In response to a recent post of mine, Brain Fry (BF from here on out) provided some sites that he felt could explain some of the issues I’d taken against certain biblical content.
I will begin with a site which BF seems to think clarifies controversial verses regarding slavery (e.g. Ephesians 6:5, Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:20-21).
As expected, the source is a Christian – as opposed to a neutral, purely academic – based site. While the author does indeed present his piece to be vigorously researched, it is nothing more than an exhaustively spewed belittling of human suffering from the vantage point of a privileged spectator who is grasping at straws and playing games of semantics to defend his religion. The gist of the piece is that there are different types of “slavery” – the “real” slavery being what we Americans are most familiar with – and anything that isn’t essentially identical to the most extreme sort is not actually “slavery”.
’Slavery’ is a very relative word in our time period, and we have to be very carefully in no [sic] auto-associating it with more 'vivid' New World examples.” [emphasis original]
Now, before I go more in depth, I feel we should look at some of the verses I featured and consider their appropriate context in hopes of ascertaining their proper meaning.
I hope that all can see what convenient and strategic advantage a verse such as the following could have served – even in the case of New World Transatlantic “real” slavery:
Tell slaves always to please their owners by obeying them in everything. Slaves must not talk back to their owners or steal from them. They must be completely honest and trustworthy. Then everyone will show great respect for what is taught about God our Savior. (Tit 2:9-10 CEV)
This is pretty straightforward (no matter the bible version chosen). As I said in my original piece, Christianity is the religion
The word translated here as “slave” is the Greek δοῦλος (doulos; Strong’s G1401), which does indeed have both literal and figurative connotations; although I feel it safe to deduce the tense used is quite literal.
The word translated here as “owner” is the Greek δεσπότης (despotēs; Strong’s G1203) – from which “despot” is derived – meaning “master” or “Lord”. Once again the intended meaning here is clear.
Death is the punishment for beating to death any of your slaves. However, if the slave lives a few days after the beating, you are not to be punished. After all, you have already lost the services of that slave who was your property.
(Exo 21:20-21 CEV)
Wow, what a shining example of morality (the author of BF’s source describes this passage as “unparalleled in its humanitarian considerations”. I’m not making this stuff up.)! Notice the time restraint of “a few days”, implying death thereafter. (This verse will be dealt with more thoroughly toward the end of this post.)
The word translated as “slave” here is עבד (‛ebed; Strong’s H5650), meaning “slave”, “servant”, “subject”. An instruction this vile really can’t be defended, regardless of word choice, but it is clear that slavery is implied, as is demonstrated by the parallel with “property”.
To be absolutely sure we a clear in our understanding that the bible is describing situations in which human beings own their fellow humans:
If you want slaves, buy them from other nations or from the foreigners who live in your own country, and make them your property. You can own them, and even leave them to your children when you die, but do not make slaves of your own people or be cruel to them. (Lev 25:44-46 CEV)
Buying humans as property that can be inherited? Sounds like slavery to me. (The page BF referenced actually stoops to measures as pitiful as highlighting that the term “buy” was used as opposed to “take”. Seriously. But I’ll address that page later.) This segment is of greater importance because it differentiates between “foreigners” and Hebrew people, and paid servants and slaves (dealt with in the previous five verses).
The translations used are:
“Slaves” – עבד (‛ebed; Strong’s H5650), see above, and אמה ('âmâh; Strong’s H519) meaning “maid-servant”, “female slave”, “concubine” (the original distinguishes between the sexes in this particular verse) as opposed to שׂכיר (śâkîyr; Strong’s H7916), meaning “hired laborer”.
“Property” – אחזּה ('ăchûzzâh; Strong’s H272), meaning “something seized, that is, a possession”. (This – with the inclusion of “seized” – is especially interesting in light of the “buy not take” defense. In fact, the word translated as “buy” is היה (hâyâh; Strong’s H1961), meaning “come to pass”, which is rather neutral in its precision of method.)
