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The Law concerning Slaves
These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:
2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. 9If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.
The Law concerning Violence
12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.
15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
16 Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.
17 Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.
18 When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.
20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.
Laws concerning Property
28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
33 If someone leaves a pit open, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal.
35 If someone’s ox hurts the ox of another, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the price of it; and the dead animal they shall also divide. 36But if it was known that the ox was accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not restrained it, the owner shall restore ox for ox, but keep the dead animal.
1. Now these are the judgments. Both passages contain the same appointment, viz., that as to the Hebrews slavery must end at the seventh year; for God would have the children of Abraham, although obliged to sell themselves, to differ from heathen and ordinary slaves. Their enfranchisement is, therefore, enjoined, but with an exception, which Moses expresses in the first passage but omits in the latter, i e., that if the slave had married a bond-woman, and had begotten children, they should remain with the master, and that he should alone be free. Whence it appears how hard was the condition of slaves, since it could not be mitigated without an unnatural exception (sine prodigio;) for nothing could be more opposed to nature than that a husband, forsaking his wife and children, should remove himself elsewhere. But the tie of slavery could only be loosed by divorce, that is to say, by this impious violation of marriage. There was then gross barbarity in this severance, whereby a man was disunited from half of himself and his own bowels. Yet there was no remedy for it; for if the wife and children had been set free, it would have been a spoliation of their lawful master to take them with him, not only because the woman was his slave, but because he had incurred expense in the bringing up of the young children. The sanctity of marriage therefore gave way in this case to private right; and this defect is to be reckoned amongst the others which God tolerated on account of the people’s hardness of heart, because it could hardly be remedied; yet, if any one were withheld by chaste affection, and unwilling to abandon his wife and offspring, an alternative is presented, viz., that he should give himself up also to perpetual slavery. The form of this is more clearly pointed out in Exodus than in Deuteronomy; for, in the latter, it is only said that the master, in order to assert his perpetual right to the slave, should bore his ear; whereas in Exodus the circumstance is added, that a public process should first take place; for, if each private individual had been his own judge in this matter, the rich men’s houses would have been like slaughterhouses to put their wretched slaves to the torment in. 148148 “Pour tormenter, et gehener les poures serfs.” — Fr. We read in Jeremiah, (34:11,) that this law fell into contempt, and that the Jews, contrary to all law and justice, retained perpetual dominion over their slaves; nay, that when they were severely reprimanded under King Zedekiah, and liberty was anew proclaimed, the wretched men were immediately dragged back to their yoke of tyranny, as if they had been set free in mockery. Care was therefore to be taken lest, by secret tortures, they should compel the unwilling to continue as their slaves; and the provision against this evil was an open confession of their desire before the judges; whilst the boring of the ear was a kind of stigma upon them. For the Orientals were accustomed to brand slaves, or fugitives, or criminals, or those who were in any wise suspected; and although God did not choose to have this mark of ignominy imprinted on the foreheads of his people, yet, if any one voluntarily consented to endure perpetual slavery, He willed that he should bear this token of his servitude upon his ear. Still we must remember that even this slavery, although it is said to endure for ever, was brought to a close at the jubilee, because then the condition of the land and people was altogether renewed.
