PRISON, PRISONER. A place of confinement or restraint, often as a means of punishment. A person so confined.
A variety of terms are used in the OT and several in the NT to describe incarceration. These are variously tr. in the major VSS. The following list includes most of the occurrences of significance:
1. אֲזִקִּים, H272, זִקִּ֑ים, “chains,” “fetters” (
5. חָנוּת, H2844, “vaulted room” cell (
6. כֶּ֫בֶל, H3890, “fetter” (
8. מַהְפֶּ֫כֶת, H4551, “stocks” (
11. פְּקֻדָּה, H7213, “guardhouse,” “prison” (
12. עֹ֫צֶר, H6808, “restraint,” “coercion,” understood in KJV as “prison” (
14. סוּגַר, H6050, “prison,” “cage” (KJV “ward”) (
15. שָׁבָה, H8647, “take captive,” and its derivatives may imply, but not explicitly indicate imprisonment (e.g.,
17. ἅλυσις, G268, “chain,” “bond,” “handcuff” (
19. οἴκημα, G3862, “cell,” used euphemistically for “prison” (
20. σειρά, G4937, “cord,” “rope” (
Nature of imprisonment.
The foregoing citations indicate the different kinds of imprisonment known in Biblical times. These included incarceration in a pit, perhaps a cistern, in a military or royal building, in cells and dungeons, and occasionally in a house. Devices sometimes were used to make the prisoner uncomfortable, such as fetters or stocks. Floggings also were administered, esp. during NT times. It must be recognized, however, that imprisonment itself was not necessarily a legal means of punishment. Rather it was often a detention prior to trial, the isolation of a dangerous person, or a restraint imposed with no judicial sanction. It is observed that
Notable examples of imprisonment.
1. Joseph was taken by his brothers, cast temporarily into a pit, sold to traders (
2. Detention pending judicial decision (
3. Samson was imprisoned and put to hard labor (
4. Micaiah, a prophet, King Hoshea of the northern kingdom (Israel), and King Jehoiakin of Judah were put in security as political prisoners (
5. Jeremiah suffered various forms of imprisonment: in stocks, in the king’s private prison, in another private prison—evidently with cells and dungeon, and in another dungeon, possibly a cistern. (See references to thein A. 1 through 9 above.)
7. Prisons provided illustrative material for Jesus (
9. Jesus’ predictions that His disciples would be imprisoned (
10. Paul imprisoned others before his conversion (
11. The abode of the departed evil is called a prison in the difficult passage (
12. The abyss in which Satan is confined during the millennium is also called a prison (
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
priz’-n, priz’-’-n-er, priz’-ner (there are various Hebrew words which are rendered "prison" in the, among them:
1. Hebrew Words:
(1) cohar, "round house," "fortress" (8 times in Genesis), (2) kele’ "restraint," "confinement" (12 times: in historic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, with "house"), (3) maTTarah, "guard," "sentry" (13 times in Jeremiah and Nehemiah), (4) mahaphekheth, "distorting," i.e. stocks or pillory (4 times), (5) ’ecur, "bond," "fetters" (
2. In Early Times:
The earliest occurrence of the word "prison" in the King James Version is found in the narrative of Joseph’s life in Egypt (the Jahwist). The term used, namely, cohar, means perhaps "round house" or "tower." It seems probable that among the Hebrews there were no special buildings erected as "jails" in the premonarchical period, and perhaps not before the post-exilic period, when the adoption of the civic institutions and customs of surrounding nations prevailed. In Egypt and Assyria, on the contrary, there were probably public buildings corresponding to our modern jails. Among the Hebrews, rooms in connection with the royal palace or the residence of prominent court officials would be used for the purpose.
3. Joseph in Egypt:
According to one narrative (Jahwist) in Genesis the prison in which Joseph was confined had a "keeper," while according to another narrative (the Elohist) the offending members of the royal household, namely, the royal butler and the royal baker, were placed "in ward" with the "captain of the guard" in charge, i.e. in some part of the royal palace. This is still more probable if, instead of "captain of the guard," we should translate "chief of the cooks" i.e. superintendent of the royal kitchen.
4. Causes of Imprisonment:
It was often necessary to restrict the liberty of individuals who for various causes were a menace to those in authority, without inflicting any corporal punishment, e.g. Joseph’s brethren were kept "in ward" three days (
5. Under the Monarchy:
Thethrows considerable light on the prison system of Jerusalem in the later monarchical period. The prophet was put "in the stocks that were in the upper gate of Benjamin, which was in the house of Yahweh" (20:2). Mere imprisonment was not adequate punishment for the prophet’s announcement of Judah’s doom; it was necessary to have recourse to the pillory. During the siege of Jerusalem Jeremiah was confined in the "court of the guard, which was in the king of Judah’s house" (32:2, etc.). The "court of the guard" was evidently the quarters of the sentry who guarded the royal palace. According to the narrative of Jeremiah 37, the prophet was arrested on a charge of treachery and put in prison "in the house of Jonathan the scribe" (37:15). This verse does not necessarily mean that a private house was used as a prison. The words are capable of another interpretation, namely, that a building known as the "house of Jonathan the scribe" had been taken over by the authorities and converted into a jail. We read in the following verse that the house had a "dungeon" (literally, "house of the pit") and "cabins" or "cells."
6. The Treatment of Prisoners:
The data are not sufficient to enable us to give any detailed description of the treatment of prisoners. This treatment varied according to the character of the offense which led to incarceration. Samson during the period of his imprisonment was compelled to do hard labor (
Various forms of torture were in vogue. Hanani the seer was put into the pillory by Asa (for "in a prison house" we should render "in the stocks"; see the
7. Other Hebrew Words:
There are other Hebrew words rendered "prison" (sometimes incorrectly) in the King James Version. In
8. In the:
See also PUNISHMENTS.