Board index Slavery in the Bible

The differences between Ex., Lev., and Deuteronomy

Postby Regnus Numis » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:59 pm

How do you explain the differences among the slavery laws of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus?

Both Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12 suggest an Israelite can sell himself into slavery, or indentured servitude, serving six years before being released, while Leviticus 25:39-41 not only states an Israelite must be treated as a hired worker instead of a slave, but also must be allowed to work until the Year of Jubilee, which took place every 50 years. Moreover, Deuteronomy 15:18 firmly draws a distinction between a slave and a hired worker, further cementing that they are not the same thing.

In addition, Exodus 21:2 plainly states that a Hebrew slave shall not be paid upon release, while Deuteronomy 15:12-14 clearly instructs masters to supply their Hebrew slaves with livestock, grain, and wine upon their release on the seventh year. Furthermore, unlike Exodus 21:5, Deuteronomy 15:16 neglects to mention the slave's wife and children during his decision to apply for lifelong slavery under his master.

Finally, Deuteronomy 15:12 conspicuously includes both Hebrew men and women selling themselves into slavery/indentured servitude, while Exodus 21:2 only implies Hebrew men selling themselves into slavery/indentured servitude. Throughout Deuteronomy 15:12-17, equal treatment is demanded for both male and female Hebrew slaves. Meanwhile, Exodus 21:7 only addresses Hebrew daughters sold into "slavery" by their fathers, stating they shall not be released as the male slaves. As we continue reading Exodus 21:7-11, it becomes apparent that a Hebrew daughter was being sold into marriage, either with the master or his son. However, nowhere was this fact implied throughout Deuteronomy 15:12-17.
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Re: The differences between Ex., Lev., and Deuteronomy

Postby jimwalton » Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:00 pm

First of all you have to realize that all of the law (Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) are casuistic. It deals with a wide variety of case studies, which may or may not have been realistic or historic, but which serve as guidelines for judges having to make judicial decisions. They are often characterized by "it...then" clauses to give the judges principles by which to adjudicate. They regulate the general principles for governing society, for fair practice, and for treating people fairly in contentious situations. As persons committed crimes under varying circumstances, it became necessary to go beyond the simple statute like "Do not steal," for instance, to take into account such things as time of day, motive, and the value of what has been stolen.

The law codes of the Torah are not lists of God's mandatory moral commands, nor are they lists of rules to be obeyed. They are not legislation. They are better viewed as *legal wisdom*. They are a collection of legal situations and the appropriate judicial response to guide judges to make wise decisions.

Therefore, they are not intended to be read as rules, but instead to circumscribe the bounds of civil, legal, and ritual order. They are hypothetical examples to illustrate underlying principles, similar to how we use word problems to teach math. The things we make up (two trains are coming towards each other...) are not to teach about trains, buildings, running, or apples, but to learn trigonometry. So we also understand the laws of the Torah. it is to shape society, not to give a list of moral commands.

Secondly, you must understand that "slavery" in the ancient world had a different meaning and practice than slavery in the Greco-Roman world and the Colonial West, both of the latter of which were chattel slavery. Slavery in the ancient Near East was not chattel slavery,but most often debt slavery or corvee labor (working for the government, similar to Roosevelt's CCC in the 1930s). In the ANE, they didn't own other people, but just their labor. It was not a whole lot different from our sense of employment: our labor is "owned" so we can pay off our debts to creditors or to the government.

> Both Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12; Lev. 25:39-41. Can an Israelite sell himself into slavery?

