Friday, July 07, 2017

Poverty, indentured service, and marriage in the ancient Near East

21:7 If a man sells his daughter as a servant. In extreme circumstances of poverty, a father could sell his daughter as a debt slave, on the understanding that she might possibly become the wife of either the master or his son. This arrangement not only provided financial help for the family but  guaranteed a secure future for the daughter. There is no evidence to suggest that the daughter was sold into slavery against her will. Since she is not strictly her master's property, if he becomes dissatisfied with her prior to marriage, he is not at liberty to sell her to anyone else, apart from back to her family. 

21:9-11 If he selects her for his son…food, clothing and marital rights. If the girl is sold into slavery with the understanding that she will become a wife to the master's son, she is to be treated like a daughter. This legislation looks to protect the woman from exploitation. As vv10-11 highlight, the female servant must not be ill treated. Her owner has an obligation to provide her with food and clothing and perhaps "marital rights". T. Desmond Alexander, Exodus (Baker, 2016), 110.

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