Bible Of Oppression And Liberation
The Africans who were brought to America from 1619 onward carried with them diverse religious traditions. About 20 to 30 percent were Muslim, Pierce said. Some had learned of Christianity before coming to America, but many practiced African spiritual traditions.
Early on, many slaveholders were not concerned with the spiritual well-being of Africans. But few had qualms about using Christianity to justify slavery.
Some theologians said it was providence that had brought Africans to America as slaves, since their enslavement would allow them to encounter the Christian message and thus their eternal souls would be saved, said Mark Noll, a historian of American Christianity.
Some preachers encouraged slave owners to allow their slaves to attend worship services though only in separate gatherings led by white proslavery preachers. They had to be seated in the back or the balcony of a segregated church. Those men of God argued that the sermons on the injunction in Ephesians and Colossians, slaves, obey your earthly master, would promote docility among enslaved workers.
Washingtons Museum of the Bible displays a slave Bible, published in 1807, which removed portions of Scripture including the Exodus story that could inspire rebellious thinking.
Slaveholders frequently noted that the Israelites of the Old Testament owned slaves.
New Museum Invites Visitors To ‘engage’ With The Bible
“It was intended for use among enslaved Africans in the British West Indies, which is modern day Caribbeans, so Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua,” he says.
Schmidt says there are several theories behind the editing and omitting of so much of the standard Bible, but the main thought stems from the fact that farmers in the West Indies were opposed to missionaries worked with the enslaved Africans on their land.
“This can be seen as an attempt to appease the planter class saying, ‘Look, we’re coming here. We want to help uplift materially these Africans here but we’re not going to be teaching them anything that could incite rebellion.’ ” Schmidt says. “Coming in and being able to educate African slaves would prepare them one day for freedom, but at the same time would not cause them to seek it more aggressively.”
Visitors are encouraged to write down and share their reactions, with prompts such as “What questions does the Slave Bible raise about how the Bible is used today?” Museum of the Biblehide caption
Visitors are encouraged to write down and share their reactions, with prompts such as “What questions does the Slave Bible raise about how the Bible is used today?”
The Bible is on loan from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and has been in the museum since it opened in November 2017. The university says only three copies of this Bible are known to exist, and that the one on display in Washington is the only copy in the U.S.
No Such Thing As An Israelite Slave
Here in Leviticus 25, however, the term brother means all Israelites. This is a breakthrough of earthshaking proportions. I am my brothers keeper and all Israelites are my brothers. If one of them falls into destitution, I must do everything I can to raise him out of his desperate straits.
No Israelite may become a slave. All Israelites are servants of God. God took the people out of the House of Bondage in Egypt to be free, not to be slaves. Just as the earth is the Lords and is not ours to possess, so all Israelites belong to God and may not be possessed by other human beings, not by other Israelites and especially not by non-Israelites.
Leviticus is very clear: There is no such thing as an Israelite slave.
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Does The Bible Advocate Slavery
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If the Bible is about God’s love for humanity, how can it advocate slavery?
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 bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life. Leviticus 25:44-46a
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them. Titus 2:9-10a
Lets be honestthese verses from the Bible can really rub us the wrong way. Everyone knows that quotes can be taken out of context. Understanding the historical and cultural contexts of statements clarifies their meanings. But however you cut it, these verses and many others seem to suggest that the Bible is fine with slaveryand maybe even supports the practice.
Then why do Christians condemn slavery today? Indeed, many people of faith have dedicated their lives to ending slavery.1 Have such do-gooders misread the Bible? Have they turned a blind eye to passages that blatantly endorse one of the worst forms of human oppression?
So lets tackle the issue head-on: Does the Bible advocate slavery?
Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite Rebellion
On display at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves. Museum of the Biblehide caption
On display at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.
On display now at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.
What’s notable about this Bible is not just its rarity, but its content, or rather the lack of content. It excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.
Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of this abridged version titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.
As people come from a multitude of backgrounds, Anthony Schmidt of the Museum of the Bible says how they encounter the Bible can vary greatly from person to person. Elizabeth Baker/NPRhide caption
As people come from a multitude of backgrounds, Anthony Schmidt of the Museum of the Bible says how they encounter the Bible can vary greatly from person to person.
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Runaway Slaves Received Safe Haven
Unlike slavery in the South which legally required runaway slaves to be returned to their masters, God ordered the Israelites to give runaways safe haven. Deuteronomy 23:15-16 orders, If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
Not only is this different from the South, its a huge improvement upon other the Hammurabi Code which demanded the death penalty for those helping runaway slaves.6
How Christian Slaveholders Used The Bible To Justify Slavery
During the period of American slavery, how did slaveholders manage to balance their religious beliefs with the cruel facts of the peculiar institution? As shown by the following passages adapted from Noel Raes new book The Great Stain, which uses firsthand accounts to tell the story of slavery in America for some of them that rationalization was right there in the Bible.
Out of the more than three quarters of a million words in the Bible, Christian slaveholdersand, if asked, most slaveholders would have defined themselves as Christianhad two favorites texts, one from the beginning of the Old Testament and the other from the end of the New Testament. In the words of the King James Bible, which was the version then current, these were, first, Genesis IX, 1827:
Despite some problems with this storyWhat was so terrible about seeing Noah drunk? Why curse Canaan rather than Ham? How long was the servitude to last? Surely Ham would have been the same color as his brothers?it eventually became the foundational text for those who wanted to justify slavery on Biblical grounds. In its boiled-down, popular version, known as The Curse of Ham, Canaan was dropped from the story, Ham was made black, and his descendants were made Africans.
