Yes, Biblical Slavery Was the Same as American Slavery

I’d like to respond to two posts about biblical slavery from Jim Wallace of the Cold Case Christianity blog. I’ve argued several times before against Wallace (here, here, and here).

Let me begin with a positive comment on his “Four Differences Between New Testament Servitude and New World Slavery.” Many Christian apologies for biblical slavery avoid the most unpleasant passages in the Bible, such as the part about slavery for life in Leviticus 25:44–6, but Wallace’s list of relevant Bible verses is fairly complete.

That’s a good start, but he argues toward an odd conclusion:

The New Testament Servitude of the Ancient Near East had little in common with the New World Slavery of our American ancestors.

Wallace tries unsuccessfully to distinguish slavery as it was practiced in the Old Testament from that practiced in the Thirteen Colonies and then the United States (I’ll call this “America”). Let’s take a look at his four claims.

“1. A Difference In the Motive Behind Slavery.”

Wallace tells us that slavery in America was for the economic gain of the masters, while in ancient Israel, “the primary motive for slavery was often the economic relief of the servant.”

First, let’s disentangle the different kinds of slavery. In America there were two kinds. An indentured servant was typically a European who came to America to work for another European. Masters paid for their servants’ passage, and they provided food, clothes, and training. In return, the servants were typically obliged to work for four to five years. Roughly half of the European immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies came as indentured servants.

The other kind, of course, was chattel slavery where the slave and any children were owned for their lives and were property that could be bought or sold. Here, Americans enslaved non-Europeans, typically from West Africa.

The Bible documents the very same practices: Hebrews owning Hebrew slaves for roughly six years (indentured servitude) and Hebrews owning non-Hebrews for life (chattel slavery).

Let’s return to Wallace’s characterization of Hebrew slavery. He’s right that slavery as an institution in America benefitted the masters. Obviously, the same was true in Old Testament Israel—why else would it have lasted? It wasn’t an obligation that Hebrew masters took on reluctantly, only as a service to the community. Wallace gives Old Testament (OT) slavery a pro-servant spin, but the verse he cites (Lev. 25:35–7) is not about slaves.

Wallace is also right that OT slavery addressed financial issues. Ditto American indentured servitude. He’s not off to a good start in making a distinction between American indentured servitude and OT slavery of fellow Hebrews.

“2. A Difference As to How People Entered Into Slavery.”

Wallace finds several different types of indentured servants in the OT and imagines that these illustrate important differences when compared with American indentured servants.

  • “Voluntary Temporary Indentured Hebrew Servants.” These were just like American indentured servants.
  • “Voluntary Permanent Hebrew Servants.” Suppose one indentured servant married another. What do you do if the man has completed his term, but his wife and children must remain with the master? If you’re thinking that the Bible recommends the master compassionately permit the wife and children to leave as well, you’re giving the Bible too much credit. No, the Bible says that the man could opt to remain, but only as a permanent slave. I know of no parallel with the American concept of indentured servitude (which is not a plus for the biblical position).
  • “Involuntary Hebrew and Gentile Criminals in Restitution.” Thieves must make restitution for their crimes. If they can’t, they will be sold as slaves. Perhaps there were cases like this in America.
  • “Permanent Pagan Servants.” These are slaves for life taken from surrounding tribes and from the non-Hebrews living in Israel. Wallace tries to dilute this by arguing that Israelites still couldn’t kidnap and sell people into slavery (Exodus 21:16), but the NET Bible says that this refers only to the kidnapping of fellow Israelites and selling them into slavery (like Joseph, sold by his brothers).

The trick here is to make sure that you understand what kind of slavery a particular Bible passage is referring to. In these categories, American and OT slavery are matched step for step.

“3. A Difference In How People Were Treated Once They Were Slaves.”

Wallace says, “Slaves were treated humanely and their treatment was regulated by Biblical law.”

  • The Bible dictates that slaves could rest on the Sabbath and celebrate religious holidays, and slaves could adopt their masters’ religion. Conditions in America were similar, and Christianity was an important tool in keeping slaves in line.
  • The Bible holds masters accountable for fair treatment of slaves. For example, beating is allowed but only up to a point. Conditions in American were similar. For example, the 1739 South Carolina code limited the number of hours that slaves could be made to work and fined anyone who killed a slave £700. The 1833 Alabama law code dictated, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

“4. A Difference In How People Freed Themselves From Slavery.”

Wallace argues that there were more ways for OT slaves to free themselves than in America.

  • Someone could pay the debt of an indentured servant, or they could do it themselves.
  • The indentured servant could complete his term of service.
  • A slave could be freed if injured from a beating (it’s unclear which kind of slave this refers to).

How is this different from conditions in America? In addition, slaves in America sometimes bought their freedom, which the Bible doesn’t address.

Let me again give Jim Wallace credit for giving a fairly thorough list of Bible verses on the subject at hand. But Jim, tell me the truth. Are you a Poe? You let the Bible speak for itself, and it does: it documents a 2500-year-old version of American slavery. The two are almost identical, point by point.

That’s why it’s hard to understand Wallace’s conclusion:

While it is clear that the ancient Israelites did possess slaves, it is also clear the reason for their possession, the manner in which they were treated, and the manner in which they could be released was very different from the institution of slavery in more recent times in Europe and America. . . .  It is unfair to say that the God of the Bible supports the institution of slavery as we understand it in more modern times. That version of slavery had little in common with the version of servitude in Biblical times.

No, the God of the Bible supported a form of slavery basically indistinguishable from that practiced in America.

The United States didn’t get its founding principles from the Bible—principles such as democracy, secular government, separation of powers, and a limited executive; freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly; protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy; speedy and public trial, trial by jury, and the right to confront witnesses; and no cruel and unusual punishment.

But one trait that it got almost identical to the biblical version was slavery.

To be concluded in part 2.

This government of God was tried in the U.S.
when slavery was regarded as a divine institution.
The pulpit of that day
defended the buying and selling of women and babies.
The mouths of the slave-traders
were filled with passages of Scripture,
defending and upholding traffic in human flesh.
Robert Green Ingersoll

.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/25/14.)

Image via Cesar Rojas Iribarren, CC license

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Norman Parron

    Too bad time travel is not real, Wallace would be welcome to go back and live the wonderful life of a buyBull slave! Bet he wants back here real fast!!!
    Don’t care what Wallace says, I’ve read the book o’BS and he’s full of it!

  • Bob Jase

    And then there is the other biblical slavery where persons worship three dogs as one in the hope of becoming an unquestioning, constantly-praising slave to a petty tyrannical deity for eternity.