This is an occasion of debt slavery. A bad farm crop, a fire in the homestead, or some stupid decisions could put one person in debt to another. They could indenture themselves to a creditor for a limited time to redeem the debt. No actual sale took place, but the person's labor was transferred to the "possession" of the creditor. The "sale price" was understood to be the loan, which the debtor had already received and was not unable to repay. Redemption occurred when the debt or one of his family members eventually acquired the means to pay off the debt. All three texts are about that. Leviticus is merely using terminology to make a distinction between Israelite debt-slavery and those who come from the nations around. Leviticus 25 adds a piece about the Jubilee since it is about the Jubilee. Put the three texts together, and we conclude that Israelites who had sold themselves into slavery were nevertheless to be treated as wage-earning guests (hired workers or temporary residents) and were to be released after 6 years (Ex. 21.2-6; Dt. 15.1-6) and also during the Jubilee, the 50th year (Lev. 25.10-17, 40). Israelite debt slaves were to be released every 7 years (a Sabbath of years), and the Sabbath-Sabbath year (after 7 sevens of years, or 49 years, the Jubilee came every 50th year).

> Exodus 21:2 plainly states that a Hebrew slave shall not be paid upon release, while Deuteronomy 15:12-14 clearly instructs masters to supply their Hebrew slaves with livestock, grain, and wine upon their release on the seventh year.

It's a bit of a nuanced translation. In Ex. 21.2, the Hebrew word used is *higam,* "without compensation." Since the individual had worked off their debt, no further compensation was owed to them in return for their labor. But then the Dt. 15 text expands on Exodus 21 (not just in this way, but in many ways), showing that if the creditor wished to be generous (and generous would be a godly thing to do), don't send the person away a pauper, having worked for YOU for several years instead of for their own income. Help give them some means to get back on their feet. Remember, these are not laws but legal wisdom.

> unlike Exodus 21:5, Deuteronomy 15:16 neglects to mention the slave's wife and children during his decision to apply for lifelong slavery under his master.

Yes, the Deuteronomy law (just about the whole book) is an expansion and elaboration of the Book of the Covenant found in Exodus 20-23. There is no need to mention the wife and child in every casuistic illustration.

> Deuteronomy 15:12 conspicuously includes both Hebrew men and women selling themselves into slavery/indentured servitude, while Exodus 21:2 only implies Hebrew men selling themselves into slavery/indentured servitude.

Ditto as above. Deuteronomy and Exodus cover the same territory but aren't just carbon copies of each other. These aren't discrepancies or contradictions, but different voicings of the same principles.

> As we continue reading Exodus 21:7-11, it becomes apparent that a Hebrew daughter was being sold into marriage, either with the master or his son.

Ex. 21.7-11 are another example of casuistic law. Such regulations don't assume the described states of affairs are ideal, or even real. So we have here a potential real life situation: suppose some dad puts his daughter into debt servitude to pay off the debt so he can keep working to support the family. The father would do this out of concern for his family, and Israel's laws provided this kind of safety net for its very poorest people. Voluntary selling was a matter of survival in harsh financial circumstances. Temporarily contracting out family members to employers, who also provided room and board, was the most suitable alternative during hard times. Safety nets should't become hammocks, however, and a typical servant tried to work off the terms of his contract and become debt free.

But sometimes, in the days of arranged marriages and dowries, the women were not "bought" as debt-slaves, but as concubines. In that case she was not to be released. When a daughter was "sold" in this kind of situation, it was intended both as a payment of debt and a way of obtaining a husband for a girl without a dowry. But the law is still protecting her so she isn't either sexually or economically abused. This is no misogyny or objectification of women. She has more rights than a male in the sense that she can be freed from slavery if her master does not provide her with food, clothing, and marital rights.

Keil & Delitzsch write:

- If the man does not follow through with his intent to make her a concubine (8), he must allow another Israelite to take (buy) her as a concubine. (Lev. 25.48)
- If the man does not follow through with his intent to make her a concubine (9), he can keep in the family by letting her be the concubine of his son, and treat her as a daughter.
- If the son takes other concubines or a wife, her basic needs are not to be neglected (10). She is not to be diminished.

> nowhere was this fact implied throughout Deuteronomy 15:12-17.

