Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Runaway slaves

15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him (Deut 23:15-16).
i) This is an interesting passage in debates over Biblical "slavery." Some commentators think it's confined to foreign runaway slaves. Ancient Israel had no extradition treaty with neighboring states to return runaway slaves. 
ii) That's one possible interpretation. However, the text itself doesn't specify that qualification. So if the restriction exists, it must be implicit. The commentaries I've read which restrict it to foreign runaway slaves don't explain why they think it's about foreign runaway slaves rather than runaway slaves in general. 
Perhaps, though, this is their assumption: If it was about runaway slaves generally, then that would undermine other OT laws regulating "slavery." It would render them unenforceable. In that respect, it would conflict with other OT laws regulating "slavery." Therefore, it must be about foreign runaway slaves. 
iii) Apropos (ii), the OT attitude towards slavery is, at best, grudgingly ambivalent. It is permitted under some circumstances, but that's viewed in the jaundiced light of Joseph's enslavement as well as the enslavement of Israel in Egypt. In addition, you have the reenslavement of Israel, as a punitive measure, in the Assyrian deportation and the Babylonian Exile. So slavery always has those invidious connotations. 
iv) It may well be that the Mosaic law has no concern with protecting slavery. Given slavery, it will regulate slavery to mitigate the evils of slavery. But it has no problem with simultaneously subverting the practice. Making slavery impractical. 
The Mosaic law never commands slavery. At best, it's merely tolerated. 
v) One possible objection to that interpretation is that not all forms of "slavery" are evil. Indentured service isn't evil. So we wouldn't expect the Mosaic law to sabotage "slavery" across the board, including morally unobjectionable forms like indentured service. 
vi) Apropos (v), if Deut 23:15-16 allowed an indentured servant to simply walk off the job, with no fear of recrimination, does that harm a morally acceptable practice? On the one hand, the master loses the benefit of his debt servant. However, he already benefited from that arrangement. And if the debt servant leaves before his contact expires, the employer no longer has to provide for his upkeep. No longer has to provide free room and board. So it's not as if a runaway slave is defrauding him. The debt-slave gets something in exchange for his labor. If his labor terminates, for whatever reason, he loses the compensation. It seems to be a wash for both sides of the transaction. 
So the more radical interpretation may well be correct. This may apply to runaway slaves in general. 

1 comment:

  1. Note also that a slave was to go free even if the master broke his tooth, which could be used as precedent for granting freedom for like damage. A short summation of the conditions can be see here .

    And a more comprehensive fair treatment is by Glen Miller at christian-thinktank.com here

    An objection could be raised that Paul returned an escaped slave to his master, yet not "as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved,..receive him as myself." (Phlm. 1:16,17) And to say slaves revolts did not end well in the Roman Empire would be an understatement.

    Moreover, besides requiring just and equal pay and forbidding threatening, (Col. 4:1; Eph. 6:9) and making slaves spiritually equal in God's sight, (Col. 3:11) Paul counsels slaves to obtain freedom if lawfully possible. (1Co. 7:21)

    Slavery was never mandated, but allowed by God in its regulated form, nor are these culturally applied regs part of the basic universal transcendent laws of Lv. 18, and it is not seen in the prima NT organic church. And yet this form (with one day of basic rest, and the 7th year, and being part of the conventanted people) is better than the "slavery" of the devil's victim mentality and its deleterious outworking.

    And besides not being in any political position to change an institutional practice that was integral to the ANE and Roman/Greek economy, the focus of the Christian faith was on deliverance from damnation and sin, and overcoming trials and the purity and power of the church. Which would effect non-violent change, but that was interrupted by the Romanizing of the church, which sounded an uncertain sound on this, while Reformers had much to unlearn from her.

    Even Akin gives a fair summation in response to a RC with rose-colored glasses,

    "One Pope out of 265 Popes condemns slavery as intrinsically evil in the ordinary magisterium and you call it Church Teaching without ever using your own brain to see if he might have overstepped in his late years... and you are prepared to throw God Himself and His estimation of slavery overboard. The Prots are not 100% wrong when they fault us for Pope worship. You just did it."

    "The list of bulls against slavery occurred over a time span that included 44 Popes but only about 7 of them denounced slavery of sorts....one was against slavery in the Canaries but only of baptized natives....the next one by Paul III was against the enslavement of the Caribbean natives but not against that of blacks..." - http://www.jimmyakin.org/2009/02/soups-reredux.htm

    This is overall fair as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery#Christian_abolitionism