  • Ctharrot

    1. Antebellum writers in the South would’ve found Wallace’s argument absurd, and they identified copious scriptural justifications for slavery’s perpetuation. Rev. George Dod Armstrong’s The Christian Doctrine of Slavery is one of the more prominent examples.

    2. To anyone interested in a comparative and practical analysis of the slave codes of the ancient Hebrews and other peoples of the era, I’d recommend Raymond Westbrook’s Slave and Master in Ancient Near East Law. Fascinating stuff.

    • Kit Hadley-Day

      they where not true christians obviously /snark

  • Priya Lynn

    Thank you for this. I often encounter biblical apologists who dishonestly assert that slavery in the bible was all a nice and kindly version of slavery.

  • Halbe

    Christian™ responses:

    Slavery was a fact of life back then, and an economic necessity. The Biblical rules were a yuge improvement for the slaves!

    So, the best and only way for the omnibenevolent Creator of the Universe™ to deal with slavery was to put some limits on how long and hard you may beat your slaves!? Doesn’t sound all that omnipotent to me, but whatever.

    The american slave owners were No True Christians™! The Bible condemns that kind of slavery.

    Uhm, no, bagpipes are useless here. This argument would be a lot stronger if the inerrant and infallible Word of God™ had contained the words “Slavery: Bad!”. Instead it says: “Slavery: OK! (terms and conditions may apply)”.

    • Joe

      This was when the omnibenevolent Creator of the Universe™ was in contact much more frequently than today. He even walked among them and talked directly to them. You don’t think he could have given a few pointers to his chosen people on basic economics?

      • Halbe

        Yes, ùnfortunately He was too busy with Genocide 101 and Misogyny 101, so there was no time left for Economics 101 and Germ Theory 101.

    • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

      And the limits were just “Don’t beat the slaves to death” (well, it’s ok if they linger for THREE days before dying). Which really shouldn’t be necessary. A rational slaveowner isn’t going to beat his slaves to death. It will cost him money to replace that slave..

      • epicurus

        I think it was Roman senator Cato (the elder) who would kill his slaves when they got too old or sick to work – anyone know what the fate of American slaves were when they got too old? Somehow I can’t see them just being allowed to sit in the rocking chair on the front porch idling away their final years.

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          Good point.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          You don’t continue to house a broken machine, waste of good money (working on the assumption that slaves are not real people which you must do to have them)

        • Carol Lynn

          If someone was not the ‘benevolent slave owner’ of myth and legend who would keep old/broken slaves around out of altruism, they could sell their old and/or broken slaves on for whatever they could get and let someone else have their upkeep. Killing them was certainly unnecessary and wasteful of resources.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          You would need one of those mythical benevolent slave owners to buy up all the unproductive slaves, if you couldn’t sell them then disposing of them was the only option. If i can sell my car for scrap then bonus, if i can’t i want to get rid of it in the cheapest way possible.

        • Greg G.

          If i can sell my car for scrap then bonus, if i can’t i want to get rid of it in the cheapest way possible.

          Where I came from, folks would just put the car up on cinder blocks until they got the money to fix it up.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          That assumes it is reparable, and a slaves life is hard enough with out putting him up on blocks against the possibility of getting better. I think this analogy may be being pushed a little far

        • Greg G.

          That assumes it is reparable

          Not necessarily. It’s an Appalachian thing.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          seems like an odd way to store broken cars, but each to their own I suppose. But I am from UK where we have less space and more rain so i guess it never caught on over here

        • Carol Lynn

          I wouldn’t think they’d need to be bought by benevolent slave owners, just owners who were more willing to get every ounce of value out of them no matter what the methods. Presumably if you sold off your less productive slaves, you could think well of yourself as it was not you who was working them too hard. “I’m sure your mammy will be taken care of by her new owners,” says the slave owner to the field hands…

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          true, but this still ends up with someone running a ‘Knackers Yard; for slaves, who works them to death and then turns them into pies or fertilizer, still not a great prospect for retirement.

        • The US had laws creating some sort of moral floor. More on Friday, I think, where I mention laws that prohibit maiming, killing, etc. slaves. That said, that varied state by state, I would think. I don’t know what the worst conditions were.

      • Greg G.

        It says a day or two but the next day started at sunset. They might count that as a day.

  • Anne Fenwick

    Are his arguments even supposed to have any bearing on what is actually wrong with slavery? Should it need saying that slavery doesn’t become better if you’re ‘nice’ to your slaves? (Well, okay, I thought about what I just wrote in view of the primary sources, and yes, I suppose it is a bit better, but not nearly good enough!). Or if the only reason you’re able to exploit someone’s labor is that they were in an extremely vulnerable or destitute position to begin with? Or because you’ve decided that they owe you something? Or that board and lodging counts as payment? Or that you’re actually doing them a favor by introducing them to such supremely important things as Christianity and ‘the virtues of industry’? (not necessarily in that order, and yes that is an actual common argument used by American slave-owners).

    • good questions. Since biblical slavery has God’s A-OK, I wonder if he’d be OK with our recreating those institutions here in the West. Maybe he’d like to volunteer.

      • eric

        No doubt any Christian who thinks biblical slavery is A-OK also sees themselves in the role of modern-day Israelites; commanded to take slaves, not be slaves.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          it is the common failing of all people who think themselves special that when the revolution comes they will be the masters not the servants, most of them are wrong

        • Michael Neville

          When comes the revolution many of those masters will find themselves up against the wall.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          but the current masters don’t want revolution, the best that can happen is they come out exactly where they are.

    • Brian Curtis

      As Frederick Douglass pointed out, “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”

    • Lark62

      After slavery, rich Americans created “factory towns.” Everything in town was owned by the coal mine / factory owner, including the only store in town.
      1. Shopping at the company store was mandatory.
      2. Prices and wages were set to ensure workers were buried under ever increasing debt.
      3. It was illegal to quit while in debt.

      The song 16 tons is about this

      You load sixteen tons, what do you get
      Another day older and deeper in debt
      Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
      I owe my soul to the company store

      Exploitation of the powerless is not new. And I’m sure all those factory owners were good, upstanding christians.

      • Ironically, some of the first factory towns created in the US in the early 1800s to capitalize on the new Industrial Revolution were designed to be quite humane. I’m not sure how long they lasted. Maybe competition drove down living conditions?

        Lowell, Mass.:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowell_Mills#Philosophical_context

        • Lark62

          I think power and isolation played a part. No place in Massachusetts, especially near the coast is that isolated. Mining towns Appalachia are another matter.

