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10/15/09

Does God Command You to Beat Your Slaves?

On occasion I have written about the issue of slavery/servitude in the Bible. Note that by merely writing and thinking in terms of “slavery/servitude” you have just dissolved just about every atheist besmirching, via appeals to slavery, of the Bible (this is even though the atheist cannot even condemn slavery beyond informing you that they have personally decided to condemn it—which is a tautology, by the way).

I wished to focus upon one text which is ubiquitously employed a well-within-the-box-atheist-group-think-talking-point; namely, Exodus 21:20-21.

I will begin by providing examples of the manner in which the talking point has been expressed. I will cite some of the following quotes if they were published in an article/post but not if they were written in the form of comments to an article/post:

Q: Is it OK to beat your slave?A: Yes, as long as the slave does not die from the beating withing [sic] the first day, you are considered innocent.[1]

Slowly beating your slaves to deathIt's okay with God if you slowly beat your slaves to death. After all, they are your money. Just make sure that they survive at least a day or two after the beating…
It's okay to beat your slaves; even if they die you won't be punished, just as long as they survive a day or two after the beating (see verses 21:20-21). But avoid excessive damage to their eyes or teeth. Otherwise you may have to set them free.[2]

Go ahead, Beat your slave with a rod.

beat your slave as long as he or she can get up after a day or 2.

you can beat your slave without mercy, just dont [sic] kill him.

you can beat your slave all you want, but don't kill him! you'll get in trouble.

it's okay to beat…beat your slave to death [ellipses in original].

I do not see how that says anything other than "it's OK to beat your slave so long as you don't kill or seriously injure the slave".

To be unwarrantedly fair, the "if your slave dies, it is a problem," verse does indicate that if your slave actually gets up after a couple of days then it is okay; which is to say, it is perfectly alright to beat your slave almost to death.

no explicit condemnation other than not to beat your slave TO DEATH.

you can beat your slave so hard he dies 3 days later.

Beat your slave, just make sure he doesnt [sic] die!

One such law is that you're allowed to beat your slave all you want, as long as you don't kill them

you are allowed to beat your slave as much as you like as long as you don't knock out his eyes or his teeth.

What does the Bible say about beating slaves? It says you can beat both male and female slaves with a rod so hard that as long as they don't die right away you are cleared of any wrong doing.[3]

Exod. 21:21 allows a slave owner to beat a slave to death, as long as it is an unintentional result of the severe beating.[4]

You can beat your slave with a rod and its all good if the slave can get up AFTER A DAY OR TWO! The beating is so bad the slave needs a day or two to recover, amazing![5]

it is legit to beat your slave as much as you want to.

God condoned, instituted and regulated salvery [sic], including giving detailed instruction how to beat your slave if you beat your slave and he dies right away then that is wrong, but if he dies slowly a few days later, than all is peachy.

It is okay to beat your slave as long as the slave does not die as the master owns the slave.

You could beat your slave, almost to the point of death.

Beating one's slave to death (legal, as long as death lingers and is not immediate.[6]

If I am to understand correctly; the message is that it is perfectly acceptable according to the Bible and its God to beat one’s slave. I actually encountered so many permutations of this atheist talking point that I had to stop at some point but atheist literature, websites, blogs and comment sections are saturated with likewise sentiments.

The message of Exodus 21:20-21 seems pretty clear: God commands those who follow Him to beat their slaves; this was recorded in the Bible and has been promulgated for millennia. Let us consider the text, the actual quote, the statement, made in Exodus 21:20-21
And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

Incidentally, note that “for he is his property” is actually a dynamic translation/interpretation of one single word: keceph which means money, silver, shekel—a monetary amount.

Now, the claim is that the Bible states that God considers it okay to beat your slaves…let us stop here for now: where does it state any such thing? It states no such thing whatsoever. What it states is “if a man beats…” Now, this is a big IF which spells the difference between the atheist assertion and what the text actually states. The texts is referencing what the litigious result are to be if this happens and there is absolutely no indication in the entire Bible that any such beating is being commanded or allowed. But perhaps this “if” is a merely fluke, an accident of grammar, an inference from the context, etc.

Not so. This is because the entire context of the entire chapter is the laying out of hypothetical scenarios and their litigious consequences. The chapter is premised by the phrase, “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them” and proceeds in an “if this then that” manner: if someone does this the consequence is that. Stating that “if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod…” is an approbation is tantamount to claiming that if the law of the USA states, “If one person beats another but does not kill them, then…” it would mean that the law of the USA commands people to beat one another just short of death.

