Yesterday, Crissy Moss posted an interesting article on the revenge aspect of justice forming obstacle to peace. And I wholeheartedly agree that not letting the slights of the past distort or dismay taint the bountiful future is a strong course. However, I also believe that an eye for an eye is not the downward path it is sometimes painted to be.
One of the most famous rejections of revenge is Martin Luther King’s assertion that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind; as statement that both rightly champions moving beyond a revenge-based view of justice and mischaracterises the original quotation.
If we look at ancient cultures (and, sadly , some modern ones) one common story was: I insult your sister, so you assault me, so my brothers kill you, so your family attacks mine. An escalation.
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Exodus 21:24-25 (King James Version)
Whereas if we look at the original quote, it describes equality of response.
If we apply it to taking an eye: you take my eye, and in exchange I take yours. And that is an end on it: an eye for an eye and each has paid the other, leaving no debt owing. No escalation.
Viewed in context, an eye for an eye is not a call to take draconian vengeance. It is a call to not take excessive vengeance; to not carry vengeance forever.
So, while not needing vengeance in the first place is a sound goal, one of the first steps to achieving it is to obtain a sense of proportion; to accept that if your eye is harmed, more than an eye in return is too much.