Dec 17, 2007

Slavery & The Ten Commandments

I've just now started this book, the personal narratives of two ex-slaves, including teen aged Alabama slave Wallace Turnage, who escapes to Union ships in Mobile Bay. Author David W. Blight described Tunrage and John Washington as "quiet heroes of a war within the war to destroy slavery". I'll write a review after I've finished, but the subject matter and the Mobile connection has me thinking again about an issue I've raised in FTR interviews in the past. Perhaps this blog will be the place where I can get a satisfactory answer. When the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit was underway in Mobile, there was a placard above one tiny piece of parchment listing the Ten Commandments, including the 10Th, with the translation running something like this: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor"...
The question I've asked is this: how could a message directly from God not identify slavery as opposed to only coveting your neighbor's slaves? Was slavery acceptable then but not now? Please leave comments!


Loretta Nall said...

That is one of the many glaring inconsistencies in the bible. It also used to be ok according to the Old Testament to stone your children if they disrespected you, have sex with your drunken father with the outcome being that the male children born of that union would be kings unto this day (maybe that explains why some of our elected officials are so fucked up, no?) have more than one wife...the list goes on and on.

I suspect any believers who join this discussion will say that the slavery bit was in the old testament and is something that they no longer follow...but that won't answer your question about why, if indeed it came directly from God, slavery was not condemned as wrong.

I've always had questions about Christianity. Like where did God come from? How can virgins get pregnant? Do people who are dead three days really walk out of their tomb? Why did God put that tree in the garden and then temp Adam and Eve by telling them to stay away from it? Why, if as most Christians I know proclaim, did God give us freewill and then sentence us to an eternity of flames and torture for exercising that same free will?

I have reposted your question over at my site and asked my readers to come here and join in the discussion. Here is the link
A Question About Slavery and the Ten Commandments

I hope this discussion picks up because I would really like to read what people come up with as an answer to this fascinating question.

eleksus said...

When interpreting the bible, we can't ignore the relevance of which testament we're talking about.

The Old testament contains the Jewish sacred texts while the New testament contains the texts which reflect a shift in dogma to christianity.

The Old testament god, in his wrath and love for sacrifice, didn't want people coveting their neighboor's slave.

The New testament is the story of Jesus which is the last human sacrifice. In this book God experiences the pain of having to sacrifice your own son (as he asked Abraham to do). After this loss the message is one of inclusion, love, and forgiveness.

It is in this New testament that we find the god that would abhor slavery... and many other things that were required by the Old testament. We also no longer think that eating shellfish is a mortal sin.

Another way to think about it is that the original order to not covet thy neighbor's slave was not advocating for slavery but stating that we ought not envy what others have.

The Abrahamic code (do unto others as you would have done to you) and the New testament (love they brother as yourself) clearly convey the deeper message which would forbid slavery.

The sections of the Old testament that refer to the "proper" treatment of slaves is an example of the different purposes the testaments served. The Old testament was a guide for moral living in an everyday manner. It issued rules and maxims. Since people in fact had slaves, there were rules regarding slaves. It's simply a reflection of the lives people were actually living.

The New testament was a story of a man who lived his life in accordance with god and whose life we must emulate in order to be living in accordance with god. It relies on allegories and parables. In the ideal life (rather than the real life), there is no space for slavery.

I believe the structure of the text solves a lot of the interpretation issues that arise within the bible.

Ultimately: Look at the life of Buddah, the life of Mohammed, the life of Jesus. Each of those men who lived in accordance with their faith's tenants. And each of those lives look exactly the same. The message of how to live your life is the same regardless of what language is used to tell the story.

Don said...

This is what I posted on Loretta Nall’s blog’s "A Question about Slavery and the Ten Commandments" in reference to this blog:

[3] almod, we are on the same page of the hymnal, so to speak, I believe. Mere mortal man has more often messed things up in order to try to explain them than not. Although inspired by their God, those early writers had to try to explain things in a way they could understand and in a way that could be understood by others of those of their time with the limited knowledge that they all had back then. I think the story of the creation in Genesis is a good example of this. When people read it today they may question how certain things were done on certain days, before there was a distinct difference between day and night. The underlying truth, I believe, is that God did things in His own way and in His own time, and it’s not necessary for us to understand any more than that. said...

Sorry... It took me a while to figure out how and where to post my own comments. Here is what I posted on Loretta's blog:

Quite simple. The bible was written, interpreted, re-written, edited, interpreted, re-writte, and edited again over and over by mortal men. I'm a Christian, and I believe that (in its purest form) it was inspired by God and could have even been a direct word from God, but I also believe that it's possible that it has been corrupted by man over the centuries. The basic, purest message of the Bible has always been preserved for those who don't nit pick over the details. (There's truth to the saying that the "devil is in the details.") There is also a very noticeable emphasis throughout the Bible to "seek out the truth" and to learn as much as possible, as if there is some knowledge there that the message would someday be corrupted. Even Lucifer himself used scripture to his own means, and for those reasons, my belief is that the "false religion" that the Bible warns Christians so much about will stem from Christianity itself and possibly even consider itself to be Christianity.

I'll ask some of my associate pastors and see if they can possibly give a better answer. That's the best that I can come up with.

(The following was not posted on Loretta's blog.)

To answer some of Loretta's questions, the only thing I have to answer is that it is merely impossible to imply natural law to a supernatural being. I do believe some of those things happened, and I believe that things continue to happen today that science cannot explain. I believe in miracles. Perhaps there will be a scientific explanation for these things in the future, but it would hardly take the wonder out of them-- rather, I believe it gives me a glimpse into how God does things. (Who ever said that God can't use science?)

I personally do not believe in today's modern interpretation of "hell." Rather, some of the earliest accounts of hell defines it as "separation from God." And just as you wouldn't want someone forced to spend eternity with you, why would a supernatural being be any different? It's a bit more complicated than that, but it requires a lot more explanation than I'm willing to put time into in a blog comment. It's taken me a lifetime of studying and discovering to understand what I know now, and I'm still learning.

Anonymous said...

The 10 commandments appply only to the jews. Jews cannot own other jews or steal from other jews. Jewish law specifically provides that jews can kill goy, steal from goy, own goy as slaves, and so forth. The punishments for breaking the 10 commandments are quite severe but, again, there is no punishment for doing bad things to goy (non-jews).