Asylum Cities

Numbers 35:9–34

Biblical Period

9The Lord spoke further to Moses: 10Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. 12The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger,a so that the manslayer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.

13The towns that you thus assign shall be six cities of refuge in all. 14Three cities shall be designated beyond the Jordan, and the other three shall be designated in the land of Canaan: they shall serve as cities of refuge. 15These six cities shall serve the Israelites and the resident aliens among them for refuge, so that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.

16Anyone, however, who strikes another with an iron object so that death results is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 17If he struck him with a stone tool that could cause death, and death resulted, he is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 18Similarly, if the object with which he struck him was a wooden tool that could cause death, and death resulted, he is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 19The blood-avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; it is he who shall put him to death upon encounter.

20So, too, if he pushed him in hate or hurled something at him on purpose and death resulted, 21or if he struck him with his hand in enmity and death resulted, the assailant shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The blood-avenger shall put the murderer to death upon encounter.

22But if he pushed him without malice aforethought or hurled any object at him unintentionally, 23or inadvertently dropped upon him any deadly object of stone, and death resulted—though he was not an enemy of his and did not seek his harm—24in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and the blood-avenger. 25The assembly shall protect the manslayer from the blood-avenger, and the assembly shall restore him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the sacred oil. 26But if the manslayer ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled, 27and the blood-avenger comes upon him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the blood-avenger kills the man-slayer, there is no bloodguilt on his account. 28For he must remain inside his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; after the death of the high priest, the manslayer may return to his land holding.

29Such shall be your law of procedure throughout the ages in all your settlements.

30If anyone kills a person, the manslayer may be executed only on the evidence of witnesses; the testimony of a single witness against a person shall not suffice for a sentence of death. 31You may not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of a capital crime; he must be put to death. 32Nor may you accept ransom in lieu of flight to a city of refuge, enabling one to return to live on his land before the death of the priest. 33You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I the Lord abide among the Israelite people.


Lit. “redeemer,” i.e., next of kin.


Reprinted from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1985 by the Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 1.

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