The Bible and slavery

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11th-century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum, Exodus 12:25-31 Targum.jpg
11th-century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum, Exodus 12:25-31
Frank's casket is an 8th-century whale bone casket, the back of which depicts the enslavement of the Jewish people Franks Casket - Back side.jpg
Frank's casket is an 8th-century whale bone casket, the back of which depicts the enslavement of the Jewish people

The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. The biblical texts outline sources and legal status of slaves, economic roles of slavery, types of slavery, and debt slavery, which thoroughly explain the institution of slavery in Israel in antiquity. [1] The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. [2] [3] [4] There are also references to slavery in the New Testament. [5] [6]

Bible Collection of religious texts in Judaism and Christianity

The Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures. Varying parts of the Bible are considered to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and Rastafarians.

Slavery System under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalised, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs.

Slavery in antiquity slave

Slavery in the ancient world, from the earliest known recorded evidence in Sumer to the pre-medieval Antiquity Mediterranean cultures, comprised a mixture of debt-slavery, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners of war.


Many of the patriarchs portrayed in the Bible were from the upper echelons of society and the owners of slaves and enslaved those in debt to them, bought their fellow citizens' daughters as concubines, and perpetually enslaved foreign men to work on their fields. [7] Masters were men, and it is not evident that women were able to own slaves until the Elephantine papyri in the 400s BC. [7] During certain reigns, especially those of Solomon and David, statewide slavery may have been instituted for large building projects or work that was deemed intolerable for free men to do. [7] Other than these instances, it is unclear whether or not state-instituted slavery was an accepted practice.

Patriarchs (Bible) the Biblical figures Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaacs son Jacob, or the ancestor-figures between Adam and Abraham

The patriarchs of the Bible, when narrowly defined, are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, also named Israel, the ancestor of the Israelites. These three figures are referred to collectively as the patriarchs, and the period in which they lived is known as the patriarchal age.

Ruling class Social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that societys political agenda

The ruling class is the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political agenda.

Concubinage Sexual relationship in which the couple are not or cannot be married

Concubinage is an interpersonal and sexual relationship in which the couple are not or cannot be married. The inability to marry may be due to multiple factors such as differences in social rank status, an existing marriage, religious or professional prohibitions, or a lack of recognition by appropriate authorities. The woman or man in such a relationship is referred to as a concubine. In Judaism, a concubine is a marital companion of inferior status to a wife. A concubine among polygamous peoples is a secondary wife, usually of inferior rank.

It was necessary for those who owned slaves, especially in large numbers, to be wealthy because the masters had to pay taxes for Jewish and non-Jewish slaves because they were considered part of the family unit. The slaves were seen as an important part of the family's reputation, especially in Hellenistic and Roman times where the slave companions for a woman were seen as a manifestation and protection of a woman's honor. [7] As time progressed, domestic slavery became more prominent, and domestic slaves, usually working as an assistant to the wife of the patriarch, allowed larger houses to run more smoothly and efficiently. [7]

Judea (Roman province) Roman province

The Roman province of Judea, sometimes spelled in its original Latin forms of Iudæa or Iudaea to distinguish it from the geographical region of Judea, incorporated the regions of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, and extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Judea. It was named after Herod Archelaus's Tetrarchy of Judea, but the Roman province encompassed a much larger territory. The name "Judea" was derived from the Kingdom of Judah of the 6th century BCE.

The rabbis are rarely described as having many slaves, but in documents in which they write about slaves, it is always from the master's point of view, which is seen by scholars as an attempt to distinguish the middle-class citizens from slaves who could possibly have held higher positions in society because they were owned by a wealthy man. [7] However, owning many slaves was regular among priests in the First Temple days. This was an especially common practice in Greek religion which was supported by references to high priestly slaves in Josephus' works. These works painted the priests in a negative light, and showed the end of the institution coming after the Second Temple days in 70 AD. [7]

In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The first sage for whom the Mishnah uses the title of rabbi was Yohanan ben Zakkai, active in the early-to-mid first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.

Solomons Temple Legendary temple described in the Hebrew Bible

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the Holy Temple in ancient Jerusalem before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE and its subsequent replacement with the Second Temple in the 6th century BCE. The period in which the First Temple presumably, or actually, stood in Jerusalem, is known in academic literature as the First Temple period.

