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11/8/09

Does the Bible and its God Condone Slavery?

With regards to slavery in the Bible and the claims of biblical defense of slavery it is no surprise that Evilbible.com offered their two shekels on this subject.

Let us consider every statement made in their page Slavery in the Bible which begins thusly:
Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do. Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves.

Let us note from the outset that while it is asserted that “Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do” evilbible.com, being written from an atheist perspective, offers no premise upon which to condemn murder, slavery, the beating of slaves, sex with the female slaves or anything at all since they employ the term “immoral” but do not define it nor premised it upon any ethical foundation whatsoever.
The only premise upon which they assert any condemnation at all is an argument from outrage. They condemn strictly based on the fact that they personally prefer to condemn. As has been noted in my various considerations of the contents of evilbible.com (found here) their arguments from outrage are often accompanied by arguments to ridicule, arguments to embarrass, etc. but no arguments premised upon scholarly integrity or an overarching ethos.
Now, this is not merely an arbitrary observation: since they do not, or cannot, provide an absolute standard upon which to condemn slavery why should we reject the Bible and its God due to slavery (even granting evilbile.com misconception of the issue)? But let us go on and consider this rightly emotive and complex issue.

Let us proceed and see if they deliver upon their assertions about slavery in the Bible:
Many Jews and Christians will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants. Many translations of the Bible use the word "servant", "bondservant", or "manservant" instead of "slave" to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is. While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn't mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock.

Note the assertion; many translations replace “slave” for other words “to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is.” But from what does this follow? It could very well be, as it is, that the reason is that context determines meaning and so various translations are grammatically warranted particularly when different words are employed—as we shall see. This is one of evilbible.com’s tactics: poison the well. Having begun by asserting that the Bible and its God command and condone slavery and the mistreatment of slaves it is being further asserted that a sort of conspiracy is afoot which seeks to hide behind terms that are less emotive than “slave.” This is not evidence, it is a mere assertion of conspiracy.

Evilbible.com goes on to state:
The following passage shows that slaves are clearly property to be bought and sold like livestock.
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

Something to be aware of is that the author of evilible.com appears to change the translation from which they quote according to which one they perceive will make their point juicier (in this case they quote everything from the NLT with the exception of one from the NAB).

Note that the relevant passages from Leviticus 25, namely vv. 39-55, make reference to and distinguish between a “slave” or “bondservant” (`ebed) and a “yearly hired servant” or “hired servant” (sakiyr).
Within the text an explanation is given, via a correlation, as to why the slaves bought from the Gentiles were to be permanent (unless they are mistreated such as having even one single tooth knocked out Exodus 21: 26-27 in which case they were to be let go).
Verse 55 reads,
For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Thus, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to serve Him, the Israelites could free Gentiles from Gentile nations to serve them. It seems rather odd to correlate freedom with servitude yet: they, both the Israelites with Egypt and the Gentiles with their nations, were being liberated from malevolence and would now enjoy benevolence. In Israel, Gentile slaves were afforded virtually unheard of rights and privileges.

An important text to note with regards to the concept of freedom for servitude is that engaging upon the manner in which we think of slavery—basically; kidnapping people—was punishable by death,
He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death (Exodus 21:16).

Evilbible.com continues:
The following passage describes how the Hebrew slaves are to be treated.
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.' If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

Evilbible.com provided a commentary to this text which reads:
Notice how they can get a male Hebrew slave to become a permanent slave by keeping his wife and children hostage until he says he wants to become a permanent slave. What kind of family values are these?

Notice the distinctions that are being made between: 1) someone who married afterward 2) someone who was married before and 3) someone who engages upon an arranged marriage via the master. Is this a case of taking hostages? No.
The reason for the distinction is clear if, as in 2), a man was married before he had been financially responsible for the care of his wife. However, if, as in 1) and 3), he was married afterward then his master has been financially responsible for the wife (and children). This means that the man would seek employment elsewhere while the wife and children would continue working for their goods, food and housing as they, and where they, have been.

