The custom of fleeing to specially sacred places to obtain the protection of a deity is found all over the world (Post, Grundriss, II, 252). In ancient Israel we meet with it in two forms--the asylum of the altar and the asylum of the cities of refuge. The altar at the House of God was a place to which persons in danger fled for protection (1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). It had horns and must not be confused with the altars of earth or stone that were used for lay sacrifices. See ALTAR; SANCTUARY.
Exodus 21:14 provides that a murderer is to be taken from the altar to be put to death. The law of the cities of refuge proceeds upon a somewhat different principle. Its objects are
(1) to shield a homicide from the avenger of blood until trial, and
(2) to provide a refuge for the manslayer who has not been guilty of murder. There is one reference to the institution in the history of the kingdom (2 Samuel 14:14). For the legal and geographical information, see CITIES OF REFUGE; HOMICIDE.
Harold M. Wiener