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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.
No, I don’t hate God for mandating slavery, and no I don’t believe that God is evil for mandating slavery. I don’t believe that THIS god, the absurd god of the bible, is even extant, let alone worthy of any adjectives beyond that! This god’s inhumane and ridiculously cruel commands say nothing about the god that they are ascribed to, simply because they are so obviously ascribed to a god by the men in whose image this god was made.
Deal with it folks; your god is the brainchild of some particularly awful humans. The bible simply and clearly gets this very easy human rights question utterly wrong.
Abandon it, and keep looking for answers. You’ll be ever so glad you did.
Thanks to those who responded to my blog post requesting help with reading materials. Special thanks to Dr. B Cargill for valuable guidance in the final stages of writing, and for the “job creators” line!
Amongst other sources I used:
Avalos, H. (2011) “Slavery, Abolitionism and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship: Reflections about Ethical Deflections”
Accessed Dec 2012 at http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/ava358013.shtml#sdfootnote12sym
Copan, P. (2011) “Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? An Overview”. Enrichment, Spring 2011
Jewish Virtual Library. (2008) “Slavery: Biblical Law”
Accessed January 2012 at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0018_0_18703.html
Path Of The Beagle (blog) has an informative series on Bible slavery, starting here:
Unbelievable? Episode: “Does the Bible condone slavery?” 19 June, 2010. Debate: David Instone-Brewer, vs. Bob Price. Moderator: Justin Brierley
Accessed and available via iTunes podcast.
Deem, R (2011) “Does God Approve of Slavery According to the Bible?”
Section 1 of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
I had to leave out “male and female” in my recounting of Lev 25:45-47; I had a gag about Yahweh being an equal-opportunity enslaver but it got taken out along the way, and it flowed within the video much better with that left out.
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And as you can see, they are going to be stealing from each other, lying, being cruel, even hating each other and killing each other. This whole fall from grace is worse than we expected, Lord,
What about haircuts?
The hair on the side of their heads, and their beards, do they end up cutting that.
Well – I’ll check,… uh yes,
GRRR Why did I make the fruit of that tree so deliciously tempting?. No no, that’s not on, I want that banned. (leviticus 19.27) If I’d known,….
Yes, Lord, a ban on cutting the hair on the side of the head,
moving on, Lord it seems that this sinful nature messes them up so bad that they abuse children in some cases,..<<<
Do they wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together?
Well, do they?
Right. That too. Absolute ban on that, (Deuteronomy 22:11) can we direct you towards the things that we think you need to be equally clear on,.
Yeah I heard you, killing each other, stealing, sitting on a chair that a menstruating woman’s been sitting on (Lev 15:19-23)
Well, those first two, yes are you going to prohibit them.
Yes, (Ex 20:13-15)
<insert> good, well<<<
And tattoos as well. No tattoos! “I am the Lord!” (Lev 19:28)
You hate oppression and cruelty and stealing, just as much as tattoos, right?
Well thank goodness for that, because we’ve got something that you need to look at then.
What are they doing?
Well, slavery, Lord,
Yes, on a massive scale, it begins right away (Gen 9:25) and looking at the projections, it seems that some of the larger and more powerful civilizations that arise think that it’s OK to forcibly take literally millions of people from the continent of Africa and make them work for them and practically build their nations for them.
Yeah, humans actually steal their fellow humans, and deprive them of all liberty and dignity for their entire life.
They’re captured, shackled, often branded, and crammed into boats, and shipped overseas where they’re sold and literally worked to death.
Children are born into slavery and live out their entire lives as slaves, not knowing a single day of freedom.
Africans you said?
Well yeah, Africa is going to take the brunt of this, lord in the long term,.
You need to set a clear example of your compassion here Lord, it’s very simple. (2 Chron 30:9)
You love righteousness and justice, right Lord? (Ps 33:5) It’s just about the worst violation of those imaginable.
Right. Well lets do it then. Let’s get this absolutely right, once and for all.