Now, why would a Kunta Kinte love his master? He would not. But why does the slave in the text say that “I love my master”? Aha! He does not! He is actually saying, “I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.” Thus, he is obviously being coerced and is just pretending to love his master to not be torn away from his family. Yet, such an interpretation is reading anti-biblical prejudice into the text. Clearly, he is happy where he is; working with his family, or for his family, for his goods, housing and food. And that is the point: instead of working for money and then purchasing goods, housing and food he is working directly for goods, housing and food.

Evilbible.com goes on:
The following passage describes the sickening practice of sex slavery. How can anyone think it is moral to sell your own daughter as a sex slave?
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

This is what I meant about emotive arguments form outrage as this is described a “sickening practice.” In any regard, I already dealt with this issue in detail in my essay Atheism, the Bible, Rape and EvilBible.com, part 2 of 6. Thus, here I will merely note that the text is clear and very different from the assertion that this constitutes a “sex slave.”

Above I noted a difference between a slave/bondservant (`ebed) and a yearly hired servant/hired servant (sakiyr). In this case, while the NLT translated all of these as “slave,” we encounter another word, another concept, this is a maidservant (`amah).

It must be understood that the historical, cultural and overall grammatical context is that someone in financial woe could go into servitude as a mode of employment. In this case a man is having his daughter become a maid. Yet, a lot more is involved and absolutely none of it has to do with sex, slavery and most certainly not with sex slavery. Simply read the text quoted by evilbible.com whilst ignoring what evilbible.com wants you to think about it:

She is to be a maid for six years or be freed at any time if she is not doing a good job.
The homeowner is not allowed to break the contract with her.
He is not allowed to sell her but may let her go.
I know that this is quaint by today’s standards (which have devolved) but back in the day virginity was a virtue and was actually verified prior to marriage. If a marriage was arranged—note: marriage and not sex slave—her status changed from maid to member of the family.
If—note: if—she married—note: marriage and not sex slave—but the homeowner also took another wife she was not to be neglected in any way.
If—note: if—he does neglect her in any way she was not bound to remain there either as a maid or as a wife.
No sex (except after marriage), no slavery and no sex slavery at all is envisaged, except for in the troubled mind of evilible.com’s author. Just consider the commentary on this text,
So these are the Bible family values! A man can buy as many sex slaves as he wants as long as he feeds them, clothes them, and screws them!

Yet, as we saw in the very text which is quoted there is no sexual slavery and in fact no fornication at all but only the implied copulation after marriage.

Evilbible.com further states:
What does the Bible say about beating slaves? It says you can beat both male and female slaves with a rod so hard that as long as they don't die right away you are cleared of any wrong doing.

When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

Since I have dealt with this text in the essay Does God Command You to Beat Your Slaves? I will merely note that of the fourteen translations which I checked ten state “if” and four “when” (NAB, YNG, RSV, ESV). The NLT from which evilbible.com quotes all of the other texts states “if” and so it appears that they thought “when” was more damning—it actually is not when we consider the context. Having researched this issue, and having a basic understanding of hermeneutic; how to determine context and perform exegesis versus eisegesis (or isogesis) I know that “if” or “when” do not make a difference to the text even thought evilbible.com’s author seems to think that it does.

It seems as if “When a man strikes…” is taken to mean “Since God is commanding you to strike…” but the chapter in which the statement occurs—which begins by stating, “These are the rules you shall lay before them”—presents various hypothetical scenarios and offer their legal ramifications. The whole chapter consists of; if someone does this then that will be the ramification—or when someone does this then that will be the ramification.

The NAB peppers whens and ifs thought the chapter:
“When…If…if…if…if…If…When…if…If…If…If…when…When…When…If…When…if…When…If…When…if…If…if…When…When…if…When…”

Evilbible.com’s author states that what the Bible says about beating slaves is that “you can” but it lays out the consequences for if and when it occurs and does not state that you can—not “you can beat” but “if one beats” or “when one beats.” The law in the USA may read, “When one person murders another the ramifications are…” this does not mean approbation—it is not a prescription but a description, the only prescription in the text is the ramification.