Ancient Greek religion religion in ancient Greece

Ancient Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs, rituals, and mythology originating in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or "cults" in the plural, though most of them shared similarities.

Philo (c. 20 BC – c. 50 AD), one of the philosophers of the time, wrote texts on how to properly treat slaves, indicating that slavery was an important part of Jewish life, but also emphasizes the humanitarian perspective offered up by many Ancient Near East scholars. [7] One such way of showing this was through the sharing of products, such as food and cloth, with other, underprivileged members of society. [1]

Philo Hellenistic Jewish philosopher

Philo of Alexandria, also called Philo Judaeus, was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt.

In the 19th century, both abolitionists and defenders of slavery often invoked the Bible in defense of their positions. [8] [9] Abolitionists used texts from both the Old and New Testaments to argue for the manumission of slaves, and against kidnapping or "stealing men" to own or sell them as slaves. [10] [11]

Abolitionism movement to end slavery

Abolitionism, or the abolitionist movement, was the movement to end slavery. This term can be used both formally and informally. In Western Europe and the Americas, abolitionism was a historic movement that sought to end the Atlantic slave trade and set slaves free. King Charles I of Spain, usually known as Emperor Charles V, was following the example of Louis X of France, who had abolished slavery within the Kingdom of France in 1315. He passed a law which would have abolished colonial slavery in 1542, although this law was not passed in the largest colonial states, and it was not enforced as a result. In the late 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church officially condemned the slave trade in response to a plea by Lourenço da Silva de Mendouça, and it was also vehemently condemned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839. The abolitionist movement only started in the late 18th century, however, when English and American Quakers began to question the morality of slavery. James Oglethorpe was among the first to articulate the Enlightenment case against slavery, banning it in the Province of Georgia on humanitarian grounds, and arguing against it in Parliament, and eventually encouraging his friends Granville Sharp and Hannah More to vigorously pursue the cause. Soon after his death in 1785, Sharp and More united with William Wilberforce and others in forming the Clapham Sect.

Manumission act of slave owner freeing slaves

Manumission, or affranchisement, is the act of an owner freeing his or her slaves. Different approaches developed, each specific to the time and place of a particular society. Jamaican historian Verene Shepherd states that the most widely used term is gratuitous manumission, "the conferment of freedom on the enslaved by enslavers before the end of the slave system".

Old Testament

Slaves had a variety of different purposes. To determine the function, many scholars look at repetitive descriptions in texts that were written around the same time and reports of other cultures from the well-documented Graeco-Roman culture. [7] One of slaves' main functions was as status symbols for the upper members of society, especially when it came to dowries for their daughters. These slaves could be sold or given away as needed, but also showed that the family was capable of providing generous amounts for their daughters to be married off. They also catered to the needs of the temple and had more domestic abilities such as keeping up the household and raising farm animals and small amounts of crops. Masters often took advantage of their slaves being at their beck and call by requiring them to perform duties in public that the master had the ability to do himself. This showed a level of luxury which extended beyond the private sphere into the public. [7] In addition to showing luxury, possession of slaves was necessary for a good family background, and many wealthy men viewed their colleagues who possessed only few slaves as the type of individual who needed to be pitied. [7]


In the Ancient Near East, captives obtained through warfare were often compelled to become slaves, and this was seen by the Deuteronomic Code as a legitimate form of enslavement, as long as Israelites were not among the victims; [12] the Deuteronomic Code institutes the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping Israelite men to enslave them. [13] Deuteronomy 24:7 The Code appears to require enslaving the people of cities who surrender during wartime, excepting the cities of six nearby tribes which it requires be destroyed without offer of surrender. [14]

If the soldier desired to marry a captured foreigner, there were stipulations. She would shave her head and wear no jewelry or cosmetics to mourn the friends and family whom were killed in the war. While the term may be different depending on how many were lost, it would be for a minimum of one month. After the grieving was over, then he was free to make wedding plans. If he wished to end the relationship, the code stipulated he must free her. Because he forced her by the point of the sword or tip of the spear into a sexual relationship, he forfeited the option to sell her into slavery. [15] [13] The Israelites did not generally get involved in distant or large-scale wars, and apparently capture was not a significant source of slaves. [16]

