Next of kin, and, hence, redeemer. Owing to the solidarity of the family and the clan in ancient Israel, any duty which a man could not perform by himself had to be taken up by his next of kin. Any rights possessed by a man which lapsed through his inability to perform the duties attached to such rights, could be and should be resumed by the next of kin. This applied especially to parcels of land which any Israelite found it necessary to sell. This his go'el, or kinsman, had to redeem (Lev. xxv. 25). From the leading case of Jeremiah's purchase of his cousin Hananeel's property in Anathoth (Jer. xxxii. 8-12) it would appear that in later Israel at any rate this injunction was taken to mean that a kinsman had the right of preemption. Similarly, in the Book of Ruth the next of kin was called upon to purchase a parcel of land formerly belonging to Elimelech (Ruth iv. 3). It would appear from the same example that another duty of the go'el was to raise offspring for his kinsman if he happened to die without any (ib. 5). This would seem to be an extension of the principle of the Levirate Marriage; hence the procedure of "ḥaliẓah" was gone through in the case of Naomi's go'el, just as if he had been her brother-in-law. The relative nearness of kin is not very definitely determined in the Old Testament. The brother appears to be the nearest of all, after whom comes the uncle or uncle's son (Lev. xxv. 49).
Another duty of the go'el was to redeem his kinsman from slavery if sold to a stranger or sojourner (Lev. xxv. 47-55). In both cases much depended upon the nearness or remoteness of the year of jubilee, which would automatically release either the land or the person of the kinsman from subjection to another.
As the go'el had his duties, so he had his privileges and compensation. If an injured man had claim to damages and died before they were paid to him, his go'el would have the right to them (Lev. v. 21-26 [A. V. vi. 1-7]). The whole conception of the go'el was based on the solidarity of the interests of the tribe and the nation with those of the national God, and accordingly the notion of the go'el became spiritualized as applied to the relations between God and Israel. God was regarded as the go'el of Israel, and as having redeemed him from the bondage of Egypt (Ex. vi. 6, xv. 13). Especially in Deutero-Isaiah is this conception emphasized (Isa. xli. 14; xliii. 14; xliv. 6, 24, et passim).Avenger of Blood.
However, the chief of the go'el's duties toward his kinsman was that of avenging him if he should happen to be slain by some one outside the clan or tribe. This custom is found in all early or primitive civilizations (comp. Post, "Studien zur Entwickelungsgesch. des Familienrechts," pp. 113-137). Indeed, it is the only expedient by which any check could be put upon the tendency to do injury to strangers. Here again the principle of solidarity was applied to the family of the murderer, and the death of one member of a family would generally result in a vendetta. It would appear that this custom was usual in early Israel, for the crimes of a man were visited upon his family (Josh. vii. 24; II Kings ix. 26); but at a very early stage the Jewish code made an advance upon most Semitic codes, including that of Hammurabi, by distinguishing between homicide and murder (Ex. xxi. 13, 14). It was in order to determine whether a case of manslaughter was accidental or deliberate that the Cities of Refuge were instituted (Deut. xix.; Num. xxxv.). In a case where the elders of the city of refuge were satisfied that the homicide was intentional, the murderer was handed over to the blood-avenger ("go'el ha-dam")to take vengeance on him. Even if it was decided that it was a case of unintentional homicide, the man who committed the deed had to keep within the bounds of the city of refuge till the death of the high priest, as the go'el could kill the homicide with impunity if he found him trespassing beyond the bounds (Num. xxxv. 26, 27).
In other legislations grew the principle of commuting the penalty by a money fine, known among the Anglo-Saxons as "wergild," which varied in amount according to the rank of the person; but such a method was distinctly prohibited in the Israelite code (Num. xxxv. 31).
It would appear that the custom of the blood-avenger still existed in the time of David, as the woman of Tekoah refers to it in her appeal to the king (II Sam. xiv. 11), but no further trace of it is found. Later the concentration of the population in cities gave fuller power to the courts of justice to punish cases of murder. The term "go'el" thus became entirely confined to the spiritual sense of "redeemer." It is probably used in that way in the celebrated passage in Job xix. 25: "I know that my redeemer [go'el] liveth." In the Talmud it is used exclusively in this manner.
- Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v.;
- Fenton, Early Hebrew Life;
- W. R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage, passim;
- idem, The Religion of the Semites, pp. 32 et seq., 272 et seq.;
- Benzinger, Arch. pp. 335-336;
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. s.v.