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The Laws of the Goring Ox

The laws of the goring ox in Exodus 21:28-32 find a parallel in the laws of Eshnunna, a Mesopotamian city-state of the early second millennium BCE. The Eshnunna law specifies purely monetary penalties and says nothing about the fate of the ox.

In the law quoted here from Exodus, the penalty is more severe, possibly reflecting the agrarian, rather than commercial character of the people. The imposition of capital punishment could also indicate that the infraction was considered so deeply moral that no monetary compensation would be appropriate.

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. If 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. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim's life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave-owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

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. But 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.

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