Punishment, Prisons, and the Bible: Does 'Old Testament Justice' Justify Our Retributive Culture?
71 Pages Posted: 18 May 2011
Date Written: May 17, 2006
The phrases “Old Testament justice” and “eye for an eye” are associated with harsh vengeance and retribution, and are sometimes used to justify the current practices of ubiquitous incarceration and harsh sentencing within our own criminal justice system. But a detailed analysis of the Jewish legal tradition and the criminal justice system embodied therein reveals that victim compensation and offender atonement - not retribution or inflicting suffering for its own sake - were the touchstones of criminal punishments. Indeed, prisons as we know them did not exist within the ancient Israeli or Talmudic tradition, and the punishments that most closely approximated prisons promoted rehabilitation more than incapacitation or retribution. Although the particular punishments utilized would be ill-suited to a modern secular society, the societal values reflected therein are highly relevant to our own times.
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