The Holiness code of Leviticus explicitly allows participation in the slave trade, [17] with non-Israelite residents who had been sold into slavery being regarded as a type of property that could be inherited. Foreign residents were included in this permission, and were allowed to own Israelite slaves. [18] [ dubious ]

It was also possible to be born into slavery. [19] If a male Israelite slave had been given a wife by his owner, then the wife and any children which had resulted from the union would remain the property of his former owner, according to the Covenant Code. [20] Although no nationality is specified, 18th-century theologians John Gill (1697–1771) and Adam Clarke suggested this referred only to Canaanite concubines. [21] [22]

Debt slavery

Like the rest of the Ancient Near East, the legal systems of the Israelites divided slaves into different categories: "In determining who should benefit from their intervention, the legal systems drew two important distinctions: between debt and chattel slaves, and between native and foreign slaves. The authorities intervened first and foremost to protect the former category of each--citizens who had fallen on hard times and had been forced into slavery by debt or famine." [23]

Poverty, and more generally a lack of economic security, compelled some people to enter debt bondage. In the Ancient Near East, wives and (non-adult) children were dependents of the head of household and were sometimes sold into slavery by the husband or father for financial reasons. Evidence of this viewpoint is found in the Code of Hammurabi, which permits debtors to sell their wives and children into temporary slavery, lasting a maximum of three years. The Holiness code also exhibits this, allowing foreign residents to sell their own children and families to Israelites, although no limitation is placed on the duration of such slavery. [24] Biblical authors repeatedly criticize debt slavery, which could be attributed to high taxation, monopoly of resources, high-interest loans, and collapse of higher kinship groups. [7]

Debt slaves were one of the two categories of slaves in ancient Jewish society. As the name implies, these individuals sold themselves into slavery in order to pay off debts they may have accrued. [1] These individuals were not permanently in this situation and were usually released after six to seven years. Chattel slaves, on the other hand, were less common and were usually prisoners of war who retained no individual right of redemption. These chattel slaves engaged in full-time menial labor, often in a domestic capacity. [1]

The earlier [25] [26] [27] [28] Covenant Code instructs that, if a thief is caught after sunrise and is unable to make restitution for the theft, then the thief should be enslaved. [29] Children of a deceased debtor may be forced into slavery to pay off outstanding debts. [26] [30] Similarly, it is evident that debtors could be forced to sell their children into slavery to pay the creditors. [26]

Sexual and conjugal slavery

There were two words used for female slaves, which were amah and shifhah. [31] Based upon the uses in different texts, the words appear to have the same connotations and are used synonymously, namely that of being a sexual object, though the words themselves appear to be from different ethnic origins. Men assigned their female slaves the same level of dependence as they would a wife. Close levels of relationships could occur given the amount of dependence placed upon these women. [31] These slaves had two specific roles: a sexual use and companionship. [31] Their reproductive capacities were valued within their roles within the family. Marriage with these slaves was not unheard of or prohibited. In fact, it was a man's concubine that was seen as the "other" and shunned from the family structure. These female slaves were treated more like women than slaves which may have resulted, according to some scholars, due to their sexual role, which was particularly to "breed" more slaves. [31] A father could sell his daughter into this life and she could be released within six years if she was not claimed by or assigned to another man.

Sexual slavery, or being sold to be a wife, was common in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament, the taking of multiple wives is recorded many times. [32] [33] An Israelite father could sell his unmarried daughters into servitude, with the expectation or understanding that the master or his son could eventually marry her (as in Exodus 21:7-11.) It is understood by Jewish and Christian commentators that this referred to the sale of a daughter, who "is not arrived to the age of twelve years and a day, and this through poverty." [34]

And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.

