Another friendly exchange!
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Hello all; Dave here. This is a follow-up to my previous post, which recently passed 5,000 unique visitors in the past 36 hours!
Many of you have asked if J responded to my comment. He did earlier this afternoon; here is his response, and my response to him back:
You bring up some interesting points here Dave. And I can’t blame you for holding these assertions about the scriptures in question, giving your limited understanding of their context. You said near the end of your post that “the reason you became interested in learning Latin & Greek in the first place was so that you could read it with greater comprehension”. That’s great and I applaud you for having that interest. However, might I suggest that some of your time could have been better spent studying the social-economic and cultural conditions of that geographic region and time period, which would have provided you with the whole historic framework within which the Tora represents. What you posted displays little to no understanding of this. It doesn’t matter how much Greek and Latin you know. If you don’t understand the context, you have no framework within which to work with what is written.
I guess I should have clarified what I meant when I asserted your lack of understanding and comprehension as regards the scriptures. I knew full well that you have studied Latin and Greek, and had studied the scriptures while you were still a self-identified Christian. That is not what I was questioning. I should have specified that what you lack understanding of is the context. This is why I brought up the analogy of the 10-year old with the F-15 manual. You could teach him the actual meaning of words like azimuth and angle of attack and visual flight reference; but until you actually got the boy off the ground and into the sky, he really has no frame of reference or context to understand any of it. This is what you have spent all of your time doing Dave. You have studied the words, Dave, and yet have not understood why they were written or the social, historic framework that they belong to. I barely hinted at it in my post, and now I realize a much more lengthy response is needed to address your misconceptions. I think I’ll just email it to you. But you can feel free to share it with others if you like. Let me just address one thing you said in response.
You wrote: “Exodus 21:21 also identifies slaves as property in no uncertain terms: “…for the slave is the owner’s property.” They were not servants; they were not voluntary laborers. These people, by law, could not quit and had no recourse if they found the conditions unfavorable. They were bought & sold. They were absolutely, positively slaves. It is a clear mistranslation to equate the Hebrew word “עַבְדּ” with the English word “servant” (“a person who performs duties for others, esp. a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.”) There was no employment agreement or contract.”
With respect to the Hebrew word: Yes it is more accurately translated slave, rather than the English word “servant”. I wasn’t trying to purposely mis-translate the word to make the bible or my argument to seem more …acceptable to our modern ears. My point in doing so was to avoid the stigma the word “slave” has in our historic frame of reference and use a different word to highlight the very different nature and use of the word “slaves” in the scripture’s historic frame of reference. But, for your sake, I will stick to the proper Hebrew text and use the word “slave”.It’s not just that slavery, as we understand it in our frame of reference, was acceptable in those ancient days, and they justified it by making up a deity that condones it. Their use or it meant something completely different. You misunderstand what I was saying about how people came to be slaves, most likely because I used the word “servant” to describe it. I am in no way asserting that it was voluntary in the strict sense of the word. As I said earlier, there was no governmental safety-net to help those who could not provide for themselves or their families. Firstly, you have to understand that the culture at large in that region (not just Hebrew culture but pretty much all Ancient Near Eastern cultures) was largely patriarchal. That is, society was wholly oriented around the father, family integrity, prosperity, and honor. I will go much deeper into this in my email. In most cases where an individual or family became poor and couldn’t meet there needs, the only recourse and option was to sell themselves and/or a child into slavery. There could have possibly been an abuse of this (such as a father who was just downright evil). But on the whole, this was actually done to preserve the honor and prosperity of the family.
To briefly address the common claim that fathers sold their daughters to be sex slaves, this is simply not true. To understand the instructions throughout scripture referencing daughters being sold as slaves, you must understand that historically, this was done simply because a father was too poor to provide security or a husband for his daughter. Here is where the Hebrew culture departs from those of the “foreigners” through the giving of the Mosaic law to them by God. The other cultures did not have such instructions. It was not voluntary, given the nature of the circumstances and limited resources. They pretty much had no choice but to sell themselves, whether they were Hebrew or foreigner. But in both instances, under the Mosaic Law, there was in fact a mutual agreement between the one selling the daughter and the one buying the daughter, and there was mutual benefit for both. The main reason why a father would do this in the first place is to provide security and the possibility of marriage for his daughter. The main reason why another father would buy the daughter is to provide a wife for a son or for himself, in the event that he couldn’t find another. A more detailed description of the many facets of these exchanges will have to wait for my email.
