March 3, 2012 9:55 PM   Subscribe

What is the definition of murder? If the state puts you to death is it murder?

Was Jesus murdered?
posted by Kilovolt to Religion & Philosophy (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Murder is unlawful killing.

No to both questions.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:59 PM on March 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

In general, murder is defined as the unjustified taking of a life. The question of whether or not it is justified for the state, or in Jesus' case, is the subject of both legal and theological discussion.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:00 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It would be considered justifiable homicide if the state put someone to death.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:00 PM on March 3, 2012

Murder, by most definitions, is unlawful. States put people to death by their own laws, Jesus was killed in accordance with the laws of his time, so probably no to both your questions.
posted by donnagirl at 10:01 PM on March 3, 2012

In the US state I live in, this is the definition of murder:

CAL. PEN. CODE § 187

(a)Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.

(b)This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:

(1)The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Article 2 (commencing with Section 123400) of Chapter 2 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code.

(2)The act was committed by a holder of a physician's and surgeon's certificate, as defined in the Business and Professions Code, in a case where, to a medical certainty, the result of childbirth would be death of the mother of the fetus or where her death from childbirth, although not medically certain, would be substantially certain or more likely than not.

(3)The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.

(c)Subdivision (b) shall not be construed to prohibit the prosecution of any person under any other provision of law.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:01 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Federally (still talking US, here), this is the definition of murder:

18 USC § 1111 - MURDER

(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed, is murder in the first degree.
Any other murder is murder in the second degree.
(b) Within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,
Whoever is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life;
Whoever is guilty of murder in the second degree, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(c) For purposes of this section—
(1) the term “assault” has the same meaning as given that term in section 113;
(2) the term “child” means a person who has not attained the age of 18 years and is—
(A) under the perpetrator’s care or control; or
(B) at least six years younger than the perpetrator;
(3) the term “child abuse” means intentionally or knowingly causing death or serious bodily injury to a child;
(4) the term “pattern or practice of assault or torture” means assault or torture engaged in on at least two occasions;
(5) the term “serious bodily injury” has the meaning set forth in section 1365; and
(6) the term “torture” means conduct, whether or not committed under the color of law, that otherwise satisfies the definition set forth in section 2340 (1).
posted by mollymayhem at 10:04 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Murder is unlawful or extrajudicial killing. Jesus was lawfully executed, so no, he wasn't murdered.

Unless... you want to make an argument that all executions are unjust and that unjust laws are therefore void and therefore his death was unlawful and therefore yes he was murdered. This is not a particularly fruitful line of reasoning, as it has been used to protest capital punishment since the beginning of time, with very little success. (Alas.)
posted by elizeh at 10:24 PM on March 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One of the best daily-event blogs I read, Executed Today, has a decent overview of the legal, moral and practical differences on its /about page.
The death penalty, as a subset within that vast category of “acts of violence homo sapiens do to their fellows,” blends insensibly into a dozen adjacent territories — murder, assassination, warfare, torture, low crime and high statecraft, even suicide.

If we know for certain that extinguishing life is an essential component of the death penalty, our everyday language nevertheless reflects ambiguity about how. We might speak of crime victims as being “killed execution-style” to evoke a sense of deliberation and even ceremony about the act; conversely, we might derogate the formal and official act of a state organ as a “summary execution” to underscore the absence of an appropriate juridical atmosphere. In situations of war and revolution where the legitimate authority of the state is contested, the water muddies still further.
From the point of view of the people who most care about the death of Jesus, though: most Christian denominations don't talk about Jesus being murdered. The form of words in the various Nicene Creeds mention crucifixion, suffering, suffering death, dying, or being put to death, and they're very clear about the ultimate responsibility (Pilate's), but they don't talk about murder. From a religious point of view that's an important distinction: if he suffered and died legally, and could give no complaint about unfair treatment from the Roman/Jewish State, then we can see His death as more universally on our behalf.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:26 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you are speaking directly about capital punishment...

Those involved with executions have a warrant, specifically an execution warrant.
[T]he term warrant refers to a specific type of authorization; a writ issued by a competent officer, usually a judge or magistrate, which permits an otherwise illegal act that would violate individual rights and affords the person executing the writ protection from damages if the act is performed.
Merely asking for the definition of a word seems to be a waste of an Ask. Click. And click again.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:48 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

a quick glance at the topics "semantics" and "semiotics" may prove useful.
posted by telstar at 10:52 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Murder comes from an old, old English word of Germanic origin, long before modern law, meaning something like "killing." Of course if the state puts you to death it's murder.
posted by steinsaltz at 11:03 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although: it looks like the Old English version had a sense of "secret slaying."
posted by steinsaltz at 11:20 PM on March 3, 2012

I think you might be asking about the difference between the terms "murder" and "homicide". A modern Medical Examiner would likely rule Jesus' state sanctioned death as a homicide, but that's not the same thing legally as murder. Likewise, if I killed someone in self defense, their death would also be a homicide, but not murder. Obviously people often apply their own ethical/moral scales to this idea.
posted by katyggls at 11:40 PM on March 3, 2012

Murder comes from an old, old English word of Germanic origin, long before modern law, meaning something like "killing."