From this passage, as well as other similar ones, it plainly appears how many vices were of necessity tolerated in this people. It was altogether an act of barbarism that fathers should sell their children for the relief of their poverty, still it could not be corrected as might have been hoped. Again, the sanctity of the marriage-vow should have been greater than that it should be allowable for a master to repudiate his bond-maid, after he had betrothed her to himself as his wife; or, when he had betrothed her to his son, to make void that covenant, which is inviolable: for that principle ought ever to hold good — “Those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.) Yet liberty was accorded to the ancient people in all these particulars; only provision is here made that the poor girls should not suffer infamy and injury from their repudiation. But, although God is gracious in remitting the punishment, still He shows that chastity is pleasing to Him, as far as the people’s hardness of heart permitted. First of all, He does not allow a master to seduce his purchased maid-servant, but if he wishes to enjoy her embraces, a marriage must take place; for although He does not set this out in express terms, still we may infer from what He condemns, that the contrary is what He approves. From whence, too, their notion is refuted who suppose that fornication was lawful under the Law. But the words must be more closely examined on account of their ambiguity. First, the sex is treated with consideration, that the condition of a female may be somewhat more favorable than that of a male; since, otherwise, their weakness would render young women subject to injury and shame. An explanation then follows, respecting which, however, interpreters differ; for some read the particle לא, 7474 The Hebrew text has לא, not, but with a mark of doubt as to the genuineness of the reading, and the Masoretic note directs the substitution of לו, to him C. follows S. M. in adhering to the text, whilst our A. V. and the LXX. reject not, in accordance with the Masora. — W lo, which is properly negative, for לו, lo; and hence arise two opposite meanings — If he hath, or hath not, betrothed her to himself. If it be preferred to take it affirmatively, the meaning of the precept will be: If a master shall repudiate his bond-maid, whom he has loved and destined to be his wife, he must give her her liberty; for although literally it is, “he shall cause her to be redeemed,” yet; the context shows that the obligation of setting her free is laid upon him; nor is this contradicted by the fact that he is only deprived of the power of selling her to a strange people; since I do not understand this as applying to foreigners only, but to others of his own nation, since sometimes those of another tribe or family are called strangers. For, even though there were no marriage-compact, it was not otherwise lawful to sell slaves of the holy and elect people to foreigners. Besides, amongst the Israelites, slavery was only temporary. But, to pass by everything else, let it suffice to observe the absurdity that a master should hold his wife as a slave to be sold at pleasure, if their opinion is received who suppose that the words refer to repudiation after betrothal. 7575 This sentence is omitted in Ft., and the following substituted: “Ce mot doncques ou il est dit, Qu’il ne la pourra vendre a des estrangers, est entrelasse, pour monstrer, qu’il n’y eust eu nulle raison qu’il vendist celle qu’il a abusee de vaine esperance;“ this sentence, then, in which it is said that he may not sell her to strangers, is inserted to show that there was no reason why he should sell her whom he has abused with vain hopes. I myself rather approve of the other opinion, that, although the master shall not have aspired to matrimony with her, if her appearance displeases him so that he would be unwilling to have her as his wife, at least he must provide for her redemption; because her chastity would be in jeopardy if she remained with him unmarried; unless perhaps Moses may signify that, after she had been seduced, her master did not honor her with marriage. But the other view which I have just expressed is more simple; and a caution is given lest masters should seduce their maid-servants at their pleasure. Thus the word despise 7676 A. V., “If she please not.” Margin, “Heb., Be evil in the eyes of, etc.” does not refer to repudiation, but is opposed to beauty, or conjugal love.
The next case is, that if he should betroth her to his son, (he must give her a dowry, 7777 Added from Fr., in which there is much verbal difference here. ) in which, also, her modesty and honor is consulted, lest she should be oppressed by the right of ownership, and become a harlot. In the third place, it is provided that, if she should be repudiated, her condition should not be disadvantageous. If, therefore, he would make her his daughter-in-law, and betroth her to his son, he is commanded to deal liberally with her; for “after the manner of daughters” is equivalent to giving her a dowry, or, at any rate, to treating her as if she were free. Finally, he adds that, if he should choose another wife for his son, he should not reject the former one, nor defraud her of her food and raiment, or of some third thing, concerning which translators are not well agreed. Some render it time, but I do not see what is the meaning of diminishing her time; others, duty of marriage, but this is too free a translation; others, more correctly, affliction, since the girl would be humiliated by her repudiation; still, to diminish affliction, is too harsh an expression for to compensate an injury. Let my readers, then, consider whether the word, ענתה, gnonathah, is not used for compact or agreement; for thus the context will run very well: If his son have married another wife, that the girl who has suffered ignominious rejection should obtain her rights as to food, and raiment, and her appointed dowry; otherwise, God commands that she should be set free gratuitously, in order that her liberty may compensate for the wrong she has received.
12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die. This passage, as I have said, more clearly explains the details, and first makes a distinction between voluntary and accidental homicide; for, if a stone or an axe (Deuteronomy 19:5.) may have slipped from a man unintentionally, and struck anybody, He would not have it accounted a capital crime. And for this purpose the cities of refuge were given, of which brief mention is here made, and whose rights will be presently more fully spoken of, and where also the mode of distinguishing between design and ignorance will be laid down. But it must be remarked, that Moses declares that accidental homicide, as it is commonly called, does not happen by chance or accident, but according to the will of God, as if He himself led out the person, who is killed, to death. By whatever kind of death, therefore, men are taken away, it is certain that we live or die only at His pleasure; and surely, if not even a sparrow can fall to the ground except by His will, (Matthew 10:29,) it would be very absurd that men created in His image should be abandoned to the blind impulses of fortune. Wherefore it must be concluded, as Scripture elsewhere teaches, that the term of each man’s life is appointed, 2929 No reference is here given, but it is probably to Job 14:5, — “Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” with which another passage corresponds,
“Thou turnest man to destruction, and savest,
Return, ye children of men.” (Psalm 90:3.)
