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More than one witness was required in criminal cases ( Deuteronomy 17:6 ; 19:15 ). They were the first to execute the sentence on the condemned ( Deuteronomy 13:9 ; 17:7 ; 1 Kings 21:13 ; Matthew 27:1 ; Acts 7:57 Acts 7:58 ). False witnesses were liable to punishment ( Deuteronomy 19:16-21 ). It was also an offence to refuse to bear witness ( Leviticus 5:1 ).
Among people with whom writing is not common the evidence of a transaction is given by some tangible memorial or significant ceremony: Abraham gave seven ewe-lambs to Abimelech as an evidence of his property in the well of Beersheba. Jacob raised a heap of stones, "the heap of witness." as a boundary-mark between himself and Laban. ( Genesis 21:30 ; Genesis 31:47 Genesis 31:52 ) The tribes of Reuben and Gad raised an "altar" as a witness to the covenant between themselves and the rest of the nation. Joshua set up a stone as an evidence of the allegiance promised by Israel to God. ( Joshua 22:10 Joshua 22:26 Joshua 22:34 ; Joshua 24:26 Joshua 24:27 ) But written evidence was by no means unknown to the Jews. Divorce was to be proved by a written document. ( deuteronomy 24:1 deuteronomy 24:3 ) In civil contracts, at least in later times documentary evidence was required and carefully preserved. ( Isaiah 8:16 ; Jeremiah 32:10-16 ) On the whole the law was very careful to provide and enforce evidence for all its infractions and all transactions bearing on them. Among special provisions with respect to evidence are the following:
wit'-nes (nouns `edh, and `edhah, and verb `anah; martus, with all derivative words and their compounds):
The word "witness" is used of inanimate things, e.g. the heap of stones testifying to the covenant between Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:44-54), and the So of Moses. (Deuteronomy 31:19,21). The main use of the word is forensic, and from this use all other applications are naturally derived. Important legal agreements required the attestation of witnesses, as in the case of the purchase of property, or a betrothal (Ruth 4:1-11, where we are told that the ancient form of attestation was by a man drawing off his shoe and giving it to his neighbor).
The Mosaic Law insisted on the absolute necessity of witnesses in all cases which came before a judge, especially in criminal cases. Not only in criminal cases, but in all cases, it was necessary to have at least two witnesses to make good an accusation against a person (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; compare Numbers 35:30; Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19). According to the Talmud (Pesachim 113b), if in a case of immorality only one witness came forward to accuse anyone, it was regarded as sinful on the part of that witness.
On the other hand, anyone who, being present at the adjuration (Leviticus 5:1 the Revised Version (British and American)), refused to come forward as a witness when he had testimony to bear, was considered to have sinned (Proverbs 29:24). Among those not qualified to be witnesses were the near relations of the accuser or the accused, friends and enemies, gamesters, usurers, tax-gatherers, heathen, slaves, women and those not of age (Sanhedhrin 3 3, 4; Ro'sh Ha-shanah 1 7; Babha' Kamma' 88a; compare Ant, IV, viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been paid to render this service (Bekhoroth 4 6). In cases of capital punishment there was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had to be heard separately (Sanhedhrin 5; compare 3 5). If they contradicted one another on important points their witness was invalidated (Sanhedhrin 5).
No oath was required from witnesses. The meaning of Leviticus 5:1 was not that witnesses had to take an oath, as some think; it describes the solemn adjuration of the judge to all those with knowledge of the case to come forward as witnesses (see OATH). When a criminal was to be put to death, the witnesses against him were to take the foremost share in bringing about his death (Deuteronomy 17:7; compare Acts 7:58), in order to prove their own belief in their testimony. In the case of a person condemned to be stoned, all the witnesses had to lay their hands on the head of the condemned (Leviticus 24:14). "False witnessing" was prohibited in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16); against it the lexicon talionis was enforced, i.e. it was done to the witness as he meant to do to the accused (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). The Sadducees held that only when the falsely accused had been executed, the false witnesses should be put to death; the Pharisees, that false witnesses were liable to be executed the moment the death sentence had been passed on the falsely accused (Makkoth 17). In spite of prohibitions, false witnessing was a very common crime among the people (Psalms 27:12; 35:11; Proverbs 6:19; 12:17; 14:5; 19:5; 24:28; Matthew 26:60; Acts 6:13).
In Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13; 17:6 the word martus, "witness", seems to be beginning to acquire the meaning of "martyr," as in the King James Version, although the Revised Version (British and American) translates "witness" in the first two passages, retaining "martyr" only in the third with "witness" in the m. For "Tabernacle of Witness" see TABERNACLE.
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