Board index Morality

How do we know what's right and what's wrong? how do we decide? What IS right and wrong?

Re: The Bible cannot be called the ultimate standard of mora

Postby jimwalton » Fri Mar 22, 2019 11:26 am

Please don't just read the Bible superficially. The foundation of slavery as a moral practice rests on the concept of the fundamental inequality of human beings, and that it is both right and good to treat some people as less than human. From the outset, I can say with confidence that the Bible teaches no such thing. The Bible teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and endowed with the dignity that status confers. It teaches that all humans are endowed with this inalienable sanctity of incalculable worth and dignity. As such, owning another human being and treating them like property is contrary to the value God has made inherent in every individual of the human race.

Israel had emerged from slavery in Egypt with the worldview that slavery was inhumane bondage against the values and morals of God himself (Ex. 1.13-14). Slavery was the horror against which God would work His great act of liberation (Dt. 4.32-40). It’s part of the biblical theme of salvation in which God is always at work to redeem people from bondage. Consequently, their legislation and the covenant are founded in their personal and national freedom consistent with the reality of having formerly been slaves, treating people with dignity, and recognizing the fundamental worth of all people. Though they recognized that people could have different statuses (Israelite or foreigner, slave or free), they recognized equal personhood. The dignity of all people was to be guarded, even in their servitude. Slaves were afforded rights commensurate with having the dignity afforded any human being, as well as rights within the larger familial structure.

Words change in their meaning through the eras. Slavery in the ancient world didn't mean what slavery means to us. With this accusation we need to distinguish between what we as moderns mean by "slavery" and what the ancients meant by slavery. Dr. Paul Wright, the president of Jerusalem University College, says, "When we think of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is either slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S. or slavery as we hear it in places of the modern Middle East (via ISIS or such groups).

"The textual evidence that we have for slavery in the ancient world (—by this I mean the ancient Near East, the context in which ancient Israel arose, not ancient Rome) shows by and large a different kind of 'institution' (that's not the right word to use). For this reason, the Hebrew word, eved, is better translated 'servant.' The overall textual evidence from the ancient Near East shows that slaves had certain rights—they could own property, for instance, or determine inheritance. Or they could become free, as the Bible allows, given certain circumstances. They were typically not bought and sold, opposite as the case in the medieval and modern worlds. 'Forced Labor,' or the corvée, is a more complicated issue, essentially a tax on person by the government for a certain period of time (e.g., 1 Kings 9:15). Note that the servants that Israel is allowed to take from among the foreigners are able to receive inheritance from their 'owner' (Lev. 25:46).

Even about Leviticus 25.46 ("You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life") Jacob Milgrom says: "The law merely indicates that the jubilee doesn't apply to non-Israelite slaves. 'It does not imply that the slave is a piece of property at the mercy of his master' (Mendelsohn 1962:388)."

"Another indication that slaves were not simply viewed as property to be treated however the master wished can be seen in the fact that slaves sometimes shared rights of inheritance (Genesis 15.2-3), where Abraham’s servant will inherit his property if Abraham dies childless, and Genesis 30.1-13, where the sons of Leah's slaves become equal heirs with the sons of Leah and Rachel in the family of Jacob.”

"Slavery and indentured servitude in Scripture involved ownership of a person's labor, not ownership of the person. Any approach to slavery that implies one person can legitimately own another is contrary to Scripture because it denies the humanity of the slave."

When Lev. 25.46 says "you may buy slaves...", the implication from v. 42 is that the foreigners are not God’s servants, and therefore can be slaves. He hadn’t redeemed them from Egypt, so they were still indentured. But since Israelites didn’t own other people as chattel, these foreigners provided more of a long-term, stable workforce—employees for life, as my father was in his company. They didn’t have to be released at Jubilee, as Milgrom said.

The Israelite worldview would have been more akin to our modern sports world where one team can buy the contract of an individual, and now that player “belongs” to that ball club. They owned his labor.

Israel was a country of a beneficial labor pool. They could take foreigners into their homes as workers (buy them), and over the course of several generations provide for their eventual citizenship. “Serving within Israelite households was a safe haven for any foreigner; it was not to be an oppressive setting, but offered economic and social stability” (Copan).

In Lev. 25.45, it says, "and they will become your property." In their cultural context, since there was no chattel slavery in ancient Israel, that slaves were integral parts of the family, and that it was not to be an oppressive setting, but one of economic and social stability, becoming the “possession” of the household has to mean that slaves became part of their family and an important financial asset.
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