It is true, indeed, that whatever has no apparent cause or necessity seems to us to be fortuitous; and thus, whatever, according to nature, might happen otherwise we call accidents, (contingentia;) yet in the meantime it must be remembered, that what might else incline either way is governed by God’s secret counsel, so that nothing is done without His arrangement and decree. In this way we do not suppose a fate 3030 “Une necessite fatale.” — Fr. such as the Stoics invented; for it is a different tiling to say that things which of themselves incline to various and doubtful events, are directed by the hand of God whithersoever He will, and to say that necessity governs them in accordance with the perpetual complication of causes, 3131 “Une necessite confuse selon des causes entortillees;” a confused necessity according to complicated causes. — Fr. and that this happens with God’s connivance; nay, nothing can be more opposite than that God should be drawn and carried away by a fatal motive power, or that He tempers all things as He sees fit.
There is no reason to follow the Jews here in philosophizing more deeply, that none are delivered to death but those in whom God finds cause for it. It is indeed certain, that with God there always exists the best reason for His acts; but it is wrong to elicit from thence that those who by tits guidance meet with death must be guilty of some offense. Nor even if God should take away an innocent man, would it bc lawful to murmur against Him; as if His justice were naught, because it is concealed from us, and indeed incomprehensible.
14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor. He expresses the same thing in different ways; for although there is a wide difference between slaying a man presumptuously 3232 “Superbire, et insidiari longe differunt.” — Lat. “Ruer sup quelqu’un par fierte et malice, et l’aguetter.” — Fr. and with guile, yet Moses applies them both to a willful murder; for by guile he means a wicked disposition to injure, and by the word presumptuous he designates a violent assault, when a man in hate wantonly falls upon another. And surely truculence, and violence, and all cruelty is presumptuous, (superba;) for unless a man despised his brother, he would not assail him as an enemy.
Lest by overlooking murders they should defile the land, God commands that murderers should be torn away even from His altar, whereby He signifies that they are as unworthy of divine as of human aid. For, although the sanctity of the altar might afford an asylum for the protection of those who had transgressed through imprudence, or. error, yet it would have been wrong that impunity for crimes should have been derived from hence; because the sanctuary would have been thus converted into a den of thieves, and religion would have been subjected to gross profanation. Wherefore, although criminals embracing the altar should implore God’s aid, the Law commands them to be torn away from thence to punishment, because it would have been disgraceful to abuse God’s sacred name as affording license for sin. Hence it appears how great was the folly of old in supposing that churches were honored when they were made asylums for the encouragement of evil deeds. This, indeed, was derived from the ordinary custom of the heathen; but it was a foolish imitation thus to mix up God with idols in a spurious worship; although in this respect the Gentiles served their idols more purely and virtuously than the Christians 3333 “Ceux qui se glorifioyent du titre de Chrestiente;“ those who prided themselves in the name of Christians. — Fr. served God; for they refused the right of asylum to the sacrilegious and impure, so that the temple of the Samothracians was no secure hiding-place even to Perseus, 3434 See Livy, lib. 45:5. The words quoted are from an address of a certain L. Atilius to the popular assembly of Samothracia. the king of Macedon. Livy records the following words, as having been spoken by a heathen, — “Since, at the commencement of all our sacrifices, those whose hands are not pure are enjoined to retire, will ye suffer your sanctuaries to be contaminated by the blood-stained person of a robber?” Let us, then, be ashamed of polluting our temples under the pretext of reverence for them.