Now I will proceed with the site prescribed by our Christian apologist friend (in other words, y’all impatient folk can go now).
First, since it is such a “fuzzy” term (yup, that’s his too):
slave n. 1. One bound in servitude as the property of a person or household. [Source: The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition]
Second, my argument is mainly aimed at fundamentalist (literalist) Christians who believe the bible to be Holy Scriptures which are inerrant, infallible, and God-breathed – a God who is perfect, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
Now, with that out of the way…
The page starts with a quote from an email the author, Glenn M. Miller (henceforth GMM) received, which suggests we look at the bible “as an accommodated and historical revelation” and states:
“Paul danced around the topic of manumission but never made it an explicit directive”
Now, for those who aren’t up to date, Paul had (supposedly) received a vision of Jesus and was delivering messages that were directly revealed to him from God. A god who wanted to be absolutely positive that we knew, beyond a doubt, how exactly to construct the Tabernacle (spent roughly FOUR CHAPTERS on these instructions) and made sure we were well aware that we shouldn’t wear clothing made of mixed fabrics (Deu 22:11), but who – oops! – forgot to mention that owning other human beings was not really a good thing to do (must have slipped his – omniscient – mind).
It then posits that Paul may not have done so for “a number of reasons” including not wanting the “the gospel (to) appear too radical”. Radical? This being a book that tells us that, along with God, a guy named Jesus is wandering around in Heaven after he was crucified for all of mankind’s sins. Too radical?!
From here GMM goes into his spiel about there being different sorts of slavery:
Scholars do not agree on a definition of “slavery.” The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semivoluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. Somewhere within this range, the literal meaning of “slavery” shifts into metaphorical meaning, but it is not entirely clear at what point.
So, which of these “slaveries” would YOU prefer, BF (and GMM)? Keeping in mind that, as made clear further along in the piece, by:
- “bride-price marriage” GMM alludes to the practice of fathers selling their brides to a husband – with no regard whatsoever of the daughter’s wishes.
- “child adoption for payment” involves selling your child to pay off debt, the end result being that your child is an owned servant (i.e. SLAVE); NOT another addition to a happy family
- “paid-for surrogate motherhood” explains the practice of those who, like Abraham, purchased women – concubines – for the sole purpose of bearing children (but I’m sure that the men had absolutely NO pleasure whatsoever in the actual act. Sex slaves don’t have it bad at all.)
- What the hell, exactly, is “’semivoluntary’ prostitution”?!
GMM then lays out a framework of what should actually be referred to as “slavery”:
Motive: Slavery was motivated by the economic advantage of the elite
Entry: Slavery was overwhelmingly involuntary. Humans were captured by force and sold via slave-traders
Treatment: Slaves were frequently mistreated by modern standards, and punishments were extreme
Treatment: As a matter of course, slaves lived in radical separation from their owners and did not participate in many of the ‘benefits’ of the owners’ fortunes.
Legal Status: Slaves were considered ‘property’ in exclusion to their humanity. That is, to fire a bullet into a slave was like firing a bullet into a pumpkin, not like firing a bullet into a human. There were no legal or ethical demands upon owners’ as to how they treated their ‘property’. Other than with the occasional benevolent master, only economic value was a main deterrent to abusive treatment.
Legal Status: Slaves could not have their own property – all they had belonged to their ‘owner’.
Exit : Slavery was forever. There were never any means of obtaining freedom stipulated in the arrangement. In the cases of an owner granting freedom, it was generally a ‘bare bones’ release – no property went with the freedman.
(I should note that these strict guidelines) did not apply in whole to most cases of slavery here in the West.)
So, if you bought a human being, had him/her as your property forever, maintained ownership of his/her spouse and/or children, passed these humans along as inheritance, and beat (“disciplined”) them to the point of death – as long as that death was not immediate – BUT this individual, say, owned property or lived in your house…then, well, gosh, that’s not slavery!!
