Las Cuevas de las Manos on Rio Pinturas, in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina.
Alice C. Linsley
Anthropological and archaeological evidence indicates that early human populations experienced anxiety about bloodshed. They observed that blood loss from injuries could lead to death. Blood was visible when flowing from a wound or during childbirth, so blood was conceived as the substance of life.
The shedding of blood appears to have been a moral issue of the first magnitude. Hunters and warriors were responsible for their acts of bloodshed. Blood appeared to animate and taking that vital power from another living creature could bring a curse upon those responsible for the shedding of blood. Doubtless, there was an element of anxiety about blood. Blood anxiety required the ministrations of priests and shamans.
Blood anxiety: In every primitive society that has been studied by anthropologists there is a belief that there is power in blood and that this power is potentially dangerous. This anxiety about shed blood is widely diffused, evidence that it is very ancient. The need for relief of blood anxiety and blood guilt is one explanation for the development of the office of priest.
Among the early Hebrew bloodshed that resulted in death brough guilt to the killer. This is expressed in Genesis 4:10-11 where the Lord said to Cain, "What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand."
Pontius Pilate, having been warned by his wife, attempted to relieve himself of blood guilt when he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." (Matt. 27:24)
In response, the Jewish rabble-rousers who demanded Jesus' crucifixion declared, "His blood be on us and on our children!" They foolishly accepted guilt for Jesus' blood upon themselves and their children. This testifies to their seared consciences. They disdained their own tradition in which bloodguilt attaches for generations (II Kings 9:26) and can extend to the one's city (Jer. 26:5), nation (Deut. 21:8), and land (Deut. 24:4).
The biblical concept of bloodguilt derives from the belief that deeds generate consequences and that sin, in particular, is a danger to the sinner. The term for bearing bloodguilt damo bo, or damo bero'sho, meant "his blood in him/on his head" (Josh. 2:19; Ezek. 33:5), and in cases of legal execution the formula mot yumat damav bo (Lev. 20:9-16) means that the blood of the guilty remains on his own person and does not attach to his executioners.
Bloodshed: The first moral law
The Bible addresses the shedding of blood from beginning to end. In Genesis, God takes the life of animals to clothe the man and the woman in the hides. God becomes the first tahash (tanner).
Abel's blood cries to God from the ground with an implicit demand for justice.
Genesis 9:4-6 says, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man."
In the sacrificial system of the Israelites, atonement for sin requires blood sacrifice. This was the work of the sacrificing priests who themselves had to be purified by ritual washing before and after the sacrifices (Exodus 29).Among ancient peoples, religious laws governed every aspect of the community’s life. The laws found in Leviticus and in the ancient Vedic Brahmanas are examples. Here we read instructions for how lepers are to be put outside the community and restored to the community after they are healed. Many of the laws govern family relations, forbidding incest and adultery. Others establish rules for the proper treatment of slaves, foreigners, widows, and orphans.
The code of Ur-Nammu from the reign of King Shulgi dates to 2095-2047 BC. It originally held 57 laws which covered family and inheritance law, rights of slaves and laborers, and agricultural and commercial tariffs. This code prescribes compensation for wrongs, as in this example: "If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out one-half a mina of silver."
Many laws concern purity. It is clear than blood both pollutes and covers pollution through propitiation.
Of special interest is a Hittite ritual for purifying a house where a person has perjured himself, or has shed blood, or someone has made a threat or spoken a curse, or someone having shed blood or having committed perjury has entered, or someone has practiced sorcery, or bloodshed has occurred in the house.
The Hittites were related to the biblical Hebrew. These peoples share common ancestry. Heth was an ancestor of the Hittites (Gen. 10:15). He was one of Ham's grandsons, and the lines of Ham and Shem intermarried (endogamy). The Hittites of Canaan recognized Abraham the Hebrew as a high-ranking kinsman (Gen. 23:5).