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Since the matter came up in a recent post, it is worthwhile adding something to what has already been said about the practice of slavery in the Bible. The Christian Old Testament, Jewish Tanach, is easiest mined for such evidence, but as I said the New Testament is just as complicit. In the New Testament slavery is simply accepted as a fact of life, and no moral implications are drawn from it, except that in the letter to Philemon, Paul expects (whether or not the expectation was borne out in fact) that Christian slave owners will treat their slaves as brothers in Christ). There is nothing in the Christian scriptures which can justify the claim that Christianity, at its foundation, threw a critical light onto this most serious of human moral failings — namely, the ownership of other human beings, and their use as living instruments. Here, for those who are interested, are some passages in which biblical slavery is expressed and condemned picked out and commented on by the author of evilbible.com:
Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do. Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves.
Many Jews and Christians will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants. Many translations of the Bible use the word “servant”, “bondservant”, or “manservant” instead of “slave” to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is. While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn’t mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock.
The following passage shows that slaves are clearly property to be bought and sold like livestock.
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)
The following passage describes how the Hebrew slaves are to be treated.
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)
Notice how they can get a male Hebrew slave to become a permanent slave by keeping his wife and children hostage until he says he wants to become a permanent slave. What kind of family values are these?
The following passage describes the sickening practice of sex slavery. How can anyone think it is moral to sell your own daughter as a sex slave?
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)
So these are the Bible family values! A man can buy as many sex slaves as he wants as long as he feeds them, clothes them, and screws them!
What does the Bible say about beating slaves? It says you can beat both male and female slaves with a rod so hard that as long as they don’t die right away you are cleared of any wrong doing.
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
You would think that Jesus and the New Testament would have a different view of slavery, but slavery is still approved of in the New Testament, as the following passages show.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.
The servant [slave/δούλος] will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
There is now a large number of books which look closely a the failure of the Bible to provide a reliable moral guide to action. This is not surprising. Some of the biblical writings date from at least the fifth or sixth
millennium century BCE, and may be even earlier. The New Testament writings were written early during the Common Era, and belong to a small, yet growing sect, of fanatics, whose primary goal was growth, not goodness. There is very little evidence that the mores of the Empire improved with the victory of Christianity, and its establishment as the religion of the Empire. Indeed, there is some evidence, especially in the case of women, that women’s position suffered grievously at the coming of Christianity. Certainly, religious intolerance and violence grew upon the accession of Christianity to imperial power and authority, and its pretence to such power is still one of the factors that make of Christianity such a danger to democratic governance today. Christians, sadly, do not recognise this about themselves, since they seem unable to see that improvements can be made on the ancient morality to which they pledge allegiance.
I should just add here, for the purposes of even-handedness — it troubles me that Christianity is more often criticised than Islam – that the Qu’ran undoubtedly, on balance, introduced even greater evils into the traditions of the Abrahamic religions. The Qu’ran not only endorses slavery, but positively revels in it, and the gains that are made by Muslim society by the human spoils of war. Moreover, the pervasive role that threats of hellfire and descriptions of the pains of hell play in the Qu’ran are not only sickening, but also provide a basis for the violent fanaticism that has accompanied Islam wherever it has spread, and unfeeling violence that is still evident in lands governed according to Islamic principles. The traditions of divine violence in the Qu’ran are evident on practically every page. That such a text — or that such texts as the Tanach, the Christian Bible, and the Muslim Qu’ran — should be considered holy is an affront to humanity, and a guarantee of continued violence in the name of these religions, so long as they continue to regard these menschlich, allzu menschlich texts as in any sense of the word, sacred.