You may be thinking of the verb; the noun is even older. From the OED:
Etymology: Cognate with Gothic maurþr < a suffixed form (showing a suffix forming nouns of action) of an Indo-European base which (with varying extension and varying ablaut grades) gives rise also to morth n. and Sanskrit mṛ- to die, mṛtyu death, marta a mortal, ancient Greek βροτός (also Hellenistic Greek (rare) μορτός ) mortal, classical Latin morī to die (see morient adj.), mors (morti- ) death, mortuus dead (see mort n.1), Welsh marw dead, Old Irish marb dead (Irish marbh ), Old Church Slavonic mrěti to die, mrĭtvŭ dead, Russian morit′ to exterminate, mërtvyj dead, Lithuanian mirti to die.

Of course if the state puts you to death it's murder.

The most consistent and pervasive definition is, to quote OED, "The deliberate and unlawful killing of a human being, esp. in a premeditated manner; (Law) criminal homicide with malice aforethought (occas. more fully wilful murder); an instance of this." An interesting note is provided:
In Old English the word could be applied to any homicide that was strongly reprobated. It is therefore sometimes difficult, esp. in early use, to distinguish clearly between this sense and sense A. 1c. More strictly, however, it denoted secret murder, which in Germanic antiquity was alone regarded as a crime (in the modern sense), open homicide being considered a private wrong calling for blood-revenge or compensation. Even under Edward I, Britton explains the Anglo-Norman murdre only as felonious homicide in which both the perpetrator and the victim are unidentified. The ‘malice aforethought’ which enters into the legal definition of murder, does not (as now interpreted) admit of any summary definition. Until the Homicide Act of 1957, a person might even be guilty of ‘wilful murder’ without intending the death of the victim, as when death resulted from an unlawful act which the doer knew to be likely to cause the death of someone, or from injuries inflicted to facilitate the commission of certain offences. By this act, ‘murder’ was extended to include death resulting from an intention to cause grievous bodily harm. It is essential to the legal definition of murder that the perpetrator be of sound mind, and (in England, though not in Scotland) that death should ensue within a year and a day after the act presumed to have caused it. In British law no degrees of guilt are recognized in murder; U.S. law distinguishes ‘murder in the first degree’ (or in the course of a crime, and without mitigating circumstances) and ‘murder in the second degree’ (intentional but unpremeditated) though this distinction does not obtain in all U.S. states.

But I think the definition of "murder" in English is moot, as Jesus's death predates the English word. It's not murder in the legal sense of the word in English, no. It could certainly be considered murder in a poetic or political or rhetorical sense of the word (as could nearly any death at the hands of another.)

I think that whether Jesus's crucifixion was considered unjust at the time, and if so to whom, is (scholars correct me if I'm missing the mark) as unanswerable and multifaceted for then as it is now, regarding capital punishment and treatment of political prisoners.
posted by desuetude at 12:21 AM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

It would be considered justifiable homicide if the state put someone to death.

In fact, people who are executed in the US have "homicide" as the cause of death on their death certificate.
posted by rhizome at 12:46 AM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Under what "law" are you asking?

My understanding of Natural Law is that anything that is "theft" is not justifiable. So, taking someone's life, even via the state and as punishment for a crime, is still "theft" - and therefore, wrong or murder, or however you want to put it.

I'll add this...

I have no link to provide (maybe I'll google in a minute to see where I sourced this originally) but apparently there is an isolated tribe somewhere (Africa? South America?) that has an interesting form of "punishment" for tribe members who do Bad Things - even murder. Instead of ostracizing or incarceration the one who transgressed, the entire tribe gathers and spends days recounting to that person every kind, generous, and loving thing they have ever experienced from that person. When this procedure is completed, that tribe member is welcomed back into their community, all is past.

I'm pretty sure Norway or Sweden (or both?) have a similarly interesting "penal system" where folks who have been lawfully convicted of crimes are immediately integrated back into society, and especially hold regular jobs and such, even though they spend their non-work time more or less "in jail." Their idea of jail is not like we do it in other places, where inmates are housed 24/7, or even kept in solitary confinement for infractions. It's just a totally different way of looking at crime and criminals.

Hope this helped.
posted by jbenben at 12:59 AM on March 4, 2012

Was Jesus murdered?

