I have inadvertently found myself in a debate on Twitter about the differences of the term 'slavery' in the biblical sense and the way that we think of it today. Does anybody have any proof that this word has changed definitions over the past 2000 years? 

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Oh so we can beat our slaves as much as we want, as long as they survive for a day or two afterwards?

CPR, mouth-to-mouth, aspirin, whatever it takes - just keep 'em alive for a couple of days and you're home free --

If all else fails, resurrect them.

I don't find the slavery argument particularly strong.  For two reasons.  While the OT upholds slavery, the NT casts the OT as being an inadequate compensation on decent morality, the compensation being on account of how terribly obstinate the ancient Israelites were.  Secondly, while the bible tells slaves to bear their lot in life with a Christian attitude, it does not condone the institution we understand as slavery.  

First, there was no solid line between slave and servant in the first century.  Many used hired servitude as a way to advance on the social ladder. Unlike the south, in the Roman era, when your hired servant time is up, you are actually leaving as an adopted member of the family with all social class rights as well as the money you made when in your time of servitude. There are many accounts of this.  Then there were also slaves that were mistreated.  So a slave that is treated well, is essentially a servant.  The NT tells people with hired servants to treat them well.  Doulos, the Greek word, can be translated either servant or slave.

The completed OT shows that Yhwh did not actually favor Israel on account of their intrinsic worth or anything. On the contrary Yhwh is presented as thinking they were a stiff-necked people, that he didn't think deserved the favor.

"Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people." (Deut 9:6, ESV)  This translation makes it a bit tame, but the criticism of Yhwh in Hebrew is actually more severe than it looks in this translation.

It seems the Christians drew off of this principle in the formation of the NT gospels:

"They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."  (Matt 19:7-8, ESV)

In the same way, the NT does not condone slavery.  In Philemon, Paul tells a slave-owner to free a slave.  Furthermore, in Paul's writings, he says that all have the same valuation, and in Christianity such distinctions as slave and free are null.

In passages that do tell slaves to obey masters, it is carrying through the principle of martyria which means to "testify/witness to a fact".  Christianity, much like Stoicism, is a religion of self-discipline.  Bearing suffering well indicates that:

A. You are a good person
B. You find value in something that makes the suffering worth it.

Telling slaves to bear hardship is considered a sacrifice for a greater cause, not a condoning of slavery.  Stoicism was the major philosophy at the time, and one wouldn't be a serious contender against stoicism if they did not bear suffering well.

This is why martyrdom to death demonstrated an appeal, and is referenced so positively in ancient Christian writings.  If people were being put to death for being bad people, they wouldn't bear executions with such a positive countenance.  Stoicism made martyrdom important.

So essentially, the slavery argument is weak once you know these things.  Even though the NT condones slaves practicing marturia inside of their condition of slavery, it invalidates slavery on multiple occasions as opposed to upholding the institution. In instances where it doesn't, it requires a master-servant dynamic rather than a master-slave one.  Furthermore, the gospels cast the OT as inadequate and limited to the stubborn and stiff-necked capacity of an ancient group of people.

There are better arguments to use.

You quoted Deut 9:6, but you must bear in mind that hindsight is 20/20 - Deuteronomy, like the other four books of the Bible purported to have been written by Moses, was not written by Moses. In fact, there is belief among biblical scholars that Deuteronomy, which was allegedly "found" in a dusty corner of the old temple, much like Mormon Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon, at exactly the time it was most needed - GodDidIt, hallelujah! - was actually written by Hezekiah, a Hebrew king, shortly after 700 BCE, hence he was able to look back, see what had happened to the Jewish people hundreds of years earlier, and write a book prophesying that it would happen, thus allowing the priests to say, "See - Yahweh told you this was going to happen!"

So while I don't disagree with your quotation, "Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people," I maintain that it didn't express anyone else's opinion, other than that of Hezekiah.

Much of Biblical prophecy is hindsight.

On the POSITIVE side of this discussion, Biblical slaves/servants were mandated the same Sabbath day of rest as anyone else.

Yeah, but you already know I am aware of that... There is a reason why I don't go there.

I just don't think it is honest to use a point against a belief that you know is refuted by the internal workings of the flawed system.  I am appealing to that when you argue with someone, you are trying to point out the lack of consistency in the reasoning of the belief system.

The system of belief is dependent on divine inspiration, therefore source criticism being a credible argument would only be possible if verbal plenary inspiration has been refuted and accepted as refuted. But if you already refuted it, there is no reason to argue since both are already convinced you are right.