Great! I sure am glad to hear you’re on board with that.. etc
Well, it’s really up to you as far as the wording goes, do you want a “Do not” commandment or a “You must not” commandment?
Well so far you’ve got “Do not invoke the names of other gods, (Ex 23:13 NIV), “Do not allow a sorceress to live” (Ex 22:18 NIV), both of those are very unambiguous, So we could have “Do not own another person as property”, or do you want “You must not own another person as property” like you have “You must not eat any fat or any blood’? (Lev 3:17 NIV)
I’d go with “you must not”, it’s kinda stronger, don’t you think?
Yeah I think so. There’s not much chance of misinterpretation there.
Yeah but ‘Do not’ is more of an imperative.
Hold on, hold on….
Well the owning people aspect of it I don’t mind so much.,… Were there other aspects of it that you were concerned about?,…
Well, lord the idea of owning people as property is probably a good place to start when abolishing slavery. dont you think?
Hold on Who’s Abolishing anything?
Lord you abolished cross-dressing a minute ago, (Deut 22:5) don’t you think that slavery is equally detestable?
Hmmm, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Certainly a ‘difficult’ topic,…
Not really, Lord, no. these sinful fallen humans will outlaw it themselves eventually, Yeah, Lord, Just command it and it’s done. “You must not buy and sell people”
No, look, again, that aspect in and of itself isn’t so much of a concern, either…
Lord, it’s kinda exactly and totally what we’re talking about.
Look if it’s a runaway slave seeking refuge, that’s obviously different, (Deut 23:15) but if it’s a fair and square commercial deal,…then….
Lord are you saying that they may buy slaves?
Well,……. it depends on…
You mentioned something about the slaves being Africans,…right?
And they’re taken FROM Africa, to other countries.
Yeah, see the slaves are from a different country. So…
Oh, I see, you guys were thinking that the slaves were going to be MY people the Israelites!
No no no! No wonder you’re so confused! Sorry, we’re obviously talking about two different things! No way, my people aren’t allowed to do this to each other?!!?! OK I can see I’m going to have to make this very clear.
Look – Israelites aren’t to rule over each other ruthlessly – Put that down. “You must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. Your slaves are to come from the nations around you. From them you may buy slaves.” (Lev 25:44)
An Israelite owning another Israelite as a slave wouldn’t be OK! OK THAT is an outrage, obviously! Anyone can see that, That’s what I thought you guys were talking about! They’re only allowed to keep each other in indentured servitude. However bad this “African” slavery thing gets, it’s a totally different thing, see:,
You’re ok with people being made slaves, what,.. for life?
No! No no! After seven years they have to be set free. (Ex 21:2, Deut 15:12) and provided for with food and wine and even livestock when they go! It’s like a retirement benefit! (Deut 15:13-14) and you’re comparing it to some kind of slavery?!
Oh. What, they can go back to Africa?
Huh? No, I’m not talking about foreign slaves,!! You’re a bit hung up on this Africa thing. I’m talking about the Israelites, they have to free each other from indentured servitude at the end of six years. They know what it’s like to be held in slavery, they know how oppressive and unjust it is coz of what I’m going to let happen to them in Egypt for four hundred years, so knowingly being that cruel to each other would be absolutely immoral!
Yes, Lord, I get that you’re talking about Israelite indentured servants, but uh What about the foreign slaves then?
Ghghgh, foreign. They’re from different nations, so,…
They stay slaves for life?
><><><No, you’re not listening:, indentured servants go free after six years!. You’re not seeing this clearly, I think you’re trying to put a negative spin on the whole thing by drawing a comparison to some far-off future country keeping slaves from other countries. Israelite indentured servants have to be treated kindly and released at the end of six years
No, lord, foreigners.
Do they get freed? The foreigners that they buy as slaves?
Ghghgh No, you can make them slaves for life. But the Israelites are to be freed, see, it’s a totally different arrangement. You can’t even compare it with slavery. <<<<
You’re mandating lifetime slavery?
