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Exodus 21 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 21

Laws Regarding Slaves. These are the ordinances[a] you shall lay before them. When you purchase a Hebrew slave,[b] he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year he shall leave as a free person without any payment. 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 belong to her master and the man shall leave alone. If, however, the slave declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children; I will not leave as a free person,’ his master shall bring him to God[c] 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. But if she displeases her master, who had designated her[d] for himself, he shall let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall treat her according to the ordinance for daughters. 10 If he takes another wife, he shall not withhold her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he does not do these three things for her, she may leave without cost, without any payment.

Personal Injury. 12 [e]Whoever strikes someone a mortal blow must be put to death. 13 However, regarding the one who did not hunt another down, but God caused death to happen by his hand, I will set apart for you a place to which that one may flee. 14 But when someone kills a neighbor after maliciously scheming to do so, you must take him even from my altar and put him to death. 15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.[f]

16 A kidnapper, whether he sells the person or the person is found in his possession, shall be put to death.

17 Whoever curses[g] father or mother shall be put to death.

18 When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, not mortally, but enough to put him in bed, 19 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 recovery time and make provision for his complete healing.

20 When someone strikes his male or female slave with a rod so that the slave dies under his hand, the act shall certainly be avenged. 21 If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

22 [h]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. 23 But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 When someone 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. 27 If he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let the slave go free in compensation for the tooth.

28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned; its meat may not be eaten. The owner of the ox, however, shall be free of blame. 29 But if an ox was previously in the habit of goring people and its owner, though warned, would not watch it; 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. 30 If, however, a fine is imposed on him, he must pay in ransom[i] for his life whatever amount is imposed on him. 31 This ordinance applies if it is a boy or a girl that the ox gores. 32 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.

Property Damage. 33 When someone uncovers or digs a cistern and does not cover it over again, should an ox or a donkey fall into it, 34 the owner of the cistern must make good by restoring the value of the animal to its owner, but the dead animal he may keep.

35 When one man’s ox hurts another’s ox and it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide this money as well as the dead animal equally between them. 36 But if it was known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner would not watch it, he must make full restitution, an ox for an ox; but the dead animal he may keep.

37 When someone 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.

Footnotes:

  1. 21:1 Ordinances: judicial precedents to be used in settling questions of law and custom. More than half of the civil and religious laws in this collection (20:22–23:33), designated in 24:7 as “the book of the covenant,” have parallels in the cuneiform laws of the ancient Near East. It is clear that Israel participated in a common legal culture with its neighbors.
  2. 21:2 Slave: an Israelite could become a slave of another Israelite as a means of paying a debt, or an Israelite could be born into slavery due to a parent’s status as a slave. Here a time limit is prescribed for such slavery; other stipulations (vv. 20–21, 26–27) tried to reduce the evils of slavery, but slavery itself is not condemned in the Old Testament.
  3. 21:6 To God: the ritual of the piercing of the slave’s ear, which signified a lifetime commitment to the master, probably took place at the door of the household, where God as protector of the household was called upon as a witness. Another possible location for the ritual would have been the door of the sanctuary, where God or judges would have witnessed the slave’s promise of lifetime obedience to his master.
  4. 21:8 Designated her: intended her as a wife of second rank.
  5. 21:12–14 Unintentional homicide is to be punished differently from premeditated, deliberate murder. One who kills unintentionally can seek asylum by grasping the horns of the altar at the local sanctuary. In later Israelite history, when worship was centralized in Jerusalem, cities throughout the realm were designated as places of refuge. Apparently the leaders of the local community were to determine whether or not the homicide was intentional.
  6. 21:15 The verb used most often signifies a violent, sometimes deadly, attack. The severe penalty assigned is intended to safeguard the integrity of the family.
  7. 21:17 Curses: not merely an angrily uttered expletive at one’s parents, but a solemn juridical formula of justifiable retribution which was considered to be legally binding and guaranteed by God.
  8. 21:22–25 This law of talion is applied here in the specific case of a pregnant woman who, as an innocent bystander, is injured by two fighting men. The law of talion is not held up as a general principle to be applied throughout the book of the covenant. (But see note on Lv 24:19–20.) Here this principle of rigorous accountability aimed to prevent injury to a woman about to give birth by apparently requiring the assailant to have his own wife injured as she was about to bring new life into his family. However, it is debatable whether talion was ever understood or applied literally in Israel. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges his audience to find a deeper form of justice than the supposed equilibrium offered by talion (Mt 5:38–40).
  9. 21:30 Ransom: the amount of money or material goods required to restore the relationship between the relatives of the victim and the negligent owner of the goring ox.
New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exodus 21 New International Version (NIV)

21 “These are the laws you are to set before them:

Hebrew Servants

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Personal Injuries

12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 “Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.

28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded. 31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels[f] of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.

33 “If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.

35 “If anyone’s bull injures someone else’s bull and it dies, the two parties are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. 36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and take the dead animal in exchange.

Footnotes:

  1. Exodus 21:6 Or before God
  2. Exodus 21:8 Or master so that he does not choose her
  3. Exodus 21:15 Or kills
  4. Exodus 21:18 Or with a tool
  5. Exodus 21:22 Or she has a miscarriage
  6. Exodus 21:32 That is, about 12 ounces or about 345 grams
New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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