The Cities of Refuge -- By: Charles Lee Feinberg

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 103:412 (Oct 1946)
Article: The Cities of Refuge
Author: Charles Lee Feinberg

The Cities of Refuge

Charles Lee Feinberg


The subject of the cities of refuge in Israel, though mentioned prominently in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, as well as in 1 Chronicles, has received scant attention at the hands of investigators. Nicolsky1 claims that the problem of the refuge cities belongs to that group of least investigated subjects of the Old Testament. For him it is one of the few questions in the social history of Israel for which the Bible offers definite, if not very considerable, material. Klein2 makes mention of three specific treatments of the subject. (1) In 1895 S. Ohlenberg took the ground that refuge cities may have existed in the Biblical period. His view was not well received by scolars. (2) Hoffmann, in his opposition to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, stated that our original concepts in the matter were correct, and brought forth indications of the existence of Levitical cities in the period of the first temple, with the possibility of a few cities for Levites during the time of the second temple. This view did not find general acceptance. (3) In 1930 Max Löhr issued his article on “Asylwesen im Alten Testament.” He sought after the historical foundations of the cities of refuge, and held that according to scientific excavations in Asia Minor the concept of refuge prevailed in eastern countries a long while before the Israelites came to Palestine, and that remnants of the primitive regulation are to be found in the books of the law. With regard to the six refuge cities of

Numbers and Joshua, he maintained that the context of the passages may be of a later date, but that the essence of the tradition, insofar as it deals with the names of the cities and their functions, appears to be very ancient and to have historical basis. He placed the time of the existence of these cities in the reigns of David and Solomon. He agreed with Ohlenberg that the Levitical cities served as refuge cities.

The phrase ערי מקלט is itself interesting. The only other derivative from this root in the Old Testament is קלוט in Leviticus 22:23: “Either a bullock or a lamb that is prolonged [has anything superfluous] or dwarfed, you may offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.” It may mean a place of reception rather than place of refuge, a place set apart for receiving fugitives. Joshua 20:9 has ערי המועדה the cities of appointment or appointed ...

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