Old Testament Slavery—Not so Bad?

Old Testament Slavery—Not so Bad? June 7, 2012

Does God exist?You’ve probably been there—you’ve read one too many articles claiming that slavery in the Bible is not a big deal, and that biblical slavery wasn’t at all like slavery in America.

That’s where I am, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with my venting.

I listened to “Sex, Lies & Leviticus” (5/13/12), a podcast from apologetics.com (the second hour is the interesting part, with Lindsay Brooks and guest Arthur Daniels Jr.). It’s a diatribe against Dan Savage’s recent presentation to a group of high school students interested in journalism. Savage’s point, roughly stated, is that we discard lots of nutty stuff from the Old Testament (no shellfish, slavery, animal sacrifice, etc.), so let’s discard hatred of homosexuality as well.

The interview begins with the guest mocking Savage’s claim that the Bible is “radically pro-slavery.”

The Bible is pro-slavery in the same way that it’s pro-commerce. For example, the book of Proverbs says that God demands honest weights and measures—four times, in fact. Commerce is regulated, so it’s pretty clear that God has no problem with commerce. God is happy to set down prohibitions against wicked things, and there are none against honest commerce. By similar thinking (the regulation and the lack of prohibition), the Bible is pro-slavery.

But more on that later—let’s follow the arguments in the interview. Some of the arguments are truly ridiculous, but I include them for completeness and to give atheists a chance to become aware of them and Christians to realize what arguments need discarding.

The Bible prohibits lots of things, not just homosexuality. Dan Savage is happy with prohibitions against murder, rape, stealing, and so on. Why accept most of the Law but reject just the bits you don’t like?

Because no atheist goes to the Bible for moral guidance! No one, including Christians, know that murder, rape, and stealing are wrong because they read it in the Bible. They knew they were wrong first and saw that, coincidentally, the Bible rejects the same things. Our moral compass is internal, and from that we can critique the Bible to know what to keep (don’t murder) and what to reject (acceptance of slavery).

Dan Savage ridicules the kosher food laws (rejections of shellfish, for example), but Paul’s epistle of First Timothy (4:4–5) overturns these food restrictions.

In the first place, Pauline authorship for 1 Timothy is largely rejected by biblical scholars. Apparently, these guys want Christians to follow some random dude rather than Jesus himself, who never questioned the kosher laws and indeed demanded that they be upheld:

Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17–20)

And secondly, laws aren’t considered and rejected one by one. Do they have a counter-verse to reject death for adultery (Lev. 20:10), for sassing your parents (Lev. 20:9), and every other nutty Old Testament prohibition that no Christian follows? Christians more typically reject the Old Testament laws with a blanket claim that the sacrifice of Jesus made those laws unnecessary (for example, see Hebrews chapters 7, 8, and 10).

The problem there, of course, is that prohibitions against homosexual acts are discarded along with the rest. You don’t get to keep just the ones you’re fond of. I discuss this more here.

Dan Savage is speaking out of turn. Like other atheists, he simply doesn’t know his Bible well.

Or not. American atheists are famously better informed than any religious group. And we’ll see that Savage is on target about slavery.

Continue reading: Part 2

Americans treat the Bible
like a website Terms of Use agreement.
They don’t bother reading it; they just click “I agree.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • Maxximiliann

    What system of slavery enables slaves to accumulate wealth and become rich? (Leviticus 25:49)

    • So that makes it OK? I think you could find the same possibility for slaves in America?

      • Maxximiliann

        Bobby, you’re slipping … It was a trick question. Slavery, by definition, does in no way, shape or form compensate slaves. Concordantly, conflating ancient Israel’s labor system with the kidnapping and unremunerated forced labor practices that characterize slavery is pure casuistry.

        • Jo-Jo, you’ll need to show me this definition of slavery and make clear that it’s universally held.

          Read all 3 of these posts and then tell me that the Bible doesn’t support slavery for life (only for those outside our tribe, of course!).

        • Maxximiliann

          Slave: “Someone who is legally owned by another person ** and ** is forced to work for that person without pay.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slave (Emphasis mine.)