May I note here, for BF, that, as another Christian site quotes from the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (under “slavery”):
The one thing which is alike…is that it is ‘the ownership of one man by another man so that the former was viewed in most respects as property rather than as a person. It was a deeply rooted part of the economy of the ancient near east’
That, sir, is slavery.
May I also bring to your attention that in Lev 25:42 we are reminded that the Hebrews were once enslaved in Egypt, and because of this, they are not allowed to be enslaved by fellow Israelites. If this ANE (Ancient Near East) slavery is so wonderful, the why was the Lord demanding “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1; 8:1; 9:1,13; 10:3,4)? (As an aside, good luck finding evidence supporting the fact that Israelites were even in Egypt, much less as slaves in the great numbers purported in Exodus.)
One of the main sources GMM uses to build his “case” is a two volume work entitled History of Ancient Near Eastern Law. Throughout his quotes from this work, reference is made to many ANE nations, including the Assyrians in Assur and in Anatolia, Emar, Canaan, Neo-Sumerian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hittite, Persian, and “other Oriental rulers,” but curiously missing from the great bulk of these quotes is, you guessed it, the Hebrews. To make up for this, GMM himself follows up with “The same, of course, can be said of Israel”. Of course it can.
GMM expends quite a bit of effort trying to explain that a portion of the slavery in these times was voluntary – in that, to pay a debt or avoid poverty, a person would offer one’s self for sale – and places much emphasis on differentiating voluntary – for the economic purpose of the one sold – from involuntary – for the economic purpose of the purchaser – slavery.
Now, while I will concede that this does indeed constitute a difference, I am awaiting an argument for the morality of such a situation. GMM asserts that such indentured servants were actually protected by their masters from poverty and other dangers (this isn’t the only time he enlists the aid of the despicable “slaves should be gracious to their masters” argument), but I fail to see humanitarian aid coming in the form of “congratulations, you get to be my unpaid servant and property!” Ultimately this matters not, as this exact form of servitude also existed in the New World along side “proper” slavery (he actually calls it proper), JUST AS IT DID IN OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL.
(On a side note, during this segment we find this gem:
But God is a realist (Deut 15.11!); hence He made a wide range of provisions in the Law for the poor.
God? A realist? This is too hilarious to bother explaining why.)
He also heavily stresses the fact that servants were set free after six years and all of the other bountiful, wonderful examples of the Israelites “liberal attitudes” toward slavery. Let us not forget that, although these aren’t exactly perfect examples of philanthropy, most only applied to fellow Hebrews!
I predict that many Christians will play the trusty old “the Law was harsh and strict before the grace of the salvation of Jesus” card, so I am ready to trump it with the “Paul – the great champion of antinomianism (faith over law or works) – fully supports and promotes slavery in the New Testament!” card. As does Jesus! Go fish.
The bottom line is that amongst all the illustrations that many forms of servitude existed that can be “slavery-like” (again, his terminology), none of them are morally acceptable if one has the least bit of empathy or compassion for his/her fellow humans, and there still exist quotes such as:
“…war/violence was NOT a major source of ‘real’ slaves in the ANE (nor OT).”
“Even chattel slaves appear to have benefited to some extent from this protection”
So, apparently there were, in fact, “real” chattel slaves! So, what exactly was your point?
From here I tire of this redundant, jumbling, meandering, putrid, disgusting article, and I will now highlight some of the more repugnant attempts at an argument that are made (before finally focusing on Exodus 21:20-21)…
GMM reminds us that he himself is “called to be a ‘slave to Christ’”; “the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, David, Solomon and other kings are regularly called slaves of Yahweh”; when “addressing Moses and prophets, the Israelites called themselves their slaves”; and that “kings, emperors, and commoners alike were ‘slaves’ of the gods”.
Come on now. Is he honestly going somewhere with this, or is it a cloud of chaff intended to mislead us? It is blatantly clear that the particular verses I invoke in my criticism of the bible on the basis of slavery are NOT utilizing the term in this manner. This is a pitiful display of misdirection.
