Re: Biblical Slavery for Foreigners

TL;DR

  • A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law: Volume 1 edited by Raymond Westbrook is available for free at the Internet Archive. Brill is asking $460 for both volumes. As far as I know Internet Archive is not hosting the book illegally.
  • A definition of slavery is hard to come by because, in my opinion, there are degrees of freedom. Depending on the definition of slavery and the circumstances, it is not clear that all forms of slavery are always wrong. Could it at times be the least evil option?
  • Exodus 21:16 forbids kidnapping people and making them slaves.
  • Deuteronomy 23:15-16 appears to make slavery in ancient Israel a voluntary institution.
  • The following are my comments from this thread, which has reach the point of diminishing returns. Perhaps someone will find them interesting, useful, or thought-provoking.

Many Christian apologists will not accept the idea that biblical slavery in the Old Testament was indeed slavery.

You make it sound like there is one, and only one, kind of slavery. But your source says (p. 40):

Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for “slave” in all the region’s languages illustrates. “Slave” could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his “slaves,” even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the “slave” of his emperor; kings, emperors, and commoners alike were “slaves” of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as “your slave.” There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf, or human pledge.

A better criterion for a legal definition of slavery is its property aspect, since persons were recognized as a category of property that might be owned by private individuals. A slave was therefore a person to whom the law of property applied rather than family or contract law. Even this definition is not wholly exclusive, since family and contract law occasionally intruded upon the rules of ownership. Furthermore, the relationship between master and slave was subject to legal restrictions based on the humanity of the slave and concerns of social justice.”

They think it was all voluntary indentured servitude, or something link it.

Your source states (p. 1007):

A slave could also be freed by running away. According to Deuteronomy, a runaway slave is not to be returned to its master. He should be sheltered if he wishes or allowed to go free, and he must not be taken advantage of (Deut. 23:16–17). This provision is strikingly different from the laws of slavery in the surrounding nations and is explained as due to Israel’s own history as slaves. It would have the effect of turning slavery into a voluntary institution.

Here’s a quote from A History Of Ancient Near Eastern Law on slavery

You’re quote is from the introduction of a book that covers three millenia of history from a wide geographical area. It is not addressing biblical law in particular.

The foreigner, by contrast, could be enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force, unless protected by the local ruler or given resident alien status.

Exodus 21:16 prescribes the death penalty for a man who kidnaps a man and sells him. Speaking of Israel, your source says, “Foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth” (p. 1004).


I’m aware of that. That says nothing about how there were people who were actual slaves in the way we normally use the term, and people who “could be enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force,” were actual slaves. This is a vain attempt by you to deny or ignore that real deal slavery that existed in the ANE and that it was condoned by Yahweh.

If you are aware that there are different kinds of slavery then you should not speak about “real slaves” or anachronistically assert that biblical slavery was little different from slavery in the antebellum South. It’s also intellectually dishonest to re-use the phrase from the introduction (“could be enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force”) when the phrase from the chapter on Israel omits kidnapping and force.

Well of course a slave could get freedom by running away, that’s no shocker. But again, this applies to Hebrew slaves, not foreign slaves.

The “shocker” is that a runaway slave should not be returned, which effectively turned slavery into a voluntary institution. On what basis do you hold that Deuteronomy 23:15-16 (“If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.”) applies only to Hebrew slaves?

On the page right before that (1006) it says: “4.5.4.6 Foreign slaves bought from the surrounding nations or from foreigners living in Israel do not go out: they are inherited as property (Lev. 25:44-46).” Slavery for foreigners was life long, not temporary indentured servitude.

Leviticus 25 merely notes that foreign slaves were not freed in the Jubilee Year. It does not say a foreign slave could never be freed.

That applies to Hebrew slaves, not foreigners. 4.5.2.2 from p. 1004 affirms that.

How is Exodus 21:16 (“Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.”) restricted to slaves, let alone Hebrew slaves? The quote from 4.5.2.2 does not mention the kidnapping of slaves.

