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The Jewish Legal System

Criminal Law

Achan’s Family

Why were the children of Achan (Book of Joshua, Chapter 7) killed for his crime?

According to our understanding Achan’s children were not executed. They were brought to the valley to witness their father’s execution as were everyone else. If you pay careful attention to the pronouns in the passage you will see that only “he” was killed, and “they” were burnt. We do not have such a penalty in Jewish law so the burning must refer to the possessions.

1 Follow-up »

  1. It was said that Achan’s family wasn’t killed and was just made to see the stoning of Achan. What bothers me is that why should his family be made to watch his death? I mean it seems cruel to make somebody’s wife and children watch their husband and father’s death.

    Secondly why was Achan punished for stealing? There is no capital punishment for stealing. And what was the fault of his animals that they were killed too along with him ? The poor animals cant do anything if the master steals something then why were the animals put to death ?

    Whether the family was killed, or, as according to our tradition, they only had to watch Achan’s execution, the reason is the same: They were guilty as accessories to the crime. They knew that their father had taken from the spoils. Perhaps they encouraged him, perhaps they only went along with it by their silence. Of course, the main punishment was still his, since he was the active party.

    Achan was not killed according to regular judicial law. According to the Torah, a person can only be punished when there are two witnesses against him – he may not incriminate himself, nor is “proof by lots” relevant. Here he was killed as a “hora’as sha’ah”, a special response to circumstance decreed by a prophet. I don’t know that a regular court could have punished him anyway, even if there had been witnesses. His crime was not theft alone, indeed, I’m not sure that it was theft at all. But it was something much worse. Achan had violated a “cherem”, an agreement by Israel to sanctify everything taken in that battle. He had profaned the whole idea of the conquest of Canaan, turning a service to G-d into a greedy lusting after land and wealth. Because of that, G-d said that he would no longer support Israel in Canaan. Because of it, Israel lost the next battle and many Jews were killed. A human court can’t take all this into account, but G-d through his prophet can.

    I’m not sure about the idea of destroying Achan’s animals. Clearly, they were not killed for anything they did, and were not being “punished”. Rather, it was part of the punishment of Achan, through destroying all his property. That too is something that a prophet would have to command.

    Best wishes,
    Michoel Reach

    Comment by ATR — February 19, 2007 @ 11:28 am

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