  • Ficino

    Sorry for the OT, but the relevant post of Bob’s is in the past now:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2018/04/the-bible-story-reboots-have-you-noticed-2-of-2/#disqus_thread

    It was alleged by Christian combox commentator, These Things Were Written, that there exist papyrus fragments of the Gospel of Matthew dated before the Jewish Revolt, in the mid first century A.D. I just read ch. II of Early Christian books in Egypt by Roger S. Bagnall (Princeton University Press, 2009). Bagnall shows that this claim, made by Carsten Thiede, was demolished shortly thereafter. Bagnall gives further devastating evidence. A couple of points:
    — Thiede based his date on similarities of features of certain letters in the papyrus and certain letters on a papyrus from Qumran. This is not professional palaeography. You have to compare the overall scribal hands. Bagnall said even a class of graduate students could tell at a glance that the handwriting of the gMatt fragments was quite other than that of the copyist of the Qumran papyrus.
    — Peter Parsons of Oxford convened a group of papyrologists. Their consensus was a date in the third century.
    — Thiede was not a papyrologist.

    TTWW is totally wrong to say that the fragment was by palaeography scientifically dated to c. 60. It is incumbent on him to stop making this claim.

    • Ctharrot

      He’s not still going on about that fragment, is he? I thought TTWW moved on to other topics after repeatedly declining to provide any sort of specifics or support.

      • Greg G.

        Someone worked out the source of his claims and figured out who he was. I think this information came from his website with the 10,000 papers.

      • Kit Hadley-Day

        sounds like a play straight out of the apologetic’s hand book

    • I suppose someone with little regard for the truth could cherry pick conservative (that is, early) dates. Doesn’t make Christianity look very good, though.

      • Ficino

        In the case of these papyrus fragments, i.e. so-called P64 and P67, there is no range of conservative (early) dates. There is only one early-dater, and that was Thiede. Thiede’s contention was totally demolished, and his ulterior agenda, to promote an early date of gMatt, is laid bare.

        TTWW needs to stop saying that P64 and P67 have been scientifically dated to the first century.

        • Jim Jones

          Even if they were, gMatthew could be quoting them.

        • Ficino

          I guess, yes, but P64 and P67 are not first century.

        • Jim Jones

          Religion == wishful thinking.

  • RichardSRussell

    In A Theory of Justice John Rawls sets up a thot experiment to determine what’s the best way for a society to be organized. He asks the reader to imagine that he or she is a disembodied soul waiting to be born. You have no idea what body your soul will be allocated to; it’s totally random. Maybe you’ll end up as royalty but, given the odds, chances are much greater that you’ll end up as a peon. What kind of world would you like to take your chances with? Would it be one that included any form of slavery?

    • It’s like the cake-slicing algorithm: you cut it in half and I choose my piece. It encourages us to be fair.

      • Greg G.

        I will cut your income in half and you can decide which half you get to keep.

        • RichardSRussell

          “A banker, a tea-partier, and a union member are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies. The banker takes 11 cookies, then turns to the tea-partier and says ‘You should watch out for that other guy; I think he wants more than half of your cookie.’” —anonymous

      • epicurus

        Pie, on the other hand, should always be cut in slices of 3.14 inches

    • eric

      A good philosophical starting point, but like utilitarianism it needs to be mediated. On a purely risk/benefit analysis, I expect most people playing the disembodied soul game would probably be happy to risk the roll of the dice if the statistics were reversed, and 0.1% of the population was enslaved to keep the other 99.9% in idyllic wealth and health.

      • Jim Jones

        The Republicans want the numbers reversed.

      • Kit Hadley-Day

        you would have to detail the nature of the ‘slavery’ as that could very well effect the outcome, how bad is the badness compared to how good the goodness, 1 in a thousand is a fairly large number of people in a world with 7 billion people in it.

      • RichardSRussell

        I think the point Rawls was making was that the pondering soul wouldn’t know about the “idyllic wealth and health”, either, or the relative odds of ending up in any particular social slot. It would start from a position of neutrality.

        Of course, this is all speculative, but it makes for a kind of interesting parlor game, like the one where you ask all your guests to spend 10 minutes thinking about it, then write down 3 answers to the question “Who am I?”.

  • Joe

    How about the much simpler argument: no form of slavery is moral.

    • Otto

      Then they would have no excuse for God codifying it.

      • Joe

        Of course, which is one of the benefits of not having to defend a stone age god.

    • Halbe

      Whoa, now you’re going all communist on us here! Slavery is still very much OK, but now we call it ‘outsourcing’, or ‘off-shoring’. How else can companies in rich democracies create solid shareholder value? (/s)

      • Kodie

        Not just outsourcing. It’s effectively slavery when employees have low pay, bad conditions, and no choices should they lose that job or quit. We all seem to have to work for a living, but conditions and pay vary. We live in a society that puts down certain work, and blames the employees for their own conditions rather than the employer for paying them too little and threatening them like an abusive boyfriend (e.g. “you’re lucky to have something”), and having to work 2 or 3 just to have a little bit of what other people just take for granted, and still qualify for public assistance, while people who don’t know any better call you vulgar names. This is America.

        • Doubting Thomas

          No need to be hyperbolic. Being employed in America, even in a low paying job, is nothing like slavery. Trying to conflate the two is insulting to both the people employed in those jobs and the millions of people actually enslaved today.

        • Kodie

          Everything is not hunky-dory now that slavery is abolished. Can I say that?

        • Doubting Thomas

          Of course.

        • Halbe

          Fortunately, I live in a socialist hell-hole (Sweden), where a minimum-wage job means a reasonably decent living, where healthcare and education are (nearly) free, and with reasonably decent unemployment benefits.

          However, Swedish multinationals like H&M and Ikea are also part of the race to the bottom, with e.g. Ikea now placing part of its manufacturing in Ethiopia, the new darling of modern offshoring: even lower wages and even less regulations than e.g. Vietnam.

        • epicurus

          I remember reading about the founder of Ikea setting up business headquarters for the company in Holland or somewhere similar to reduce taxes – nothing new or unique in that. But he was also super rich, and I thought well what if he stayed in Sweden and paid higher taxes, would he and the company still be super rich, just a bit less super rich? If Ikea is as altruistic as it likes to portray itself, wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?

