,CITIES OF REFUGE (sIt'Iz ref'dj), (Heb.
.4, aw-ray' ham-mik-law!). Places of refuge where, under the cover of religion, the guilty and the unfortunate might find shelter and protection were not unknown among the ancient heathen.
(1) Early Abuse. The jus asyli, or right of shelter and impunity, was enjoyed by certain places reputed sacred, such as groves, temples and altars. This protective power commonly spread itself over a considerable district round the holy spot, and was watched over and pre served by severe penalties. Yet the fate of Pau sanias, were there no other similar case, shows that it could not always stand against the assaults of popular indignation.
Among the Greeks and Romans the number of these places of asylum became in process of time very great, and led, by abuse, to a fresh increase of criminals. Tiberius, in consequence, caused a solemn inquiry into their effects to be made, which resulted in a diminution of their number and a limitation of their privileges.
In the Apocrypha (2 Mace. iv:33) mention is made of a city having the jus asyli, the right of asylum—'0nias withdrew himself into a sanc tuary at Daphne that lieth by Antiochia.' The temple of Diana at Ephesus (Acts xix :27) was also a heathen asylum, whose privileges in this respect increased with the progress of time.
(2) Asylums in Churches. This pagan cus tom passed into Christianity. As early as Con stantine the Great, Christian churches were asy lums for the unfortunate persons whom an out raged law or powerful enemies pursued. Theodo sius, in 431, extended this privilege to the houses, gardens and other places which were under the jurisdiction of the churches, and the synod of Toledo, in 681, widened the right of asylum to thirty paces from every church. Since then this ecclesiastical privilege prevailed in the whole of Catholic Christendom, and was preserved un diminished, at least in Italy, so long as the papal independence remained. The right acted bene ficially in ages when violence and revenge pre dominated, and fixed habitations were less com mon than now ; but its tendency to transfer power from the magistrate to the priesthood was injuri ous to the inviolability of law and the steady ad ministration of justice. It has accordingly in recent times been abrogated by most govern ments.
(3) Framing of the Institution. Among the Jew the 'cities of refuge' bore some resemblance to the asylum of the classic nations, but were happily exempt from the evil consequences to which reference has been made, and afford, even to the present day, no mean proof of the superior wisdom and benignant spirit of the Jewish laws.
The institution was framed with a view to abate the evils which ensued from the old-estab lished rights of the blood-avenger (see BLOOD REVENGE ) , and thereby to further the prevalence in the nation of a mild, gentle and forgiving spirit.
From the laws on this point (Exod. xxi :13; Num. xxxv :ii-32; Deut. xix :1-r3) it appears that Moses set apart out of the sacerdotal cities six as 'cities of refuge.' There were, on the eastern side of the Jordan, three, namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country of the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead of the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan of the Manassites' (Dcut. iv :41, 42); on the western side three, namely, 'Kedesh in Galilee in Mount Naphtali, and Shechem in Mount Ephriam, and Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah' (Josh: xx :7). If found desirable, then other cities might be added. An inspection of the map will show how wisely these places were chosen so as to make a city of refuge easy of access from all parts of the land. To any one of these cities a person who had unawares and unintentionally slain any one might flee, and if he reached it before he was overtaken by the avenger of blood, he was safe within its shelter, provided he did not remove more than a thousand yards from its circuit, nor quit the refuge till the decease of the high priest under whom the homi cide had taken place. If, however, he transgressed these provisions, the avenger might lawfully put him to death. The roads leading to the cities of refuge were to be kept in good repair. Before, however, the fugitive could avail himself of the shelter conceded by the laws, he was to undergo a solemn trial, and make it appear to the satis faction of the magistrates of the place where the homicide was committed that it was purely acci dental. Should he, however, be found to have been guilty of murder, he was delivered 'into the hands of the avenger of blood, that he might die.' (4) Bribes Unavailing. And the Israelites were strictly forbidden to spare him either from considerations of pity or in consequence of any pecuniary ransom. This disallowal of a compen sation by money in the case of murder shows a just regard for human life, and appears much to the advantage of the Hebrew legislation when compared with the practice of other countries (Athens, for instance, and Islam), in which pecuniary atonements were allowed, if not en couraged, and where in consequence the life of the poor must have been in as great jeopardy as the character of the wealthy.