Supportive passages from the Hebrew
Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)
Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that sanction slavery:
There are many Bible passages which directly sanction and regulate
slavery. Quoting from the KJV (except as noted) some of these passages are:
||The Ten Commandments: Rabbi M.J. Raphall (circa 1861)
justified human slavery on the basis of
the 10th commandment. It places slaves
"... under the same protection as any
other species of lawful property...That the Ten Commandments are the word of G-d, and as
such, of the very highest authority, is acknowledged by Christians as well as by
Jews...How dare you, in the face of the sanction and protection afforded to slave property
in the Ten Commandments--how dare you denounce slaveholding as a sin? When you remember
that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job--the men with whom the Almighty conversed, with whose
names he emphatically connects his own most holy name, and to whom He vouchsafed to give
the character of 'perfect, upright, fearing G-d and eschewing evil' (Job 1:8)--that
all these men were slaveholders, does it not strike you that you are guilty of something
very little short of blasphemy?" 1
||Exodus 20:17"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house,
thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his
maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's."
||Deuteronomy 5:21"Neither shalt thou desire thy
neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field,
or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that
is thy neighbor's.
||Beating and Killing Slaves: Although an owner could beat a male or
female slave, she/he would have to avoid serious injury to eyes or teeth. The owner would
have to avoid beating the slave to death. But it was acceptable to beat a slave so
severely that it only disabled him or her for two days:
||Exodus 21:20-21 "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid,
with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he
continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money [property]."
||Exodus 21:26-27 "And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or
the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. And if
he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free
for his tooth's sake."
||Emancipation of Slaves: Slaves in ancient Israel were automatically
emancipated after 6 years of slavery, but only if they were Jewish. However, if the slave
owner "gave" the slave a wife, the owner could keep the wife and any children as
his property. |
Passages in Exodus state that female slaves who were sold into slavery by
their fathers would be slaves forever. A corresponding passage in Exodus contradicts this;
it required female slaves to be given their freedom after 6 years.
One could purchase a
slave from a foreign nation or from foreigners living with them. These slaves would remain
in slavery forever, unless the owner chooses to frees them An Israelite who was a slave
could be freed by a family member or by himself if he had the money. The cost of freeing a
slave was computed on the basis of the number of years to the next Jubilee Year; this
could be 1 to 50 years. Male Israelite slaves were automatically freed during the Jubilee
Year. Depending upon which verse was being followed, female Israelite slaves might also
have been freed at that time as well. Foreign slaves were out of luck.
||Exodus 21:1-4: "If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he
shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by
himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with
him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the
wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself."
||Deuteronomy 15:12-18: "And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or
an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year
thou shalt let him go free from thee.And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou
shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and
out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath
blessed thee thou shalt give unto him."
||Exodus 21:7: "And if a man sell his daughter to be a
maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do."
||Leviticus 25:44-46: "Your male and female
slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy
slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among
you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will
become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited
property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over
your fellow Israelites ruthlessly." (NIV)
||Leviticus 25:48-53: "After that he is sold he may be redeemed
again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may
redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be
able, he may redeem himself. And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year
that he was sold to him unto the year of jubilee: and the price of his sale shall be
according unto the number of years, according to the time of an hired servant shall it be
||Restrictions on the Re-selling of Slaves: A slave was considered a
piece of property, and thus could normally be resold to anyone at any time for any reason.
However, special rules applied for Hebrew slaves. If a person bought a female slave from
her father and she displeased him, he had no right to sell her to a foreign owner. If the
owner required her to marry his son, then the owner was required to treat her like a
daughter-in-law. If the owner marries his slave and later marries another woman, he was
required to treat his slave as he previously had. If he violates any of these
requirements, then she must be emancipated. But she would leave without any money or means
of supporting herself; she would be free, but abandoned.
||Exodus 21:8: "If she please not her master, who hath betrothed
her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he
shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.And if he have betrothed
her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him
another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And
if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money."
||Sexual Activity with an Engaged Female Slave: A man who rapes or
engages in consensual sex with a female slave who is engaged to be married to another man
must sacrifice an animal in the temple in order to obtain God's forgiveness. The female slave would be
whipped. There is apparently no punishment or ritual animal killing required if the female
slave were not engaged; men could rape such slaves with impunity.