There are other things that take down verbal plenary inspiration, but this one is not one of them.  If you are going into source criticism, you have already whittled them down to the point where slavery isn't a big deal.

In the system we are arguing against, there is no source criticism.  Sometimes you have to think for them to determine if the argument against that system is valid.  I find making an invalid argument to lead someone to realize their belief is invalid is a bad thing.  So I would rather anticipate what refutation they "should" use.  If they should use a refutation I can think of, then I won't play on their ignorance.  I would rather just take a different tack. 

Oh, I understand where you're going John, I just saw something - not in your tone, but in the tone of the quotation - that gave at least a modicum of validity to the idea of an actual supernatural entity bequeathing a land to the Jewish people, and I just couldn't let that go unchallenged.

ROFL.  Odd..  I wrote something, but it didn't all post.   Anyway, no modicums today, or ever given Deut 32.  It is not the first time that someone has noticed me working within an argument that mistook me for being on the side of the argument.  

NOW you're misunderstanding (but not earlier) - I'm thoroughly familiar with your degree of expertise, and am not questioning it, but there are others here, especially newbies, who aren't. I was clarifying for their benefit, rather than disagreeing with you.

Ahh gotcha.  I thought you had concluded I had lost it.

@John, I sort of feel like you can't see the forest for the trees.

Even if you can parse out enough passages to make it seem like god was sort of on the fence about slavery - it's SLAVERY for chrissake. It shouldn't take a PhD in dead languages to be able to sort out god's opinion on slavery. It's a question that god could have put to rest easily, and he didn't. All the analysis and interpretation in the world can't show where god or jeebus or anyone actually says: you don't ever get to own another human.

God didn't have any trouble laying down law after law forbidding this and that. But slavery? Not so much. Oh - there were rules about slaves alright. You could beat the living daylights out of them. You could pass ownership of slaves down generation to generation as long as they were foreigners. That, by the way, is not servanthood - it's slavery. Quit softpeddaling their shit.

There really is nothing in the bible, OT or NT, that outright condemns slavery. It's not just that  god allowed slavery in order to deal with those stubborn israelites, either, as though he was just making the best of a bad situation by letting those knuckleheads have their little pets slaves.

And whatever else the NT has that can be interpreted one way or the other on the subject, JC hizzownself said the law ain't going away until heaven and earth pass. And he told slaves to obey their masters - while never telling masters that they aren't allowed to own other people!

You bring up Paul's idea that there's no difference between slave or free. He's not saying a damn thing about slavery being right wrong or neutral. That's the same passage where he says there's no male or female. It's just a parallel construct saying it doesn't matter to god whether you are any of these things. That passage is not speaking against slavery anymore than it's speaking against being male.

@Cody - using slavery to make the point that the christian god is less moral than you and I is perfectly legitimate. Keep on keepin' on, man. Doesn't matter if the definition of the word is a little different. Just look at the rules around slavery in the bible and get the christians to explain to you how that's justifiable in any way.

Karen, you may be quite convinced, but half of your points are already refuted in my original post.  That aggrivates me, because it makes me feel I wasted my time explaining things carefully.

First of all, like I took the time to write before and was ignored, it is not slavery.  Like I said before, the word means anything from total slavery to indentured servitude for high ranking Roman officials.  There is nothing wrong with indentured servitude in and of itself.

As for Paul's statement, it has a lot more to do with God's sight, it has to concern community sight ("In Christ" doesn't mean "in God's eyes", and is seen in multiple passages as clearly indicating that social class distinctions were rejected in the early Church.

And the "heaven and earth will not pass away" passage is talking about the archetypal law, not the inadequate OT.  Both Colossians and Hebrews refer to that.  The law of Moses is not the law, it is a shadow. 

As for "there are many ways to interpret the bible" yes, but there are also "most likely" interpretations.  But the only thing that matters in an argument is the way that is used by the person you are arguing against.

Indentured servitude may trouble your western sentiments, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

In closing, it just isn't as simple as you make it out to be, no matter how oversimplified you want it to be.  In reality, it is not. And you can't pretend that it is, or just imagine it to be.  That is the burden of being intellectually honest as well as the litmus test of whether you are, or you are not.  It is a tough standard, but you need to adhere to it.  The argument is not legitimate.

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Posted by ɐuɐz ǝllǝıuɐp on July 28, 2014 at 10:27pm 3 Comments

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