Is Old Testament Slavery Evidence Against Biblical Morality?

I will argue that the institution of slavery under Old Testament law is not evidence for the immorality of the Bible.

  1. For something to be immoral it must be demonstrated as differing from a standard of morality.
    1. God’s will is the standard of morality.
    2. God’s will is expressed in Old Testament law
    3. Therefore, Old Testament law is not immoral.
  2. Slavery per se is not immoral.
    1. Consider the case of voluntary servitude.
    2. Consider a master-slave relationship with a benevolent master, or any patriarchal relationship wherein the parent benefits the child.
    3. I agree in practice these relationships are often (usually?) abused, but these abuses are none of the following:
      1. Slavery per se
      2. Advocated by the Bible
      3. Morally attributable to God or the Bible
  3. Slavery under the Old Testament law in the Bible is specifically not the institutionalization of any particular behavior which is immoral per se.
    1. I would say American slavery was worse, but I am open to argument.
      1. Israelite slaves received automatic freedom with parting supplies after 6 years.
      2. They also got Sundays off.
      3. Under the Covenant Code (there are multiple codes which apply depending on stuff) if a master seriously injured (maimed, broke a leg or arm, etc), then a slave was to be compensated by immediate manumission (freedom).
      4. The OT also says not to
    2. There were 4 ways to become a slave.
      1. Servitude to pay debt. Generally (always?) on a voluntary basis
      2. “Sexual slavery,” or arranged marriage with payment
      3. Enslavement during war
      4. Purchase in the slave trade
    3. Servitude to pay debt should not be considered immoral.
      1. In addition to the argument from Biblical ethics, the argument from Libertarian ethics gives license to any voluntary transaction, including voluntary servitude.
      2. Sounds kind of like an employment contract rather than slavery.
      3. What if you could work for 6 years and receive a full pardon for your school loans, mortgage, etc? I will be working quite a bit longer to do this.
    4.  “Sexual slavery,” or conjugal slavery, sounds super bad, but it is actually just an arranged marriage with a payment.
      1. Are arranged marriages awesome? Not so much. But I’m not convinced they are immoral.
      2. There were ways out of it too. Rape is not allowed in the Bible, and if a slave didn’t “please” the master, it could be redeemed.
      3. Certainly there was pressure on the young girl (usually, I assume) to consent to the marriage, but it doesn’t appear that the marriage proceeded in the case that she would not consent.
      4. More on rape isn’t allowed, because I hear some critics propose it is allowed sometimes.
        1. There are perhaps two cases to examine. Ordinary rape and rape of a slave.
        2. Ordinary rape is clearly condemned. This should give us a hint that rape in general is bad. The Bible doesn’t list every permutation of evil action.
        3. On rape of slaves: Soldiers could take war slaves, whether men or women. That women were raped may be true, but it isn’t recorded and it certainly isn’t theologically allowed. After war, both the soldiers and any female captives were to be purified according to purity law, and an emission of semen would make them both unclean under purity law.
        4. In the New Testament rape is included under the umbrella term of “sexual immorality” and it is considered sin. Then tone of the New Testament seems to be mutual consent.
    5. You could also be enslaved by losing a war.
      1. I don’t see war slavery as immoral under the condition that the war per se had some moral justification.
      2. It seems like throwing people in jail to me.
      3. Alternatively, you could have been killed in the war, which seems worse. I’m not sure whether lack of suicide may be evidence by revealed preference.
      4. Ideally the war losers could be easily integrated into society, but that can be a risky or socially suboptimal plan given a specific context.
    6. Lastly you can be bought or sold as a slave.
      1. Being bought and sold in the slave trade stinks, but is it immoral? I think becoming a slave requires moral license, but once you are a slave then I don’t see an obvious moral change by transferring the slave from one owner to another.
      2. If Israelites treated their slaves better than average then it may be a net good. Or, if becoming an Israelite slave resulted in salvation then it presents a good.
      3. I’m sure in practice there were alot of crappy slave-owners, but the Bible does not advocate being a crappy slave-owner.
        1. The OT does advocate being a good slave, even if your owner is crappy, but that’s different.

I also wonder if these or similar forms of slavery would not appear in an anarcho-capitalistic society. Key to this analysis is the question: “What is the difference between a prisoner and a slave in an anarcho-capitalist society?”

  1. Certainly voluntary servitude should be allowed in an ancap society.
    1. A contract lasting 6 years with severance pay, Sundays off, and immediate manumission on work related injury seems like it might exist.
  2. Is there any reason arranged marriages wouldn’t or couldn’t occur in an ancap society?
  3. How war might work in an ancap society is always interesting, but I think throwing some people in prison wouldn’t be a surprise.
    1. I think a person held in prison would be presented with the opportunity of doing work while they were in prison. There seem to be economic gains relative to prisoner babysitting.
    2. This looks kind of like slavery.
  4. If different PDAs gain large quantities of prisoners, it seems they would have an incentive to specialize and trade prison labor. Looks kind of like a slave trade.
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