5. The law of Moses consists of two distinct parts, viz., the Law of God, properly so called and applicable to all times and to all peoples; and the Civil or Disciplinary Law, adapted to the habits and character of the Hebrew people at the period of its promulgation. The first of these is universal and unchangeable; the other is susceptible of modification, according to the changes which take place in the views and habits of humankind, in the various phases of their development: and it could no more enter into the head of any one to suppose that men and women could be governed, at the present day, by the same regulations as the Hebrews in the desert, than to suppose that the Capitularies of Charlemagne could be put in practice in the France of the nineteenth century. Who would dream, for instance, of reviving at the present time this article of the Mosaic Law: – “If an ox strikes a man or a woman with its horn and they die of the blow, the ox shall be stoned, and no one shall eat of its flesh; but the master of the ox shall be held guiltless.” (“Exodus,” Chap. XXI, 28, 29) Yet this enactment, which seems absurd to us, was really well adapted to the circumstances of the case in the time of Moses; for its aim was not to punish the ox while acquitting its master, but to punish the owner by the confiscation of the animal that had caused the accident, and thereby to compel him to exercise more effectual oversight over his beasts in the future. The loss of the ox was the punishment of its master’s neglect, a punishment which, among a pastoral people, would be sufficiently severe to dispense with the need of supplementing it by the infliction of any additional penalty; but it was necessary that this punishment should not become a source of gain to anyone, and therefore it was forbidden to eat the flesh of the ox. Other articles of the law defined the cases in which the owner of an animal was responsible for injuries caused by it.
There was a reason for every provision of the civil law of Moses, even in its minutest details; but that law, in substance as well as in form, was only adapted to the special circumstances of the time and the people for which it was enacted. Assuredly, if Moses came back to the Earth at the present day and had to frame a code for one of the civilized nations in Europe, he would not give it the same laws that he gave to the Hebrews.