"The Judgement of Solomon"
by Peter Paul Rubens (1617)
Text:  Matthew 5:25   "Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison." 

In this verse, an ancient version of "settling out of court" to escape further penalty for a debt owed is taking place. 

According to the Roman law, if a person had a quarrel that he could not settle privately he had a right to order his adversary to accom-pany him to the praetor (magistrate).

 From Maimonides: "It was an affirmative command in the law to appoint "judges" and "officers" in every country and province as it is said, Deuteronomy 16:18. These judges were to be fixed in the Sanhedrim and such as that engage in lawsuits were to go before them. These (judges) "officers" are the masters of the rod and scourge, in that they beat and scourge delinquents. Those that stand before the judges do all that they do by the order of the judges.'' 

If the adversary refused, the one wishing to seek justice could solicit witnesses to the event and offer their word as ample proof. All that was required of securing a witness was to approach the person and say: "May I take you to witness?" 

If the would-be witness was willing, then this witness offered the tip of his ear to be touched by the one seeking justice. If the ear was touched, an agreement had been made. (A form of this same custom a was observed toward witnesses in some other legal ceremonies among the Romans.)

All legal matters were required to have witness. Only worthless persons, such as thieves and robbers, might be dragged before a judge without corroborating witness.

Once the person seeking justice had obtained a witness, the law allowed for the two together (the wronged party and the witness) to forcibly drag the adversary to court by any means possible, even by the neck if need be.(Matthew 18:28). If, however, on the way to the judge the difficulty was settled, no further legal steps were taken. The witness was dismissed and both parties went their own way. This happened often. Usually because the guilty party knew there was a "witness" against him and the odds were not in his favor of winning at court.

 From Blackstone’s Commentary, iii. p. 299: "It is remarkable that this very direction (settling of a lawsuit) is found in the Roman law of the Twelve Tables, which expressly directed the plaintiff and defendant to make up the matter while they were in the way, or going to the praetor ." 

From the Talmud: "There are men that say --or men usually say-- "whilst thou art in the way with thine adversary, be obedient".                 (9T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 95. 20.)

 In this text, Christ is referring to this legal custom of dragging a guilty party to court. He is admonishing the guilty party to confess and make amends while he has the chance as it may goes worse for him when he faces the judge. 

Copyright by Ancient Bible History - Eden 


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