You’re doing exactly what this post is about: Christians denying that the Bible had real slavery and pretending it was all voluntary indentured servitude.

I never said all forms of slavery in the Bible are forms of voluntary indentured servitude.


Foreigners could be “enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force”, but not Israelites, so you’re being dishonest or ignorant by not understanding this difference.

Why is it so difficult for you to distinguish between the two quotes?

Introduction: “The foreigner, by contrast, could be enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force.”

Chapter on Israel: “Foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth.”

Are you unable to see that kidnapping and force are not mentioned in the chapter on Israel?

It says nothing about foreign slaves held by Israelites who escape. It refers to foreign slaves held by other nations who escape to Israel. Thom Stark comments: “The “you” here is the Israelite people, not the individual Israelite. Look at v. 4, for instance: “. . . because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” The “you” here is the same as the “you” in v. 15. It refers to Israel as a singular entity. Thus, “Escape to you” means “come to the land of Israel for refuge.” So, no, this mandate did not apply to slaves already owned by Israelites.”

Stark’s argument fails. First, eleven verses separate v. 4 from v. 15. The topic changes from the assembly (vv. 1-8), to uncleanness in the camp (vv. 9-14), and then to miscellaneous laws (vv. 15-25). It need not be the case that the “you” referenced in v. 4 is identical to the “you” referenced in v. 15.

Second, he seems to be taking an either/or approach instead of a both/and approach. In other words, he seems to think that a law applies to Israel or to an individual Israelite. In fact, the law applies both to Israel and to each individual Israelite. Verses 12-13, concerning relieving oneself outside the camp, clearly apply to individuals (unless you think each and every Israelite went to the bathroom at the exact same time).

Third, he just tries to tell us what the Hebrew words must really mean because the words themselves don’t actually agree with Stark’s interpretation. Christopher J. H. Wright notes: “So starkly different is this law that some scholars think it can have applied only to foreign slaves seeking asylum in Israel. The law does not state that” (p. 336 of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God).

Yes it does! 4.5.2.2 says “Foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth.” That clearly shows a distinction between foreign slaves and Israelite slaves.

First, you ignored my request to explain why Exodus 21:16 is restricted to Hebrew slaves. Second, your quote does not mention kidnapping. Being captured in war is not the same as kidnapping.

Do you acknowledge that some forms of slavery condoned in the Bible are forced, involuntary servitude – what we normally think of as slavery?

The short answer is yes (with the caveat that you could flee). The long answer is that there does not seem to be a universally agreed upon definition of slavery. When we Americans think of slavery, we usually think of slavery as it existed in the antebellum South. But this was not the kind of slavery that existed in ancient Israel.


I’m not interested in a long debate over the meaning of “you” in this Bible verse, the bottom line is that slavery for foreigners in Israel was not voluntary indentured servitude.

You’re the one who started that argument. The bottom line is that even foreign slaves could flee from their masters to gain freedom.

Someone captured in war has had their power taken away by military defeat. They are taken as slaves by force because they have no choice. It is the same thing as being kidnapped.

Going to war is a choice with known risks. This is quite different from going about your business peacefully and being taken by force. You might as well tell me that becoming a prisoner of war is the same thing as being thrown into an unmarked van as you walk down the street.

First, black slaves in the south could flee – to the north. That’s what the underground railroad was for.

Various fugitive slave laws called for the return of escaped slaves. Those who assisted runaway slaves may have been committing a crime. Even free blacks from the north might be kidnapped and sold into slavery. The underground railroad helped escaped slaves avoid pursuers who could legally recapture the slaves. Canada, when slavery was abolished there, was a safer destination than the northern states for slaves to settle (all else being equal).

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, modern-day Israel is smaller than the state of New York. I’m guessing ancient Israel at its largest would still fit inside the state (and many others). According to biblical law, a slave could escape within this relatively small geographical area. Slave catchers could not kidnap him and the place he settled was not to return him. So obtaining freedom in ancient Israel was much easier than in the antebellum South.