The commandment is now sanctioned by the denunciation of capital punishment for its violation, yet not so as to comprehend all who have in any respect sinned against their parents, but sufficient to show that the rights of parents are sacred, and not to be violated without the greatest criminality. We know that parricides 88 By the Roman law parricides were sewn up in a leathern sack with a dog, a cock, a viper, and a monkey, and east into the sea, or the nearest river. — Vide Cicero pro Rose. Amer., 2:25, 26. as being the most detestable of all men, were formerly sewn up in a leathern sack and cast into the water; but God proceeds further, when He commands all those to be exterminated who have laid violent hands on their parents 99 “Ceux qui auront outrage pere ou mere, soit de faict, soit de parole;” those who shall have outraged father or mother either by act or word. — Fr. or addressed them in abusive language. For to smite does not only mean to kill, but refers to any violence, although no wound may have been inflicted. If, then, any one had struck his father or mother with his fist, or with a stick, the punishment of such an act of madness was the same as for murder. And, assuredly, it is an abominable and monstrous thing for a son not to hesitate to assault those from whom he has received his life; nor can it be but that impunity accorded to so foul a crime must straightway produce cruel barbarism. The second law avenges not only violence done to parents, but also, abusive words, which soon proceed to grosser insults and atrocious contempt. Still, if any one should have lightly let drop some slight reproach, as is often the case ill a quarrel, this severe punishment was not to be inflicted upon such, all inconsiderate piece of impertinence: and the word קלל, kalal, from which the participle used by Moses is derived, not only means to reproach, but also to curse, as well as to esteem lightly, and to despise. Whilst, therefore, not every insult, whereby the reverence due to parents was violated, received the punishment of death, still God would have that impious pride, which would subvert the first principles of nature, held in abhorrence. But, inasmuch as it might seem hard that a word, 1010 “Une injure verbale;” a verbal injury. — Fr. however unworthy of a dutiful son, should be the cause of death; this objection is met, by what is added by God in Leviticus, “his blood shall be upon him, because he hath cursed his father or mother:” as if He would put a stop to what men might otherwise presume to allege in mitigation of the severity of the punishment.
18. And if men strive together. The punishment here enacted for wounds and blows is so slight, that it might have served as a provocative to the mischievousness of the ill-disposed. Since the Law of the Twelve Tables only inflicted a fine of twenty-five asses upon a man who had beaten another unjustly, there was a certain Lucius Veratius, 3535 Aul. Gellius. Noct. Attic., 20:1. who, in mere wanton sport, did not hesitate to box the ears of any one he met, and then to command one of his slaves to pay the amount of the fine, so that it was at length thought better that the law should fall into desuetude, than to suffer it to be thus ridiculously abused. The same thing might easily happen among the Jews, since a person, who had so beaten his neighbor as that he should lie in bed, only had to pay what the unhappy man had expended on his cure. For who would not willingly enjoy the pleasure of knocking down his enemies on this condition, of providing for their subsistence whilst they lay in bed? But we must remember the declaration of Christ, that on account of the perverse nature of the Jews, many things were allowed them “because of the hardness of their hearts,” (Matthew 19:8, and Mark 10:5,) amongst which this indulgent provision is to be reckoned. Still God seems to have dealt more leniently with the man who had struck the blow, that He might also chastise the other, who, though of inferior strength, had rashly engaged in the conflict; for both were to be alike punished for the violence unjustly inflicted. Equal lenity seems, therefore, to have been shown to both, since compensation is only made to the person struck for his private loss. 3636 “Ainsi il semble bien que tous deux ont este supportez quant au delict public, quand il n’y a que le dommage particulier qui soit recompense;” thus it plainly appears that both were set free, as regarded the public offense, since it was only the private injury for which compensation was made. — Fr. But the fact, that God did not carry out the political laws to their perfection, shows that by this leniency He wished to reprove the people’s perverseness, which could not even bear to obey so mild a law. Whenever, therefore, God seems to pardon too easily: and with too much clemency, let us recollect that He designedly deviated from the more perfect rule, because He, had to do with an intractable people.
