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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

“Slavery” In the Bible – Part 2: Casuistic Laws in the Old Testament

Part 1 -

“Slavery” In the Bible – Part 2: Casuistic Laws in the Old Testament

            In our last segment we explored the cultural background of slavery in the ANE, specifically the social and cultural milieu in ancient Israel. We explored the fact that the concept of “slavery” in the Old Testament is colored by our own history of Antebellum or New World Slavery during the African slave trade and that when we come up against passages dealing with slavery in ancient Israel what we are actually dealing with is much more like indentured servitude or debt servitude of the early colonists. We will now move from the general cultural background and textual themes into specific passages in the Old Testament dealing with the casuistic (case based jurisprudence) laws in the Mosaic law dealing specifically with the issues of servitude in Old Testament.
            I would like to again remind my readers that I am not arguing here for anything like the inerrancy or inspiration of the Bible, or even that it is wholly accurate in all of its historical assertions. I will not be arguing that the law proves the existence of an ultra-loving or omnibenevolent being known as Yahweh or God. I will simply be arguing that we must read the law as law rather than as a sporadic or unconnected series of sayings. What this means is that in the same way that the US legal system has laws that add depth, scope, application, etc. to other laws, we cannot read these laws as free floating or in isolation from other laws. As we will see there are possible readings of a law where the application itself would violate another law, thus ruling it out as a viable reading of the original law. We will see concrete examples of this as we move along but I want to state this upfront because I think that a lot of the most hostile “interpretations” of the law put out by skeptics (such as those at make this very mistake by casting the law in the worst possible light, ignoring that if an ancient Israelite held that very of one specific law, they would be in violation of a dozen others.
            With that important caveat out of the way, let us look at the relevant passages dealing with servanthood in the Old Testament. We should also point out at this time that a persistent theme in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the law) and specifically in the legal codes, is that God had redeemed Israel from Slavery in Egypt. This is stated at least 14 times and often the injunctions to treat slaves with equity is supported by the refrain, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you” or “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this” or some other such permutation on the theme. The concept is clear that God desired Israel to remember how they suffered as slaves in Egypt (who did practice something very much like the African slave trade that was heavily racial and could be very violent because slaves had no rights whatsoever – though there are notable examples such as Joseph who was technically a slave but was second in power and wealth to only Pharaoh himself) and to not treat any servant in their land with the same brutal oppression. We will see this in more detail in the verses to come. What follows is a list of all of the casuistic laws regarding slavery in the Mosaic Law (and a couple of non-legal passages that shed light on the lawyer’s perspective on the laws) with a series of comments regarding each. This will be much more list and response rather than developed essay.

1.      43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. Exodus 12:43-45[1].
a.       I have included this one here simply to point out that before even the law was given, there was already a concept among the proto-Israelites that a slave was considered a part of the family unit. Once committed to the Israelite community (via circumcision) they received the ultimate sign of community – redemption by God. They were part of the redeemed people. They were not considered as chattel. They experienced and shared in the same blessing that was the resounding theme that would come to define the Israelites for millennia to come – that God saved them out of bondage in Israel and entered into a covenant with them. While this verse does raise other issues outside of the scope of this series (why circumcision? Why would God even judge Egypt in the first place? Etc.), the impact of this verse on the subject at hand is telling.

2.      “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. Exodus 21:2-6
a.       There are apparently several problems with this passage. First it seems that it treats women as second class to the men. It seems to state that male servants may go free, but female servants cannot. Second is that it seems criminal to separate a family simply because they were married after both entering service to the owner. Let us look at these in order.
b.      First, is the law misogynistic? This is simply a problem of failing to understand the kind of laws present in the Mosaic legal system. As we have stated these are casuistic laws, that is, case laws. They are a kind of “for example”. The law is not misogynistic simply because it refers to a male slave – it is simply giving a case in point for the treatment of a servant married while in service to their owner. Many scholars have pointed this fact out and have stated that this is due more to the male dominated ANE culture. This is the ancient equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence where it states that “All men are created equal.” While some argued that it meant men qua men, most have read that as simply the non-gender neutral language that referred to all humanity. So we have the same thing happening here in v2-6. This could easily refer to a female slave who is married to a male during her time of servanthood.
c.       Second, does this verse demand that Israelites break of families simply because they “own” one of the partners? Not at all. Something interesting in this verse is that it uses a term that we are familiar with but was somewhat unusual at this point in the Bible. It says that “If you buy a Hebrew slave…” While we have come accustomed to calling ancient Jews “Hebrews” this was not common nomenclature during this point in Israelite history. During this time a “Hebrew” was actually a much broader term than “Israelite” or “Jew”. It meant basically an unaffiliated Semite. To the author, this person would be considered as a foreigner and non-citizen. This sheds some light on the passage. So what we have here is a law requiring that an owner must set free even his foreign servant during the year of Sabbath (this will be important when we look at other passages) but also requiring that if he took a wife during his tenure as a servant, he is not allowed to take his wife or child with him at that time.