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Exploring The Links Between Slavery Sex And Scripture
Bernadette Brooten’s new book takes on a once-taboo subject
Much has been written about slavery, but not much has been written about the sexually charged scriptural supports of the peculiar institution, as it was once euphemistically called. Throughout history, discussion of the taboo subject of sex with slaves and its echoes through the generations has been off limits.
But, says Professor Bernadette Brooten, if humanity is ever to understand and eliminate the last vestiges of slavery, that painful legacy must be confronted.
Exploring and confronting the biblical roots of sex and slavery is what she is attempting in Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies, a just-published book that she edited as part of the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project. The book brings together essays and poetry by scholars, activists and artists to dig deeply into the roots of slavery and to illuminate ways in which we still live with the fallout.
We want people to take a hard look at the fact that for most of their history, Jews, Christians and Muslims tolerated slavery, says Brooten. Its codified in the writings.
When you take a deep look into ancient history… slavery and chastity rarely co-exist, Brooten says. Sexuality and slavery are intertwined from the beginning.
But the notion of literal interpretation actually is relatively new.
What Does The Bible Say About Slavery
Answer: The Old Testament does permit slavery but only under special circumstances and with restrictions. The Bible says an Israelite father could sell his daughter as a slave , the child of a widow could be sold as one to pay her father’s debt , and both men and women could sell themselves into slavery .
Slavery within Israel was meant to be far more humane than the practices adopted by the rest of the world. The Bible commanded that those in such bondage receive good treatment . They were allowed to have a wife, children, and even their own money .
Slaves, in the Old Testament, could receive gifts when freed . Males, after circumcision , were allowed to partake in the Passover and other religious ceremonies in worshipping God.
Those who were subjected to any form of slavery could receive their freedom in a number of ways. They could be bought or redeemed out of servitude . If they worked six years, in the seventh year of service they were set free .
In the Jubilee year, all those in servitude were set free . Servants who were abused by their master and maimed were also released . Those under the burden of slavery could also be set free directly by God .
In the New Testament, Jesus never deals directly with the issue of slavery one way or the other in his teachings. It should also be noted that the Greek word doulos , translated “servant,” can mean “slave,” however, or vice versa.
Slavery Or Indentured Servitude
Although God liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, slavery is not universally prohibited in the Bible. Slavery was permissible in certain situations, so long as slaves were regarded as full members of the community , received the same rest periods and holidays as non-slaves , and were treated humanely . Most importantly, slavery among Hebrews was not intended as a permanent condition, but a voluntary, temporary refuge for people suffering what would otherwise be desperate poverty. When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt . Cruelty on the part of the owner resulted in immediate freedom for the slave . This made male Hebrew slavery more like a kind of long-term labor contract among individuals, and less like the kind of permanent exploitation that has characterized slavery in modern times.
In addition, an obvious loophole is that a girl or woman could be bought as a wife for a male slave, rather than for the slave owner or a son, and this resulted in permanent enslavement to the owner , even when the husband’s term of enslavement ended. The woman became a permanent slave to an owner who did not become her husband and who owed her none of the protections due a wife.
Slavery Was Pervasive Throughout The Entire Ancient World
Its estimated that of all the people in the first century Roman Empire, 85 to 90 percent were slaves.2 We also know from the Code of Hammurabi and another ancient Near Eastern law codes that slavery was pervasive in earlier times.
Not only was slavery the norm, but it was also corrupt and extremely harsh. We see this in how the Egyptians treated the Israelite slaves forced hard labor, whippings, and killing young children. As youll see below, Israels slavery laws were a vast improvement on this horrendous institution.
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As Christians We Are Slaves To Christ And We Proclaim That With Joy
19. Romans 1:1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.
20. Ephesians 6:6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
21. 1 Peter 2:16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil live as Gods slaves.
New Testament Views On Slavery
The New Testament also gave slave-supporting Christians fuel for their argument. Jesus never expressed disapproval of the enslaving of human beings, and many statements attributed to him suggest a tacit acceptance or even approval of that inhuman institution. Throughout the Gospels, we read passages like:
A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.
Although Jesus used slavery to illustrate larger points, the question remains why he would directly acknowledge the existence of slavery without saying anything negative about it.
The letters attributed to Paul also seem to suggest the existence of slavery was not only acceptable but that slaves themselves should not presume to take the idea of freedom and equality preached by Jesus too far by attempting to escape their forced servitude.
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties.
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Slavery In The Bible Verses
In the Bible people voluntarily sold themselves to slavery so they could receive food, water, and shelter for themselves and their family. If you were poor and had no choice, but to sell yourself to slavery, what would you do?
1. Leviticus 25:39-42 I If your brother with you becomes so poor that he sells himself to you, you are not to make him serve like a bond slave. Instead, he is to serve with you like a hired servant or a traveler who lives with you, until the year of jubilee. Then he and his children with him may leave to return to his family and his ancestors inheritance. Since theyre my servants whom Ive brought out of the land of Egypt, they are not to be sold as slaves.
2. Deuteronomy 15:11-14 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. If any of your peopleHebrew men or womensell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the LORD your God has blessed you.
Israels Origins And Laws
Slaves in Israel had more legal rights, protection, and security than those in other ancient societies. Part of the reason was Israels history as a redeemed peoplethey themselves had been rescued from slavery in Egypt.
In fact, the Ten Commandments begin with these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.7 And the memory of their past guided their laws: Do not oppress a foreigner you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.8
Specifically, the laws regarding slaves were unique in the ancient world. Slaves were included in religious ceremonies, festivals, and practices.9 They were also instructed to cease work on the Sabbath, just like the families they served.10 The Sabbath was a day of rest for both slave and free.
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