The MU SASHA Blog

The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

A friendly exchange

Welcome to the official MU SASHA blog!

UPDATE 6/20/11 11:59 PM: Follow-up now posted here! 5,000 unique visitors and counting (2,874 in 24 hours!)! Thank you, Redditors!

Original post as follows:

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Hello all; Dave here. The following is from my Facebook wall today. Enjoy.

My friend J, responding to the above cartoon, which I posted:

I’m going to be quite blunt with you Dave, because you are my friend and I care. You neither understand what the scriptures say nor know what you are saying with respect to it. For someone who claims to value truth and what can be substantiated by evidence, you are peddling quite alot of false, second-hand disinformation. You really need to question your sources, before you post nonsense like this. What you and others who post baseless propaganda like this lack is the hermeneutical skills necessary to understand biblical text. What you do is tantamount to giving a 10 year-old the manual to fly an F-15 and expecting him to comprehend it without instruction. At the same time, understanding biblical text is not rocket science, as if it can only be read in Latin to understand it like the Roman Catholic Church used to espouse. All it really takes is putting aside the propaganda and hateful comments of those who love to share their opinions about things they have no understanding of and actually read what it says. You may have, in fact, read the bible cover to cover, but I’m telling you now that you have never READ it to comprehend it. If you had done the latter, you would realize the perfect continuity it holds throughout and the timeless value and truth it holds. But since you are lacking in your understanding, allow me to instruct you by addressing each of the claims in this cartoon about the bible and proving each one false. First, I will start with the claim about slaves.

“Also, I am entitled to own slaves. I read it in this book.”

The problem with this claim is the wrong understanding of the word “slaves” used in scripture. What slavery was in the bible could hardly be compared to what we understand slavery as today. Let me explain. First of all, God expressly commanded Israel against capturing and selling people as slaves.

“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 21:16

Furthermore, at the time of the history recorded in the scriptures, there was no welfare system or safety-net for individuals who could not provide a living for themselves. These people became servants who would receive food and housing in exchange for labor, thus protecting them from starvation and exposure. God gave the Israelites very precise instructions about how these servants were to be treated. Examples: Exodus 21:20, Leviticus 25:39-43, Exodus 21:2. My point is, these people were not sold into slavery, or kidnapped from family and country, or coerced into forced labor, such as what Africans experienced during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was simply an early, crude welfare system. These servants were well taken care of and released from obligation every 7th year at what is called Jubilee.
In the New Testament, every instance of the word slave or servant (in the physical sense of the word I mean) is still referring to what I have described above. In fact, the relationship between servant and master gets even better in light of man’s reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus. He has abolished the dividing line and has effectively and officially made them brothers. The servant is still obligated to work for food and shelter, but the master who hires him does so in humility and reverence for God, and the servant who is hired fulfills his obligation also in humility and reverence for God.

I hope that helps clarify things for you a little.

My response:

You wrote: “…at the time of the history recorded in the scriptures, there was no welfare system or safety-net for individuals who could not provide a living for themselves. These people became servants who would receive food and housing in exchange for labor, thus protecting them from starvation and exposure. God gave the Israelites very precise instructions about how these servants were to be treated. Examples: Exodus 21:20… My point is, these people were not sold into slavery, or kidnapped from family and country, or coerced into forced labor, such as what Africans experienced during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was simply an early, crude welfare system. These servants were well taken care of…”

May I see your sources for this? I ask because the Torah itself takes an extremely unambiguous stance here: The ancient Hebrews absolutely owned slaves. A slave is, by definition, a person who is the legal property of another. Exodus 20:17 clearly identifies slaves as property, listing them among other types of living property such as oxen and donkeys. 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. There were no workers’ rights nor a system to ensure enforcement of fair treatment. It was permissible and explicitly legal to beat slaves to within an inch of their lives. The Hebrew word עַבְדּ definitely, absolutely, no question means “slave.” Leviticus 25:46 lays out the circumstances under which slaves can become property for life. Exodus 21:4 makes it clear in no uncertain terms that one could even be born into slavery; obviously it wasn’t simply a matter of poverty.

People did not become slaves of the ancient Hebrews merely because they couldn’t provide for themselves, or as you put it, “[because] these people [who] became servants… would receive food and housing in exchange for labor, thus protecting them from starvation and exposure.” Leviticus 25:44-46 says, “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…” Seems pretty clear-cut to me that we’re talking about people being bought & sold here as property and not being hired as servants. It may be that their owners provided them with food & shelter for their own interests (after all, what good is a slave who cost you money to purchase but is so malnourished etc that he can’t do any work for you?), but don’t kid yourself into thinking that there was some kind of voluntary in-kind exchange of labor for food & board. Deuteronomy 15:18 even contrasts slaves & servants directly by saying that slaves are worth twice as much because you don’t have to pay them. Your statement that these people were freely offering their labor in exchange for food & housing (i.e. that these people were servants) is simply not supported by the biblical text itself.