The code also instructs that the woman was to be allowed to be redeemed [35] if the man broke his betrothal to her. If a female slave was betrothed to the master's son, then she had to be treated as a normal daughter. If he took another wife, then he was required to continue supplying the same amounts of food, clothing, and conjugal rights to her. [36] The code states that failure to comply with these regulations would automatically grant free manumission to the enslaved woman, [37] while all Israelite slaves were to be treated as hired servants. [38]

The betrothal clause seems to have provided an exception to the law of release in Deuteronomy 15:12 (cf. Jeremiah 34:14), in which both male and female Israelite servants were to be given release in the seventh year. [39]

The penalty if an Israelite engaged in sexual activity with an unredeemed female slave who was betrothed was that of scourging, with Jewish tradition seeing this as only referring to the slave, [40] [41] (versus Deuteronomy 22:22, where both parties were stoned, being free persons), as well as the man confessing his guilt and the priest making atonement for his sin. [42]

Women captured by Israelite armies could be adopted as wives, but first they had to have their heads shaved and undergo a period of mourning. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) However, "If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell her; you must not take advantage of her, since you have already humiliated her."


In a parallel with the shmita system the Covenant Code offers automatic manumission of male Israelite slaves after they have worked for six years; [43] this excludes non-Israelite slaves, and specifically excludes Israelite daughters, who were sold into slavery by their fathers, from such automatic seventh-year manumission. Such were bought to be betrothed to the owner, or his son, and if that had not been done, they were to be allowed to be redeemed. If the marriage took place, they were to be set free if her husband was negligent in his basic marital obligations. [44] The later [26] [27] [28] Deuteronomic Code is seen by some to contradict [26] elements of this instruction, in extending automatic seventh year manumission to both sexes. [45] Others see the latter as a general decree, with the aspect of female manumission not being applicable within the specific circumstances of the former case, with marriage taking the place of manumission. [46] [47]

The Deuteronomic Code also extends [48] the seventh-year manumission rule by instructing that Israelite slaves freed in this way should be given livestock, grain, and wine, as a parting gift; [49] the literal meaning of the verb used, at this point in the text, for giving this gift seems to be hang round the neck. [26] In Jewish tradition, the identified gifts were regarded as merely symbolic, representing a gift of produce rather than of money or clothing; [26] many Jewish scholars estimated that the value of the three listed products was about 30 shekels, so the gift gradually came to be standardised as produce worth this fixed value. [50] The Bible states that one should not regret the gift, for slaves were only half as expensive as hired workers; [51] Nachmanides enumerates this as a command rather than merely as a piece of advice. [26]

Despite these commandments, Israelite slaves were kept longer than permitted, compelling Yahweh to destroy the Kingdom of Judah as punishment. [52] The text also describes Jeremiah demanding that Zedekiah manumit all Israelite slaves. [53] The Holiness Code does not mention seventh-year manumission; instead [54] it only instructs that debt-slaves, and Israelite slaves owned by foreign residents, should be freed during the national Jubilee [3] (occurring either every 49 or every 50 years, depending on interpretation).

While many commentators see the Holiness Code regulations as supplementing the prior legislation mandating manumission in the seventh year, [55] [56] [57] the otherwise potentially long wait until the Jubilee was somewhat alleviated by the Holiness Code, with the instruction that slaves should be allowed to buy their freedom by paying an amount equal to the total wages of a hired servant over the entire period remaining until the next Jubilee (this could be up to 49 years-worth of wages; in 2017, this would roughly equate with £922,500 sterling). Blood relatives of the slave were also allowed to buy the slave's freedom, and this became regarded as a duty to be carried out by the next of kin (Hebrew: Go'el). [58]

Permanent enslavement

As for Israelite slaves, the Covenant Code allows them to voluntarily renounce their seventh-year manumission and become permanent slaves (literally being slaves forever). [59] The Covenant Code rules require that the slaves confirmed this desire at either a religious sanctuary, [60] [61] or in the presence of the household gods [54] (the Masoretic Text and Septuagint both literally say [at] the gods, although a few English translations substitute in the presence of Judges); [62] having done this, slaves were then to have an awl driven through their ear into a doorpost by their master. [63] This ritual was common throughout the Ancient Near East, being practiced by Mesopotamians, Lydians, and Arabs; [54] in the Semitic world, the ear symbolised obedience (much as the heart symbolises emotion, in the modern western world), and a pierced earlobe signified servitude.

