No kidding. Just ask Michael Patrick Leahy. He's read Exodus 21:20.
Actually, if you ask him, he'll call you a militant atheist and hurl large numbers at you like 5,000 and 500,000. Try VERY HARD not to be impressed. Then point out that the very core notion of slavery is that a person can be the property of another. What he'll do at that point is give the old "Uh….. I'll get back to ya."
When he finally does get back to you, he'll accuse you not being sufficiently impressed by his numbers (500,000!!!!) and tell you he's bored with this game.
Hey Waltercat I was able to do some research on Slavery a bit more over the last week or two. These are some thoughts I read over.
Contextual Meaning of ‘Slave’ and ‘Property’Slavery for many people conjures up thoughts of racial inequality that amount to whippings and separating families for economic gain. However the word slavery has many different connotations. If one wants to criticize Biblical slavery they first need to understand the terms and how they were used. Simply building up an argument, without contextually defining the terms, is nothing more than using a ‘Straw man Argument’. Glenn M. Miller (2007) explains how the term slavery and property have been used at various times for a wide range of activities. For instance ancient Near Eastern cultures use the word ‘slave’ to refer to anyone lower in social status. Therefore, in our society a student would be considered a slave to their teacher. A mechanic would be a slave to the garage owner. With this in mind it is uneducated to make a blanket statement that any society who uses the word ‘slavery’ is wrong. When the Bible says ‘slave’ the Hebrew word is ebed. Ebed has many different connotations besides slavery. For instance, ebed is used in describing all of Abrahams household (Genesis 20:18). Abraham’s household not only included his servants but also his immediate family. The term ‘ebed’ used for slave and servant could refer to kings, military leaders, patriarchs, priests, servants, and the general populace. In general it is a reflection toward one who has position of authority or influence over another or others.
Even if we recognize that slaves were indentured servants and were held for voluntary reasons this still does not deal with how they were treated. The majority of slaves were domestic slaves, therefore lived under the same roof as their master. The images many Americans have of slaves involves slaves living in barracks as gangs and an overseers carrying whips is far from Hebrew slavery. Because the word usage of ‘property’ is associated with slavery many might believe slaves could be treated by their owners in any fashion. While Hebrew slaves were considered ‘property’ even this word has conceptual problems that anthropologist/socialists have studied and written on. For instance, in many cultures child adoption was considered a transaction of property. In Hebrew slavery people who were considered property had equal religious and judicial rights, they could borrow money, and buy their freedom. Yet, with the many rights slaves possessed they were still considered property. When the Old Testament uses the word ‘property’ it is not conceptually the same when the word ‘property’ is used today. For instance, if a corporation with its many different employees were bought by a larger corporation, using the Old Testament definition for the word ‘property’, the employees who worked for the smaller corporation would now be considered ‘property’ of the larger corporation. One hardly would consider this transaction to be horrific. Old Testament law forbide harsh treatment, set up stipulations for positive treatment, and put boundaries for how a servant could be punished. One who possessed a slave was to rule over them without ruthlessness (Leviticus 25:43, 46, 53). It was also common for masters to treat their slaves with compassion and therefore a law was put in place that allowed slaves to stay with their masters (Exodus 21:5 and Deuteronomy 15:16). The personal rights of slaves override their master’s desires to control their slaves. If a master beats their slave and they die the master will be punished (Exodus 21:20). If the master punishes the slave and they are permanently damaged the slave is allowed to go free (Exodus 21:26-27). Exodus 21: 26-27 mentions that if a slaves tooth is damaged they must go free. The tooth represents a type of physical beating that was not warranted. Striking the back or leg would be punishment for not working or doing their job, striking the tooth is a symbol of no unwarranted physical punishment is allowed. This may sound harsh however these conditions are similarly placed on free men. Freemen could likewise be punished by the legal system by rod-beating (Deuteronomy 25:1-3, Proverbs 10:13, 26:3). For instance, if two people fight but no one dies, the aggressor is punished by having to ‘retributively’ pay out of their own money for the victim’s lost economic time and medical expenses. If it is a person’s slave and this occurs, they are given a punitive economic loss for lack of work and medical treatment. In fact the slave may be raised to an even higher standard for a slave can be compensated by loosing a ‘tooth’ even if they are able to work and have no medical damage that hinders work (Glenn M. Miller, 2007).
