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Laws Concerning Manslaughter

19 When the Lord your God destroys the nations whose land he[a] is about to give you and you dispossess them and settle in their cities and houses, you must set apart for yourselves three cities[b] in the middle of your land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession. You shall build a roadway and divide into thirds the whole extent[c] of your land that the Lord your God is providing as your inheritance; anyone who kills another person should flee to the closest of these cities. Now this is the law pertaining to one who flees there in order to live,[d] if he has accidentally killed another[e] without hating him at the time of the accident.[f] Suppose he goes with someone else[g] to the forest to cut wood and when he raises the ax[h] to cut the tree, the ax head flies loose[i] from the handle and strikes[j] his fellow worker[k] so hard that he dies. The person responsible[l] may then flee to one of these cities to save himself.[m] Otherwise the blood avenger will chase after the killer in the heat of his anger, eventually overtake him,[n] and kill him,[o] though this is not a capital case[p] since he did not hate him at the time of the accident. Therefore, I am commanding you to set apart for yourselves three cities. If the Lord your God enlarges your borders as he promised your ancestors[q] and gives you all the land he pledged to them,[r] and then you are careful to observe all these commandments[s] I am giving[t] you today (namely, to love the Lord your God and to always walk in his ways), then you must add three more cities[u] to these three. 10 You must not shed innocent blood[v] in your land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, for that would make you guilty.[w] 11 However, suppose a person hates someone else[x] and stalks him, attacks him, kills him,[y] and then flees to one of these cities. 12 The elders of his own city must send for him and remove him from there to deliver him over to the blood avenger[z] to die. 13 You must not pity him, but purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood,[aa] so that it may go well with you.

Laws Concerning Witnesses

14 You must not encroach on your neighbor’s property,[ab] which will have been defined[ac] in the inheritance you will obtain in the land the Lord your God is giving you.[ad]

15 A single witness may not testify[ae] against another person for any trespass or sin that he commits. A matter may be legally established[af] only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 If a false[ag] witness testifies against another person and accuses him of a crime,[ah] 17 then both parties to the controversy must stand before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges[ai] who will be in office in those days. 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,[aj] 19 you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused. In this way you will purge[ak] the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. 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.[al]


  1. Deuteronomy 19:1 tn Heb “the Lord your God.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.
  2. Deuteronomy 19:2 sn These three cities, later designated by Joshua, were Kedesh of Galilee, Shechem, and Hebron (Josh 20:7-9).
  3. Deuteronomy 19:3 tn Heb “border.”
  4. Deuteronomy 19:4 tn Heb “and this is the word pertaining to the one who kills who flees there and lives.”
  5. Deuteronomy 19:4 tn Heb “who strikes his neighbor without knowledge.”
  6. Deuteronomy 19:4 tn Heb “yesterday and a third (day)” (likewise in v. 6). The point is that there was no animosity between the two parties at the time of the accident and therefore no motive for the killing. Cf. NAB “had previously borne no malice”; NRSV “had not been at enmity before.”
  7. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “his neighbor” (so NAB, NIV); NASB “his friend.”
  8. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “and he raises his hand with the iron.”
  9. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “the iron slips off.”
  10. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “finds.”
  11. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “his neighbor.”
  12. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the person responsible for his friend’s death) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  13. Deuteronomy 19:5 tn Heb “and live.”
  14. Deuteronomy 19:6 tn Heb “and overtake him, for the road is long.”
  15. Deuteronomy 19:6 tn Heb “smite with respect to life,” that is, fatally.
  16. Deuteronomy 19:6 tn Heb “no judgment of death.”
  17. Deuteronomy 19:8 tn Heb “fathers.”
  18. Deuteronomy 19:8 tn Heb “he said to give to your ancestors.” The pronoun has been used in the translation instead for stylistic reasons.
  19. Deuteronomy 19:9 tn Heb “all this commandment.” This refers here to the entire covenant agreement of the Book of Deuteronomy as encapsulated in the Shema (Deut 6:4-5).
  20. Deuteronomy 19:9 tn Heb “commanding”; NAB “which I enjoin on you today.”
  21. Deuteronomy 19:9 sn You will add three more cities. Since these are alluded to nowhere else and thus were probably never added, this must be a provision for other cities of refuge should they be needed (cf. v. 8). See P. C. Craigie, Deuteronomy (NICOT), 267.
  22. Deuteronomy 19:10 tn Heb “innocent blood must not be shed.” The Hebrew phrase דָּם נָקִי (dam naqi) means the blood of a person to whom no culpability or responsibility adheres because what he did was without malice aforethought (HALOT 224 s.v דָּם 4.b).
  23. Deuteronomy 19:10 tn Heb “and blood will be upon you” (cf. KJV, ASV); NRSV “thereby bringing bloodguilt upon you.”
  24. Deuteronomy 19:11 tn Heb “his neighbor.”
  25. Deuteronomy 19:11 tn Heb “rises against him and strikes him fatally.”
  26. Deuteronomy 19:12 tn The גֹאֵל הַדָּם (goʾel haddam, “avenger of blood”) would ordinarily be a member of the victim’s family who, after due process of law, was invited to initiate the process of execution (cf. Num 35:16-28). See R. Hubbard, NIDOTTE 1:789-94.
  27. Deuteronomy 19:13 sn Purge out the blood of the innocent. Because of the corporate nature of Israel’s community life, the whole community shared in the guilt of unavenged murder unless and until vengeance occurred. Only this would restore spiritual and moral equilibrium (Num 35:33).
  28. Deuteronomy 19:14 tn Heb “border.” Cf. NRSV “You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker.”
  29. Deuteronomy 19:14 tn Heb “which they set off from the beginning.”
  30. Deuteronomy 19:14 tn The Hebrew text includes “to possess it.” This phrase has been left untranslated to avoid redundancy.
  31. Deuteronomy 19:15 tn Heb “rise up” (likewise in v. 16).
  32. Deuteronomy 19:15 tn Heb “may stand.”
  33. Deuteronomy 19:16 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.
  34. Deuteronomy 19:16 tn Or “rebellion.” Rebellion against God’s law is in view (cf. NAB “of a defection from the law”).
  35. Deuteronomy 19:17 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).
  36. Deuteronomy 19:18 tn Heb “his brother” (also in the following verse).
  37. Deuteronomy 19:19 tn Heb “you will burn out” (בִּעַרְתָּ, biʿarta). 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).
  38. Deuteronomy 19:21 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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