Second, slavery does not have to be exactly like it was in the American South to be slavery.

I agree as far as that goes. But each kind of slavery should be viewed on its own terms. To view slavery in ancient Israel through the prism of slavery in the antebellum South is to distort your understanding of slavery in ancient Israel. There were multiple kinds of slavery in ancient Israel itself.

I know theists like to stress that it was different as if that means it was morally OK, it doesn’t.

You’re begging the question. If you want to claim that all forms of slavery are morally wrong then you need to start with a definition of slavery. I think that will be a difficult task because there is no clear dividing line between freedom and slavery. You also need to consider how circumstances from today might be different from circumstances in the past.

Third, as Stark notes in his book, slavery in the OT was in many ways just like slavery in the south. Slavery for foreigners in Israel was very similar to slavery to black people in the South. You need to stop denying this.

You haven’t quoted that portion of Stark’s book. I could agree with some vague statement like: “Slavery in the antebellum South had some points in common with slavery in ancient Israel.” I can’t agree with your statements that “slavery for foreigners in Israel was very similar to slavery to black people in the South” or that biblical slavery was “little different from the kind we had in the antebellum South.”


I don’t understand how that says anything helpful in your favor. Any slave could escape to freedom. The OT does not clearly say that foreign slaves owned by Israelites were given freedom if they escaped and stayed in Israel.

As noted earlier, the law “would have the effect of turning slavery into a voluntary institution” (p. 1007 of A History Of Ancient Near Eastern Law). Deuteronomy 23:15 mentions “a slave” and, since a foreign slave owned by Israelites is “a slave”, the OT is clear that said slave could escape and live freely in Israel.

Sometimes people are forced into war, it is not always a choice. If someone forces you into war and you lose and become their slave as a result by force, it is little different from being thrown into an unmarked van as you walk down the street.

The key point is that Israelites could not kidnap and enslave foreigners in peace time (this includes non-Israelites living within the land of Israel).

So? The Bible condones lifelong slavery for foreigners in Israel and even says that the treatments that apply to Israelite slaves do not apply to foreign slaves.

So it was relatively easy to gain freedom in ancient Israel if you wanted it.

The Bible also says it is unlawful and against god to disobey a master as in 1 Peter 2:18 – “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”

Peter is addressing slaves in the Roman Empire, not ancient Israel. Peter is quite aware that slave masters can be perverse (2:18) and cause their slaves to suffer unjustly (2:19) so he is not saying a master is always acting in obedience to God. He is telling his readers to revere God, not their masters, in order to find favor with God (2:19). “If you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God” (2:20). Note that it does not condone doing evil if the master asks it because obedience to God trumps obedience to the master.

Would you have preferred Peter tell slaves to disobey their masters? Paul Achtemeier explains the consequences of that approach (1 Peter, p. 195):

“Yet any attempt to carry out a social revolution in terms of eliminating the practice of slavery would have had terrible consequences, resulting in the slaves’ crucifixion and the extermination of the Christian community. To live in the Roman world, slaves had to continue to subordinate themselves to their masters, however unjust the master and unfair the social institution of slavery. Yet it was precisely that situation that made slaves paradigmatic for the status of all Christians within Greco-Roman society, and let the author to address these exhortations to that particular class of Christians.”

Sure, for foreign slaves who escaped to Israel, not for foreign slaves held by Israelites.

I’ve already rebutted your argument for that conclusion. You claimed you weren’t interested in that debate and now you’re just reasserting your conclusion. Make up your mind.

I generally use the common definition of a slave, which is a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another, by force and against their will. This definition would cover slaves in the antebellum South and foreign slaves in ancient Israel.

What does it mean to be the property of another? Does it add anything to the definition of a slave that isn’t covered by “wholly subject to another”?