The context of Hebrew slavery can be compared to the indenture servant-hood in the colonial era. William Swarthey (1998) lays out the following laws in the Old Testament that show the motivation for slavery was economic relief of poverty. For instance, slaves were allowed to have civil and religious rights (Leviticus 24:22 and Numbers 15: 15-16). Slaves were looked at as equals in the eyes of God and therefore allowed the same religious rights (Genesis 17:12, Deuteronomy 16:9-14, 31:10-13). The slaves, indentured servants, were mainly voluntary slaves that worked to pay off debt or were poor (Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27, 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:18, 34, 25:42-43, Deuteronomy 27:19). If a Hebrew does get into debt they are to be freed by the seventh year. The slave was then to be released with a flock and other goods (Deuteronomy 15:15). Some became voluntary slaves for security against poverty (Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25: 39-43, Deuteronomy 15:12). In the absence of a family heir a master sometimes appointed a slave as a successor to the property (Genesis 15:3). Slaves were also given time off, as mentioned before slaves were given the same religious rights, therefore the Sabbath was practiced. Slaves were also given every seventh year off. Leviticus 25:4-6 says, “But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the Lord, Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you-for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you.” The following passages also tell fellow Hebrews to work for the poor and help out their servants through the giving of food (Exodus 23:10, Leviticus 19:10; 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:10). Judicial equality was given in the Old Testament as well. The wealthiest Hebrew had no more judicial protection than the poorest slave (Exodus 23:3, 6-9 and Leviticus 19:15). Hebrew slaves could own property, wealth and have a family member release them from their contract, regardless if the master wanted to let him/her go or not (2 Samuel 19:17, Leviticus 25:47-50, 49). Also, on the 7th year, sabbatical, and Jubilee are events that set slaves free from their service (Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:10). When Israel failed to give the sabbatical liberty for slaves Israel was punished (Jeremiah 34:8-20). Israel was also punished when the nation mistreated foreigners and fellow Hebrews (I Samuel 8:6-20, I Kings 2:38-39, II Kings 4, II Chronicles 28:8-15, Amos 8:4, and Jeremiah 34). Slavery was used to provide for the poor and help them out of debt or poverty (Deuteronomy 15:7 and 9). If a slave were to runaway from their owner they were not to be returned to their overseer (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). The reasoning behind this law is to protect a slave from an abusive overseer. Also, the runaway is protected from how the overseer may react if the slave were to return. The Old Testament also tells Hebrews to love each neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18). On the other end if a Hebrew does the opposite and treats his neighbor ruthless by kidnapping him/her and sell them into forced enslavement that is punishable by death (Exodus 21:16). This commandment is in no way a contradiction towards the function of servant-hood. As mentioned before, slaves oftentimes volunteered in order to economic and social protection. The practice of ‘slavery’ is generally seen as a voluntary action, making it more like an indentured servant hood (Swartley, 1998).
The Christian is not done with this issue. So far it has only been established that the majority of Hebrew to Hebrew slavery was indentured servant-hood. However, this does not deal with Leviticus 25:44-46 and the practice of holding foreign slaves. When dealing with foreign slaves we are not talking about gaining foreign slaves through war or kidnapping. For instance, in wars on foreign soil Israel did not turn the people from captive lands into slaves. If a city was surrendered they became a vassal state to Israel, with the population become serfs. Those in captured lands were obliged to pay royal taxes and help with public works, as Israelis did in I Kings 5:27. Israel was commanded not to attack any nations outside their promised land. Yet when a civilization attacked them they were given certain rules to follow. Israel was instructed to first offer peace to the city. If the city accepted peace the people would then be put into forced labor (Gibeon in Joshua 9), this forced labor was much like a conscription service. If the city was attacked and destroyed the survivors were taken as foreign slaves/servants. Pertaining to Leviticus 25:44, Hebrew’s were allowed to buy, not take, slaves from foreign nations around them. In Leviticus these slaves were people who sold themselves into slavery for economic or security issues. The difference between the Hebrews who sold themselves and the foreign slaves who sold themselves, is the timed release given to the Hebrews. Deuteronomy 25:47 tells us that aliens could rise in affluence and actually buy Hebrew servants. This shows that while Leviticus gives no