One of the notable aspects of the Bible’s system of justice is that it is based on witnesses, at least two witnesses, it should be noted. In stark contrast to many justice systems around the world, rumor an hearsay (“evil reports”) could only trigger investigations for confirmation, not lead to lengthy jail sentences and stiff punishments on their own. My question today is to ponder the question of how forensics evidence fits in with a witness-focused criminal system.
It should be noted that this is not merely a matter of personal speculation. Hebrews 12:22-24 gives us an interesting glimpse of the blood of righteous Abel speaking: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” We have to ponder how it is that Abel’s blood speaks, and forensics provides plenty of ways for that to happen, beyond even the spiritual way in which blood provides pollution that requires expiation by the blood of the murderer.
In the contemporary world there are many ways that people serve as witnesses against ourselves. Even though in the United States we have formal constitutional protection against self-incrimination, this protection does not stop all of the ways we speak out against ourselves in our communication that, when it is leaked to the press, can destroy our reputation and employability and even our lives. Our DNA speaks out against ourselves when we leave it behind in unknown children or crime scenes. And no one considers that to be self-incrimination when it is, because our words and deeds speak out against us, often to doom us, in a way that we can do little about after the fact.
In principle at least, everything that can serve as evidence is itself a form of witness testimony. The traces we leave behind in a given place can be spoken of as the particular place speaking out against us, or even–as we have seen–we ourselves witnessing against ourselves. Communications is certainly witness testimony, all the better when that sort of thing is not changed or edited and does not need to be for the point to come across. Nevertheless, I believe there is a wide gulf between what we think to be witnesses and what actually ends up being a witness, and that gulf is one that threatens a great deal of our freedom and well-being.