An eye for an eye

"Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered," Leviticus 24:19-20 (NRSV).

I always understood that in the context of "if someone takes your eye, you're entitled to take one of his; what's fair is fair," and thought it vaguely unfair. I didn't quite understand what about the law in Exodus was particularly just or righteous. If you've lost an eye, causing someone else to lose theirs hardly seems the way to make reparation. It may satisfy the bloodlust for a while, but even that, I suspect would end up leaving you cold. How is this an improvement was beyond me.

But if the previous way of doing things -- which is likely -- was to take two eyes for one, a life for two eyes, a family for one soul, and so on, in an ever-escalating chain of violent retribution, suddenly an eye for an eye seems sufficiently fair after all.

Having functioned under this new paradigm for quite a while though, I have hopes we might be able to try out a new, even less retributive one: turn the other cheek. And don't tell me that makes you a pansy or a wimp, because it takes far more internal fortitude to hold that reflex reaction in check and respond intelligently to a situation than to lash out and escalate the conflict through brute force.

On that happy thought, welcome to a new year.

This may go some way to illustrate why I can describe myself as both a hard-nosed cynic and a starry-eyed optimist.


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