time table for foreigner slavery it also shows these slaves were not looked at in the western sense, for they could can wealth and actually ‘buy’ Hebrews. It is true that Hebrew’s were given more privileges than foreign slaves but this is due to God’s covenant. When one became part of this covenant they were part of this special relationship with God. What is interesting is the covenant was open ended and foreign slaves could join this covenant and be held under the same Hebrew covenant blessings. When one sees themselves and recognizes their need to praise God, God will put his spiritual, physical, and emotional blessings on them. Deuteronomy 23:15 is another law that sheds light on foreign slaves. Israel was supposed to welcome runaway foreign slaves with open arms. Any slave within the borders of Israel could also be freed by running away. A runaway slave, from foreign origin or a native Hebrew was freed and was not to be returned to its master. The slave should be sheltered if he wishes or allowed to go free, and he must not be taken advantage of. Any slave no matter what origin is given freedom to live among the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 23:16-17). The previous verse shows slavery as a voluntary institution for all people. This goes hand in hand with Deuteronomy 10:19, Exodus 22:20, and Deuteronomy 10:18. These three sections of scripture Yahweh instructs all Israelites to love aliens in their midst like they do themselves and to treat these outsiders with the same respect they show their ethnic countrymen. On a final note pertaining to foreign slaves, could this also be a lifetime indentured servant-hood or even more so joining a Hebrew family line. For instance Abraham and his entire household, including servants and his family were given the word ‘ebed’, the same word given to foreign slaves. This may show that foreign slaves could permanently join a family lineage; with this in mind it would make no sense to put a time limit or regulation on how long to keep slave/servants. Knowing slaves formed part of the family, bringing a foreigner into the promise land would be a never-ending gift. Hebrew’s were also forbidden to perform slave trading. The nation of Israel was forbidden to use the trading of slaves for any reason. God looks at slavery as judgment (Joel 3). With this in mind God indicates his abhorrence of slave-trading, and puts judgment on his own people for doing such practices. After reading Joel 3:4-8, one can see God’s displeasure toward forced servitude. The previous passages of scripture conclude that slavery done by Southern states broke God’s law in every aspect of Hebrew law; from man-stealing, preventing religious equality, breaking up families, treatment as property, to the fugitive slave act the Confederacy was far from the Slavery in the Old Testament. Can you imagine a Confederate plantation owner, in absence of a legal heir, appointing one of his slaves as his successor to the plantation? (Glenn M. Miller, 2007).
Is all Slavery Bad? What is the alternative?Every crime committed deserves just penalty. The offender should also compensate for the crime they have perpetrated onto the offended. The primary aspect of the judicial system should be to serve restitution and retribution. The secondary goal, but also important, is rehabilitation as a means for deterrence. Unfortunately, the United States is seeing a prison system with 6 million people locked up, “doing time” for crimes that in no way serve for restitution and retribution, the prison system also does little for rehabilitating one to enter the real world. Vern S. Poythress (1991) sheds more light on the Hebrew system. On the issue of stealing Exodus 22:1 appears to claim thieves who have destroyed or sold what they stole are required to pay fourfold to the owner. If the offender cannot pay this money they then would be put into slavery and held until their monetary payments were met. In Hebrew society a thief could be turned into a slave and serve the master until monetary funds were paid off (Exodus 22:3). Under this system one can logically see the good in slavery and even recognize how this judicial system surpasses our own. There system deals with restitution and also keeps them from being alien to their own culture, helping them to become rehabilitated. Vern Poythress gives this insightful commentary on the Hebrew judicial system,
“Besides being a true execution of just recompense, such as penalty has practical value. When the thief loses what he hoped to gain, he is made to experience the other person’s point of view. When a greater value of goods is involved, the thief must come to realize the greater value. Moreover, in being forced to serve other people for a time, he unwillingly receives an illustration in his own body of the principle that the person who has been a thief must learn to work hard and honestly. If all goes well, the thief may at the end have found a useful vocation. The process far exceeds in its wisdom the present criminal system, which bottles thieves up in prison in a situation of frustration, groups them together with others of like mind, and frequently intensifies the inclinations to criminality.”