Working conditions

The Ethical Decalogue makes clear that honouring the Shabbat was expected of slaves, not just their masters. [64] The later [26] [27] [28] Deuteronomic code, having repeated the Shabbat requirement, also instructs that slaves should be allowed to celebrate the Sukkot festival. [65]

Although the Holiness Code instructs that during the Sabbatical Year, slaves and their masters should eat food which the land yields, without being farmed, it does not explicitly forbid the slaves from the farming itself, despite restricting their masters from doing so, and neither does it grant slaves any other additional rest from work during these years. [66]

Indeed, unlike the other law codes, the Holiness Code does not mention explicit occasions of respite from toil, instead simply giving the vague instruction that Israelite slaves should not to be compelled to work with rigour; [67] [68] Maimonides argues that this was to be interpreted as forbidding open-ended work (such as keep doing that until I come back), and that disciplinary action was not to include instructing the slave to perform otherwise pointless work. [26] [69]

A special case is that of the debtor who sells himself as a slave to his creditor; the Holiness Code instructs that in this situation, the debtor must not be made to do the work of slaves, but must instead be treated the same as a hired servant. [70] In Jewish tradition, this was taken to mean that the debtor should not be instructed to do humiliating work - which only slaves would do - and that the debtor should be asked to perform the craft(s) which they usually did before they had been enslaved, if it is realistic to do so. [26] [69]

Injury and compensation

The earlier [26] [27] [28] Covenant Code provides a potentially more valuable and direct form of relief, namely a degree of protection for the slave's person (their body and its health) itself. This codification extends the basic lex talionis (....eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth...), [71] to compel that when slaves are significantly injured by their masters, manumission is to be the compensation given; the canonical examples mentioned are the knocking out of an eye or a tooth. [72] This resembles the earlier Code of Hammurabi, which instructs that when an injury is done to a social inferior, monetary compensation should be made, instead of carrying out the basic lex talionis; Josephus indicates that by his time it was acceptable for a fine to be paid to the slave, instead of manumitting them, if the slave agreed. [73] Nachmanides argued that it was a biblically commanded duty to liberate a slave who had been harmed in this way [26]

The Hittite laws and the Code of Hammurabi both insist that if a slave is harmed by a third party, the third party must financially compensate the owner. [74] In the Covenant Code, if an ox gores a slave, the ox owner must pay the servant's master a 30 shekel fine. [75]

The murder of slaves by owners was prohibited in the Law covenant. The Covenant Code clearly institutes the death penalty for beating a free man to death; [76] in contrast, beating a slave to death was to be avenged only if the slave does not survive for one or two days after the beating. [77] Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, a 12th-century Provençal scholar, Targum, and Maimonides argue that avenged implies the death penalty, [26] [69] but more recent scholars view it as probably describing a lesser punishment. [78] A number of modern Protestant Bible versions (such as the New Living Translation, New International Version and New Century Version) translate the survival for one or two days as referring to a full and speedy recovery, rather than to a lingering death, as favoured by other recent versions (such as the New Revised Standard Version, and New American Bible).

Fugitive slaves

The Deuteronomic Code forbids the people of Israel from handing over fugitive slaves to their masters or oppressing them, and instructs that these fugitives should be allowed to reside where they wish. [79] Although a literal reading would indicate that this applies to slaves of all nationalities and locations, the Mishnah and many commentators consider the rule to have the much narrower application, to just those slaves who flee from outside Israelite territory into it. [80] [81]

New Testament

Slavery is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. The word "servant" is sometimes substituted for the word "slave" in English translations of the Bible.


Jesus healed the ill slave of a centurion [82] and restored the cut off ear of the high priest's slave. [83] In his parables, Jesus referenced slavery: the prodigal son, [84] ten gold coins, [85] unforgiving tenant, [86] and tenant farmers. [87] Jesus' teaching on slavery was metaphorical: spiritual slavery, [88] a slave having two masters (God and mammon), [89] slavery to God, [90] acting as a slave toward others, [91] and the greatest among his disciples being the least of them. [92] Jesus also taught that he would give burdened and weary laborers rest. [93] The Passion narratives are interpreted by the Catholic church as a fulfillment of the Suffering Servant songs in Isaiah. [94]

Jesus' view of slavery compares the relationship between God and humankind to that of a master and his slaves. Three instances where Jesus communicates this view include:

Matthew 18:21-35: Jesus' Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, wherein Jesus compares the relationship between God and humankind to that of a master and his slaves. Jesus offers the story of a master selling a slave along with his wife and children.