Here is my response back:
It was good to see you the other day [I attended a church service at his church on Sunday and ran into him]. I do encourage you to post your more in-depth response here rather than sending it to me via email… That way, in the interest of elucidating ignorance all around to the best of our collective ability, we can all read & respond to it.
You wrote: “As I said earlier, there was no governmental safety-net to help those who could not provide for themselves or their families.”
I would still like to see your sources for this perspective. So far you haven’t cited a single source for your claims that the Torah, despite its unambiguous statements to the contrary, does not condone or allow for what we recognize today as slavery.
You may be unaware of this, but my academic career centers on the study of economic anthropology, explicitly specializing in the influence of religion on the evolution of moral codes regarding charitable giving & poverty relief in pre-industrial societies. This is — with laser-like precision — my area of study, and I assure you that you could not be more incorrect in this matter.
Regarding your claim that there was no government safety net: On the contrary; poverty is the second most-prominent theme in the Hebrew scriptures (after idolatry); for a lay source, see Jim Wallis:
Considering that the Torah was, quite literally, the law of the land in ancient Israel, I think it’s safe to say that what the Torah says about how the ancient Hebrews were required to care for the poor is relevant if we’re going to talk about government safety nets in Biblical times. The Torah provides explicit instructions for caring for the poor. You may be familiar with the Hebrew term צדקה (transliterated “tzedakah”), usually translated as “charity” or “tithe” (the Torah commands giving 10% of one’s income to the poor, see Deuteronomy 14:22). According to About.com’s Ask the Rabbi with Orthodox Rabbi Simmons, tzedakah literally means “righteousness,” and he continues:
“A “tzaddik,” likewise, is a righteous person, someone who fulfills all his obligations, whether in the mood or not. The verse says: “Tzedek, tzedek you shall pursue” — justice justice you shall pursue (Deut. 16:20). There’s a basic human responsibility to reach out to others. Giving of your time and your money is a statement that “I will do whatever I can to help.” That’s the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam — repairing the world.”
The Torah specifies explicitly how and to what degree the ancient Hebrews were required to ensure the poor’s care. Deuteronomy 26:12 mandates tithing to the poor. Further, 10% is explicitly the minimum; Rabbi Simmons says: “Ten percent is the minimum obligation to help. For those who want to do more, the Torah allows you to give 20 percent.” He continues: “Beyond the basic responsibility of tzedakah is rachamim, “mercy” — caring about others personally and getting involved… That’s why the Torah juxtaposes the command to “love your neighbor,” next to the prohibition “not to stand idly by while another is in need.” (Leviticus 19:16-18).”
The Holiness Code and the Deuteronomic Code of the Torah mandate that farmers should leave part of their fields unharvested, and should not attempt to harvest any leftovers that had been forgotten when they harvested the majority of a field. The purpose of this is to allow for what’s called “gleaning”: allowing the poor to eat from your fields so they don’t go hungry (see Leviticus 23:22). This mandate comes EXPLICITLY from God himself and was in no uncertain terms binding upon Hebrews: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.”
For another lay source about tzedakah in Judaism, see this link:
According to its author: “Helping the poor and needy is a duty in Judaism,” and “According to Jewish tradition, the spiritual benefit of giving to the poor is so great that a beggar actually does the giver a favor by giving a person the opportunity to perform tzedakah.”
Seriously man, where are you getting your this idea that the Jewish poor had no recourse but to offer themselves into slavery? First of all, as I mentioned before, there were two types of slaves among the ancient Hebrews, and only one type was related to debt. The other type were slaves for life, were bought & sold, etc, and were in no uncertain terms slaves just as we think of them today. I truly want to know, because whoever told you this is demonstrably spreading misinformation and I would really like to talk to him/her.
Feel free to leave your comments below! I will update this again as soon as I hear more from him.
Thanks for reading!
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
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