There are actually several layers to this law that I think are what lead to the conclusion. Firstly, if the Hebrew comes married already there is no problem. As soon as his time is served, they all leave together. Yet if the owner “gives him a wife” then several situations could be happening. The owner could have arranged him to marry another Hebrew servant. This would mean that when the male servant finished his time of service, if his wife had not completed her service, he could not simply up and take his wife because she was still indebted to the owner. There is no reason however why he could not continue to serve or work as a hired hand until his wife completed her service and then, if they so chose, they could go on their way.

The second layer of this is if the owner arranged for the servant a Jewish wife. In this case the laws regarding marrying outside of the Jewish community would come into effect – that is, they ought not do it. At this point in history the Jews were not supposed to intermarry with their pagan neighbors. What is often over looked at this point by skeptics is that in the verse the servant who loved his master and his wife had the option to become a permanent Jew. He would take an external sign that he was committing himself to the service of the owner and would be free to become ceremonially Jewish through the rite of circumcision. We often overlook that in cases where a Jewish man only had daughters, the inheritance would go to the daughters and then to their sons. If an owner married off his daughters to a foreigner and had no sons to receive the inheritance, then his land would, if the foreign husband remained a foreigner, would no longer be an inheritance to him, his clan, or his tribe, or to Israel – the land that God had given to them as a perpetual inheritance to the Jewish people. He would not only be giving up land to foreigners, he would be depriving his entire family and future lineage of the land that was theirs by divine decree. This was even the point in the year of Jubilee. Every 49th year a reset button would be hit and all the land would be returned to the clan that owned yet. Yet if the land had been given to a foreigner, that foreigner would be under no obligation to return the land – why would they? So this law actually has very little to do with the permanent possession of a foreign slave (and as we saw there are numerous scenarios where this law actually has nothing to do with perpetual servanthood) but is actually a law intent to protect the inheritance of generations to come from basically what amounts to bad business management.

This is still a far cry from New World Slavery. In New World Slavery an African slave would never be permitted to leave after 6 years debt free and definitely would never ever be permitted to marry a white woman and then having the opportunity to become part of the family with full inheritance rights. In this case we have a foreign servant being granted freedom after 6 years, and possibly being permitted to become not only a Jew, but also marry into a family and have the right of full inheritance.

3.      “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. Exodus 21:7-11
a.       Many critics will cast this passage as if it is referring to some kind of sex trafficking, where a man can treat his daughter as a sex object for profit. Nothing could be further from the truth. In sex slavery, the woman is forced to subjugated to rape in underground slave trades, abused by multiple men, have zero rights, and usually is murdered after he usefulness is done. Something that is somewhat of a barrier to us is that we live in a 21st century romance culture – marriages to us are primarily about love, romance and happiness. For better or for worse, this is simply not the cultural milieu of the overwhelming majority of cultures throughout history. While husbands and wives would often come to have quite tender and loving relationships over time, marriage was a means of supporting and protecting one’s family, inheritance, and longevity. While we my bristle at the thought of arranged marriages here in the west, this is simply not a problem for a large portion of people who will read this text.
b.      Secondly what we see in the passage is actually a strong protection of the daughters in these arranged marriages. While the term “slave” here is used, I am not convinced that this is actually referring to servanthood as we have discussed it above. While it is possible that a father might arrange a marriage without a dowry in order to expunge a debt it is also possible that this merely refers to any arranged marriage. This is buffeted considering that wives often expressed themselves as “servants” to their husbands. This was not because of some ownership or lack of legal rights but because they simply did a lot of work around the land – cooking, cleaning, entertaining, etc. The role of a woman was simply drastically different in many ways than it is today. Again, this can raise a whole host of other questions, but for the purpose of this article, the woman, by simply becoming a wife, could easily be called a servant in such a context. This view is also supported by the statement at the beginning, “she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” While critics may try to read this as saying that a female slave has less rights than male slaves, we will see that the passage clearly has marital status in mind and thus this stipulation is here to stop a simply “get out of jail” free card. The man could not simply use her for 6 years and then give her up in shame to go back home (no longer a virgin) and have a much harder time to be married a second time.