And foreign slaves in Israel were not wholly subject to their masters. For example, the master could not kill the slave. You can try to modify your definition to something other than “wholly subject to another” but then there’s the large gray area between subject to no one and partially subject to another.

I’m only trying to say that the form of slavery in in the antebellum South and foreign slaves in ancient Israel were very similar and morally wrong.

What, on your view, makes it wrong? What if all your options are sub-optimal? Suppose your options after winning a war were: (1) release the enemy so it can wage war later; (2) annihilate the enemy; (3) enslave the enemy.

What they had in common outweighs what they didn’t. Both slavery in the antebellum South and foreign slaves in ancient Israel was lifelong, could legally involve cruel treatment, was forced against the person’s will, involved the slave as inherited property, and had an ethnic component to it. Those to me are quite abhorrent conditions, clearly immoral, and totally incompatible with omnibenevolence.

Slavery in ancient Israel was lifelong only if the slave did not escape. Forms of cruel treatment were outlawed and could result in the freeing of the slave. The only way an Israelite started the enslavement of a foreigner was through winning a war (a purchased slave was already a slave before he came to Israel). This is not an ethnic matter. A resident alien could be the same ethnicity as a foreign warrior but he could not be enslaved on that basis. Even when you try to show similarities you overlook the differences.


Even if true, Israelite law allows for slavery that was lifelong, could legally involve cruel treatment, was forced against the person’s will, involved the slave as inherited property, and had an ethnic component to it.

If true? Exodus 21:16 outlaws kidnapping. You’ve given no reason to restrict that law to Hebrew slaves.

That’s not clear. All the Israelites had to do was make it such that foreign slaves were treated exactly like Israelite slaves if they wanted to prevent cruel treatment, and lifelong servitude.

Why would a mortal enemy be treated the same way as an ally?

He’s saying that god wants slaves to submit to their masters, even the cruel ones, and that doesn’t mean escaping.

If escape would mean death then it would be bad advice. Paul tells slaves “if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Corinthians 7:21). The NT authors were well aware that slavery was a bad position to be in. They needed to offer practical advice.

Yeah. I’d prefer Peter not condone slavery at all, as I would all the rest of the writers of the Bible.

That’s a yes, I would have liked Peter to tell slaves to disobey their masters and be slaughtered? Giving practical advice to a slave is not the same as condoning the Roman institution of slavery. By calling some slave masters perverse and unjust it’s clear Peter is not condoning the institution.

I don’t find this argument that god had to compromise persuasive, especially since Christians always claim that their early followers were prepared to die for what they believed.

If, say, a slave master asked the slave to commit sexual immorality then, because the slave serves God not the master, she could disobey such a command and face the punishment. That doesn’t mean the slave should disobey every command.

It also admits that Christianity has sub-optimal morality.

Christianity teaches that we live in a fallen world so it is not surprising that tough moral decisions will have to be made. If your morality doesn’t work in a sub-optimal world then what good is it in this world?

You’ve offered another view, that’s not a rebuttal. It makes no sense for the Israelites to specify that foreign slaves can be treated cruel, and serve for life, but that they can escape and never be forced to into slavery again. Those verses makes much better sense if they applied to foreign slaved who escaped to Israel.

I showed why Stark’s argument failed. Your new argument could be applied to Hebrew slaves. Why specify that a Hebrew could become a slave if he could just escape? It’s as if the OT laws undermine the institution of slavery, is it not?

Well in both the antebellum South and in ancient Israel, slaves were property of their owners and property laws applied to their treatment and status. Slaves are their owner’s “money.”

An ancient Israelite could buy wood and destroy it in a fire, but he could not buy a slave and destroy it in a fire, so slaves were not treated the same way as property nor did they have the same status. Perhaps you could salvage this definition by saying a slave could be bought, sold, or traded.

They could beat them cruelly and within an inch of their life, so long as they do not die with in a day or two.

That would still mean they were not wholly subject to their masters so that part of your definition has to go.