||Leviticus 19:20-22: "And whosoever lieth carnally with a
woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom
given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not
free. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the
tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall
make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his
sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him."
||Purchasing a Brother as a Slave: If a man is sold into slavery due to
poverty and his brother purchases him, then the man must be treated as a hired hand or as
a guest of the brother. He would be not be free to leave, but was required to serve until
the Jubilee Year, which occurs every 50 years. This would often require him to serve his
brother for the rest of his life. Some translations (e.g. Living Bible) refer to"a
fellow Israelite" rather than "brother." The fate of a woman
being bought by her brother is unclear.
||Leviticus 25:39: "And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be
waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant:
But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee
unto the year of jubilee: And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children
with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers
shall he return."
||Punishment for Criminals or Debtors: A person who kidnaps a fellow
Israelite and makes him a slave or sells him into slavery would be stoned to death. If a
thief is caught and cannot make full restitution, he would be sold as a slave. A debtor
who could not pay back creditors might be sold into slavery or have his children sold.
||Exodus 21:16: "And he that stealeth [kidnaps] a
man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to
||Deuteronomy 24:7: "If a man be found stealing any of his
brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then
that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you."
||Exodus 22:3: "...he should make full restitution; if he have
nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft."
||II Kings 4:1: "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of
the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou
knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my
two sons to be bondmen."
||Enslaving Women Captives: In a foreign war, an Israelite could take any
woman as a slave-wife, even if it were against her will. He would put her through what
could be regarded as a period of ritual abuse. If he later dislikes her, he can grant her
freedom, but cannot sell her to another slave owner.
||Deuteronomy 21:10-14: "When thou goest forth to war against
thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast
taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto
her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine
house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of
her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her
mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her [i.e. rape her or engage in
consensual sex], and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be, if thou
have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not
sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast
||Deuteronomy 20:14" "But the women, and the little ones, and the
cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto
||Runaway Slaves: If a slave runs away from his owner and comes to you,
then you are not to return the slave to his owner. Rather, you are to let him live in any
town in your area.
||Deuteronomy 23:15-16: "Thou shalt not deliver unto his master
the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even
among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him
best: thou shalt not oppress him."
||Circumcision of Slaves: A male slave would be required to undergo
circumcision. This would be a very painful operation for an adult. It was life-threatening
in the days before modern medical techniques. A small percentage of slaves would die from
infection caused by the operation.
||Genesis 17:13: "He that is born in thy house, and he that is
bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh
for an everlasting covenant."
||Genesis 17:27: "And all the men of his house, born in the
house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him."
||Priests as Slave Owners: God ordered Moses to wage war against the
Midianites, because the latter had attempted to convert the Israelites to their religion.
They Israelite soldiers killed every male Midianite, but initially spared the lives of the
women and children. Moses was angry at this act of mercy, and in an act of near genocide,
ordered that all of the women and children be murdered in cold blood, allowing only 32,000
female virgins to live. All of the booty, including the surviving girls and virgin women,
was then divided into two equal portions: one for the soldiers and the rest for the people
of Israel. 0.1% of the slaves from the first half and 2% of the slaves from the second
half were considered the Lord's share. i.e. they were to be given to the priests. The
priests ended up with 365 female virgins; one for each day of the year.
||Numbers 31:28-47: "And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men
of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the
beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep: Take it of their half, and give it unto
Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.And of the children of Israel's
half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses,
and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the
charge of the tabernacle of the LORD."
||Slaves Owning Slaves: Saul's slave Ziba owned 20 slaves of his own:
||2 Samuel 9:10: "...Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants."
||Raping Slaves: Being property, female slaves could be required to
engage in sexual intercourse and become pregnant against their will. The perpetrator could
be their owner, or anyone that their owner designates:
||Genesis 16:1-2: "Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children:
and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram,
Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it
may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."
||Genesis 30:3-4: "And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in
unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she
gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her."
||Genesis 30:9-10: "When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she
took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son."
||Slaves Given the weekly Sabbath off: Slaves were not required to work on
||Exodus 20:10: "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD
thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy
manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy
Copyright © 1998 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2005-JUL-29
Author: B.A. Robinson