What is interesting about this passage however is the rights that are given to the wife – who we will now see is clearly considered a wife. Firstly if the owner is displeased with her, he must allow her to be redeemed by her family. He cannot treat her as property and resell or retrade her to someone else. She is not his property. He must allow her to return to the family. Secondly, if she is given so that the owner can marry her to his son, she must be given all the rights of a full daughter. Thirdly, if the husband decides to take another spouse (this raises a lot of other questions that are beyond the scope of this series) then he cannot treat her as less than a full spouse – he cannot decrease her food, or clothing or “conjugal rights”. Here “conjugal rights” (וְעֹנָתָהּ) a term found only here in the Old Testament, does not necessarily have the sexual overtones that we have for it now when we think of prison visits. While this is certainly included as part of her right as a wife is the ability to bear sons that will insure that her lineage has their rightful inheritance, but also includes all of her rights as a wife in the daily operations and decisions in the home.[2]

It is here that we see that if at any time the husband fails to grant any of these rights to his wife, she must be permitted to go free without any cost to her or to her family. While this law does seem “foreign” to us, that is because it is! Thus while we may struggle to understand arranged marriages in the ancient world, to say that this verse permits sex slavery fails on nearly all levels and shows that the critic has simply failed to do their homework.

4.      “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. 21 If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property. Exodus 21:20-21
a.       Many critics will assert that this verse permits the brutal beating slaves, that the master can beat their slaves to within an inch of their life but so long as the slave does not die, no harm no foul. There are so many problems with this reading that it is hard to know where to begin. First of all, by simply reading further into the passage we find this in Exodus 21:26-27: 26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. 27 And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.” What v20-21 tell us is that if an owner beats a slave to death, the family of the deceased has the right, by law, to seek the capital execution per the law protecting all human life in Israel. This law actually grants rights to the servant! It does not eliminate them as the skeptic would assert. Unlike all other ANE slave codes in which slaves were property and an owner could kill at their discretion, this was not the case in Israel. The servant had an inherent right to life (as we saw in Job the last article, due to the servant also being made in the image of God and thus having the same human worth before God) that not even their master had the right to violate. Yet the verse also protect the master from unnecessary blood feuds. If the servant did not die, then his family could not seek capital punishment. Yet that is not the end of the story.

When we read on to v26-27 we see that if a master is violent to a servant then the servant is set free. The servant has the same right to “eye for an eye” as any free citizen. So if we combine the two laws we see that a master who beats a servant but does not kill him may not be subject to capital punishment, but he is subject to other social and financial repercussions. Sam Harris shows that he totally misses the point, as usual, when he writes, “The only real restraint God counsels on the subject of slavery is that we not beat our slaves so severely that we injure their eyes or their teeth (Exodus 21).”[3] As we have seen, and will see further, there are all kinds of legal protections for servants, but in this case the passage clearly states that a servant has the same rights to physical protection as any other free citizen.

In addition to this, some scholars (such as the ANE Hittologist scholar from the University of Chicago Harry Hoffner) argue that the correct rendering of the passage is not “for he is his property” but rather that “for [it] is his property” and refers to the fee that is prescribed in Exodus 21:18-19 (the section dealing with the penalties for accidental killings) which states, “18 “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, 19 if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.” In this case the master is not only required to set the servant free, but also to pay for any care needed until the servant is able to go on their way and any wages due to him for his loss of time working. So not only would the owner lose the debt that the servant owed to him, he would also be forced to pay for the care of the injured servant and any wages that the servant would have received if he had been working. It turns out that injuring a servant could be extremely costly to the owner.

Any who reads the law so narrowly as to think that the law of an eye for an eye only applies to eyes and teeth and not to bones, and bruises, and fingers and toes, etc (the principle being that one may not harm another physically or otherwise without just reprisal – though the reprisal cannot exceed the crime) has simply not learned how to read. In the light of this, the principle is that if an owner harms a servant (damages and eye, looses a tooth, breaks a bone, etc.) then they are required by law to let the servant go immediately and erase any debt that the servant might still owe to the master. For the skeptic to read this verse as if it is granting permission to the owner to beat their servants up to the point of death is so absurd as to be almost bizarre. It is simply a case of cherry picking where the read the verse to the exclusion of all its surrounding contexts and other relevant laws.

