the above considerations. (Cf. Exod 22:2; Lev 20:9, et al.) In the instance of the latter an asylum must be provided for the person guilty of accidental homicide (Num 35:9ff.). If he leaves the asylum before the death of the high priest he may be killed by the avenger who, in such an instance, “shall not be guilty of blood” (Num 35:27). If a place of refuge is not provided for the unintentional killer and his blood is shed, “the guilt of bloodshed” shall be on the people (Deut 19:10). Killing a thief in the night does not bring bloodguilt because he cannot be distinguished from a more dangerous person, but he may not be punished without process of law in broad daylight. If he is killed in the daytime, bloodguilt has been incurred (Exod 22:2ff.).

There is a sense in which the people corporately are guilty of bloodshed whenever homicide occurs until justice has been satisfied (Deut 21:1-9; Num 35:33). If the guilty party is unknown the elders and judges of the people shall determine which city lies closest to the place where the person was slain so that the priests and elders of that city may offer sacrifice and declare the innocence of their people. As they wash their hands over the sacrificed heifer they are to say: “Our hands did not shed this blood, neither did our eyes see it shed. Forgive, O Lord, thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and set not the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of thy people Israel; but let the guilt of blood be forgiven them” (Deut 21:7, 8).

Bloodguiltiness is taken so seriously in the OT that, when it is not atoned for according to law, God steps in to avenge the wronged party (Gen 4:10-12; 9:5f.; Isa 26:21; Ezek 24:6-9). Guilt must be expiated (2 Sam 4:11) and it may be exacted of one’s descendants (2 Sam 3:28f.; 21:1-9; 1 Kings 21:29; 2 Kings 9:6ff.; 24:3f; Hos 1:4; Matt 27:25). See [http://biblegateway/wiki/Avenger of Blood AVENGER].

Bibliography J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture, I-II (1926), 420-437; IDB, I (1962), 449f.