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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.

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.

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