The Ox That Gored, Jacob J. Finkelstein

Fascinating, impassioned, and deeply learned. Finkelstein counters the notion that imputing judicial responsibility to nonhumans and inanimate objects represents pre-Christian primitivism by demonstrating that not only are deodanda and animal trials particular to the Christian Middle Ages (and afterwards, as deodanda laws were repealed in the first half of the 19th century), but also that no so-called primitive society had any such laws. Not the ancient Greeks, none of the Mesopotamian civilizations (barring the ancient Hebrews), and no one else, anywhere. Esther Cohen would later take him to task for not having a sufficiently expansive knowledge of what might constitute a trial, but Finkelstein’s work nonetheless has enormous importance, even if only to demonstrate the shakiness of Evans’ scholarship. He also, usefully, distinguishes between ecclesiastical exorcisms of vermin and secular animal trials, which were…totally different animals.

NB: Finkelstein also, importantly, demonstrates that medieval England had NO animal trials. While this may not quite be true, at least not in a narrative sense, the point still stands that England had a deodanda law, and no one on the continent did. Why? Because only England had a powerful, centralized state that could benefit from deodanda.

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