Some sects venerate Pontius Pilate (in some ways, the canonical embodiment of the State), while others condemn him. As to the question of if he carried out the will of the Christian deity and brought about the act of martyrdom that created Christianity — or if he helped murder Jesus — I believe that's still an open question to some Christians. The larger question probably depends on the degree to which the reader discerns law from morality.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:35 AM on March 4, 2012

Legally, murder is differentiated from manslaughter by the fact that it is intentional and done with "malice aforethought" - a formulated intention before the act is done. The intent may not be to kill, by the way.

Execution of criminals, killing of enemies in battle, killing in self-defense, are all homicides - the killing of a human being - but are justifiable homicides.
posted by yclipse at 6:48 AM on March 4, 2012

If you want to get technical (and dangerously close to certain anti-Semitic tropes,) there are other crimes you could charge the Pharisees and Judas with. Jesus was executed by a Roman official under the terms of Roman law, but the court was lied to, and Jesus didn't do anything worthy of death. Pilate wasn't enthusiastic about the sentence, and it wasn't his idea; the same cannot be said for other members of the community.

Not sure if that actually qualifies as "murder" or just a "conspiracy to commit" or "accessory" charge, though. And, can you commit "murder" by getting someone killed by the state, when everyone agrees the court and executioner acted lawfully?
posted by SMPA at 7:53 AM on March 4, 2012

Was Jesus murdered?
It can be argued that Jesus knew his fate in-advance and, in doing nothing to avoid it, his crucifixion was a suicide.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:05 AM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: If you take John 10 seriously, Jesus himself says he was not murdered, but viewed his death as a voluntary sacrifice. (Not suicide, unless a soldier throwing himself on a live grenade to save his friends also counts as suicide.) At least in orthodox theology, the crucifixion was a necessity for human salvation that Jesus willingly undertook.

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”--John 10:17-18

In Matthew 26 (and parallels) it is also clear that he would have avoided the crucifixion if that were a real option: "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”"

So, without delving too deeply into the definition of murder, I don't think Jesus' death qualifies, by his own testimony.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:36 AM on March 4, 2012

The (US) common law definition we recited in law school was "homicide with malice aforethought." Homicide, in turn, is the killing of one human being by another.

So, a human being can kill another human being without it being murder if it is not committed with "malice aforethought." Acts in time of war, self-defense, and state-sanctioned executions are some examples. However, "malice aforethought" is sometimes now exchanged for the phrase "unlawful," which is a great starting point for a conversation on the death penalty.

[On a late preview, it appears that yclipse also had the Perkins & Boyce handbook.]

As for Jesus, well, this is interesting. One could say, for example, that to the extent that one believes his nature was divine, his death was not the killing of one human being by another at all. But, leaving that train of thought behind and starting from the theory that he was 100% human, the next question is if there was "malice aforethought." I would say that because he was "tried" for offenses generally accepted by the lawful jurisdiction(s) as "unlawful" that it was more like a state-sanctioned execution that a homicide with malice aforethought. (This also stands the same if you accept that under the legal mores of the day, one prisoner could lawfully be substituted and executed for the crimes of another, in this case, Barabas.)
posted by mibo at 10:56 AM on March 4, 2012

It can be argued that Jesus knew his fate in-advance and, in doing nothing to avoid it, his crucifixion was a suicide.

Maybe, but that doesn't answer the question, since more than one person can be responsible for the same result (in this case, death). It isn't a defense to murder to say the victim failed to do anything to stop it.
posted by John Cohen at 12:42 PM on March 4, 2012

Hell yes the death penalty is murder - state-sanctioned murder. The very worst kind of murder, in my opinion.
posted by en el aire at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2012

So, without delving too deeply into the definition of murder, I don't think Jesus' death qualifies, by his own testimony.

In Matthew, it's interesting that Jesus still considered Judas quite culpable ("better not to have been born"), so there's an implied shared responsibility regarding the morality of those who participated, and least from the perspective of the Gospel writer. Some juggling needs to be done in terms of human freedom in regard to an overarching sovereignty, but you get the sense that God (or Jesus, if we posit his control over his fate) allowed Judas to do what he did, freely, in order to fulfill his ultimate purposes, without letting him off the hook. We could argue if this is a coherent notion, but it's pretty interesting that Matthew portrays Judas as bearing significant responsibility. Jesus seems to have "stepped into the stream of fate," so to speak, to let the free and morally weighty choices of others carry him along to his destination.

Still don't know if it's murder, though. ;)
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2012

It isn't a defense to murder to say the victim failed to do anything to stop it.

Or even if the victim wanted you to do it, in most cases -- from a legal standpoint, anyway.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:44 PM on March 5, 2012

« Older Where can I sell a Ouji board signed by the band...   |   Whoa, Backup! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.