        • Halbe

          Ikea is not altruistic at all. Ingvar Kamprad has done everything he can his whole life to amass wealth and to avoid sharing it with others, including very advanced tax planning schemes. At the end of his life he reluctantly started to do some charity, probably because Ikea’s PR department said that that would be good for business. He died as one of the richest men on earth, with a Scrooge-like reputation, at least in his home country.

        • This creates a dilemma. Presumably those Ikea jobs in Ethiopia are better than the alternative. But if offshored jobs in the third world create sweatshop conditions, what pressure will create minimum acceptable conditions (imposing the extra cost on the consumer)? Are there international certifications that consumers can demand?

        • Halbe

          There are, at least in the clothing industry. But… it is an industry certification, in other words: the fox himself judges how well he treats the hens.

        • Greg G.

          That is a SITCOM situation: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage.

        • Jay

          Those are all injustices and immoral, but not slavery. Slavery is owning another human being as property.

        • Kodie

          So, “if you don’t like it here, feel free to go look for another job” that doesn’t exist or offers the same abuse and pay isn’t anything like owning people.

        • Jay

          No, it’s not. If you’re not owned by a person or group as property. How much of a *practical* distinction it is in some cases is a different question, but it is a distinction.

        • Kodie

          If you’re treated as a piece of shit by your employer and by society such that your choice is sell the smile on your face for a rock-bottom price x hours per day or starve to death, I think we as a society should recognize that it’s not that much of a distinction as you want to believe it is. Sure, people get to go to sleep in their hovel every night, and if they’re late the next morning, they might get fired, because how many hungry people are waiting for that job to open up?

          Those people who defend the slavery in the bible like to explain that slavery was a generous offering by slave-owners, because those slaves would have gone hungry otherwise. The bible says slavery is great, the bible says god says slavery is great. God didn’t give those hungry people any other economic option, and so it is today, in America. We don’t think it’s a crying shame, we blame those people for being losers who deserve to be disadvantaged and taken advantage of, don’t want to pay them a living wage, and “those shitty jobs are for teenagers to save up for college!” Meanwhile, college is far more expensive for anyone to save up for on an after-school part-time job, but the societal idea that no self-respecting adult should take certain jobs because the wage is too low to be serious, but enslave high school students to teach them “the value of work” for nothing, or internships for college students to get coffee for college credit, because hey, they don’t have to pay them. There’s plenty of gross situations in the US that we should take notice of, and not simply brush off as “that’s not as bad as slavery, and it’s insulting to say it is!”

  • KarenOfRocks

    I can’t help wondering, though, whether slavery in practice in the OT was truly better than slavery in America on average, if only because the slaves in ancient Israel were the same color and probably came from similar cultures as their masters…and thus were probably granted the status of full human. We know that a lot of slave owners and other white people considered black slaves to be less than human, so it would matter far less if they were treated humanely. This is pure speculation, of course.

    If you say that no form of slavery is moral, then you give would-be slaves (people who can work but not find a job) the option of starving or you declare that society must assist them. The notion that society must provide assistance to people who can’t make it economically is a fairly new idea, and not universally accepted. The number of people in the US who fume public assistance being a waste of their tax dollars is pretty substantial. Personally I think we make a better society when we recognize the value of each person and support those in need while helping them get out of that situation if possible. But the moral position that slavery is always wrong is fragile, I think, far more fragile than most of us believe.

    • Doubting Thomas

      I can’t help wondering, though, whether slavery in practice in the OT
      was truly better than slavery in America on average, if only because the
      slaves in ancient Israel were the same color and probably came from
      similar cultures as their masters…and thus were probably granted the
      status of full human.

      I think the idea of being granted the status of full human while also being a slave is contradictory.

      If you say that no form of slavery is moral, then you give would-be
      slaves (people who can work but not find a job) the option of starving
      or you declare that society must assist them. The notion that society
      must provide assistance to people who can’t make it economically is a
      fairly new idea, and not universally accepted.

      This is a false dilemma. Instead of either slavery or starvation, the person could be hired and paid or simply fed not by government assistance but by personal generosity.

      • RichardSRussell

        I think the idea of being granted the status of full human while also being a slave is contradictory.

        Gotta disagree with you here, Thomas. America has stocked its prisons with fully human people. Just because they don’t have liberty doesn’t change that condition. I could make the same case about little children (essentially completely dominated by their parents) or the late Stephen Hawking (completely dependent on his care-givers) as well. Of course, slave owners salved their (dubious) consciences with the false assurance that their slaves were little better than their cows or pigs, but I’m not gonna buy the propaganda that being enslaved made them less than fully human.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I agree that everybody, slave or not, is full human in the Homo Sapiens sense. What I was saying is that “being granted the status of full human” entails rights and liberties that slaves don’t have.

        • RichardSRussell

          So kids and Stephen Hawking, under your formulation, are not “fully human”? I think you need better terminology. This smacks way too much of anti-abortion cant.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Stephen Hawking isn’t fully human, but that’s because he’s dead.

          But when he was alive, he and children are fully human in that they deserve all the “rights and liberties that slaves don’t have.” Slaves, under the way I was using the term, aren’t considered “fully human” because they didn’t have rights and liberties that come with “being granted the status of full human.”

        • RichardSRussell

          I like your 1st formulation better, that being human means that you deserve the full panoply of rights and liberties, not your 2nd one, that says that slaves lost that status because they “didn’t have” such freedoms. You could say the same of cows, who could never aspire to being “fully human” even if you opened the barnyard gate and let them wander wherever they wished.

          Again, I suggest you rethink your commitment to this particular phrase to describe what you’re going for. It’s going to provoke more heat than light.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I though it was pretty clear what I was going for.

        • RichardSRussell

          Not at all, not if you’re employing anti-abortionist language.

          Besides, you’ve got your cause and effect reversed. It’s being “fully human” that qualifies a person to deserve rights and liberties, not the other way around. You don’t lose your humanity just because you lose your liberty. Why not use the phrase “fully free”? I don’t understand why you think “fully human” conveys the desired idea. To my ear, it simply dehumanizes people who happen to be enslaved, which is the way their enslavers thot of them — not a road I’d expect you want to travel down.

        • Doubting Thomas

          You’re really reading way too much into it if you think anything I said was “anti-abortionist language.”

        • Kodie

          There’s totally a movement to get animals classified as persons (the same way corporations are). Treating some humans as though they are livestock certainly lowers their estimation for some people, but I don’t know what exactly changes if we give them a token wage and let them go home at night, if their only other choice is living on the sidewalk. Selling your labor for cheap because the next guy along will go even lower to do the same work out of desperation doesn’t put your mind in a good place. That’s hours and hours out of your day where you have to pretend to be a completely different person for almost no money, because otherwise, you’re gonna die.