5.      If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. 29 If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. 31 Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.” Exodus 21:28-32
a.       No skeptic really ever cites this verse because it fundamentally undermines their argument. In this passage we see several cases:
b.      First, an ox gores a person to death and the ox is stoned. The owner is unpunished in anyway. (notice not even any fiscal punishment)
c.       Second, an ox with a history of goring, gores a person the ox is stone and the owner is put to death. (This is because he is complicit in the murder because he has failed to stone the ox the first time it gored someone or even to confine it so that it cannot do it again – that is, he is morally culpable for the subsequent deaths due to his negligence.) Yet, if the grieved family simply demands some kind of ransom (a price to pay in place of his life) then he must pay what they demand.
d.      Third, if the ox gores someone’s servant, then the owner has no option but to pay the ransom demanded by the law – 30 shekels. Notice that the punishment for the owner of the ox is steeper if the ox gores a servant! If the ox gores a citizen, and does not have a history of it, then the owner is not required to pay any fine. Yet if the ox gores a servant, and does not have a history of it, then the owner is required to pay the ransom price. In this case the law gives more protection to the servants.

6.      10 ‘No layman, however, is to eat the holy gift; a sojourner with the priest or a hired man shall not eat of the holy gift. 11 But if a priest buys a slave as his property with his money, that one may eat of it, and those who are born in his house may eat of his food. Leviticus 22:11
a.       This again is another verse that no skeptic really seems to ever bring up. The reason is that it is another verse that seems to give special privilege to slaves. In this case if a Levite has a servant, that servant is permitted to eat of the offerings giving to support the Levites whereas not even hired men could eat of it. In fact when we read on in the passage, we see that if his daughter has married a non-Levite then neither she nor her husband’s family could eat from the offering. So these offerings could only be consumed by the Levites and their servants. This was indeed a special privilege and hardly an oppressive view of servants

7.      “39 ‘If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. 40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. 41 He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. 42 For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. 43 You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another. 47 ‘Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family, 48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. 50 He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days of a hired man that he shall be with him. 51 If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption; 52 and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption. 53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight. 54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him. 55 For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 25:39-55
a.       Does this passage teach that foreign slaves could be bought and sold like livestock and kept into perpetuity? This is a rather long passage and I will attempt to be as brief as possible however this is one of the more complex passages that we will come across because in addition to this set of casuistic laws, we must also examine several other passages that deal with foreigners and sojourners in Israel in general.
b.      We see that, contrary to Dawkins and others who cast the Old Testament as being fiercely ethnocentric and xenophobic, there are numerous laws and precepts in the Old Testament regarding the treatment of foreigners and sojourners and all of them state that Israelites are to be kind, hospitable, and compassionate to outsiders. While outsiders could not own land in Israel (again due to the nature of the land belong to God and being distributed to the tribes such that even one Tribe could not own land that belongs to another tribe for longer than 49 years, and must release it back during the year of Jubilee), there were many statutes that state that Israelites were to love “strangers” as themselves such as Leviticus 19:33-3 and Deuteronomy 10:19. There were gleaning laws put in place that allowed for the provision of foreigners (such as Deuteronomy 14:21) and other laws that were put in place to keep foreigners from becoming poor and thus subject to servitude in Israel in the first place (such as Deuteronomy 24:21-22). If a foreigner wanted to own land and become an Israelite that could undergo certain rights of citizenship themselves and marry into a family. The principle of not marrying outsiders was not the kind of racism that is still prevalent in some parts of the US today where in principle whites are not permitted to marry outside their race. In Israel it was entirely cultural – they could not marry out of Israel but they could marry outsiders that were willing to come into Israel. A man could wed his daughter to a Canaanite if that Canaanite was willing to become an Israelite. It had nothing to do with race. But that is somewhat of an aside. The point is that at that point the foreigner had come under the protection of the laws of Israel.

This is also not to mention that a foreign servant always had the option of becoming a Israelite which would then in turn end their status as a foreign servant thereby effectively ending their perpetual status. In addition to this we have no reason to think that a foreign servant would not be granted the same legal rights of servanthood as any servant in Israel. There is nothing that states that if a foreign servant is beaten that the owner would not be required to pay for their care, forgive their debt and let them free. There is nothing that states that a foreign slave could not be redeemed by another Israelite or their own family. The only thing that this passage shows is that a foreign servant does not get freed at the end of six years like a Jewish servant would. There is also nothing in this passage that states that a foreign slave cannot be freed after he has worked off his debt. In fact, we can look at a passage like Deuteronomy 24:17-18 which states, “17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” In this case it seems obvious that a foreign servant was granted the same protection by the law as a Jewish servant. This verse in Deuteronomy indicates the exact opposite. Just because someone was an alien (lit. “foreigner”) the Israelites were not permitted to pervert or withhold justice from them.

