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2002 11 11
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Chapter 21


1 "These are the rules you shall lay before them.


When you purchase a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year he shall be given his freedom without cost.


If he comes into service alone, he shall leave alone; if he comes with a wife, his wife shall leave with him.


But if his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall remain the master's property and the man shall leave alone.


If, however, the slave declares, 'I am devoted to my master and my wife and children; I will not go free,'


2 his master shall bring him to God and there, at the door or doorpost, he shall pierce his ear with an awl, thus keeping him as his slave forever.


"When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go free as male slaves do.


3 But if her master, who had destined her for himself, dislikes her, he shall let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to a foreigner, since he has broken faith with her.


If he destines her for his son, he shall treat her like a daughter.


If he takes another wife, he shall not withhold her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.


If he does not grant her these three things, she shall be given her freedom absolutely, without cost to her.


"Whoever strikes a man a mortal blow must be put to death.


He, however, who did not hunt a man down, but caused his death by an act of God, may flee to a place which I will set apart for this purpose.


But when a man kills another after maliciously scheming to do so, you must take him even from my altar and put him to death.


Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death.


"A kidnaper, whether he sells his victim or still has him when caught, shall be put to death.


"Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.


"When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, not mortally, but enough to put him in bed,


the one who struck the blow shall be acquitted, provided the other can get up and walk around with the help of his staff. Still, he must compensate him for his enforced idleness and provide for his complete cure.


"When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.


If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.


"When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman's husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges.


4 But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life,


eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,


burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.


"When a man strikes his male or female slave in the eye and destroys the use of the eye, he shall let the slave go free in compensation for the eye.


If he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let the slave go free in compensation for the tooth.


"When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned; its flesh may not be eaten. The owner of the ox, however, shall go unpunished.


But if an ox was previously in the habit of goring people and its owner, though warned, would not keep it in; should it then kill a man or a woman, not only must the ox be stoned, but its owner also must be put to death.


If, however, a fine is imposed on him, he must pay in ransom for his life whatever amount is imposed on him.


This law applies if it is a boy or a girl that the ox gores.


But if it is a male or a female slave that it gores, he must pay the owner of the slave thirty shekels of silver, and the ox must be stoned.


"When a man uncovers or digs a cistern and does not cover it over again, should an ox or an ass fall into it,


the owner of the cistern must make good by restoring the value of the animal to its owner; the dead animal, however, he may keep.


"When one man's ox hurts another's ox so badly that it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide this money as well as the dead animal equally between them.


But if it was known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner would not keep it in, he must make full restitution, an ox for an ox; but the dead animal he may keep. (v 37) 5 "When a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for the one ox, and four sheep for the one sheep.



1 [1] Rules: judicial precedents to be used in settling questions of law and custom. This introductory phrase serves as the title of the following collection of civil and religious laws (Exodus 21-23) which is called in Exodus 24:7, the book of the covenant.

2 [6] To God: to the sanctuary; or perhaps the phrase is to be rendered, "to the gods," in the sense of "to the judges." Cf Psalm 82:1. Since the expression "to have an open ear" meant "to obey," a pierced ear lobe was an ancient symbol of obedience. Cf Psalm 40:7.

3 [8] Destined her: intended her as a wife of second rank.

4 [23-25] This section is known as the lex talionis, the law of tit for tat. The purpose of this law was not merely the enforcement of rigorous justice, but also the prevention of greater penalties than would be just. Christ refers to this passage when he exhorts Christians to cede their lawful rights for the sake of charity. Cf Matthew 5:38-40.

5 [36] In the Vulgate, Exodus 22:1-31.

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