Concerning Exodus 21:20-21, the rabbis restricted the “rod” to an implement that does not normally have lethal potentiality and restricted the strikes to parts of the body that were not particularly vulnerable (Nahum Sarna, Exodus, p. 124). The Hebrew verb behind “survives” (md) refers to standing up. As in verse 19, an erect posture and the ability to walk constitutes evidence of good health. Exodus 21:26-27 states that if a master destroys a slave’s eye or tooth the slave shall go free.

Don’t wage war at all. Remember the Israelites were the aggressors in the OT with the Canaanites, because they wanted their land.

The Israelites were not always the aggressors. So how would you answer the question?

Beatings, and a totally loss of dignity were allowed. The OT even specifies that foreign slaves need not be treated as “humanely” as Israelite slaves.

Which passage do you have in mind? I believe it speaks to the kind of work to be done, not the punishments meted out.

You forgot that foreign slaves can be born into lifelong slavery, as one of the ways they can be acquired was by birth, so your wrong there.

Which biblical passage says a foreign slave can be acquired by birth?

And also, for Israelite slaves, if their master gives them a wife, their kids belong to the master, and they must choose in their 7th year to give up their wife and kids and go free, or be their master’s slave for life and keep their wife and kids. This is emotional blackmail.

He does not have to “give up” his wife and kids. His wife and kids just don’t go free until their terms of service are up. Concerning Exodus 21:4, Douglas Stuart writes (Exodus, p. 479-480):

“Does this mean that the wife and children stayed as slaves/servants for the rest of their lives? Not at all. If a servant wanted his wife and children to go free also, he seems to have had three main options: (a) He could simply wait for them all to finish their terms of service, while he himself worked somewhere else. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that he either could not live with his family or would have to pay for his own room and board at his former boss’s farm. (b) He could find a good job somewhere and earn enough money to pay his former boss to get his wife and children out of their contractual obligation. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that it would have been difficult to find any job that would allow him to earn enough money to support himself and at the same time accumulate the sort of wealth that would cover the cost of compensating a boss for several years’ worth of the labor of several full-time workers, which is what the wife and children represented to the boss. (c) He could agree to continue to work permanently for his boss. The disadvantage of this latter arrangement is that it would keep him a contract employee for the rest of his life. The advantage is that it would allow him to stay with his family, all of whom would have their basic needs met as well as having the spendable income they earned through the terms of their contracts and all of whom would have reasonably stable financial circumstances during their lifetimes. The attractiveness of such an arrangement on balance is presumably one factor that underlies the following law about the option of voluntary permanent service.”


That law only applied to Hebrews. As Stark notes:

I note that Stark provides no argument and no biblical citations. It’s just assertion.

It’s not practical advise, it’s condoning slavery. The writers of the Bible had plenty of time to espouse views that the institution of slavery itself was morally abominable, and they could have done that while still telling slaves to obey their masters.

Since Peter was condemning certain slave masters at the very time he was telling slaves to obey their masters it is strange that you see this as condoning slavery.

Where does it say that in the Bible?

Pretty much the entire Bible is about serving God above all else.

You didn’t actually show why Stark’s argument failed.

You’re going to have to actually address my points if you want this to fly.

They had virtually no autonomy. Wholly subject can mean anything that has to do with them while they are alive.

The point still stands that slave masters could not do anything they wanted with foreign slaves. You’ll have to modify your definition to something like “partially subject to another” but that’s too ambiguous.

The ox goring laws in Exodus 21:30-32 show that a slaves life was much less valuable than a free person’s.