You wrote: “God expressly commanded Israel against capturing and selling people as slaves.” Source? Your reference to Exodus 21:16 is a prohibition only against kidnapping fellow Hebrews as a legal source for slaves, not against slavery itself.

I think the source of your misunderstanding on this issue may stem from ignorance about the fact that the Hebrews had different kinds of slaves for different reasons. The Israelites drew a distinction between debt slaves and chattel slaves (that is, slaves who were working for you because they owed you money, and slaves you owned outright), and also between native slaves (i.e. slaves who were fellow Hebrews) & foreign slaves. The Torah indeed specifies that debt slaves’ debts were to be forgiven and the slaves released after 6 years (Deuteronomy 15:12). This only applies to slaves who are also Hebrews, though. And yes, the Deuteronomic Code does prohibit kidnapping Israelites to serve as your slaves. But to be clear, do not confuse this with thinking that the Torah condemns slavery altogether, and do not think that biblical mentions of slavery thereafter are better translated as “servant” on these grounds. Rather, foreigners could be (and were) regularly kidnapped and forced to become slaves, having nothing to do with debt, and they were not freed cyclically, but rather they and their offspring were slaves for life, and you even passed them on as property to your children after you died, too (Leviticus 25:46).

In what way is this “second-hand information,” by the way? Everything I’ve quoted so far is directly from the Torah itself, with the exceptions of the English definitions of “slave” and “servant” for obvious reasons.

I hope that helps clarify things for you a little.

I also must address this:

“You may have, in fact, read the bible cover to cover, but I’m telling you now that you have never READ it to comprehend it. If you had done the latter, you would realize the perfect continuity it holds throughout and the timeless value and truth it holds.”

From your statement, I must assume you’re unaware of this, but the first two times I read the Bible cover-to-cover (NIV & King James), I still self-identified as Christian. I assure you that in both instances, I was reading it “to comprehend it.” The reason I became interested in learning Latin & Greek in the first place was so that I could read it with greater comprehension.

I’m going to be quite blunt with you, J, because you are my friend and I care. Trust me, I have “done the latter,” but I did not find the “perfect continuity,” “timeless value,” nor “truth” you are promising. What I found was a collection of very flawed, very human documents with numerous direct contradictions, demonstrable falsehoods about history, biology, geography, astronomy, physics, medicine, immunology, linguistics, and zoology, just to name a few; and instead of “timeless value,” I found obsolete, bigoted, archaic, and frankly barbaric moral claims.

J, I have a problem with the claims of Christianity not because I haven’t given it a fair shake, nor because I lack “understanding” of the Bible. I have studied the Bible every day for the better part of a decade now. I am not a Christian not because I don’t know what the Bible says. I am not a Christian because I know exactly what it says. As is the case among many, many atheists, I didn’t leave Christianity because I knew too little about your book. I left it because I learned enough to realize, just like with the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, that it wasn’t true. And the more I read it now, the more I see how brainwashed and biased I was to swallow that camel! 😉

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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About MU SASHA Administrator

University of Missouri SASHA (Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics) University of Missouri-Columbia http://www.muSASHA.org

9 comments on “A friendly exchange

  1. Kasha
    June 19, 2011

    Nice.

  2. KS
    June 19, 2011

    Good response

  3. FelipeC
    June 19, 2011

    Oww, snap!

  4. Roger
    June 19, 2011

    Lovely post

  5. Paul D.
    June 20, 2011

    Did your friend J respond?

    • MU SASHA Admin
      June 21, 2011

      See the follow-up post I put up this morning (link at top!)

      🙂

      – Dave

  6. Scott Weber
    June 20, 2011

    “…I am not a Christian not because I don’t know what the Bible says. I am not a Christian because I know exactly what it says. As is the case among many, many atheists, I didn’t leave Christianity because I knew too little about your book. I left it because I learned enough to realize, just like with the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, that it wasn’t true…”

    Well put. / The Bible is still of great value, but in a different way than (as many take it ) as being ‘cosmic truth.’

  7. Pingback: Another friendly exchange! « The Official MU SASHA Blog, Updated Daily

  8. Pingback: Dave’s Mailbag, Thursday 9/22/11 « The Official MU SASHA Blog, Updated Daily

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2011 by in Author: Dave Muscato, Web Links & Videos.
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