Evilbible.com goes on to state:
You would think that Jesus and the New Testament would have a different view of slavery, but slavery is still approved of in the New Testament, as the following passages show.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

Since we are now dealing with Greek let us note that we are dealing with doulos a servant, a bondman. We are again dealing with people who found themselves in financial difficulties so that they made themselves servants in order to subsist. As in certain cases that we have already considered; this amounts to working directly for goods, housing and food instead of working for money or working to pay off a debt.
Moreover, the message of the texts is readily discernable: no matter the circumstances in which you find yourself you can always find a way to behave in a Christian manner—serve them sincerely, respectfully, you have no excuse for being disrespectful and you should even work all the harder.

Evilbible.com also asserts:
In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn't know they were doing anything wrong.
The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given." (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

Firstly, note that, as admitted, Jesus was speaking in a parabolic manner thus, references to cultural norms are to be taken parabolically. I may find myself in Mexico telling a parable which plays upon the concept of cock fighting because the reference would be culturally recognized—this would not amount to an approbation. It must also be noted that the cultural norms are those of Rome and not Israel.

In the first case the servant is “severely punished” due to the fact that “he knew his duty, he refused to do it.” In the second case the issue is what we enlightened modern people living in first world countries still believe, which is that ignorance of the law is no excuse—this does not stand up in any modern court.

Speaking of beatings; just what had the parabolic servant done? He had been left in charge of the household while the owner was away and took it upon himself to “beat the male and female servants, and…be drunk.”

Overall, we have yet again encountered evilbile.com dealing out condemnation without foundation or even definition. We have seen that they attempt to talk the reader into forcing the texts, the Bible, and God, to state that they do not state. And we have seen even more examples of evilbile.com’s misunderstandings, misapplications and misreadings of the Bible whilst exhibiting a lack of knowledge of the Bible’s contents, concepts and contexts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For further reading on this issue please see the following:

Defending the Bible’s Position on Slavery

As well as, “...Does God condone slavery in the Bible?” in two parts:
Intro and OT discussion
The issue of ‘slavery’ in the NT/Apostolic world (esp. Paul)

8 comments:

  1. Atheism is dead, huh? From the look of all these zero-comment, zero-reaction entries, it appears that it is your blog, not atheism, that is dead. Hilarious.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unless you know the statistics of visitors, how can you tell if the blog is dead? Would it ever be correct to say that about a blog which is updated regularly? Does your comment not count as a reaction? And what exactly is hilarious about it? Truly strange entry you came up with, anonymous person.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Indeed. It would appear as though atheists can't help themselves when it comes to helping keep this site alive and commenting!

    signed "that anonymous troll" ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. What an amazing waste of time trying to understand the "context" of the biblical text and motivation of a group of slave holders. God is imaginary so this type of "analysis" and word parsing is ridiculous.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow I must admit this is a well tailored argument for a difficult issue and stares down the whole very sad argument from evil bible.com with excellence. Nor do they really do a good job of defending themselves. After all if:

    "What an amazing waste of time trying to understand the "context" of the biblical text and motivation of a group of slave holders. God is imaginary so this type of "analysis" and word parsing is ridiculous."

    -is an exceptable academic defence, would not all people be worth a phd in theology regardless of their understanding?

    signed "friend of that anonymous troll"

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hypothetically there may be 101 legitimate
    & challenging skeptical critiques of the authenticity of the Bible. Evilbible dot com isn't ANY OF THEM!

    Those people are incompetent fundies without belief in god(s). They display all the vices of religious fundies but practically NONE of their virtues. Most likely they are teenagers who haven't even finished high school.

    Let me restate my point in stronger terms. Hypothetically even if God does not exist Evilbible.com objectively speaking contains some of the stupidest uneducated & incompetent polemics ever written. The whole website is the Atheist equivalent of Ray Comfort's banana argument.

    Yikes!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This post has answered some very real questions I have had. Thank you for taking the time to write this. And I thank God for speaking to me through you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. do you want something more evil than a god that command two people with distinct body parts to have sex with each other?
    the grotesqueness of sexual dimorphism is an abomination to the pure spirits.be free from the devil schemes.
    your apologetics only shows how putrid your mind and soul is.you are an entity of darkness.

    ReplyDelete