        • Lev 25:44-46:

          Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

          Could it be any clearer that the bible condones lifelong harsh treatment of slaves?

        • Maxximiliann

          Now you’re just quote mining. Tell me, what system of slavery enables slaves to accumulate wealth and become rich? (Leviticus 25:49)

        • LOL. I’m quote mining the bible? That’s hilarious.

          Lev 25-49 does not say anything to negate 25:44-46

          Could it be any clearer that the bible condones lifelong harsh treatment of slaves?

        • Maxximiliann

          Even if what you claim were remotely true, the fact that they could accumulate wealth doesn’t make them “someone who is legally owned by another person ****** A N D ****** is forced to work for that person without pay.” (Emphasis mine.)

        • Wrong. Is ancient Israel, there were non-Israelites who were slaves, and some who were not. The ones who were not slaves could, in theory get wealthy. The ones who were slaves, stayed slaves for life and could be treated harshly as Lev 25;44-46 says.

          Context is king. Apparently you need to be educated more on your own religion.

        • Maxximiliann

          That’s not what Leviticus 25:49 states. Read it again. It’s right there in black and white …

        • Show me where it states that. point to the specific words within its context. Do a good job. You’re case depends on it.

        • Maxximiliann

          Riiight, like you’d believe me. Here’s a thought. Read it for yourself.

        • How about I break it down you since you have trouble reading.

          47 “‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they [the Israelites who sold themselves to the foreigners] retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper,they [the Israelites] may redeem themselves.

          See there. It’s taking about Israelites who’ve sold themselves to foreigners NOT foreigners who are slaves to Israelites. Learn to read, Here’s some help: http://www.rrkidz.com/

        • Maxximiliann

          I can’t believe it … you really did forget what I taught you at Leviticus 19:34; 24:22; Exodus 12:49; Numbers 9:14 and 15:16 …

        • None of those verses negate Lev 25:44-49. They’re all about other laws the Israelites had about other things.

          Lev 19:34 – didn’t apply to foreigners who were slaves
          Lev 24:22 – relevant to blasphemy only
          Exodus 12:49 – relevant to passover restrictions only
          Numbers 9:14 – relevant to passover restrictions only
          Numbers 15:16 – relevant to sacrificial offerings only

          None of these verses apply to foreigners who could be slaves for life and treated harshly. Otherwise you’d be accusing Jehovah of contradicting himself. Wouldn’t want to do that would we?

        • Maxximiliann

          Yeah, I see what you’re saying. When Jehovah God commanded, “One law is to exist for the native and for the alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst,” he really meant the opposite … cause, you know, it was opposite day … in opposite land …



          Btw, nice to say you back off your sophistic labelling of ancient Israel’s labor practices as slavery.

          Slowly but surely …

        • Well Yahweh does intentionally lie to people.

          “I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”

        • Maxximiliann

          Again, context is king. “Jehovah God allows “an operation of error” to go to persons who prefer falsehood “that they may get to believing the lie” rather than the good news about Jesus Christ. (2Th 2:9-12) This principle is illustrated by what happened centuries earlier in the case of Israelite King Ahab. Lying prophets assured Ahab of success in war against Ramoth-gilead, while Jehovah’s prophet Micaiah foretold disaster. As revealed in vision to Micaiah, Jehovah allowed a spirit creature to become “a deceptive spirit” in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets. That is to say, this spirit creature exercised his power upon them so that they spoke, not truth, but what they themselves wanted to say and what Ahab wanted to hear from them. Though forewarned, Ahab preferred to be fooled by their lies and paid for it with his life.—1Ki 22:1-38; 2Ch 18.”

        • How does that negate the fact that the god you worship intentionally deceives people (i.e. lies)?

        • Maxximiliann

          You’re not listening. He doesn’t lie. He allows people to believe their own lies, like, for instance, with you. He let’s you believe the lie that he doesn’t nor cannot exist despite all the credible evidence to the contrary.

