The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
BLOOD-REVENGE AND COMPENSATION--THE PUNISHMENT OF DEATH

ACCORDING to early custom, a person who takes the life of another may himself be killed by the relatives of his victim, or some other member of his family, clan, or tribe may be killed in his stead.1 The custom of blood- revenge is found among a host of existing savages and barbarians, and has long survived among many peoples who have reached a higher degree of culture.

We meet with blood-revenge in the midst of Japanese civilisation, not as a mere fact, but as a legally permitted custom. The avenger had only to observe certain prescribed formalities and regulations: there was a regular official to whom he must announce his resolve, and he must fix the time within which he would carry it out. The way in which the enemy was killed was of no importance, except that, even in ancient times, the man who had recourse to assassination was reprehensible.2 Among the Hebrews blood-revenge continued to exist during the periods of the Judges and Kings, and even later; under the Old Kingdom, says Wellhausen, "the administration of justice was at best but a scanty supplement to the practice of self-help."3 It is a rule among

____________________
1
The collective responsibility usually involved in the blood-feud has been discussed supra, p. 30sqq.
2
Rein, Japan, p. 326. Dautremer, "'The Vendetta or Legal Revenge in Japan,'" in Trans. Asiatic Soc. Japan, xiii. 84 sq.
3
Wellhuasen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, p. 467.

-477-

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