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The meaning of Assassination in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)


1. Meaning of the Term:

The language of Scripture distinguishes less clearly than the modern juridical between assassination and murder. "Murderer" = rotseach (Numbers 35:16-19, Numbers 35:21, Numbers 35:30-31; II Kings 6:32; Job 24:14); horegh, from haragh = "to slay," "kill," the King James Version translation "murderer" in Hosea 9:13; but "slayer" in Ezekiel 21:11. Where the Revised Version (British and American) renders "slayers," we find ratsach, in Numbers 35:11, Numbers 35:25-28; Deuteronomy 4:42; Deuteronomy 19:3-4, Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 20:3, Joshua 20:5-6; Joshua 21:13, Joshua 21:21, Joshua 21:27, Joshua 21:32, Joshua 21:38, irrespective of whether willful, deliberate killing is spoken of, or hasty or merely accidental; and nakhah = "to strike," "wound," "kill," "slay," in Numbers 35:24. The prohibition against killing is all-inclusive, even to suicide, placing the ban not only on deliberate, purposeful slaying (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14, Exodus 21:18), but on all endangering of life through negligence (Deuteronomy 22:8) or recklessness (Leviticus 19:14) or hatred, anger and revengefulness (Leviticus 19:17 ff.).

2. Punishment of the Act:

The Mosaic law presupposes the punishment of all killing of human beings on the ground of Genesis 9:6, and repeatedly reiterates it (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14 ff.; Leviticus 24:17, Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:33; Deuteronomy 19:11 ff.), the reason assigned being that man is made in the image of God; hence to slay a man is paramount to lifting the hand against the Creator. And while the degrees of guilt are not indicated by the language, they are closely distinguished by the punishments prescribed. Not only notorious enmity against the slain and deliberate lying-in-wait on the part of the murderer (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:20 ff.; Deuteronomy 19:4, Deuteronomy 19:11), but also the nature of the instrument was taken into account to determine the nature of the crime (Numbers 35:16 ff.).


Frank E. Hirsch

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