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There is a sense in which the people corporately are guilty of bloodshed whenever homicide occurs until justice has been satisfied (Deut 21:1-9; Num 35:33). If the guilty party is unknown the elders and judges of the people shall determine which city lies closest to the place where the person was slain so that the priests and elders of that city may offer sacrifice and declare the innocence of their people. As they wash their hands over the sacrificed heifer they are to say: “Our hands did not shed this blood, neither did our eyes see it shed. Forgive, O Lord, thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and set not the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of thy people Israel; but let the guilt of blood be forgiven them” (Deut 21:7, 8).


J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture, I-II (1926), 420-437; IDB, I (1962), 449f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)