Marilyn A. Katz


Among the ancient Greeks, both animals and inanimate objects could under certain circumstances be held liable on a charge of homicide; a number of ancient testimonia refer to a special homicide court dedicated to the adjudication of such cases. In the Bible, too, an ox which has gored a human being to death is itself punished with death. Analogous provisions appear in ancient Near Eastern law collections. These regulations- in their Greek, Israelite, and Mesopotamian versions-are ordinarily discussed as sub-categories of legal provisions having to do with homicide in general, and consequently discussion focuses on the shedding of human blood, and on the taking of human life.

In the present essay, I explore this same network of analogous ideologies and practices from a somewhat different perspective in order to illuminate the relationship between the laws governing homicide committed by non-human agents, and those myths and traditions that concern the origin of animal sacrifice. The first two parts of my discussion focus on the point of intersection between the judicial and ritual spheres, and investigate the particulars of a cultural logic that constructs a complementarity between the slaughter of animals by men and the killing of human beings by animals. Underlying this paradoxical complementarity between rite and crime, mandate and transgression, is an ideology which takes the form of a complex cultural discourse on the proper relationship between human beings and animals. In the third section of this essay I present an analysis of this ideology, and I try to show how it is related to the structure of legal liability and moral agency in the areas of ritual and judicial practice.