Gjion Biamishtea by Carlo Gianferro

Carlo Gianferro

Gjion Biamishtea, 2014, Photograph, © Carlo Gianferro

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Blood Feud

Commentary by

The appointment of the cities of refuge in Numbers 35, Joshua 20, and Deuteronomy 4:41–43 was to provide the accidental killer a relief from living in the shadow of a blood avenger’s looming threat. Although it may be difficult for us to fully grasp the significance of this relief for an accidental killer living in ancient Israel, we may gain some insight by glimpsing an accidental killer’s fate within a contemporary context where such relief is distant and often unattainable.

This photograph by Italian photographer Carlo Gianferro is one of seven portraits made for an online article entitled ‘Albania: The Dark Shadow of Tradition and Blood Feuds’. Each portrait documents the conditions of the life of Albanians who have been forced into their own personal prisons by an ancient code of retaliation. Gjion Biamishtea, man portrayed here, accidentally killed a girl and now confines himself to a house in Vraka, near Shkodër, fearing that the girl’s family will find him and avenge her death with a retaliation killing (Mattei 2016).

The moment Gianferro’s photograph captures is one of dispirited melancholy. Biamishtea exhales smoke from his cigarette, shrouding all his facial features save the emptiness in his eyes. These wisps underscore his lifeless existence. No longer having a place in society, it is as if his very identity as a person is fading away. He almost recedes into his dilapidated environs. 

If the lives of accidental killers in ancient Israel were at all comparable to the conditions that Biamishtea and other Albanians like him endure on a daily basis, then the relief afforded by the cities of refuge was more than simply escaping the feud. It was an opportunity to begin life anew, to restore a sense of personhood in society unfettered by the previous tragedy.

 

References

Mattei, Vincenzo. 2016. ‘Albania: The Dark Shadow of Tradition and Blood Feuds, 14 May 2016’, www.aljazeera.com, [accessed 11 February 2020]