20. And if a man smite his servant. Although in civil matters there was a wide distinction between slaves and free-men, still, that God may show how dear and precious men’s lives are to Him, He has no respect to persons with regard to murder; but avenges the death of a slave and a free-man in the same way, if he should die immediately of his wound. Indeed, it was a proof of gross barbarism amongst the Romans and other nations, to give to masters the power of life and death; for men are bound together by a more sacred tie, than that it should be permitted to a master to kill with impunity his wretched slave; nor are some men so set over others, as that they should exercise tyranny, or robbery, neither does reason permit that any private individual should usurp to himself the power of the sword. But, although unjust cruelty was not prohibited, as it should have been, by the laws of Rome, yet they 3737 “Les gens prudens;” their wise men. — Fr. confessed that slaves should be used like hired servants. The exception, which immediately follows, does not seem very consistent, for, if the slave should die after some time, the penalty of murder is remitted; whereas it would often be preferable to die at once of a single wound, than to perish by a lingering illness; and it might happen that the slave should be so bruised and maimed by blows, as to die some time afterwards. In this ease, the cruelty of the master would be surely greater than if he had committed the murder under the impulse of burning anger: wherefore the enactment appears to be a very unjust one. But it must be remarked, that the murder of those slaves, who had been obliged to take to their bed from their wounds, was not unpunished. Whence we gather, that it was not allowable for cruel and truculent masters to wound their slaves severely; and this is what the words expressly imply, for the smiter is only exempted from punishment when he shall have so restrained himself as that the marks of his cruelty should not appear. For that the slaves should “stand for one or two days,” 3838 A. V., “continue for a day or two.” Ainsworth, in loco: “Heb., stand, which the Greek translateth live.” is equivalent to saying, that they were perfect and sound in all their members; but if a wound had been inflicted, or there was any mutilation, the smiter was guilty of murder. None, therefore, is absolved but he who only meant to chastise his slave; and where no injury appears, it is probable that there was no intention to kill him. Whilst, then, this law prohibits bloodthirsty assaults, it by no means gives greater license to murder. The reason, which is added, must be restricted to the private loss; because a murderer would never be absolved on the pretext that he had purchased his slave with money, since the life of a man cannot be so estimated.
22. If men strive, and hurt a woman. This passage at first sight is ambiguous, for if the word death 3939 It will be seen that the word אסון in the text is translated by C., mors; in A V., mischief. “The Chaldee expounds it, (says Ainsworth,) no death; but it implieth less also than death, as the words following manifest. The Greek refers it to the child; translating, if it be not figured, (ἐξεικονισμένον,) i e., have not the shape and proportion.” only applies to the pregnant woman, it would not have been a capital crime to put an end to the foetus, which would be a great absurdity; for the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, (homo,) and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light. On these grounds I am led to conclude, without hesitation, that the words, “if death should follow,” must be applied to the foetus as well as to the mother. Besides, it would be by no means reasonable that a father should sell for a set sum the life of his son or daughter. Wherefore this, in my opinion, is the meaning of the law, that it would be a crime punishable with death, not only when the mother died from the effects of the abortion, but also if the infant should be killed; whether it should die from the wound abortively, or soon after its birth. But, since it could not fail but that premature confinement would weaken both the mother and her offspring, the husband is allowed to demand before the judges a money-payment, at their discretion, in compensation for his loss; for although God’s command is only that the money should be paid before the judges, 4040 The word determine is added by our translators. Ainsworth’s literal rendering is, “and he shall give by the judges.” still He thus appoints them to settle the amount as arbitrators, if the husband should chance to be too exorbitant. We plainly perceive, by the repetition of the lex talionis, that a just proportion is to be observed, and that the amount of punishment is to be equally regulated, whether as to a tooth, or an eye, or life itself, so that the compensation should correspond with the injury done; and therefore (what is first said of the life 4141 Added from Fr. ) is correctly applied also to the several parts, so that he who has plucked out his brother’s eye, or cut off his hand, or broken his leg, should lose his own eye, or hand, or leg. In fine, for the purpose of preventing all violence, a compensation is to be paid in proportion to the injury. But although God commands punishment to be inflicted on the guilty, still, if a man be injured, he ought not to seek for vengeance; for God does not contradict Himself, who so often exhorts His children not only to endure injuries patiently, but even to overcome evil with good. The murderer is to be punished, or he who has maimed a member of his brother; but it is not therefore lawful, if you have unjustly suffered violence, to indulge in wrath or hatred, so as to render evil for evil. Since this error was rife among the Jews, our Lord refutes it, and teaches that the punishment, which is publicly awarded to the wrong-doer, is not subservient to every man’s private passion, so that he who is offended should make haste to retaliate. (Matthew 5:38.) Nor indeed are these words addressed to them in order to inflame or excite the desire of vengeance, but all violence is restrained by the fear of punishment.