GMM argues the “relativity” of the words “slavery” and “freedom”.
GMM tries weaseling the way out of Lev 25:44 “in which the verbs are of ‘acquisition’ and not ‘take’ or ‘conquer’ etc.” This, as I showed earlier, is not only revolting, but also flat out fallacious.
“(T)he Israelites were…allowed to ‘buy’ (not take!) slaves from foreign nations around them…”
Oh, goody – although, this would also excuse most all those “real” slave-owners in the New World.
More fun with semantics – of Lev 25:46 (“You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life…”) he clarifies:
…it should be noted that the passage says that they “can” make them slaves for life - not that they “were automatically” slaves for life. [emphasis original]
What a guy.
In a truly repugnant, vile display of desperation (and another attempt at sleight of hand), GMM endeavors to emphasize the horrors of the Islamic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades vs. the New World transatlantic [read: CHRISTIAN] trade by citing Britannica :
“African slave owners demanded primarily women and children for labour and lineage incorporation and tended to kill males because they were troublesome and likely to flee. The transatlantic trade, on the other hand, demanded primarily adult males for labour and thus saved from certain death many adult males who otherwise would have been slaughtered outright by their African captors.” [emphasis mine]
Well, thank goodness for those white, European, Christian slave traders! If it wasn’t for them, instead of nefariously and violently being forced completely against their will into an inhumanly demeaning, abhorrently reprehensible servitude (IF they survived the horrors of the Middle Passage), those West Africans may have been killed by the (colored) Islamic slave traders. In East Africa. Several_thousand_miles_away.
This is as sickening as it is ludicrous.
In another frantic grasp for straws, GMM blesses us with these bits of complete impertinence:
We have already noted that in New World slavery at least two-thirds of plantation slaves would have lived in barracks (field-slaves), and not in intimacy with owners (domestics), whereas in the ANE/OT, the vast majority of the slaves were domestics under the same roof. In the ANE/OT, we don’t have the ‘gangs’ of agricultural workers… [emphasis original]
He then provides the quotes:
“there is no indication, for example, that large gangs of them were toiling in deplorable conditions to cultivate big estates” [emphasis original]
“Both types (Hebrew, foreign slaves) were domestic slaves living in their owners’ homes, not members of slave gangs working on plantations.
Oh, sure - they were property, but heck, they lived in the house!
Now, was either the geography OR economy of ancient Israel conducive to the formation of plantations for agricultural work? He has plummeted to the level of resurrecting the old “field nigger/house nigger” debate (let’s not sugarcoat this; and while speaking of language, I personally find it quite interesting that, even when referring to slaves, the imagery and word association of “gangs” and groups of black people is still prevalent – here from three different sources).
One of the many references to indentured servants:
“…many slaves in ancient societies...were more secure and economically better off than the mass of the free poor…It was not unknown for free men to sell themselves into slavery to escape poverty and debt…”
So why weren’t all of these free poor selling themselves? Why, then, were there any free poor, if slavery was such a better option and improved condition? Were they not hip to this hustle?
“ALL servants were required to take the Sabbath day off – just like the masters.”
YIPEE!!! That makes it allllll better!! What was I thinking? Why, this isn’t slavery at all!
GMM decides to tackle Exodus 21:7-11:
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are. If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her...
He attempts to explain this away as the customary practice of fathers charging a dowry for their daughters (as if this practice is at all defensible):
This mohar was once thought of…as a ‘bride price’, but more recently it is understood as a ‘bride-present’ (since sometimes the bride got to keep it herself…
Oh, how good for her! I'm sure that, once
He then adds:
this ‘selling’ isn’t real slavery – it’s very, very different from ‘regular’ slavery transactions [emphasis original]
Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class [emphasis original]
Wonder if anybody asked the daughters.