Matthew 20:20-28: A series of remarks wherein Jesus recognizes it is necessary to be a slave to be "first" among the deceased entering heaven.

Matthew 24:36-51: Jesus' Parable of the Faithful Servant, wherein Jesus again compares the relationship between God and humankind to that of a master and his slaves.


In Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and Titus 2:9-10, Saint Paul instruct slaves to obey their masters. [95] [96] [97] [98] In Ephesians 6:9, Paul instructs masters to "do the same things to [their slaves]" as he had commanded slaves to do unto their masters, which is to "[r]ender service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord" [99] [100] In 1 Peter 2:18, Saint Peter also instructs slaves to obey their masters. [101] In Col 4:1 Paul instructs masters to "treat your slaves justly and fairly." [102] In Romans 1:1, Paul metaphorically calls himself a "slave of Christ Jesus," [103] and later, in Romans 6:20-21, he writes about the metaphor of slavery to sin. [104] In Galatians 3:27-29, Paul says that in the church there is "neither slave nor free person,...for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [105] In Revelation, two angels call themselves fellow slaves (coworkers) of Saint John. [106] [107]


The Epistle to Philemon has become an important text in regard to slavery; it was used by pro-slavery advocates as well as by abolitionists. [108] [109] In the epistle, Saint Paul writes to Saint Philemon that he is returning Saint Onesimus, a fugitive slave, back to him; however, Paul also entreats Philemon to regard Onesimus, who he says he views as a son, not as a slave but as a beloved brother in Christ. Philemon is requested to treat Onesimus as he would treat Paul. [110] According to Catholic tradition, Philemon freed Onesimus. [111]

See also

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Christian views on slavery are varied regionally, historically and spiritually. Slavery in various forms has been a part of the social environment for much of Christianity's history, spanning well over eighteen centuries. In the early years of Christianity, slavery was an established feature of the economy and society in the Roman Empire, and this persisted in different forms and with regional differences well into the Middle Ages. Saint Augustine described slavery as being against God's intention and resulting from sin. In the eighteenth century the abolition movement took shape among Christian people across the globe.

The Exodus Founding myth of the Jewish people

The Exodus is the founding myth of the Israelites. Spread over the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, it tells the story of the enslavement of the Israelites in ancient Egypt, their liberation through the hand of their tutelary deity Yahweh, the revelations at biblical Mount Sinai, and their wanderings in the wilderness up to the borders of Canaan, the land their god has given them.

Slavery and religion

Historically, slavery has been regulated, supported or opposed on religious grounds.

The Covenant Code, or Book of the Covenant, is the name given by academics to a text appearing in the Torah, at Exodus 20:22-23:19; or, more strictly, the term Covenant Code may be applied to Exodus 21:1-22:16. Biblically, the text is the second of the law codes given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai. This legal text provides a small but substantive proportion of the mitzvot within the Torah, and hence is a source of Jewish Law.

The Deuteronomic Code is the name given by academics to the law code set out in chapters 12 to 26 of the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible. The code outlines a special relationship between the Israelites and Yahweh and provides instructions covering "a variety of topics including religious ceremonies and ritual purity, civil and criminal law, and the conduct of war". They are similar to other collections of laws found in the Torah such as the Covenant Code at Exodus 20-23, except for the portion discussing the Ethical Decalogue, which is usually treated separately. This separate treatment stems not from any concern over authorship, but merely because the Ethical Decalogue is treated academically as a subject in its own right.


Mishpatim is the eighteenth weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the sixth in the Book of Exodus. The parashah sets out a series of laws, which some scholars call the Covenant Code. It reports the people's acceptance of the covenant with God. The parashah constitutes Exodus 21:1–24:18. The parashah is made up of 5,313 Hebrew letters, 1,462 Hebrew words, 118 verses, and 185 lines in a Torah scroll.