26. And if a man smite the eye. Since, in the sight of God, there is neither slave nor free-man, it is clear that he sins as greatly who smites a slave, as if he had struck a free-man. Still, a distinction is made as regards the civil law and human justice, especially if any one have inflicted a wound on his own slave. For here a tooth for a tooth, or an eye for an eye, is not required, but the superiority, which he has improperly abused, is taken from the master; and in compensation for the injury, liberty, which is almost half their life, is given to the male or female slave. Thus, in consideration that it was his slave, t. he master is treated more leniently, when the severity of the punishment is thus mitigated; whilst, in compensation for his dislocation or fracture, the slave receives what is more advantageous to him, viz., that, being set free, he should not be exposed to another’s cruelty.
28. If an ox gore a man. Moses now descends even to the brute animals, so that, if they injured any one, by their punishment men may be more and more deterred from shedding blood. If, therefore, a goring ox have killed a man, he commands that it should be stoned, and that its carcass should be thrown away as abominable. Though censorious persons mock at this law, as if it were childish to punish a wretched animal, in which there is no criminality, their insolence requires but a brief refutation. For, since oxen were created for man’s good, so we need not wonder that their death, as well as their life, should be made to contribute to the public advantage. If, then, an ox that had killed a, man should be kept, men would undoubtedly grow hardened in cruelty by beholding it; and to eat its flesh, would be almost the same thing as eating the flesh of man. The cruelty of men, therefore, could not better be restrained, so that they should hold the murder of each other in abhorrence, than by thus avenging a man’s death. In the second place, God proceeds further, condemning the master of the ox himself to death, if he had been previously admonished to beware; for such a warning takes away the pretext of ignorance; nor should the punishment seem to be severe for gross neglect, because to give free outlet to dangerous beasts is equivalent to compassing men’s death. He who knowingly and willfully exposes the life of his brother to peril, is justly accounted his murderer. The exception which is finally added, at first sight contains a kind of contradiction, because it was forbidden by the Law to compound with a murderer for money. But inasmuch as a delinquency (delictum) differs from a crime, although it was unlawful to covenant with murderers for the remission of their punishment, still the judges were permitted on their hearing of the case, to mitigate it, if a man were excused by his unconsciousness or inadvertency. This, then, is a special exception, which permits the judges to distinguish between the nature of offenses; viz., that, if they discovered a man not to be worthy of death, they should still punish his negligence by a pecuniary fine.
31. Whether he have gored a son. I know not whether they are correct who refer this to age, as if any young persons of either sex were meant by the words son and daughter; but I do not reject this opinion. Still Moses seems to extend the law, as if, in case a butting ox had killed its owner’s son, the father himself should be subject to the punishment, for not having taken more care of his children. It might, however, be doubted, whether it would be just to condemn to death a father already weighed down by the loss of his child; still it affords a useful example, that parents should not escape with impunity, if their sons or daughters should die by their fault.
32. If the ox shall push a man-servant. It is not unreasonable that the punishment for the death of a slave should now be set at less than for that of a free-man. As regarded the crime of voluntary murder, there was no distinction between slaves and masters; but in a case of mischance (delicto) the severity might in some degree be mitigated; especially when the stoning of the ox sufficiently availed for bringing murder into detestation. God, therefore, showed admirable moderation in condemning the negligence of the master to be punished by the payment of thirty shekels; whilst He proposed the ox as an example, and reminded all by its death, how very precious in His sight is human blood.
33. And if a man shall open a pit He enumerates still more cases of damage inflicted, in which restitution is to be demanded of the person who gave occasion for the occurrence. First, it is said, If a man shall open a pit, or cistern, and not cover it, and an animal shall fall into it, he is bound to pay its value; and justly, since his carelessness approaches to actual guilt. Here, again, we see how God would have all men to be anxious for their neighbor’s advantage; yet, inasmuch as there was no fraud or malice in the case, he is permitted, after paying its price, to appropriate the carcass to himself. But, if one man’s ox should be killed by another’s, a most just appointment is made, viz., that, if it happened unexpectedly, and by sudden accident, they should divide the dead ox between them, and, having sold the other, each should take half the price; but if the ox was a savage one, that its owner should undergo a greater penalty by paying its full price; because he ought to have anticipated the mischief, and thus was scarcely so kind as he should have been, giving occasion to the injury.