Eye for an Eye: One of the Greatest Ideas in History

4,495,462 Views
Apr 2, 2018

Nowadays, many people, particularly those living in Western civilization, no longer regard their society as morally superior to any other. In this video, Dennis Prager lays out how this view does not spring from intellectual rigor, but from intellectual laziness.

 

Dennis Prager's new book, The Rational Bible, is now available.  Order today.  

Inspired by its Judeo-Christian values, Western civilization has helped spread the ideas of universal human rights and individual liberty.

  • Western civilization has left the modern world a legacy of critically important social ideas, such as the rule of law, individual liberty and the dignity of every individual.View Source
  • The idea of citizenship in the West centers around the idea that laws are made legitimate by the consent of citizens rather than by submission under a tyrannical power. Western culture has also promoted honest expression and self-criticism, making room for dissent and free speech.View Source
  • Related video: “The American Trinity” – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” – Dennis PragerView Source

Western civilization is the greatest promoter of liberty, democracy, equality and human rights in the world, yet the Left tears it down.

  • Though Western civilization has been the greatest promoter of the ideas of individual liberty, democracy, human equality and universal human rights, the Left frequently tears down its moral, artistic and cultural standards. The Left is particularly critical of the West’s Judeo-Christian tradition, which has laid the foundation for western value judgments such as the immorality of slavery and equality of women.View Source
  • The Left’s dismissal of the positive impact of Western civilization is particularly true of America. “Without America, the world would suffer from far more evils — such as genocide and totalitarian enslavement — than it does now,” writes author Dennis Prager, yet, “for the Left the moral flaws in American history are enormous, while the uniquely good is minimized or ignored.”View Source

The book most responsible for creating Western civilization is the Bible, which influenced the West’s moral, legal and social standards.

  • The Bible has been “the soul” of Western civilization for millennia, helping shape its moral values, legal codes, and social standards. No other book in the history of Western civilization has been more influential.View Source
  • Related videos: “The Ten Commandments" – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: “The Rational Bible: Exodus” – Dennis PragerView Source

The moral and social values enshrined in the Bible have inspired the West’s increasing embrace of universal human rights. 

  • The moral and societal codes and values enshrined in the Bible and embraced by Western civilization have promoted the idea of universal human rights. Even the ancient laws that seem draconian now — like the law in Deuteronomy stating that parents of a rebellious son  can take him to the elders of the city for judgment and potential stoning — often included major steps forward in the idea of human rights. In this case, imposing due process and forbidding parental infanticide.View Source
  • When the “rebellious son” law was created, infanticide was widespread in the world and the relationship of parent to child was one of ownership. The head of a Roman family, the paterfamilias, possessed absolute rights over the life and death of children in the family.View Source
  • The biblical Lex Talionis, “eye for an eye” laws, were intended to protect citizens by imposing proportionality on offenses. They have since been replaced by less draconian laws, but laws still infused with the concept of proportionality of punishment.View Source

As respect for Western civilization has declined among the Left, so too has reverence for its greatest influence: the Bible.

  • Though Western civilization has been the greatest promoter of the ideas of individual liberty, democracy, human equality and universal human rights, the Left frequently tears down its moral, artistic and cultural standards. The Left is particularly critical of the West’s Judeo-Christian tradition, which has laid the foundation for western value judgments such as the immorality of slavery and equality of women.View Source
  • Related video: “The Ten Commandments: What You Should Know” – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: “The Rational Bible: Exodus” – Dennis PragerView Source

For the Left, the moral and social flaws in Western civilization—particularly America—are enormous, while the good is minimized or ignored. 

  • Western civilization has promoted ideas that have transformed the world. America has contributed in key ways, including enshrining the idea of the consent of the governed, elevating the status of women, the principle of federation, the right of revolution and the freedom of religion.View Source
  • Though Western civilization has been the greatest promoter of the ideas of individual liberty, democracy, human equality and universal human rights, the Left frequently tears down its moral, artistic and cultural standards.View Source
  • This is particularly true of America. “For the Left the moral flaws in American history are enormous, while the uniquely good is minimized or ignored,” writes author Dennis Prager.View Source

Even atheists acknowledge that the book that is most responsible for creating Western civilization is the Bible. 

Until very recently, that was considered quite an achievement.

After all, it was Western civilization that created societies rooted in individual liberty, rooted in democracy, that affirmed the equality of all people, and which gave the world the notion of universal human rights. 

Of course, these unique moral ideals took centuries to be realized, and the ideals were often violated. But only the West formulated these ideals, let alone achieved them — and then spread them around the world.

In the last half century, however, many of the recipients of these gifts — especially the well-educated — no longer regarded Western civilization as morally superior to any other.  And as reverence for Western civilization fell, so did reverence for the source of that civilization.

The Bible has not only been neglected, but reviled — as a foolish fairy tale at best, and as an immoral work at worst. This view springs not from intellectual rigor, but from intellectual laziness. 

People throw out all sorts of objections to the Bible as if there are no rational and moral responses to those objections. But the fact is there are rational and moral responses to all those objections. 

I give many of them in my book, The Rational Bible, but let me offer two here. 

In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, it says if someone has a rebellious  son  who does not obey his father and mother, his parents can take him to the elders of the city for judgment. And if the son is found guilty, the citizens are to stone him to death.

Sounds pretty primitive, doesn’t it?

In fact, however, it was an enormous moral leap forward. This law ended — forever — parental ownership of their children, and with it the right to kill them.  The brilliance of this law was that it seemed to preserve the absolute authority of parents, but in fact ended it.

But, you will respond, the citizens of the city could still kill the child. Theoretically, that was true. But we have no instance of it ever happening in the history of the Jews — the people who brought the book into the world and lived by its rules.

Critics of Western religion also often cite the famous biblical law, “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,” etc. as another example of an immoral biblical law.

But this law — known by its Latin name, lex talionis, the law of retaliation — was another great moral advance. It was not meant to be taken literally, and it never was — for the simple reason that it’s impossible to exactly duplicate bodily harm. Only “a life for a life” was meant literally and taken literally: there is capital punishment for premeditated murder. 

So, then, what did it mean?

For one thing, lex talionis is the ultimate statement of human equality. Every person's eye is as precious as anyone else's. The eye of a prince is worth no more than the eye of a peasant. This was completely new in history. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, for example, legislated that the eye of a noble was of much greater value than the eye of a commoner. 

Second, the principle of “an eye for an eye” ensured only the guilty party was punished for his crime. In other law codes and in common practice, if you killed someone's daughter, your daughter would be killed. That was expressly prohibited in the Bible and by the "eye for an eye" code. Now the killer would be punished, not the killer’s daughter.

Third, lex talionis prohibited unjust revenge. In the ancient world, if a man gouged out another man’s eye, the victim, if he could, would gouge out both the attacker’s eyes, or kill him, or hurt his children, and so on. In contrast, “eye for an eye” ensured the victim receive appropriate compensation for the damages he suffered, but the punishment had to fit the crime.

The next time you read or hear someone argue that the Bible is irrational or immoral, tell them how the stone-the-rebellious-son law ended parental killing of children and how the "eye for an eye" law struck a unique blow for human equality and justice.

If they're intellectually honest, they’ll admit that they have learned something new. 

I'm Dennis Prager.

Download a PDF of this Transcript

PragerU is changing the minds of millions worldwide.Help us keep our videos FREE!

More 5-Minute Ideas

Islamic Terror: What Muslim Americans Can Do

2.1M Views

Why Private Investment Works & Govt. Investment Doesn't

1.4M Views