Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
] This is "lex talionis", the law of retaliation, and from whence the Heathens had theirs; but whether this is to be taken strictly and literally, or only for pecuniary mulcts, is a question; Josephus F4 understands it in the former sense, the Jewish writers generally in the latter; and so the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases it;
``the price of an eye for an eye''Jarchi on the place observes, that,
``he that puts out his neighbour's eye must pay him the price of his eye, according to the price of a servant sold in the market, and so of all the rest; for not taking away of members strictly is meant, as our doctors here interpret it;''in a place he refers to, and to which Aben Ezra agrees; and of the difference and dispute between the Jews concerning this matter, (See Gill on Matthew 5:38) and indeed, though these laws of retaliation should, according to the letter of them, be attended to as far as they can; yet, in some cases, it seems necessary that they should not be strictly attended to, but some recompence made in another way, and nothing seems more agreeable than a pecuniary one: thus, for instance, this law cannot be literally executed, when one that has never an eye puts out the eye of another, as it is possible that a blind man may; or one that has no teeth may strike out the tooth of another; in such cases eye cannot be given for eye, nor tooth for tooth; and, as Saadiah Gaon F5 observes, if a man should smite the eye of his neighbour, and the third part of the sight of his eye should depart, how will he order it to strike such a stroke as that, without adding or lessening? and if a man that has but one eye, or one hand, or one foot, should damage another man in those parts, and must lose his other eye, or hand, or foot, he would be in a worse case and condition than the man he injured; since he would still have one eye, or hand, or foot; wherefore a like law of Charondas among the Thurians is complained of, since it might be the case, that a man with one eye might have that struck out, and so be utterly deprived of sight; whereas the man that struck it out, though he loses one for it, yet has another, and so not deprived of sight utterly, and therefore thought not to be sufficiently punished; and that it was most correct that he should have both his eyes put out for it: and hence Diodorus Siculus F6 reports of a one-eyed man who lost his eye, that he complained of this law to the people, and advised to have it altered: this "lex talionis" was among the Roman laws of the "twelve tables" F7.
F4 Antiqu. l. 4. c. 33. 35.
F5 Apud Aben Ezram in loc.
F6 Bibliothec. l. 12. par. 2. p. 82, 83.
F7 A. Gell. Noct. Attic. l. 20. c. 1.