Of their fellow Israelites?, No! Absolutely not! It’s a fixed period, Why do you keep- you’re trying to make me look immoral! Why do you keep comparing this to other models of slavery that have nothing to do with this! This is something that they’re just as likely to opt into voluntarily, It’s a totally different thing! (Deut 15:16-17)
It’s more like a safety net. If they can’t pay their debts, they might opt-in to be someone’s servant for a period of years until they all go free again and all the debts are written off (Deut 15:1)…
Can i just bring you back to these Foreign slaves Lord, being sold into bondage for life, You seem to be commanding oppressive life-time slavery!
Israelite indentured servitude has nothing to do with that, though. Why are you drawing comparisons between them? This is totally different to that! Don’t you know that if an Israelite kills his indentured servant, he gets the death penalty himself? (Ex 21:20) This is a humane system, the servants aren’t property!! they’ll be fed and housed by their master, and they have job security! <<<Job creators>>>> And they can buy their freedom! <ref>
Yes, I get that Lord, but the concern we have, if I may, I have from you here, directly from you, I’ll bring it up on the screen here, uh “You may buy slaves. They are to come from the nations around you. You can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly” <do all red refs>
Right, the Israelites must treat each other with kindness and respect. See? I’m a god of love, I respect <ref> <<<<
But what we see here pretty much describes the worst and most oppressive and inhumane forms of slavery the world will ever see.
It will be the shame of many nations to have once participated in exactly what you’re outlining.
But the Israelites are NOT to treat each other like that. (Lev 25:43, 46, 53) Again, why are you trying to make me look bad when I’m saying they have to free each other and treat each other humanely? The Israelites are NOT slaves. They’re indentured servants!
Lord if I may I’d like to voice a concern, and please, just hear me out: that is that if you go with that wording we’ve got here, people might think that buying slaves from other nations, and making them slaves for life was in line with your inherent moral nature.
Well that would be a case of taking my words completely out of context. *^*^*^, No, look, I can blow that argument out of the water, ready? Write this down:
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner.” (Ex 22:21)
There, how can anyone now say that I’m ordering anything even remotely cruel.
So you’re abandoning what we’ve got so far up here,…
No, keep that, it’s coming along perfectly.
But it simply contradicts what you’ve got
No, I’d say it “complements” what we’ve got here.
Lord it might be helpful if I describe the characteristics of the slavery that we’re trying to avoid. This is what the humans do, and then themselves abolish as being incredibly cruel.
Their slaves come from the nations around them. From them, people buy slaves. The slaves become their property. They make them slaves for life.
That has nothing to do with what I’ve commanded. The Israelites have to let each other go at the end of six years. It’s totally different.
If I may, Lord, can I read a law that the humans come up with themselves, after the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery becomes too much to bear? I’ve adapted the language slightly in case it appeals to you as something you’d like to command yourself, now at the outset of human history, …
Yeah go on,
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist on Earth” (cf: Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution)
That sounds like a kind of man-made morality, which is obviously inferior to a divine commandment.
But anyway, my commandments for the Israelites are pretty much the same as that. They probably got that law from me anyway. They’re not to keep each other in slavery, they’re only allowed to keep, you know, their slaves in slavery.
…and temporary residents living among them. And members of their clans. And the people whose cities they want to invade. (Deut 20:10-11) <ref> And I like that bit about bequeathing the slaves to their children as inherited property. Put that in too, up there somewhere. But I need to make it absolutely clear that Israelites aren’t to do this to each other, because that’d be cruel and I’d never allow it.
I think that’s good now, lets leave it as it is there, Was there anything else you wanted to get my opinion on?
Well, the only other thing was,.. Uhh. Genocide.
You’re going to be very clearly against wiping entire people’s from the face of the earth, right?
(1 Sam 15:2-3)
Hmmmm,… It’s tricky, isn’t it?