    • eric

      I don’t see any fragility in the position that slavery is always wrong. I agree with you that many people don’t like tax-supported welfare, but I also don’t see it as a hard call given the alternatives.

      Maybe in a society that has literally nothing to spare, where any redistribution from person A to B results in A risking their own life (to save B’s), then redistribution would be iffy. But (1) we don’t live in such a society, and (2) that consideration actually leads to support for a progressive tax system, not a not-tax system.

      • Doubting Thomas

        Not only this, but if god instituted slavery to keep people from starving, he missed the obvious solution: God could feed people.

        Of course having the ability to feed people requires the feeder to exist, so I think that disqualifies god.

      • Halbe

        I don’t see any fragility in the position that slavery is always wrong

        It is much more fragile than you think. The “free market” will always try to find the cheapest labour possible, and no labour is cheaper than slave labour. It has become quite easy to hide modern-day slavery behind lofty terms such as ‘outsourcing’ and ‘off-shoring’. The clothes you wear, the gadgets you use: most probably at least partially the result of slave labour (on farms, in mines, in sweat shops, in factories etc). Slavery has just moved conveniently out of sight for us rich westerners, so that we can consume cheap stuff with a clear conscience.

        • RichardSRussell

          no labour is cheaper than slave labour.

          See my comment above about sweatshop labor on Hispaniola. You’re right, the labor is free in the sense of no wages, but you do have to feed, clothe, and shelter your slaves, provide for their medical care, and periodically deal with their obstinate behavior, which you most definitely wouldn’t want to handle with a simple “I’m going to have to let you go”, since they represented a substantial chunk of your net worth. Point is, owning slaves is not a 100% pure-profit proposition.

          The solution is to organize society so that neither slavery nor desperation labor are necessary.

          While I consider myself to be on the left end of the political spectrum, I despair that my fellow travelers have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the right-wing mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” as the be-all and end-all of society. Screw that. “Work” is a 4-letter word. The whole thrust of civilization has been to free us from it as much as possible. The coming jobless society? Bring it on! It’ll be glorious. Let the computers and robots do all the mindless scut work.

          Already half of Americans (children, students, prisoners, retired people, some people with disabilities) are living off the work of the other half. Why stop there? Let’s recreate the agricultural revolution for every occupation! Back when the country was founded, it took 20 farmers to feed themselves plus a single city dweller. Now it’s more than reversed, with 40 urbanites living off the food produced by a single farmer. How did we do it? Mechanization plus scientific advances (pesticides, fertilizers, weather forecasting) plus best-practices education (crop rotation, contour plowing, conservation grazing). And most of that progress happened even before we had personal computers, which have enormously reduced our reliance on simple manual labor.

          The trick, of course, is to figure out a sensible way of distributing the enormous wealth that society as a whole has made possible so that society as a whole can benefit from it.

        • Halbe

          This^! It is beyond me why so few people understand this. We don’t need more jobs, we need better/different ways to distribute wealth. Not even people on the left can let go of the “create more jobs” mantra.

        • Zeropoint

          I just checked, and the US GDP per capita is a bit over $57k. Reducing everything to money is a bit simplistic, but it sure looks like we have enough to make everyone comfortable.

        • They say that money can’t buy happiness, but that is relevant only for high earners. Below about $75K in the US (if memory serves), more money correlates with more happiness. Said another way, sufficient money solves a lot of problems.

        • Major Major

          I think as tempting as this is, we have to be aware that robots may attain a level of “sentience”, in which case would it be moral to “enslave” them? I haven’t seen Westworld, but my understanding is that it looks into this issue.

        • RichardSRussell

          Pardon me if this seems hopelessly parochial, but my primary concern would be that they would try to enslave us! And they’d have most of the advantages if they tried. Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics were just clever fiction, intended to produce good stories; they have no equivalent in the real world.

        • Major Major

          I would be more concerned that robots would think about us a much as just some random critter such as a squirrel or frog, which is to say not that much, and make choices which impact our lives, much like we do to other critters.

        • Zeropoint

          Hear hear!

          I’ve been out of the work force for a while. Most of that time was spent going back to college (my mental issues interfered with it a bit and I haven’t got a Bachelor’s degree yet) but I’ve been out of school and out of work for many months now. I miss the autonomy, purchasing power, and access to health care that come with a job, but wow, I do NOT miss having to sacrifice a ten-hour chunk of my day to working toward making some other guy rich.

          It almost feels shameful to admit this, but I’d love to be able to kick back and live a frugal but comfortable life with no job. I’d prefer to be able to contribute to the world in the engineering field, but the jobs that I’ve actually had so far have felt more like a tax on being alive.

        • the jobs that I’ve actually had so far have felt more like a tax on being alive.

          Ouch! That’s a pointed critique of the work life of millions, I’m sure.

        • Zeropoint

          I don’t mean to denigrate or diminish any work that people find valuable. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who like their jobs, who find meaning in what they do, or who have found a way to monetize their passion. Such people would likely continue to do their job even if money were no longer an issue. Probably lots of aspiring artists and musicians would spend MORE time on their work if some form of Universal Basic Income were provided.

          I mere meant to say that for any job that I, personally, have had so far, if I got the chance to continue to receive the pay without having to work any more, I’d take it. The jobs I’ve had so far were all something that I was only in for the money.

        • Greg G.

          A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay means that you do just enough work to keep from getting fired and they pay you just enough to keep you from quitting.

        • eric

          The “free market” will always try to find the cheapest labour possible, and no labour is cheaper than slave labour.

          Perhaps. Then again, we don’t see any of the 195 currently existing countries condoning slavery, not even those hard over for labor. Hispaniola is in the past; it’s Haiti and DR now. And despite Haiti’s massive poverty and crippled economy, they aren’t instituting slavery. So again, I don’t see the fragility in the moral position that slavery is wrong. Emprically, it seems pretty sturdy at this point.

        • The Romans found out that having a slave-based economy meant that they were tied to slaves. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and cheap labor meant no incentive for labor saving innovations. They might have jump-started the Industrial Revolution 1700 years earlier than it actually happened.

        • Major Major

          Technically, slavery is still alive in places where life is cheap:

          http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/slavery-thailand-shrimp-1.3775668

        • Brian Curtis

          And don’t forget prison labor, which is a whole industry on its own.

    • Jim Jones

      Interestingly (to me), this argues against the nativity story. Who would leave their home unguarded, except possibly by slaves?

