May we hold animals accountable for their actions in a court of law? Via Maisonneuve, Drew Nelles on the surprisingly widespread historical practice, including the lynching of an elephant, the excommunication of a swarm of locusts, and much more:
“If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten,” reads Exodus 21:28. Note that the ox is executed by stoning, much like an adulterer or Sabbath-breaker would have been.
Exodus 21:28 is a biblical law like any other, and as with similar Old Testament passages about slavery and sodomy, these few short words inspired hundreds of years of human behaviour that now appear horrifying. In Medieval Europe, they gave rise to the animal trial: the practice of dragging a creature accused of committing a crime—like killing a child or destroying a crop—before an actual court of law, and subsequently executing, exiling or absolving it.