Did You Know?
To what was the apostle Paul referring when he said that he bore on his body “the brand marks of a slave of Jesus”?—Galatians 6:17.
▪ Paul’s words could have suggested a number of possible meanings in the minds of his first-century audience. For instance, a red-hot iron was used in ancient times to identify prisoners of war, robbers of temples, and fugitive slaves. When used on humans in this way, the brand mark was considered dishonorable.
However, brand marks were not always viewed negatively. Many ancient peoples used them to denote membership of a specific tribe or of a particular religion. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, for example, “the Syrians consecrated themselves to the gods Hadad and Atargatis by signs branded on the wrist or neck . . . An ivy leaf was branded on the devotee of Dionysus.”
Many modern-day commentators assume that Paul was referring to scars received in different episodes of physical abuse during his Christian missionary activity. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) Perhaps, though, Paul meant that his way of life—not any literal marks—identified him as a Christian.
Did the cities of refuge in ancient Israel become sanctuaries for criminals?
▪ In the ancient pagan world, many temples served as asylums for fugitives or criminals. In medieval Christendom, abbeys and churches served the same function. The rules governing ancient Israel’s cities of refuge, however, ensured that they did not become sanctuaries for criminals.
The Mosaic Law stated that cities of refuge protected only the unintentional manslayer. (Deuteronomy 19:4, 5) He could flee to the nearest city of refuge, out of reach of the victim’s nearest male relative, who could otherwise avenge the shed blood. After stating his case to the city’s older men, the fugitive was taken to stand trial in the city having jurisdiction over the location where the death occurred. There he had opportunity to prove his innocence. The elders reviewed the relationship between the fugitive and the victim, noting if prior hatred existed.—Numbers 35:20-24; Deuteronomy 19:6, 7; Joshua 20:4, 5.
If found innocent, the fugitive returned to the city of refuge and had to remain in its immediate vicinity. These cities were not prisons. The refugee worked and served as a useful member of society. Upon the death of the high priest, all refugees could leave the cities of refuge in safety.—Numbers 35:6, 25-28.
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CITIES OF REFUGE