He then sets his brilliant grasp of Christian ethics around Exodus 21:2-4:
When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment. If he came single, he shall leave single; if he had a wife, his wife shall leave with him. If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone. [emphasis mine]
He tries, I’ll assume with a straight face, to explain away this “Single in, Married during, Single out” clause thusly:
“The wife is obviously a servant too; This means that the owner paid for the servant girl himself; Now, normally, this male servant would have to pay the…bride-price…for the wife, but he obviously doesn’t have such resources in his circumstances. This means one of two things: (1) the bride-price must be paid after his release; or (2) the marriage is not a ‘real’ one but a siring (like concubines sometimes functioned) to help populate the household”
“We know the latter (#2, ‘siring only’) situations occurred, and typically did NOT generate the emotional/commitment attachments of a real marriage [probably difficult to generate in a relationship whose average duration would have been 36 months (half of 6 years), most months of which would have been spent in pregnancy/nursing (‘children’)]:”
“‘no matrimonial or emotional bond was necessarily involved’…So, this should not be a serious issue for us.”
WTF?! How very, very sad. Need I remind you this is all mere speculation. Nevertheless, if I believed in souls, I’d swear this man has none.
But don’t be depressed!
And if the servant shall plainly say, 'I love my master, my wife, and my sons. I do not want to go out free,' his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door or to the door-post. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him forever. (Exo 21:5-6 MKJV) [emphasis mine]
Captain Cold-Hearted Bastard to the rescue:
But, in case emotional bonds WERE created with the wife/kids…“he could invoke the clause of ‘permanent servitude’ and stay forever in that situation (with security, familiarity, family)” [emphasis original]
Finally, we will deal with the issue of Exodus 21:20-21, starting with verse 20:
“If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished” (Ex 21.20, NIV)
“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod, and he dies there and then, he must be avenged” (JPS Tanach translation)
“If a man shall strike his slave or his maidservant with the rod and he shall die under his hand, he shall surely be avenged.” (Stone Edition Tanach translation) [emphasis original]
GMM comments that "If a master beat a slave and the slave died, the master was held accountable under the 'life for life' clause", and invokes this as proof of the Hebrew's uncanny regard for the right's of slaves, adding that:
It no more 'authorizes' a master to abuse a slave, than it 'authorizes' a Hebrew to bash his fellow's head with a rock, knocking him unconscious for a day or so!
Using his poetic license to full advantage, GMM takes quite a liberty here: there are many levels of abuse leading up to bludgeoning skulls, that, while possibly not quite as severe, are nonetheless abuse. Also, being KO'd for "a day or so" belittles the obviously stated fate of the slave, as seen in Exodus 21:21:
but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property" [emphasis original]
(Here we go with the "property" again - which completely ends the whole "is slavery allowed by God" debate, by the way. Here, GMM attempts to make light of even this, stating that "property" here is actually a mistranslation of the Hebrew כּסף (keseph: Strong's H3701), meaning - literally - "silver"; money (although the "normal" word for "property" is, in fact, used as a biblical description for humans in other instances). I'll assume his argument here is that money implies value - as if property doesn't. The truth is even more bestial, since this means that not only is the slave property, s/he is an investment - a cash cow, if you will.)
This clearly implies that if the slave "lingers" BEFORE finally "succumbing", as in dying. Permanet death, or temporary loss of conciousness?...hmmm. Nope, not the same.
How does eventual death merit less severe punishment than immediate death?
"under his hand," in contrast to "a day or two" in verse 21. The direct, immediate, causal relationship between the master's act and the death of the slave is undisputed. The master has unlawfully used deadly force, and homicidal intent is assumed.
"Should the beaten slave linger more than a day before succumbing, certain new and mitigating circumstances arise. The direct, causal relationship between the master's conduct and the slave's death is now in doubt, for there may have been some unknown intermediate cause. The intent of the master appears less likely to have been homicidal and more likely to have been disciplinary. He is given the benefit of the doubt, especially since he is losing his financial investment, the price of the slave." [emphasis mine]
"Since the slave did not die immediately as a result of this act of using the rod...but tarried for "a day or two"...the master was given the benefit of the doubt; he was judged to have struck the slave with disciplinary and not homicidal intentions. [emphasis original]
Maybe the slave got really sick after the flogging. Perhaps s/he had a stroke. God may have reached down and smote the slave. Who knows? Give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Hmpf. I have a sneaking suspicion that the slaves weren't given such benefits.
