What to do with a dead bull? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
In our look at the Old Testament Law, we’re going to be looking at the last few verses of Exodus 21. Many of these will be relatively straight forward, but they are important to cover. The verses are as follows:
“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 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.”
Looking at the start, when a bull gores someone to death, the bull is to be stoned and the animal must not be eaten. This is a society where meat would not be as abundant as it is here. Surely you can put that dead body to use? Not at all. The idea is that an animal that dies for the death of a human being should not profit anyone. No one should be able to have a blessing come in that way when a human being dies. It is not because God is wasteful, but because Israel was to have the highest regard for human life.
As for the idea of if the bull gores and has had that habit, we can understand this more for much the same reason we often chain up dogs that are dangerous. If someone does not tie up a dog that can be dangerous and that dog does act that way, then the owner is to be held responsible. In this case, there is a way to redeem human life. One can pay for the act of the animal since the animal could not really be accused of malicious intent. Why the difference for a slave? There’s no indication that the death of a slave would not be punishable by death as well. This is talking about the price of redemption. The slave himself is under the care of another so the master would determine the value normally. In order to be fair to all workers, one universal price is given.
For the case of the pit, one should warn one’s neighbors about such an enterprise to catch an animal in hunting. You would be responsible for not giving adequate warning.
Finally, with a bull goring another, no one keeps the live bull because there should be no profit in the case of something like this. The one who has the live bull will lose income with half going to the other owner. Once again, this changes if the bull had a habit of goring as the owner of the dead animal gets all the money.
These laws are practical for a good working society in the ANE. We also see there are many principles that we still apply today, and that’s something major to look for in the study. It’s not just the law to look at but the principle for the law.