This is an essay on “LEX TALIONIS” for All Judiciary examinations. The phrase “an eye for an eye”, that expresses a principle of retributive justice also known as lex talionis (Latin for “law of retaliation”). Here is a complete essay on “LEX TALIONIS” (an eye for an eye) for CSS, PMS, and for All Judiciary Examinations.
Essay on “LEX TALIONIS” (an eye for an eye)
The basis of this form of law is the principle of proportionate punishment, often expressed under the motto “Let the punishment fit the crime”, which particularly applies to mirror punishments (which may or may not be proportional). At the root of the non-biblical form of this principle is the belief that one of the purposes of the law is .to provide equitable retaliation for an offended party. It defined and restricted the extent of retaliation. This early belief is reflected in the Code of Hammurabi and in the laws of the Old Testament.
In reference to torts, the Old Testament prescription “an eye for an eye, etc.” has often been interpreted, notably in Judaism, to mean equivalent monetary compensation, even to the exclusion of mirror punishment.
Definition and Methods
The term “lex talionis” does not always and only refers to literal eye-for-an-eye codes of justice but applies to the broader class of legal systems that specify formulaic penalties for specific crimes, which are thought to be fitting in their severity.
Some propose that this was at least in part intended to prevent excessive punishment at the hands of either an avenging private party or the state. The most common expression of lex talionis is “an eye for an eye”, but other interpretations have been given as well.
Legal codes following the principle of lex talionis have one thing in common: prescribed ‘fitting’ counter punishment for an offense. In the famous legal code written by Hammurabi, the principle of exact reciprocity is very clearly used. For example, if a person caused the death of another person’s child, that person’s child would be put to death.
The simplest example is the “eye for an eye” principle. In that case, the rule was that punishment must be exactly equal to the crime. Conversely, the twelve tables of Rome merely prescribed particular penalties for particular crimes.
The Anglo-Saxon legal code substituted payment of wergild for direct retribution: a particular person’s life had a fixed value, derived from his social position; any homicide was compensated by paying the appropriate wergild, regardless of intent. In the modern tort law system, this has been extended to translate non-economic losses into money as well.
A curious result of the tort system is that after a person is acquitted of a crime, a civil trial may find them responsible. A civil trial requires a much lower burden of proof (probability or likelihood as deemed by jurors or judge rather than certainty). This does not count as double jeopardy under the Bill of Rights.
One’s in jeopardy of “life and limb” in a criminal case; in a civil case, only one’s money or property is in jeopardy.
Various ideas regarding the origins of lex talionis exist, but a common one is that it developed as early civilizations grew, and a less well-established system for retribution of wrongs, feuds, and vendettas, threatened the social fabric. Despite having been replaced with newer modes of legal theory, lex talionis systems served a critical purpose in the development of social systems – the establishment of a body whose purpose was to enact the retaliation and ensure that this was the only punishment.
This body was the state in one of its earliest forms. The principle is found in Babylonian Law. It is surmised that in societies not bound. by the rule of law, if a person was hurt, then the injured person (or their relative) would take vengeful retribution on the person who caused the injury.
The retribution might be much worse than the crime, perhaps .even death. Ba.bylonian law put a limit on such actions, restricting the retribution to be no worse than the crime, as long as victim and offender occupied the same status in society, while punishments were less proportional with disputes between social strata: like blasphemy or laesa maiestatis (against a god, viz., monarch, even today in certain societies), crimes against one’s social better were systematically punished as worse.
Lex Talionis in Judaism
The Torah’s first mention of the phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot” appears in. The Talmud based upon a critical interpretation of the original Hebrew text, explains that this biblical concept entails monetary compensation in tort cases.
One element of this interpretation notes that “an eye for an eye” understood literally would be inapplicable to blind or eyeless offenders. Since the Torah requires that penalties be universally applicable, the phrase cannot be interpreted literally. The same interpretation applies to this phrase as it appears in Leviticus. Personal retribution is explicitly forbidden by the Torah; such reciprocal justice being strictly reserved for the social magistrate (usually in the form of regional courts).
The Talmud discusses the concept of justice as measure-for-measure retribution in the context of divinely implemented justice. Regarding reciprocal justice by the court, however, the Torah states that punishments serve to remove dangerous elements from society (” …and you shall eliminate the evil from your midst”) and to deter potential criminals from violating the law (“And the rest shall hear and be daunted, and they shall no longer commit anything like this wicked deed in your midst”).
Additionally, reciprocal justice in tort cases serves to compensate the victim. The idea of vengeance for the sake of assuaging the distress of the victim plays no role in the Torah’s conception of court justice, as victims are cautioned against even hating or bearing a grudge against those who have harmed them. The Torah makes no distinction between whether the potential object of hatred or a grudge has been brought to justice, and all people are taught to love their fellow.
Lex Talionis in Christianity
Christian interpretation of the biblical passage has been heavily influenced by the quotation from Leviticus in Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount. In the Expounding of the Law (part of the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus urges his followers to turn the other cheek when confronted by violence: You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But I say to You, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
The passage continues with the importance of showing forgiveness to enemies and those who harm you. This saying of Jesus is frequently interpreted as criticism of the Old Testament teaching, and often taken as implying that “an eye for an eye” encourages excessive vengeance rather than an attempt to limit it.
Most Christian scholars and commentators have agreed that such an interpretation is a misunderstanding of this section of Matthew. The “Expounding of the Law” includes a series of six sayings in a similar format, known as the ” antitheses”. In each of them, Jesus quotes the provisions of the Jewish Law without criticism – indeed, the passage is prefaced by a ringing endorsement of the Law as a whole.
However, he then calls on his followers to go further than the Law demands, in order to “Be perfect”. It seems clear Jesus was not criticizing the law, but calling on his followers not only to refrain from the abuses the Law condemns but to go to the opposite extreme by exercising forgiveness and love – even when one has a just claim to vengeance.
Lex Talionis in Islam
In Islam, the Qur’an permits exact and equivalent retribution. The Qur’an, however, softens the law of an eye for an eye by urging mankind to accept less compensation than that inflicted upon him or her or to forgive altogether. In other words, Islam does not deny a man his or her God-given right as a human being to seek retaliation in equal measure.
But it does, however, promote forgiveness and the acceptance of blood money not as a mandatory requirement, but rather as a good deed that will be eventually rewarded. (Qur’an: Surah 5, Verse 45).
Some alternative penalty systems exist which primarily concern the impact of the punishment on the sanctioned offender and/or on society while def11anding non-parallel penalties.
For example, the “correctional” prison system (first instituted in the USA in the early 201h century) is based on the idea that the purpose of law enforcement is to correct the deviant nature of criminals by compelling them to reflect and regret their crimes during lengthy incarceration.
Criticism on Lex Talionis
The vengeance-based non-biblical forms of Lex Talionis have been criticized; its critics maintain that merely limiting vengeance is not enough as even limited retaliation continues a potentially endless cycle of violence.
Even though it may be hard to do in practice, certain belief systems (such as Christianity) teach individuals to forgive those who wrong them, rather than seek retribution for a wrong.
Mahatma Gandhi remarked on the lex talionis: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the whole world would soon be blind and toothless.”
It can also be seen as an extension of the informal logical fallacy, two wrongs make a right.
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