To futher illustrate exactly how "absolutely anti-abuse" (he really said that) these instructions are, GMM offers up Exodus 21:26-27...
"If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.
True, this does seem, as he ironically notes, "oddly humanitarian", and he ensures us it demonstrates that:
…in the OT, there was a huge 'disincentive' to strike one's slave in the face!...Facial blows were considered culpable.”
So all of those images of slaves whose backs were ravished with the keloidal roadmap of "discipline's" course aren't so bad afterall! Rather your flesh ripped from muscle (foot amputated, skin branded, etc.) than your tooth get knocked out!
Never ceasing to exceed the limits of mercilessness, GMM adds insult to injury, remorselessly joking:
And the above prescription is also instructive, in comparison to today: whereas typical insurance programs will pay 50% of maximum disability for 'loss of a single eye', they pay nothing for the loss of a tooth…(smile).
That's right: fuck the Emancipation Proclamation, give us better dental!
Ultimately, GMM requests we go back a few verses, to Exodus 21:18-19, to get a proper context so we can see this proclamation for what it trully is:
If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. [emphasis original]
This, GMM posits, plainly shows that:
If two people fight but no one dies, the aggressor is punished by having to 'retributively' pay...for the victim's lost economic time and medical expenses. If it is a person's slave and this occurs, there is no (additional) economic payment -- the lost productivity and medical expenses of the wounded servant are (punitive economic) loss alone. There was no other punishment for the actual damage done to the free-person in 18-19, and the slave seems to be treated in the same fashion. Thus, the 'property' attribute doesn't seem to suggest any real difference in ethical treatment of injury against a servant. [emphasis original]
He then provides a nifty little graph and concludes:
It should be obvious that the 'slave' in this case is raised to at least as high a level as is the Free-brew!
Yes, he said "Freebrew". And then implied that the slave gets better treatment (early claims of reverse discrimination?).
Now, it may be me, but our author really seems to be missing something here -- the point. The victim in the first situation was recompensed, but what of the slave? This is being looked at solely from the perspective of the transgressor! Seriously, what he is saying is that if you beat the shit out of a free man, you have to pay - out of your pocket - for medical bills and lost wages, and if you kick your slaves ass, while not out of pocket costs, you still also have to pay - in terms of the slave's lost productivity. Either way, you, the aggressor, are (financially) punished! As he himself highlights in a quote:
"When this law (20-21) is considered alongside the law in vv. 26-27, which acted to control brutality against slaves at the point where it hurt the master, viz., his pocketbook"
There - we're even. All fair and square: the aggressors is punished and pays up, the free victim gets retribution, and the slave...hmmm...the slave got a beat down.
Where's the slave's compensation? This is precisely the point of my original post: due to the rewarded emphasis on rejection of reason, and conditioned result of closed-mindedness recieved from religion - slavery is in fact biblically defended (OT and NT), and was abolitionists were most vehementally opposed by Christians using scripture as their weapon of justification - we live in a society that accepted, practiced, and justified ownership of human beings. Due to this religiously inspired irrationality, coupled with all of the other biblical examples of inhumane activity and revealed sense of entitlement, a horrendously barbaric practice was deemed socially acceptable and a group of our fellow wo/men was dehumanized. This allowed for continued oppression even after manumission. The legacy of this continuous brainfucking gives us a society in which a seemingly educated man (both BF and GMM) can have a ridiculously blind sense of true morality. As a direct result of religious faith - and as further demonstrated in GMM's "defense" - in the Western, modern world, “slave” and “black” are synonymous. Just as was so vividly demonstrated during the Hurricane Katrina disater, white man (master)’s property is worth more than black (slave) life.