Totally Different

Bob Seidensticker catches William Lane Craig and other apologists suggesting that slavery in Biblical times and more recent slavery, including the chattel slavery found in the Americas, were so dissimilar as to be different things. All of this is in the service of rescuing the Bible from accusations of being pro-Slavery:

This idea that biblical slavery was very different from American slavery—indeed, that it was a good thing—is common within many Christian blogs.

The slavery referred to in the Bible was a fundamentally different practice [than that practiced in the West]. Some translations try to indicate this by using the word “bondservant.” … Biblical “slavery” was not race-based (Stand to Reason blog).

The “New Testament Slavery” of the Ancient Near East … has little in common with the “New World Slavery” … of our American ancestors (Please Convince Me blog).

Bob gives it a good debunking. As it happens, this is also the topic for Nonstampcollector’s latest video:

Whether you’re a believer or non-believer, when confronting bible slavery, don’t let anyone throw up this ridiculous smokescreen that says that the slavery instituted in the old testament was so completely different to, say, pre-civil war US slavery. The usual tactic is to throw facts and rules about Israelite indentured servitude around, to throw you off the scent of a Yahweh-mandated form of slavery EVERY BIT as bad as anything we’ve seen in recent centuries. This line of argument is so prevalent that I’m confused as to whether its proponents actually believe it or not; but either way, this video is my attempt to inject a bit of reality into this very important area of discussion.

The god of the bible mandated oppressive life-long slavery of foreigners – pretty much a concise description of one of the worst forms of human rights abuses the world has ever had to grapple with. It’s as simple as that.

Full script is available at that other atheist blog collective.

  • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com D’Ma

    Yes, I’ve encountered this teaching and even fell for it for a short time. The fact is the Israelites were not allowed to force slavery upon the male members of their own race. It was fine for women. Not only that they were supposed to wipe clean the debt owed by their own race during the year of Jubilee. Ah, but other races were fare game as long as they didn’t gouge out an eye or something. Even that wasn’t too serious. The penalty wasn’t very harsh.

  • David Neilson

    Think it actually was different, but not in any way that helps the camp supporting that argument. There was a lot more of it, for one thing, and it went on a very great deal longer. The old Hebrews missed a possible moral superiority trick by not opting out of slavery in the Old Testament, but the reasons why are fairly obvious. It’s hard to run that kind of society on a free labour market basis; you need to pay a fair amount of attention to technology to do that. It’s quite funny when moderns criticise OT society as patriarchal, as if they had any choice. What were you going to do when the Assyrians turned up: ask them to chill and attend your consciousness development seminar? All they do is drag you off to their cities to be slaves, so the OT folks needed patriarchal society to organise effective self-defence, they needed slavery, and absolutely horrible it must all have been. The NT is often said to fall down through its own complacency on slavery. It might have been expected that it would take a stand, because Graeco-Roman slavery could be as appalling as anything in the antebellum US: for one thing, their mines were worked by slaves, and these had no hope of manumission, as at least some topside slaves would. Obviously the NT doesn’t denounce slavery, and again it can’t. Two reasons: firstly, to do so is to call for the immediate cessation of most economic activity (slaves could be as much as 40% of the population), and secondly, the whole world is going to come to end very shortly, so we have to concentrate on the main agenda. We may very well deplore all of this, but we needn’t imagine we’d have been any different if we’d have been there at the time.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      If I had been almighty god, the guy supposedly writing the book and inspiring its authors and directly speaking to characters like Moses and Elijah and Jesus, yes, I would have been very different.

      I think you’re mistaking the OP’s criticism of modern biblical apologists for contextless criticism of the Israelites. Neither are morally upstanding but one of these groups has no excuse and is only trying to gel a badly written, morally incoherent mess with our own modern sensibilities. Biblical apologists want it both ways – the bible is a universal, unchanging moral authority, except when it was historically inconvenient for the bible to be moral as we understand it today. That makes for a useless document, morally speaking.

      • David Neilson

        Don’t know what ‘OP’ is. I’m not ‘mistaking… criticism of modern biblical apologists for contextless criticism of the Israelites’. These two aren’t just bedfellows – they’ve got a civil partnership and hang around together all the time. Please observe it happening in the other comments on this page, and in the original article, which is right to draw attention to abuse by Christian apologists but fails to make the distinction you call for. The moral relativism you refer to is not a modern discovery, but could be encountered in the pages of the Bible itself as soon as it appeared as a compilation: it drove Marcion of Sinope nuts in the second century. If Christian apologists are now trying to downgrade biblical in comparison with US slavery, that’s of course deplorable and (I think) new. Pro-slavers were more honest, if of course repellent, in the nineteeth century when they announced that their trade was OK because it had been practised in biblical times.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      What were you going to do when the Assyrians turned up: ask them to chill and attend your consciousness development seminar? All they do is drag you off to their cities to be slaves, so the OT folks needed patriarchal society to organise effective self-defence,

      And yet the classical Athenians, without the benefit of Yhwh’s guidance, figured out that free citizens would fight much more effectively, since they were better motivated. They still had slaves, but the notion that slave armies made for an effective military was pretty much shredded before Jesus H. Christ was even born.

    • trj

      the OT folks needed patriarchal society to organise effective self-defence, they needed slavery

      Yes, I suppose we shouldn’t put too much faith into the many dozens of stories about God helping his chosen people in battle.

  • Greg G

    There were explicit instructions on how to get an Israelite to be a permanent slave. You give him a slave wife. When his time is up, he must leave his wife and kids or become a slave for life.

    Jubilee came every 50 years and prices were discounted as the year approached.

  • Miguel (Argentina)

    How kind of Hebrews to have a Jubilee! How many ‘indentured servants’ could cope with 50 years of labour in any time in history?

    • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com D’Ma

      Kind indeed!

  • kessy_athena

    Actually, I think the apologists are right. Sort of. African slavery in the antebellum South was an exceptionally malignant manifestation of slavery, and many other historical forms of slavery were not as bad. Which is sort of like saying that MS-13 is an exceptionally violent gang, and the Mafia isn’t as bad. I would also point out that “Biblical times” covers a vast swath of history throughout the Mideast and Europe. It includes a really large number of different cultures with many different forms of slavery, so there isn’t really a single ancient form of slavery to compare more modern manifestations with.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X