Behar 32nd weekly Torah portion

Behar, BeHar, Be-har, or B'har is the 32nd weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the ninth in the Book of Leviticus. The parashah tells the laws of the Sabbatical year and limits on debt servitude. The parashah constitutes Leviticus 25:1–26:2. It is the shortest of the weekly Torah portions in the Book of Leviticus. It is made up of 2,817 Hebrew letters, 737 Hebrew words, 57 verses, and 99 lines in a Torah Scroll.


Re'eh, Reeh, R'eih, or Ree is the 47th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fourth in the Book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17. In the parashah, Moses set before the Israelites the choice between blessing and curse. Moses instructed the Israelites in the laws that they were to observe, including the law of a single centralized place of worship. Moses warned against following other gods and their prophets and set forth the laws of kashrut, tithes, the Sabbatical year, the Hebrew slave, firstborn animals, and the three pilgrim festivals.

Ki Teitzei

Ki Teitzei, Ki Tetzei, Ki Tetse, Ki Thetze, Ki Tese, Ki Tetzey, or Ki Seitzei is the 49th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the sixth in the Book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. The parashah sets out a series of miscellaneous laws, mostly governing civil and domestic life, including ordinances regarding a beautiful captive of war, inheritance among the sons of two wives, a wayward son, the corpse of an executed person, found property, coming upon another in distress, rooftop safety, prohibited mixtures, sexual offenses, membership in the congregation, camp hygiene, runaway slaves, prostitution, usury, vows, gleaning, kidnapping, repossession, prompt payment of wages, vicarious liability, flogging, treatment of domestic animals, levirate marriage, weights and measures, and wiping out the memory of Amalek.

Jewish views on slavery

Jewish views on slavery are varied both religiously and historically. Judaism's ancient and medieval religious texts contain numerous laws governing the ownership and treatment of slaves. Texts that contain such regulations include the Tanakh, the Talmud, the 12th-century Mishneh Torah by rabbi Maimonides, and the 16th-century Shulchan Aruch by rabbi Yosef Karo. The original Israelite slavery laws found in the Hebrew Bible bear some resemblance to the 18th-century BCE slavery laws of Hammurabi. The regulations changed over time. The Hebrew Bible contained two sets of laws, one for Canaanite slaves, and a more lenient set of laws for Hebrew slaves. From the time of the Pentateuch, the laws designated for Canaanites were applied to all non-Hebrew slaves. The Talmud's slavery laws, which were established in the second through the fifth centuries CE, contain a single set of rules for all slaves, although there are a few exceptions where Hebrew slaves are treated differently from non-Hebrew slaves. The laws include punishment for slave owners that mistreat their slaves. In the modern era, when the abolitionist movement sought to outlaw slavery, supporters of slavery used the laws to provide religious justification for the practice of slavery.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy One of the Ten Commandments