    • Michael Neville

      So would you volunteer to be a slave?

      The Bible offers other solutions to poverty than slavery:

      ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. Lev 19:9-10 (NIV)

      It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy. Proverbs 14:21 (NIV)

      …and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10 (NIV)

      John [the Baptist] answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Luke 3:11 (NIV)

      If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 1 John 3:17

    • Greg G.

      The Israelites were indentured servants for 6 years. The permanent slave were foreigners, possibly from Africa.

    • Joe

      Wait, is it more moral to give somebody bread or to have them work for you for no wage, for life?

      That’s a tough question…….

    • Kit Hadley-Day

      Could you make a moral argument for the fact that slavery is the best solution to a given situation? This is not a snarky question i am intrigued.

      • al kimeea

        Seems slavery was the best solution to building/repairing The White House…

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          it may have been an expeditious solution, and was ‘cheap’ as far as labour costs goes. but i think you would struggle to suggest it was a moral decision

        • al kimeea

          nicely understated

      • RichardSRussell

        I used to run a talk show on a local public-access channel, and one of my guests was a former NGO worker who’d done humanitarian work on Hispaniola (Haiti + Dominican Republic), specifically in the sweatshops there. She made the point that sweatshop labor was probably worse than slavery, because Ricardo’s Iron Law of Wages meant that there were always hungry people waiting just outside the factories, desperate for work, so the women (and they were almost entirely women) who got pregnant or needed to take “too many” bathroom breaks or would just periodically break out in tears were summarily fired. They got paid, yes, but at sub-starvation wages, and had to put in 7 12-hour days a week, making it virtually impossible to hold down a 2nd job. Sure they got sick and died, but so what? Plenty more where they came from. And no loss to the owners, since it wasn’t as if their workers represented a valuable asset, the way they would have been as slaves. Food? Clothing? Shelter? Medical care? Not our problem, not our expense.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          well that is indeed awful, but how is that worse than slavery? if they are going to treat their employees that badly how would they treat people who they actually own. yes they may be providing food and shelter but in return those 12 hour days would seem short, not to mention the other liberties that slave owners take with their property and if the situation is that dire then the same people who will take the slave wage jobs would take the slavery. hence as soon as a slave became non productive they would either be thrown on the street or just killed.

        • Greg G.

          well that is indeed awful, but how is that worse than slavery?

          Slaves are an investment. There is an incentive to taking care of something one is invested in.

          Q: What kind of car can jump curbs?
          A: A rental car.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          they are only an investment if they are in limited supply, if i could just walk out and get another car i would care a lot less about mine. If the factory owners mentioned are as heartless as they are described, and i have no reason to believe otherwise, why would you expect them to treat a slave any better. if anything they will expect even more as they are now ‘feeding’ and ‘housing’ their staff, and are allowed to use just about any form of punishment they like on them.

        • Greg G.

          A worker can be replaced at no cost beyond training. A slave has an upfront cost plus the cost of training. The workier is motivated to do the work to keep the job. The slave is not. Motivating slaves is an added expense.

          A craftsman takes care of his or her tools because they are assets.

          Can I borrow your screwdriver? I don’t want to ruin mine.

        • Lark62

          From wikipedia Slavery in Haiti

          French plantation-owners worked their African slaves so hard that half died within a few years; it was cheaper to import new slaves than to improve working conditions enough to increase survival.
          …Food was insufficient, and slaves were expected to grow and prepare it for themselves on top of their already crushing, 12-hour workdays.
          …Torture of slaves was routine; they were whipped, burned, buried alive, restrained and allowed to be bitten by swarms of insects, mutilated, raped, and had limbs amputated.
          …The Catholic Church condoned slavery and the practices used in the French colony, viewing the institution as a way to convert Africans to Christianity.

          Gee, I wonder how they would have treated their slaves without jeezus to make them paragons of perfect morality.

        • Greg G.

          The amputations may have been a practical matter. The sugar cane was fed through large rollers that squeezed out the juice. There was a guard with a machete in case someone’s hand got caught. There was no way to stop the rollers so they would chop off the arm. It was more cost-effective to clean up the mess of an arm than a whole body.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          a slave has no right to refuse anything, can be literally worked till they drop, and you don’t have the add on costs of paying them later. Again if you have a good enough supply then having to throw one away does not hurt you.

          again it’s about supply and demand, if there is enough supply then you care less about the things, it doesn’t mean you don’t value them at all.

          If you have a tool that is particularly good , or fits your hand perfectly, it is not replaceable, hence you care about, if you have a bunch of dime store screwdrivers that do the job then if you lose or break one you don’t care that much you just grab a spare.

          If my slaveworker has to carry bags from a to b and they drop dead then i just need to replace them, no big shakes any old muggins can do that, if my slaveworker runs my books and is a highly skilled accountant then i will treat them better to make sure i dont have to go through the hassle of replacing them.

          I guess what i am trying to say is that practically there is little difference between some one making below the poverty line wage and a slave, except one has bodily autonomy and one doesn’t and that gives the worker something the slave doesn’t

        • Greg G.

          I guess what i am trying to say is that practically there is little difference between some one making below the poverty line wage and a slave, except one has bodily autonomy and one doesn’t and that gives the worker something the slave doesn’t

          The point I was getting at is that not all slavery is the worst sort of slavery and there are situations worse than slavery. Being a war refugee, for example, has no restrictions on choices the refugee can make but there are no viable options.

          If you were a first century slave, would you rather be a slave of: Jesus, who thought “do unto others” was only for equals and thought the idea of thanking a slave was absurd, or would you rather be a slave of the Roman pagan Seneca:

          47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

              — Jesus, Luke 12:47-48 (NRSV)

          7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

              — Jesus, Luke 17:7-9 (NRSV)

          “‘They are slaves,’ people declare. NO, rather they are men.

          ‘Slaves! NO, comrades.

          ‘Slaves! NO, they are unpretentious friends.

          ‘Slaves! NO, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike. That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man to dine with his slave.

          But why should they think it degrading? It is only purse-proud etiquette… All night long they must stand about hungry and dumb… They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies… This is the kernel of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.

          ‘He is a slave.’ His soul, however, may be that of a free man.”

              — Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD), Epistulae Morales, 47.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          I can’t disagree that there are different types of slave owner, but slavery is slavery. And i am not sure that the existence of people who treated their slaves well in any way excuses the existence of the concept, the kindest member of a gang, is still a gang member, even if they don’t rob and kill they still support a system that does those things.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t think that everybody in a nation-state should be blamed for everything the nation-state does nor do I think everybody in a gang is responsible for everything. Participating in a nation-state supports the system that does those things, though.