Instead, our society punishes in a way that does not fit the crime and alienates one from their family, thus being ill-productive in the rehabilitation process. Needless to say involuntary slavery is permitted in Hebrew society. However, involuntary slavery is justified as a judicial means for restitution and retribution. The United States also has involuntary slavery it just so happens this one is inefficient and cruel at the same time. Mr. Harris says, “The entire civilized world now agrees that slavery is an abomination…Nothing in Christian theology remedies the appalling deficiencies of the Bible on what is perhaps the greatest-and the easiest-moral question our society has ever had to face.” I find this most interesting considering every society on Earth still holds to some forms of slavery. If this moral question has been so easily solved in condemning slavery than why can the majority of Americans drive within thirty minutes to see a prison slavetation? Sure six million Americans are tucked behind large walls and held in kennels, yet Harris and everyone else in America have put slavery to an end and the issue has been solved! Mr. Harris fails to mention the contextual, semantic terms, and historical context of the verses he copies and pasts into his book. Because he does this he puts up a false idea of Hebrew slavery and makes the reader assume his copy/paste method is good enough. Mr. Harris not only wants everyone to assume slavery is wrong but he also wants to assume his worldview can claim an objective morality for why slavery is wrong. Mr. Harris claims slavery is wrong because it is cruel. Yet this does little in explaining an ontological and practical rational for why one should follow Mr. Harris’ morality. Under the objective standard of God, in the Christian worldview, we are to love our neighbors because our neighbors were created in the image of God. The Christian morality has laid out a blueprint for our methods and rational for following God’s standards. Why should anyone follow Sam Harris’ standards? Mr. Harris grounds the evil of slavery on this; “The moment a person recognizes that slaves are human beings like himself, enjoying the same capacity for suffering and happiness, he will understand that it is patently evil to own them and treat them like farm equipment.” Douglas Wilson (2007) takes Mr. Harris to task in addressing Harris’ previous comment:
“This appears to be an argument that nerve endings disqualify one from being a slave or being treated like farm equipment. But what about farm animals? They have nerve endings, and they certainly have a capacity for suffering….This brings us back to your basis for morality, which was basically pleasure and pain. Okay. Whose happiness and suffering? Why ought one individual, with one set of nerve endings, be concerned about another set of nerve endings entirely? They are not connected, except through cultural teaching. That teaching, in our case, is grounded in the will of God. In your case, it is grounded in bare assertion. What you need to do is sketch for us the bridge between one set of nerve endings and another, and show us why that bridge of yours creates an obligation that two sets of nerve endings must share.”
Under the Christian worldview we have every reason to believe the practice of modern day slavery is wrong. Yet under Harris’ view there is absolutely no objective standard for why one should sacrifice the pleasure of their nerve endings in expense for the pleasure of another. If we only go around once in the world why not go out with the most toys? Considering evolution teaches survival of the fittest, why is it wrong to exploit another culture to advance the superior culture? Many atheists, Huxley for one, have taken this outlook and the outcome was an empire of slavery during the late 1800’s called the ‘New Imperialism’ era. The Berlin Conference carved Africa up into European colonized where the mass number of Africans were forced into occupations and conditions that were far from pleasurable, see the Belgian Congo rubber plantations for a most horrific example. The Christian can look at this practice with detest and has an ontological basis for an objective standard outside of themselves that recognize this act as wrong. Yet the practice of imperialism, under the worldview of evolution, can be logically justified. When Sam Harris suggests that Christians were not responsible for the end of slavery he needs to do a little more research on William Wilberforce. As well, when Mr. Harris suggest non-theists were responsible for ending slavery he needs to do a little more research on the Berlin Conference and the cultural outcome of Social Darwinist.
Of course not all Hebrew slaves were convicted of crimes. And remember that Exodus 22 comes after Exodus 21:20.
There is absolutely NOTHING in the Hebrew Bible that claims that only convinced criminals can be slaves. So this point about punishing crimianls with slavery really is a red herring.
In Exodus 21:20-21, God supports the notion that an innocent human being can be the property of another. That is morally disgusting.
I know that you have been studying this issue quite a bit, and I applaud your efforts. I have a piece of advice:
Whenever you read a Christian apologist who attempts to deal with the issue of slavery ask yourself these questions:
1) Does the apologist mention Exodus 21:20-21?
2) Does the apologist quote Exodus 21:20-21?
3) Does the apologist quote ALL of Exodus 21:20-21 (including the part where God says that slaves are the property of slaveholders)?
If the apologist does not quote the entirety of the passage you need to ask yourself why. If the apologist does not address the very clear approval that God gives for the notion that a person can belong, as property, to another person, you have to ask yourself why this apologist is avoiding this very real issue.