That’s what it might appear like on first blush, but Douglas Stuart notes (Exodus, p. 497-498):

“A servant who was gored by a bull was presumably doing what his master told him to do by command. Typically, a servant told to work with or around a bull did not have the same freedom of independent decision making that someone else might have, and thus the servant’s master had to share some of the responsibility for the servant’s death with the owner of the bull that did the goring. This means that the owner of the bull was not as guilty in such a case as if the bull simply gored someone who happened to be walking along near its owner’s property. The law in this case then provided a severe penalty (thirty shekels of silver and the loss of the bull) to its owner but did not assume that he alone was fully responsible for the death of the servant. Naturally, the judges would have been free to impose the death penalty if it were decided that, for example, the bull’s owner had intentionally let a goring bull loose against someone’s servant who was, say, simply delivering a message to the bull’s owner from his employer. That would be a case of murder, and that would make the status of the servant irrelevant.”

Now onto your question, if, as you claim, Israelite law made it so that the enslaved could just run away and be giving freedom, then your whole tri-chotomy makes no sense. If my choices are (1) release the enemy so it can wage war later; (2) annihilate the enemy; (3) enslave the enemy, then option (3) combined with your claim that slaves could just run away basically leads to (1). Would you agree with this?

It’s a possibility, but it’s also a possibility that the foreigners will stay in Israel for some period of time and their hatred of the Israelites will lessen. The point is that it is not as obvious as we may think that slavery is always wrong.

Lev 25:44-46

OK, as I thought that refers to the kind of labor (John E. Hartley, Leviticus, p. 441), not the kind of punishment. Job, a foreigner (1:3), expects God to judge him if his mistreats his slaves: “If I have disregarded the right of my male servants or my female servants when they disputed with me, then what will I do when God confronts me in judgment; when he intervenes, how will I respond to him? Did not the one who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us in the womb?” (Job 31:13-15).

Leviticus 25:44-46 says “Also, you may get children as slaves if they come from the families of the foreigners living in your land. These child slaves will belong to you. You may even pass these foreign slaves on to your children after you die so that they will belong to them. They will be your slaves forever.”

Your translation uses the ambiguous “get”. Other translations make it clear that the children can be bought, implying they were already slaves or being sold into slavery by their poor parents. It does not say they were slaves from birth.

Where does it say in Exodus that the 7-year law applied to women? What “terms of service” is Stuart referring to here? I see none.

Most of the laws of the Torah use the male pronoun but apply to both males and females. Hence, Exodus 21:1-6 is not restricted to males. Exodus 21:7-11 concerns a father selling his daughter to become the wife of the master or the master’s son. The “terms of service” are simply what ever terms the master and slave agree to.


No. Jesus even said you have duties to government and duties to god, and that you can do both. There is nothing that says slaves do not have to obey their masters when it comes to sex.

Yes, you normally can obey God and the government but this is not always the case. Jesus states that the greatest commandment is love of God and that involves following his commandments. If the commands of God contradict the commands of a slave master then you follow the commands of God.

As I just mentioned, you even try to argue that it is necessary to subdue a “mortal enemy” from waging war later by making them slaves for life. Yet you say the law also says that they can escape without punishment anytime they want – which will allow them to wage war later. That makes no sense. This would make better sense if Deut was talking about foreign slaves escaping to Israel.

The enslavement of enemies was one example to show how it is not obvious that slavery is always wrong. I think Deuteronomy 23:15 applies to any slave. It would also allow foreign slaves not captured in war (e.g., purchased) to escape. The passage should not be interpreted in light of just one hypothetical, it undermines all forms of slavery.

Wholly subject to another person does not have to include being able to legally kill them.

I think it does. Once you start allowing exceptions like this where do you draw the line between wholly subject and partially subject?

Stuart provides no argument and no biblical citations. It’s just assertion.

He provides relevant historical context. Recall that normally killing a slave would be murder so clearly the slave was not less valuable than a free person. There must be something special about the ox goring case and Stuart provides historical information to explain it.

Your view that slaves could just walk away unpunished makes no sense given your own hypothetical scenario, which you seem to say requires either slaughtering the enemy or enslaving them for life to prevent them from killing you later. It would be like putting criminals in prison, and then allowing them to run away whenever they want with no penalty. Do you really think Yahweh is that stupid?