        • ildi

          I don’t think there was any kind of training needed for a field slave. An easy way to motivate a slave is beat them regularly-you can do that at a level that doesn’t ruin their value for the work needed. People used to beat their horses on a regular basis without loss of value to their property. You can also breed horses to any horse you pick, sell the offspring, sell the horse… My gardening tools are a bit dull, some are rusty and could use a good clean (every year I swear I’ll get them sharpened) but they’re still do the job perfectly fine.

        • RichardSRussell

          In the American ante-bellum South (which is what Bob was writing about), they were in short supply. The slave-importation trade had been legally prohibited, so the only practical way of getting more slaves was to breed them like livestock. They were thus about as valuable as prize heifers are today.

          Conversely, in 21st Century sweatshop economies, politically free (but economically desperate) people are just as disposable as plantation slaves in old Haiti. And it’s easier and tidier to just fire them rather than having to find a way to dispose of the bodies.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          I agree about the south, but this thread is comparing slave wages to slavery, i have said all the way through that how much a slave owner cares about their slaves depends on what the supply is like. I think we may have got our wires crossed some where.

        • RichardSRussell

          It’s worse than slavery if your concerns go beyond “Am I still alive?” to “Am I healthy? Can I eat regularly?”. Clearly, there are many sufferers for whom death is a welcome release, and for them the sweatshop economy has a ready answer: Go ahead and die (but please do it off company property). Slave owners, of course, had a vested interest in keeping their workers not only alive but healthy and vigorous.

          Please don’t read this as a defense of slavery, any more than my saying that torture is worse than prison constitutes praise for imprisonment.

        • Lark62

          In most places, slaves had value. In other places, they were worked to death and replaced.

        • RichardSRussell

          My point exactly. There are various gradations of degradation. I’m not a fan of any of them, but to claim that catcalling is the moral equivalent of rape pretends there are no gradations at all.

          I’ve long contended that there are some things so awful — war, torture, rape, slavery — that mere mention of them should cause people to recoil in revulsion, and that we cheapen them and reduce their impact by applying them hyperbolically to lesser offenses. Nobody who’s ever been thru a real war would ever mistake the “war on Christmas” for one of them, nobody who’s ever truly been starving to death would claim that missing your breakfast muffin qualifies, and nobody who’s ever been a real slave would use the phrase “wage slave” any way but contemptuously.

        • Kodie

          It’s pretty easy for most people to tell people who are in a tough spot – quit and die, or stay and be abused, to just look for another job if they don’t like it there. I’m not really saying it is slavery as slavery was, but if someone has zero choices, you can pretend they have their freedom while they are locked in. Maybe the law says they can’t be quite as abused as slaves were, but their position gives them little recourse if their boss is breaking or bending the law. Yes, they can go home at night and are “free” to stay home and not report to work in the morning, but not if they are trying to maintain any kind of home, and hell, a lot of working people also need to resort to public benefits, while the CEO gets a boat for their boat, etc. If slavery is wrong, isn’t that also wrong? We not only accept that these people’s labor is feeding the fat man at the top but not their children, and that means they have to ask the government, but we also blame them for not getting a better education, and shit on their job descriptions, and accuse them of trying to cheat the government. Someone needs to wash our dishes when we eat at a restaurant, so what is wrong with that job? Someone wants that dishwasher to oversleep one day from their other job and get fired so they can compete with someone else for that new job opening. Is that not disgusting? Shouldn’t we be disgusted by how our society keeps people in fear of losing a job we don’t even respect?

        • RichardSRussell

          Agreed. Being ostensibly free while sick, undernourished, ill-housed, and miserable is no picnic. Neither is being healthy, well fed, and sheltered but deprived of personal liberty and constantly being at someone else’s whim for how you must spend your time. Neither situation is desirable, and under certain circumstances either may well be worse than the other. A truly enlightened society should seek to eliminate both.

        • This is tangential, but the Gini coefficient is a simple measure of income inequality. It’s a good way to quantitatively (instead of hand-wavey) arguing that income inequality is getting worse in the US.

          Good chart here, FYI:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient#Gini_coefficients_of_income_distributions

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          I think we can agree that both situations are awful and morally indefensible, this is just a interesting discussion about what people consider important.

          Why do you think that the factory owner cares less about his staff than the slave owner? some slave owners cared, some would just work their slaves to death and replace them. I would suggest that if a factory owner is happy to see his workers starve would not treat slaves much better. It all comes down to the supply of staff / slaves, the more plentiful the supply the less you care about replacing what you have, as the cost will be minimal

        • Lark62

          A few centuries ago, we know what happened to slaves in Haiti. Newly arrived slaves had an expected lifespan of about 2 years, because the owners would just replace the ones that died with fresh healthy slaves from Africa.

    • Lark62

      The workman is worthy of his wage, right?

      A corporate exec earning $300 million a year could reduce his salary to $200 million per year and give health insurance to all employees. Instead, he opposes affordable health care in any form as (boo hiss) socialism.

      Slavery by definition is stealing the labor of a person. Modern corporations merely make it more subtle.

      Human societies throughout time have cared for less fortunate members of society. And greedy assholes throughout time have cheated and abused their way to wealth.

    • In the slavery-for-life category, we’re talking about other tribes. True, they would appear to be much more like the Israelites than West Africans slaves would to European masters, but the Bible sometimes makes clear that other tribes were bad people. Remember the story of Lot and his daughters. That’s where the Moabites and Ammonites came from–their patriarchs were the product of their incestuous unions.

      • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

        But… but… how can incest be considered as a character flaw when, according to Genesis, it was required in order to keep humanity going. Twice, even.

        • The response that I’ve heard from Christians is that, before the Mosaic law against incest … it wasn’t a bad thing.

          I guess murder was OK before that point, too?

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          But… Lot happened before the Mosaic Law was issued, too.

        • Greg G.

          Makes one wonder why Cain was punished for killing Abel.

          Cain: Am I my brother’s keeper?

          Lot: Am I my grandchild’s father?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          To Lot: Yes, and I thought you were too drunk to know any of that happened. You done fucked up. Say good-bye to freedom for the next decade CRIMMMNNNNUUUUULLLL!

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          On that note, check out Charles II of Spain, the last Hapsburg monarch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_Spain

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          If murder was okay, then Cain got a raw deal.

