To mark the end of my excursion through Leviticus, I am compiling a list of what I’ve learned so far. This is a comparison between Foreign and Hebrew slaves in the Torah. It is not an exhaustive list and I left out things I was not sure of. However, I think the data is good enough to draw conclusions from.
Note: In writing this, I made an assumption that wherever slaves were mentioned and the instruction was not restricted to foreign or Hebrew slaves, it applied to both. I believe this is a reasonable assumption and I know of no reasons to think otherwise.
|Hebrew Slaves||Foreign Slaves||Source|
How They Became Slaves
|The slave sold himself or herself||Same||Deut 15: 12|
|The slave was sold by a father (in the case of Concubines||Same||Exodus 21: 7 -11|
|Not allowed||Born to parents who were slaves||Leviticus 25: 39 -41, 44 – 46|
|Stole something and could not repay the owner||Same||Exodus 22:3b|
|If he/she was kidnapped and sold as a slave, the culprit was punished with death||Same||Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7|
How They Were to be treated
|Could Be beaten without punishment for the master||Same||Exodus 21:20,21|
|Was to be set free if maimed (e.g. lost eye or tooth)||Same||Exodus 21:26,27|
|Could not be murdered||Same||Exodus 21:20, 21*|
|Had Sabbath as day of rest||Same||Deut 5:12 – 15 Ex 23:12|
|Was to be treated like a hired worker or temporary resident||Lev 25: 39, 40|
|Not to be mistreated or oppressed. To be loved like a Hebrew||Lev 19:33, 34; Ex 22:21; Deut 10:17 – 19 Ex 23:9 Deut 24:17, 18|
|Could eat of the sacred offerings if he belonged to a priest||Same. Unless there were restrictions on foreigners. I know of none.||Lev 22:10|
|Were to participate in feasts||Same||Deut 12:11, 18|
|Was to be given gifts when he left||No such stipulation||Deut 15: 13 – 15|
How they were to be Set Free
|They could purchase themselves or be purchased by someone else||Same||Lev 25: 39 – 41|
|During the Year of Jubilee||No such stipulation||Lev 25: 39, 40|
|After six years||No such stipulation||21: 2 – 6|
|If he or she ran away from master||Same||Deut 23:15**|
|For a concubine: If she was not given her rights (Marital and Otherwise)||No such stipulation||Exodus 21: 7 -11|
* Last I checked, the translation of that verse was not settled but I believe a good case can be made for the translation in the NIV
** Most Commentators believe this verse to refer only to foreign slaves who ran to Israel. However, the text does not force that understanding. Therefore, it might have applied to slaves in Israel too.
After studying the issue of Slavery in the Bible for the last few months and reading the first three books of Moses, I am convinced that the worst charge that could be brought against the practice are the following:
- That it allowed slaves to be beaten. This is hardly a good point, however, because parents could also beat their children (for discipline) and free Hebrews could be punished in that manner. A better charge would be that it allowed masters to beat slaves who had done nothing to deserve it. But the text nowhere supports the practice although it does not explicitly denounce it. I do not know how anyone could get that impression after reading through the endless pleas to be kind to the defenseless.
- That the practice of owning another human being is detestable. That might be true. Someone should write a piece making the argument. However, if a man were too poor to feed himself and his family and decided to sell himself as a slave, if he consented to the action and was well treated, I think I would rather have that than have him starve to death. It might not be ideal, but it beats the alternative.
- That slaves could be maltreated: e.g. the women could be raped, hurt or maltreated in some way. The text also does not support this. It does insist that slaves (both foreign and local) be treated well. There were checks in place to enforce this (freedom for maimed slaves and deprived concubines) if the owner managed to miss all the places where the law denounced his actions. People can be maltreated in their work places. If it happens, the law takes care of it, but we don’t stop working.
- That it did not offer foreign slaves the same rights as Hebrew ones: So what? I’m in the US for College on an F-1 visa and I can’t work in specific places under specific situations. Boo-hoo.
In short, I think the law dealt very well with slaves. During my research, I found numerous places where the Israelites were asked to treat slaves and foreigners well, because they used to be foreigners in Egypt. There is so much more to be said about this issue, but alas, my finals draw near.
Slavery in the Old Testament by Glenn Miller: This has been of great help to me and is recommended if you want a more thorough and Comprehensive treatment. He also has something on slavery in the New Testament and other topics.
Genesis 1 – Deuteronomy 34: I believe the best way to find out what the Bible says about something is to read it. I don’t mean cherry pick it. Take your time and find out everything it has to say on the topic.