The article that you directed me to DOES mention EX 21:20 and it quotes it. But it conveniently leaves of Ex 21:21: “But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” This is a very difficult passage to handle for an apologist since it suggests that beating a slave to death is morally permissible so long as the slave does not die immediately. That is pretty tough to swallow and many apologist (who are otherwise very rational and intelligent) prefer to ignore it.
No matter what other forms of slavery the Hebrews practice and no matter how different the particular form of slavery they practiced was from American slavery, the fact remains that God is quoted as saying that one human being can belong to another AND (more damningly) that it is acceptable to beat slaves to death.
Suffice it to say that I was unimpressed with your meta-ethical efforts. I will address them in a future post.
“There is absolutely NOTHING in the Hebrew Bible that claims that only convinced criminals can be slaves.”
You are correct that “slaves” weren’t just criminals. But given the connotations of Hebrew slavery that doesn’t bother me. My point was slavery, in our sense, isn’t necessarely wrong.
“But it conveniently leaves of Ex 21:21: “But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.”
In light of the multiple verses containing the same Hebrew structure on how we should treat one another it I shouldn’t throw everything out because of this one aspect. But I do agree with you that I cannot either ignore this aspect. I’ll get back to you…
1st A slave is equal in judicial status than a free person. Judges allowed discipline by physical punishment for freemen and slaves as well, the interesting thing is how a slave and freeperson were judicially treated similarly. For instance if two men quarrel and one is confined to bed the one who struck the blow was responsible for paying for the injury by compensating for the loss of time and medical expenses. If a slaveowner does the same to his slave, because he is his ‘property-ksph(silver)’, he will pay for loss of time and medical expenses out of his own wallet, for the slave will not be able to work and this is loss of silver for the master. They refer to ‘property’ in the sense that the slaveowner owns the persons economic gain. They are not referred to as property in the sense of one being superior in any other status. That is if a man must treat a slave equally with a freeperson, for in the eyes of God all are made in his image. Israel had a system of one law for all, regardless of faith or national origin, in other words Hebrews had an absolute requirement of justice for all without respect of persons. No Hebrew citizen was allowed to exploit strangers and likewise the government could not exploit people. The judge was to look at all laws and determine the punishment from various case laws and God’s outlook on the Hebrew people. For instance, Ex. 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33, and Deut 10:17-19 all say something much like : “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for y were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The prophets also warn against oppression, (Jer. 7:6-7; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5). The Exodus case law of 21:21 was an event where the judge saw fit to see the slave would not grant freedom and not punish the slaveowner for the quarrel. The judge was supposed to look at all aspects of the law and determine just punishment, Exodus 21:21 is just one case law but must be seen in the eyes of the other caselaws. If the slave-owner oppressed the slave and the judge saw fit, the judge would release the slave of such cruelty. Let us also mention a slave, in many cases, can decide on his own terms if he is in a situation that is unwarranted. If a slave runs away by Hebrew law it is forbidden to return them to their slaveowner. Many commentaries have said they were also not allowed to be put into slavery again, however I have to read more on this last point. Considering my local library is the size of my closet it takes over a month to get a book through inter-library loans. Kinda ironic considering John Updike lwas born and raised one block from this crappy library. You also mentioned a slave-owner can beat their slave to death. A judge can also sentence the slave-owner to death for doing such an act.
I just started reading “The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus”-by James Jordan. You can read it for free on the Internet and it does a good job explaining the judicial aspect of Hebrew society. Jordan explains how Harris and others cut/paste arguments of the Old Testament don’t fly. On the side I am interested to see a response on why slavery is objectively wrong from an atheist perspective.
Dumb question - is the debate about whether the Bible endorses slavery about showing that the Bible was written by human hands and not divine hands? Seems to me that if we regarded the Bible as a cultural artifact and not a set of instructions from a supernatural being, we wouldn’t need to have the slavery debate.
I would consider this argument to be a construction based on rampant generalization and misunderstanding of the typical atheist mindset.
Is it a misunderstaning of the non-typical atheist mindset?
“Why, from an atheist perspective, is slavery repugnant? Because it acknowledges a bestowable status of inequality for a demographic of people, because it is unnecessary, and because it is socially harmful to a cultural identity.”
So? My wool sweater is itching my neck and I need a cotton shirt. I’m not going out there to pick the cotton and I certainly would rather pay little to nothing for that cotton shirt.