[by Dean Smith] This past week, horrific photos surfaced of the terrorist group Islāmic State (IS) amputating the hand of a suspected thief in the Iraqi city of Mosul. IS is setting up a Caliphate or Muslim state ruled by a supreme leader known as a Calif in an area covering parts of Iraq and Syria.
It comes with a full implementation of Sharia law that provides for amputation of a thief’s hand for a first offense. After the second, IS starts lopping off feet.
The photo documentary shows the brutal punishment from its first stage inside a crowded van as they drive to a market for the public punishment. On the trip, the man’s arm is tightly bandaged to slow blood flow. The victim is then pumped full of drugs to reduce the pain and further restrict blood loss after the hand is hacked off.
Perhaps just as disturbing is the baying crowd gathered to watch the gruesome act. Sons climb on the shoulders of their fathers to get a better view of what is to come. Heavily armed terrorists push the crowd back.
The blindfolded man is herded to a table where he is forced to sit. Ropes are tied to his offending arm and pulled taut stretching his hand over the butcher’s block. Two Jihadists efficiently move in for the kill. One holds the arm down and the other with a meat cleaver brutally finishes the act.
After it’s done, the man’s amputated arm is bandaged, medicine applied to prevent infection, and further needles given to cut the pain.
Though we look in horror at this brutality, critics point to the Bible and say it has similar provisions. In the Book of Exodus, we have “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth,” they bay.
It’s mentioned in the Bible and in more than one spot actually (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). The law stated simply if you gouged out a man’s eye, in like manner your eye would be gouged out as punishment. You injured a man’s tooth, your tooth was similarly damaged.
But I have one skill-testing question for you. Find one example in the Bible where they gouged out a man’s eye because he blinded another or broke an arm in retribution?
There is not a single one that I have been able to find. You would think with “eye for eye” playing such a prominent part of the law there would have been at least one example of it in practice.
Nope, not even one.
Because there were a couple of key offsetting verses that the critics fail to notice. One found in Numbers reads:
Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. (Numbers 35:31 NASV)
This one vital verse affected how Jews implemented “eye for eye.” When ancient Rabbis studied this verse they interpreted it simply, since only murder was exempt from a ransom being paid, this meant a ransom could be paid for other provisions of the law.
But notice the word ransom. It is an interesting word, because it speaks of a person holding another captive and demanding payment for his or her release.
Under the law, if the victim was blinded he was literally holding the offender’s eye for ransom. To release his eye from punishment, the offender had to pay a ransom to the victim.
“Eye for eye” determined how much was paid. The more serious the physical punishment the larger the payment or fine — a tooth as an example being worth less than an eye.
Since murder was the only crime exempt from a ransom, this meant other offenses punishable with death, such as adultery, could be paid out with a ransom. And this was how God intended the law to work.
I would even go one step further and say this, when Jesus said we were to love our neighbor as ourselves, I believe “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching.
If you would like a more in-depth look at this topic, please read my article Eye for and Eye means you love your neighbour. The post includes comments by ancient Rabbis on these curious texts.