This isn’t about what God would do, it’s about what humans should do in difficult situations. If you think the situation you envision is going to happen, why wouldn’t you kill your enemy or make sure he can’t escape?

Then why even make it a point that you don’t have to treat foreign slaves with the same concern as Israelite slaves? If god really wanted to make this easy for you, he could have easliy done so.

You’re making it difficult for yourself. It is not a matter of “concern” so much as a matter of the kind of labor a foreigner could be put to.

If you’re capturing someone, either by kidnapping or war, and the slave women is pregnant, her child when born is property of her master, and he can sell the child whenever he wants. This was the fate of some foreign slaves in ancient Israel.

Then I’ll have to ask again for the biblical passage you have in mind because the one you provided last time doesn’t say this.

That’s nonsense.

I’ve explained the two passages (Exodus 21:1-6 and Exodus 21:7-11) to you.


I haven’t read anything in the Bible about that.

Really? You can’t think of anywhere in the Bible that stresses obedience to God over obedience to man?

The laws about how and when a master kills his slave do not change the notion of being wholly owned much. It’s the only exception.

But it isn’t the only exception. A master cannot seriously injure a slave. A master cannot make his slave work on the Sabbath. Your definition of slavery is entirely ad hoc.

The fact that the penalty for an ox killing a slave vs. a free person shows the slave’s life is less valuable.

No it doesn’t since, if the life of a free person was more valuable than the life of a slave, a master who killed a slave would not be charged with murder.

but let’s remember that the Israelites were the aggressors with the Canaanites.

If you’re referring to the conquest under Joshua I believe the Canaanites were either killed or expelled from the land, not enslaved.

Lev 25:44-46 allows for the scenario I described.

The passage does not say the child of a slave woman is the slave of the master forever.

First, he continues to ignore the very next verse (v. 7), which states clearly that a female slave “shall not go out” on the seventh year as the male slaves do.

Stark is a bungler. Verses 8-10 indicate that the father sold the daughter to another for the purpose of marriage. This is not just any female slave. It is a particular kind of transaction. Nahum Sarna (Exodus, p. 120) explains at length:

“The Hebrew term amah, used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The following laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation.

“In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. Documents recording legal arrangements of this kind have survived from Nuzi. The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her. A breach of faith gains her her freedom, and the master receives no compensation for the purchase price.

“Rabbinic interpretation restricted the power of the father to dispose of his daughter in this way. He could do so only so long as she was a minor, that is, below the age of twelve years and a day, and then only if he was utterly destitute. She could not sell herself into slavery nor could she be sold by a court as an insolvent thief, as could a male, in order to make restitution for the stolen articles. Further, she could not be designated to be the wife of the master or his son without her knowledge.

“The status of the amah in biblical times is demonstrated in practice through the discovery of a preexilic epitaph of a royal steward from the village of Siloam outside Jerusalem. The inscription mentions his amah, and it is clear that he arranged to be buried next to her. Another discovery is the seal of “Alyah the amah of Hananel,” who obviously enjoyed superior social rank. In like vein, an extant Babylonian document mentions a slave girl of a married couple who is described as both the assat, “wife,” of the husband and the amat of the wife.”

If this was just a “contractual arrangement,” as Copan incessantly characterizes the situation, why was a whole lifetime of service necessary in order to remain with his wife?

But the text doesn’t say a lifetime of service was necessary. With its if clause, verse 6 merely describes one possibility open to the male slave.

Wait, the children belong to the master? I thought they were just along for the ride until the wife finished her contract! No, the text plainly says that the children are the master’s slaves too.

Yes, the master is required to provide for the basic needs of the children too. Would Stark have preferred the children be separated from their mother?


I can think of a view places where it says slaves have to obey their master, but none where it says slaves can refuse to do anything their master tells them that they think is sinful, especially foreign slaves who are not fully subject to the Bible’s laws for Israelites.

