May we Interrogate? Torture?

“He caught a young man from the men of Succoth and interrogated him. This he wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and the seventy-seven men who were elders.”

(Judges 8:14)

On the way back home, the two kings of Midian in tow, Gideon does not forget his threat to the men of the cities who opposed him. Thus, he captures a young man…perhaps one who had been working in the fields and demands to know the names of the Elders and Princes of the city. These are those whom will feel Gideon’s wrath.

The word lDaDv (sha’al) that is translated here as “interrogate” is arguably better translated as “demand.” It is often used in the context of a beggar demanding aggressively demanding money from someone on the street — intimidating the person if the person does not want to offer monies. Thus, this is not merely a matter of asking questions, but there is a sense that Gideon forcefully extracted information from this lad.

One might be tempted to ask the question about the morality of such actions. Does one have the right to interrogate with force to obtain information? Might one be permitted to use techniques of bodily harm to gain such information…things like torture? While there is no indication in the language that Gideon would have used any sort of torture device on this young man, the question rises from the text.

The first thing that must be pointed out here, though, is that Gideon is acting with governmental authority, thus he is given the power of the sword (Romans 13:4). Thus, Gideon can act in ways that you or I do not have the authority to act. Yet, if we are going to extrapolate from the idea of the penalty suiting the crime (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20), then one can make the argument that extent to which the official presses for the information must suit the importance of the information to be gotten. This would make the question of how far one might intimidate a person, demanding information, a question that would have to be tackled on a case by case basis.

In any case, this young man has been caught by seasoned soldiers and brought back to Gideon. I doubt that it would have taken much prying to get this young man to open his mouth about who the leaders of Succoth were. Vengeance will follow.

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