        • There is no credible evidence to the contrary. I’ve refuted every argument for Jehovah that you’ve attempted to provide. And yes god does “send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

        • Maxximiliann

          Pretending there isn’t any evidence doesn’t make all the credible evidence for his necessary existence go away.

        • Ron

          his necessary existence

          Napoleon: M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.

          Laplace: I have no need for this hypothesis.

          A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume II by Augustus De Morgan

        • He has no necessary existence, other than to exist in your imagination to justify your pompous arrogance and special pleading. I’ve already destroyed your attempt to “prove” god exists. All you have left is blind faith.

        • Maxximiliann

          Well I could agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.

        • All you have left is blind faith. Such is the fate of a modern day Armageddon cult.

        • Are you deliberately lying to protect God? Do you not get it? I can’t figure you out.

          How do these peripheral verses rebut the plain statement that foreigners can be made slaves for life?

        • Maxximiliann

          Peripheral? Try substrative.

        • The Good Book says that people-not-like-us can be made slaves for life. That doesn’t make it much of a good book.

        • Joseph: Is that a photo of you? Are you an African-American?

          If so (heck, even if you’re a white dude like me), how can you tolerate a Bible that makes clear that the ancient Jews could own other people for life?

        • Maxximiliann

          Here’s a better question. On what objective moral basis do you dare condemn anyone’s moral values? Who made you God?

        • Here’s a better question.

          Joseph, you?! Running away from a difficult question? Why, that’s so unlike you.

          On what objective moral basis do you dare condemn anyone’s moral values?

          I see no evidence for objective moral truth.

        • Translated: “It’s quote mining when you do it; not when I do it. So stop it.”

          You’re a funny guy, JOP.

        • Yeah, and?

          Slaves in America didn’t get paid by their masters; they got paid by other people.

          Now, back to the point you’re afraid to confront: show me that the OT doesn’t allow slaves for life.

        • Maxximiliann

          Here’s a better question. On what objective moral basis do you dare condemn any society’s labor practices? Who made you God?

        • Nox

          You forgot to explain why someone needs to be god to condemn immoral practices. Anyone with a functional understanding of morality should be able to recognize certain things as deserving condemnation.

    • Show us exactly where in Lev 25:49 does it say a non-Hebrew slave can get rich?

      • Maxximiliann

        Right here:

        אֹו־דֹדֹ֞ו אֹ֤ו בֶן־דֹּדֹו֙ יִגְאָלֶ֔נּוּ אֹֽו־מִשְּׁאֵ֧ר בְּשָׂרֹ֛ו מִמִּשְׁפַּחְתֹּ֖ו יִגְאָלֶ֑נּוּ אֹֽו־הִשִּׂ֥יגָה יָדֹ֖ו וְנִגְאָֽל׃

        • Argumentum ad Jehovahswitnessum – make a fallacious response and pretend it’s an actual argument.

          Do you know how to read? Lev 25-49 is talking about non-Hebrews who were not slaves. Context is king.

        • Maxximiliann

          You mean to say you don’t know a lick of Hebrew?

        • We covered this before. Lev 25-49 does not in any way negate Lev 25:44-46. You need to prove that it does. In English.

        • Maxximiliann

          Yes we did and I already showed you why your exegesis was just naked casuistry.

          But, again, thanks for admitting that you’re trolling and not actually interested in learning anything.

        • All you demonstrated was that you’d be willing to lie in order to not be forced to admit the god you worship condones lifelong harsh slavery for some people. Prove me wrong.

        • Maxximiliann

          And the evidence, in the form of my previous rejoinders, proves otherwise.

        • Nope. It’s just fallacious evasions of the logical consequences of your moral beliefs. Try again.

        • Maxximiliann

          You forgot to add, “in my humble opinion.”

        • And you? How’s your Hebrew?

        • Maxximiliann

          Fine, thank you. How’s yours?

        • Nonexistent. Why do you include it? Does it add to the conversation? Are you saying that the OT can’t be understood except in the original? Or is it just pompous bloviating?