The greatest commandment (to love God) takes precedence over all other commandments. You don’t need an explicit commandment to tell slaves not to obey their masters if the masters tell them to disobey God. And you’re now taking an NT statement and applying it to the OT. Two different kinds of slavery are in view.

No it isn’t. A master could seriously injure a slave, just not kill him within a few days. As for working on the Sabbath, that applied to everyone under Mosaic law.

Both those statements don’t change the fact that there are now at least three exceptions to your definition of slavery. Either your definition of slavery is wrong or “real” slavery didn’t exist in ancient Israel.

Then why the money difference?

That was already explained in the quote I provided on the law.

“When the Israelites grew stronger, they forced the Canaanites to work as slaves, but they never did drive them out of the land.” Judges 1:28

Fair point. Sometimes, when they failed to kill or expel the Canaanites, they enslaved them.

Are you fucking kidding me. Verse 7 specifies selling of the daughter as a servant, verse 9 says “If” the master selects her for his son to be his wife, that indicates the verse 7 is referring to something different from a marriage. And the whole scenario we’re talking about is if a master gives his male slave a female wife, so this is definitely not a case where “The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son.” Utter nonsense.

Exodus 21:2-6 and Exodus 21:7-11 are two separate laws. Verses 7-11 have nothing to do with a master giving his male slave a female wife.

And you didn’t address anything Stark talks about directly. He’s not a bungler. Your view makes no sense of the text itself. Did you even read the Stark quote?

I did address it. I quoted three parts of it.

Yeah it is option c in your quote from Stuart, which makes no sense whatsoever if female slaves were to only serve 6 years as the males do. Face it dude, you’re wrong here.

If there are two other options then option (c) is not necessary. Simple logic shows Stark to be wrong. And Stuart explains how it makes sense.

No, he’d prefer the children to go free with the freed male slave as any normal person would do.

By “normal person” you mean a 21st century American with little knowledge of the harsh realities of ancient life. Keeping the child with the mother would guarantee the child had shelter and food (and its mother’s milk if it had not been weened). The freed male slave would be able to get his feet on the ground without having the additional responsibility of caring for his child. Remember, this is a man who seven years earlier had to sell himself into slavery because of debt.


Would that apply to foreign slaves in the OT?

Should a foreign slave living in OT times obey God instead of his master if it comes to that? Yes.

Forced lifelong labor and servitude existed in ancient Israel. If that’s not real slavery I don’t know what is. It certainly was not all indentured servitude. This is all perfectly compatible with my definition of slavery or any common definition.

Your definition requires that the slave be wholly subject to another. You need to change “wholly” to something else. Welcome to the gray area.

It says nothing about the penalty for an ox killing someone else’s slave who happened to be walking by.

It supplies an explanation for the difference in penalty between the two cases whereas your claim does not.

I’m not talking about Exodus 21:2-6, I’m talking about your previous inability to see that in Exodus 21:7-11, verse 7 is not talking about selling a daughter into marriage because verse 9 mentions that scenario, saying “If” the father wants to give the servant to his son. That indicates that verse 7 is not talking about a sale for marriage. Do you acknowledge Stark’s view now?

Verse 8 explains that the father could marry the woman. My quote from Sarna shows how similar language was used in the ANE and how it was interpreted in rabbinic tradition. So, no, I still think Stark is wrong.

Do you acknowledge that female Israelite slaves serve for life according to Exodus?

Of course not. Exodus 21:11 provides an example.

How can I make a coherent sense of your views? I can’t.

Because you’re a poor reader. Ex 21:2-6: An Israelite could be an indentured servant for seven years. Ex 21:7-11: A father could sell his daughter into a marriage.

And even if he can’t, there is no reason why he should have to serve his master for life if he wants to stay with his wife and kids.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the Bible does not say he has to do this. It is but one option. Believe it or not, some people in the ancient world preferred to be lifelong slaves instead of freemen because it was a better existence.

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