Right. Deuteronomy doesn't deal with this aspect. As explained, it's OK. They don't have to be carbon copies of each other.
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Re: The differences between Ex., Lev., and Deuteronomy

Postby Regnus Numis » Thu Nov 09, 2017 5:49 pm

> Leviticus is merely using terminology to make a distinction between Israelite debt-slavery and those who come from the nations around.

Speaking of which, how would you respond to the criticism of foreigners and their children being held as slaves for life in Leviticus 25:44-46? Even if they would be released upon the Year of Jubilee, why deny them the same opportunity at freedom as Hebrew slaves after six years of servitude?
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Re: The differences between Ex., Lev., and Deuteronomy

Postby jimwalton » Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:06 pm

First of all, as I said, the Levitical law is casuistic (hypothetical case law) rather than apodictic (demonstrably the situation at hand). They are guidelines for judges. Whether or not they have any correspondence to reality is beside the point. "The characters and plots in the movie have no correspondence to any real persons or events." They are there to give judges principles by which to adjudicate. It's not a list of commands to be obeyed (apodictic law), but rather legal wisdom.

On to Leviticus 25.44-46. Foreigners were to be treated by the law differently than native Israelites (people of the Covenant). Foreigners were not allowed to own land in Israel (Lev. 25.23; Josh. 22.19), a situation that often led to foreigners working for others as farm hands, apprentices, etc. (the Bible uses the word "slave" for this economic arrangement because it's the only word they had. Usually the only way for a foreigner to survive economically was to be incorporated into an Israelite home to serve there. (These people were not slaves, but more like employees. Ancient Hebrew had no such word as "employee".) In other words, foreigners had a different permanent status. But there was no such thing as chattel slavery in ancient Israel, despite what this verse makes it sound like. We have to look at and consider the whole Law. Leviticus 19.33-34 & Ex. 22.21 forbids mistreating foreigners. As people they were to be treated as a native Israelite. They were to be treated with compassion and dignity. They were protected by Israelite law as people. Runaway slaves from other countries were given protection within Israel's borders (Dt. 23.15-16). Kidnapping of slaves was also prohibited (Ex. 21.16; Dt. 24.7). Economically, they were in a different category and had a different status. Unable to own land, they would be brought under the economic authority of a native Israelite, and the law didn't mandate their release after 7 years, as it did with indigenous Israelis (these verses in Lev. 25.44-46). Serving within Israelite households was a safe haven for any foreigner; it was not to be an oppressive setting, but instead offered economic and social stability. Hired Israelite servants were to be released after 7 years maximum, with the idea being there would be no permanent poverty class in Israel. Foreigners, however, still couldn't own land, so they didn't have to be released after 7 years. To do so would mean economic ruin for many of them.

Leviticus 25.45 says "they will become your "property," but herein lies a problem of translation. The Hebrew word is *la'ahuzza*, meaning "possession." The false assumption here is that this foreigner was a chattel slave. But this term doesn't imply that this foreigner was a piece of property at the mercy of his master. What it indicates is that the Jubilee Law doesn't apply to non-Israelites.

Eventually, after several generations, a foreigner could be admitted into Israelite citizenship (hence the rule that they would be willed to the children). Such foreigners, after several generations, could possibly become rich (Zika, the "slave" of King Saul, 2 Sam. 9.10b; 16.4) and achieve high social status ((Doeg the Edomite, 1 Sam. 21.8; Zelek the Ammonite, 2 Sam. 23.37; Uriah the Hittite, 2 Sam. 1.3, all high officers in the royal court or army). Even though he may have totally assimilated into Israelite society, even to the point of being a zealous worshiper of YHWH (a matter emphasized in the Doeg and Uriah accounts), he retained his ethnic label and was still not necessarily considered an Israelite. Until they chose to leave the territory of Israel or until they became citizens, they stayed attached to a household as "employees" (the Hebrew word eved, or "servant"), sometimes for their whole lives.


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