Three Cheers for the Lex Talionis

23 And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

Genesis 4: 23-24


Dennis Prager reminds us that, in the words of Bernard of Chartres, we are pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.






As Saint Augustine noted, the Lex Talionis did not foster vengeance but served to check it.  This was a giant step away from blood feuds that could decimate families and entire communities.  Christ admonished that we pray for our enemies and turn the other cheek, but also acknowledged the punishment of evildoers by the State.  The idea of the Law standing in for private vengeance is an initial huge step for any civilization, and it is unsurprising that where States have gone to war against Christianity, the law swiftly becomes merely a tool to punish enemies of the State.

After Lenin toppled the Kerensky government in 1917, the Bolsheviks were briefly in coalition with other left wing parties, and Isaac Steinberg, an Anarchist, was Commissar of Justice.  When he protested the summary executions ordered by Lenin, Lenin waved off his objections that these were unjust:

He resented my opposition in the name of revolutionary justice.  So I called out in exasperation:  “Then why do we bother with a Commissariat of Justice?  Let’s call it frankly the Commissariat for Social Extermination and be done with it.”  Lenin’s face suddenly brightened and he replied, “Well put…that’s exactly what it should be…but we can’t say that.”