  • Joe

    Let’s not even mention the slaves as spoils of war:

    “I see you are incapable of providing for yourself ever since we burned down your farm and murdered all the agricultural workers. Come work for me as an indentured servant, and all will be well,”

  • sandy

    Of course slavery was horrible in biblical times and has never been morally correct. That’s why Moses and Yahweh were all pissed off at the pharaoh and Egyptians for enslaving the Israelites. Wanting out of slavery so bad that Yahweh killed all the first born of Egypt and sent some of the worst plagues one could imagine upon the people of Egypt.

    • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

      That was only horrible because it was the Hebrews were enslaved. Then God told them they can take slaves if they want, as long as they come from the neighboring tribes.

      • Kodie

        Yeah, isn’t it funny that the bible has slavery from the slaves’ perspective as well, and it was not a good thing to be a slave.

      • sandy

        Yes, another great example of how messed up the bible is.

  • Jay

    Even if it wasn’t, the fact remains that there is no convincing answer as to why Yahweh couldn’t have said, “don’t own another human being as property.”

    • Doubting Thomas

      Yahweh couldn’t have said that because Yahweh doesn’t exist. Sound convincing? :p

    • RichardSRussell

      I heard that he was going to do that, but decided at the last minute to use up that slot in the 10 commandments for the vexatious and persistent problem of graven images.

  • Jay

    Indentured servitude is immoral too, by the way.

    • Greg G.

      Indentured servitude is immoral too, by the way.

      Not necessarily. A contract is voluntarily made. The indentured servant gets training, work experience, and room and board during the indenture and capital assets at the end to start afresh. The indentured servant is not treated harshly like the slaves.

      It is not unlike a military enlistment. I enlisted the military for four years so I could get benefits to attend college. The benefits didn’t go as far as I was led to believe but it helped enough.

      • Jay

        Not necessarily, and it’s not a moral equivalent, but it is still unfree labor. Indentured servants in Colonial America had no bargaining power (well, neither did any workers at the time but particularly not them), and how truly voluntary it is given the wider social conditions is a whole other issue.

        • Greg G.

          It depends on the available options. It is better than starving to death. It is better than slavery until death.

          I read once that near the end of the indenture, that servant would get the most dangerous jobs to do. If something bad was to happen, it may as well be a short-term investment that was due a large bonus rather than a long-term investment still worth a few decades of work.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          It’s also better than execution, which was sometimes the other option offered.

      • RichardSRussell

        Speaking of the military and an employer-employee relationship, I once heard of a situation where, for 50 weeks out of the year, Person X was an employee of Person Y, but for the 2 weeks of National Guard duty every summer, Lieutenant Y was subordinate to Major X. Made for a very respectful relationship when the tables could be turned every now and again.

      • Kevin K

        As it was practiced in the 1800s in the US, it most certainly was. You’ll find that the vast majority of indentured servants either died or ran away; the abuse they received at the hands of their masters was absolutely just as bad as the “other” kind of slavery.

      • Joe

        It’s not enough for it to be voluntary for both parties to be considered moral. I still consider it immoral when the option of remunerated service exists.

  • Some slave states passed laws allowing free black people to sell themselves as slaves, so that’s kind of a parallel.

  • Kev Green

    From a theological point of view, it’s mostly irrelevant whether or not OT slavery was as much of a moral outrage as modern slavery. The condoning of slavery is still evidence that the Bible is the work of Bronze-age humans, not the divine work of God.

    • Greg G.

      Colonial slavery appears to have been based on OT slavery, so there is a theological issue to it. They didn’t enslave just anybody, the slaves were foreigners, like the OT says. The fellow Europeans became indentured servants, just like in the OT.

      • Kev Green

        And the South used the Bible to justify slavery up until the bitter end. My point though was that whether or not the Bible was endorsing a morally reprehensible practice or merely an outdated one, it’s still a point against Divine authorship.

      • Lerk!

        I think it’s also worth mentioning that the 13th Amendment also outlawed indentured servitude. So even if Biblical slavery was more like that, it is still immoral by today’s standards.

  • Syzygy

    Religion seems to be able to justify anything.

  • Greg G.

    SMBC on Jesus. Be sure to read the mouse-over text.

    https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/jesus

    • RichardSRussell

      And then bookmark SMBC-comics.com and check it daily. (Yes, it comes out more often than just Saturdays, and it’s always worth a look.)

  • masteradrian

    Short reaction: slavery is slavery, regardless of being Old Testament-style or New World-style!

    Slavery is being kept without consent, being forced to stay were you are without consent, and to do tasks without the choice of doing them!
    Anyone who is being enslaved, regardless of it being Old Testament-style or New World-style, is been done without consent, is not enabled to refuse the enslavement1
    The fact that Old Testament-style slavery ws considered normal at the time doesn’t mean it should be approved of, as isn’t the fact that religious leaders approved, endorsed and enforced New World-style slavery means it to to right!
    Enslavement means principally that a human being is being forced to subject him- or her-self to practices that disables him or her to reject the enslavement!
    The fact that christian religion has supported, endorsed and enforced enslavement of human beings, Old Testament-style and New World-style, makes christian religion no better then the African groups that in the 20th and 21st century enslave human beings! In fact, those African groups are doing so with the support of the christian religion, I have not heard any christian religious leader denounce the claim by those African groups enslaving human beings to be doing what they do in the name of the christain god!

  • Thomas Goodnow

    The take-home message seems to be that there is no such thing as “slavery”: rather, there are types of slavery. Historians today recognize the fact that, even in the New World, there was a significant difference between being an African slave in Brazil, and African slave in New Orleans in the 18th century, and being an American-born black slave in 1850 in North Carolina. In the Bible, it’s worse: the similarity between Roman conquest slavery and Hebrew-on-Hebrew slavery is minimal save that they involved uncompensated labor. When you start trying to generalize this to pagan Nordic slavery or slavery in the New World before the Europeans arrived, it gets even messier.

    • Otto

      Why did you leave out Hebrew-on-foreigner slavery I wonder?

      • Thomas Goodnow

        Sure, throw that in, too.

  • towercam

    The bottom line is that if slavery is ‘the owning of another as property’, nobody would ever want to be a slave.

    • Yes, though the Christian author of the piece supporting biblical slavery seemed to think the institution was pretty good. I wonder if he’d like it imposed on him.

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        “Oh, that’s okay for those other people…I’m too good for that” would undoubtedly be his refrain.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    Isn’t this like saying forcing someone to give you a blow job is better than Cosbying them? Wallace seems to miss the point so much that he inadvertently demonstrates it.

  • eric

    File under the category of “He’s not that evil” apologetic defenses of God.