8.      10 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her. Deuteronomy 21:14
a.       This passage is often cited by critics as an example of another admonition of sex slavery. It is supposed by these critics that the verse permits for conquering Israel armies to simply rape and pillage their way through villages and do with women as they please. This again shows a total lack of reading comprehension on the part of the critic. This passage explicitly states that the women left after a campaign could not be considered as sex objects. This passage states that in order for an Israelite to take a woman from a campaign, he must take her as a wife, and in doing so is not permitted to have any sexual relations with her, at the soonest, for over a month. This is absolutely not permission for them to rape on sight any woman that they want while out to war and is in fact directly contrary to that. Notice that the passage states that if a man sees a beautiful woman and has a desire for her, he must take her as a wife. While the realities of the ancient world were brutal, this law actually serves to protect foreign women. If a city was conquered there was no WIC, there was no welfare, there were no shelters. The women were left destitute, homeless, penniless, with no means for survival or inheritance. This law allows for women to not become sex slaves or rape victims, but to become Israelite wives with the full rights thereof. It also protects her from disgrace if the man later changes his mind. He cannot take her and then say that she was just a servant or whatever and trade her or sell her or even “mistreat” her. He must let her go on her way free and clear – to return to family or wherever she chooses. This again is far from legal permission to rape and pillage.

9.      15 “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him. Deuteronomy 23:15
a.       Like many other passages above, this one is hardly ever adduced on behalf of the skeptic. This law is clearly put in place on behalf of the servant and states that if one finds a runaway servant, that person is under no obligation to return him to their owner and in fact the law says explicitly that they are not to hand them over. This law is likely in place to protect slaves who are being abused by their owners until the city elders can rule on the issue. Basically this law is the logistics of how previous laws are enforced. If an owner treats a servant harshly then that servant can flee and be given safe refuge, a place to live, food to eat and he is free to choose where to live from then on. The person who finds this servant is not only enjoined to not return the slave but also to care and provide for them. This is not only radically different from all other ANE slave codes but also antithetical to Antebellum runaway slave laws in the West that not only demanded the return of the slave but harsh punishments for those who did not.
b.      In fact this verse is found in the section on Deuteronomy dealing with the 8th commandment to not steal. What makes this so interesting is that in all ANE cultures besides Israel to abet a runaway slave was considered theft of property and was heavily punished. In the Code of Hammurabi the punishment is death. It is interesting that here in Deuteronomy when the author is expounding on theft, he begins the entire section, before moving into laws on theft, stating that abeting a runaway slave is not only not theft, but is required by the law for the protection of the runaway. While some scholars have suggested that this would only apply to Jewish servants, the vast majority of scholars believe that this would apply to any and all runaway slaves, either Jewish servants or foreign ones and who ran away from Israelite masters or foreign ones and have escaped to within Israel’s borders.[4]

As we have seen from the survey of the passages above, the Mosaic Law does not permit some kind of violent, hostile or oppressive form of slavery as the critics would like to portray that it does. The laws are universally improvements upon other ANE slave codes and give undeniable rights to life free of abuse or molestation, protects women from destitution and allows for numerous ways for a servant, foreign or otherwise, to gain their freedom. In several cases we even saw, somewhat surprisingly, that the rights and privileges of a servant exceeded that of a regular citizen.

In the next section we will move into the New Testament and look at what it has to say about slavery. We will also look at the role of Christianity in Antebellum New World Slavery in the west and ask whether or not their actions were analogous or antithetical with the Biblical teaching on servanthood.

To continue to part 3 on Slavery in the New Testament:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, I will be using the NASB for the Biblical passages.
[2] Anyone who thinks that a woman’s role in the home was something like “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” simply needs to read Proverbs 31:10-31 which tells of the activities of an excellent wife. After reading it one might very well ask, “what did the men actually do?!”
[3] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p.16
[4] Kine, Treaty of the Great King. p.113


  1. Lev 25:44-46. Non-Israelite slaves can be bought as property and owned for life. They can be willed to children as inherited property. No mention of working off a debt or being set free after a time. This seems to be glossed over.

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  3. While I'll give the author credit for at least listing the verses at 25:44-46 (many slavery apologetics which claim to address "all" relevant verses omit them completely), his examination of these most troublesome verses might as well ignore them. Instead of answering his own question (were they chattel in perpetuity?), he goes off on tangents about xenophobia and the ever-present moral relativism of comparing chattel slavery in Israel with chattel slavery in the Americas.

    He excuses it with Deut. 24:17, which says they should not pervert justice for aliens, but this ignores that the "justice" in Israel was different for aliens than it was for Jews. There was no need to "pervert justice," when "justice" said foreigners could be bought as chattel slaves and kept for life.