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" is one of the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Bible.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Tsai, Daisy Yulin (2014). Human Rights in Deuteronomy: With Special Focus on Slave Laws. BZAW. 464. De Gruyter. ISBN   978-3-11-036320-3.
  2. Exodus 21:2-6
  3. 1 2 Leviticus 25:39-55
  4. Deuteronomy 15:12-18
  5. Ephesians 6:5
  6. 1 Timothy 6:1
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Hezser, Catherine (2005). Jewish Slavery in Antiquity. Oxford.
  8. Stringfellow, A Scriptural defense of slavery, 1856
  9. Raymund Harris, Scriptural researches on the licitness of the slave, (Liverpool: H. Hodgson, 1788)
  10. John R. McKivigan, Mitchell Snay, Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery
  11. George B. Cheever, D.DGod Against Slavery, p. 140
  12. Deuteronomy 20:10-16
  13. 1 2 Exodus 21 - Pulpit Commentary. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  14. Deuteronomy 20:10-15
  15. Deuteronomy 21:14
  16. Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman (main ed.), DoubleDay:1992
  17. Leviticus 25:44-46
  18. Leviticus 19:33-34
  19. Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on Exodus 21:2-11
  20. Exodus 21:1-4
  21. "Exodus 21 - John Gill's Exposition of the Bible - Bible Commentary". Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  22. "Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary - Exodus 21". Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  23. A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vols). Raymond Westbrook (ed). Brill:2003
  24. Leviticus 25:44
  25. Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible?
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Law, Codification of
  27. 1 2 3 4 Anthony Campbell & Mark O'Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch (2000)
  28. 1 2 3 4 William Edward Addis, The Documents Of The Hexateuch (2006), Volume 2
  29. Exodus 22:2-3
  30. 2 Kings 4:1-7
  31. 1 2 3 4 Kriger, Diane (2011). Judaism and Jewish Life : Sex Rewarded, Sex Punished : A Study of the Status 'Female Slave' in Early Jewish Law. Brighton MA: Academic Studies Press.
  32. Gn. 25:1; cf. 1Ch. 1:32; Gn. 30:4; 31:17; cf. Gn. 35:22; 2Sam. 12:11; cf. 2Sam. 20:3
  33. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible, p. 273
  34. "Exodus 21:7 Commentary - John Gill's Exposition of the Bible". Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  35. cf. Leviticus 25:47-55
  36. Exodus 21:7-10
  37. Exodus 21:11
  38. Leviticus 25:46 cf. 1Kings 9:11
  39. Gill, Deuteronomy 15:12
  40. "Leviticus 19:20 Commentary - John Gill's Exposition of the Bible". Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  41. Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on Leviticus 19:20-22
  42. Leviticus 19:20-22
  43. Exodus 21:2
  44. Exodus 21:7-11
  45. Deuteronomy 15:12; cf. Jeremiah 34:9,14
  46. Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Ex. 21:7
  47. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Ex. 21:7-11
  48. Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on Deuteronomy 15:12-18
  49. Deuteronomy 15:13-14
  50. Kiddushin 17a, baraita
  51. Deuteronomy 15:18
  52. Jeremiah 34:8-24
  53. Jeremiah 34:9
  54. 1 2 3 Thomas Kelly Cheyne and John Sutherland Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903), article on Slavery
  55. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Lev_25:36-41
  56. Dr. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Lev 25:40
  57. Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Lev 25:39-40
  58. Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Go'el
  59. Exodus 21:6
  60. New American Bible, footnote to Exodus 21:6
  61. Thomas Kelly Cheyne and John Sutherland Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903), article on Slavery
  62. The text uses the Hebrew term elohim. Translations that render this in the presence of Judges include the King James Version and the New International Version. Translations that use to the Gods or to God include the English Standard Version, New Living Version, American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, and New American Bible.
  63. Exodus 21:5-6
  64. Exodus 20:10
  65. Deuteronomy 16:14
  66. Leviticus 25:1-13
  67. Leviticus 25:43
  68. Leviticus 25:53
  69. 1 2 3 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah
  70. Leviticus 25:39
  71. Exodus 21:24
  72. Exodus 21:26-27
  73. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4:8:35
  74. Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on Exodus 21:18-27
  75. Exodus 21:32
  76. Exodus 21:12
  77. Exodus 21:20-21
  78. Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), article on Avenger of Blood
  79. Deuteronomy 23:15
  80. Gittin 45a
  81. Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on Deuteronomy 23, accessed 28 December 2015
  82. Luke 7:2
  83. Lukw 22:51
  84. Luke 15:22
  85. Luke 19:13
  86. Matthew 18:26
  87. Matthew 21:34
  88. John 8:35
  89. Matthew 6:24
  90. John 15:15
  91. John 13:14
  92. Luke 22:26
  93. Matthew 11:28
  94. Catechism of the Catholic Church 623
  95. Eph 6:5-8
  96. Col 3:22
  97. 1 Timothy 6:1
  98. Titus 2:9
  99. Ephesians 6:9.
  100. Ephesians 6:7.
  101. 1 Peter 2:18
  102. Col 4:1
  103. Romans 1:1
  104. Romans 6:20
  105. Galatians 3:27
  106. Revelation 19:10
  107. Revelation 22:9
  108. Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery, by John R. McKivigan, Mitchell Snay
  109. God Against Slavery, p. 140, by Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D
  110. Philemon 1:1-25
  111. Catholic.Com: St. Onesimus