As I stated, it is not so that the “if” in an incidental since the entire chapter is likewise understood; here is a sample:
If you buy a Hebrew servant…If he comes alone…If his master gives him a wife…if the servant declares…If a man sells his daughter as a servant…If he selects her for his son…If he marries another woman…If he does not provide her with…if he does not do it intentionally…if a man schemes and kills…If men quarrel…if the other gets up and walks…If a man beats his male or female slave…if the slave gets up…If men who are fighting…if there is serious injury…If a man hits a manservant or maidservant…if he knocks out the tooth…If a bull gores…If, however, the bull has…if payment is demanded…if the bull gores…If the bull gores…If a man uncovers a pit…If a man's bull injures…if it was known…

And to reiterate, note the qualifiers, “If…If…If…if…If…If…If…If…if…if…If…if…If…if…If…if…If…if…If…If…if…if…If…If…If…if…”

Atheists seem to read this as “Since you are commanded by God to beat your slave…” but it is merely speculating about what “If” someone does such a thing. Yet, overall the atheist may think that it is okay because there is not punishment in the second scenario. Firstly, let us note that despite the atheist revision of servant as mere property if the servant was murdered the owner was punished. That the servant could have been considered to have been murdered speaks of their status—otherwise if a servant was killed it would be merely deemed too bad and not even so sad.

I must state that it seems that atheists find such detailed consideration, as those already considered and those which are to follow, simply too much with which to deal as they prefer the emotive nature of their one liners. I find that when I really attempt to understand and explain a text the atheist shouts “Rationalization!” Atheists cannot seem to decide if believers take the Bible too literally or not literally enough—I suppose they just grab whichever club is closest to them at the time when they want to beat upon the Bible and believers.

To reiterate; what we are dealing with is the laying out of a carefully regulated litigious system which carries along with it concepts of eyewitnesses, the case being brought before judges and all with which such a system comes.

Note that vv. 12-14 states
He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.

Note that what is being distinguished is what we would call degrees of murder and which we generally define in terms of: first degree—intentional, deliberate and premeditated. Second degree—occurring during the carrying out of a crime such as during a robbery “gone bad.” Third degree—another degree denoting unintentionality.
Thus, in these verses we see the overarching law is that the consequence for murder is capital punishment yet, there are distinctions and considerations such as self-defense (as when the person is delivered into my hands and I then flee to escape retribution from their family, etc.) and premeditated murder.

Now consider vv. 18-19,
If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed.

Note that the point is that they were fighting and did not intend premeditated murder. In such a case, one person was hurt enough to require recovery and was compensated for his time.

Is it any accident that it is the very next verses with which we have been dealing? Consider the context thus far and let us read the verses in question again—vv. 20-21
And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

Thus, we see that we are dealing with someone who for some reason took it upon themselves to beat their servant—if some does this—it does not seem to be considered murder in the first degree yet, there is a punishment (to be determined by the judges and or referring back to the initial law regarding capital punishment).
As for the second case, note that we previously saw that a person was to have a pain and suffering type of recompense for loss of time which equals loss of earnings. In this case, the loss of earnings is the master’s and so there is no one to recompense. Moreover, note that since the servant remains alive a day or two the legal conclusion may have been that the master did not intend of murdering them and did not kill them unintentionally as in the first case (technically: “murder” is illegal and immoral—such as premeditation, while "killing" is legal and moral—such as in self-defense).

Note also that such was the view of servants in Israel that, vv. 26-27
If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.

If the master damaged their servant they were to release them.

How is it okay to beat them just short of death but not damage their bodies? Because the atheist is misunderstanding the various scenarios and considerations of intent and outcome which this legal system is considering.

Note also that the servants were to rest on the Sabbath just like any Israelite (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14). Note that if a servant had occasion to “escaped from his master” and came to you they were to “dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

Perhaps most importantly is that all laws regarding slavery/servitude were premised on the variously mentioned reminder
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you (Deuteronomy 15:15).

In fact, it is a Jewish tradition that every generation of Jews consider themselves as having been personally freed from slavery in Egypt.

It is simply historically, culturally, grammatically and scholastically fallacious to correlated that “slavery” that is so carefully regulated by the Bible in its various forms and the “slavery” of the USA, the Africans who sold slaves to the USA or even other cultures of the ancient Middle East or elsewhere. It is emotive, it is easy to confused the issues and attempt to make points against the Bible but it is erroneous nonetheless.

[1] Lerato777, “The bible says it's okay to have a slave...,” Topix, May 8, 2009
[2] Skeptics Annotated Bible
[3] Evilbible.com, Slavery in the Bible
[4] Fayetteville Freethinkers, What objective moral values?
[5] Shahid Pages, Bible: Beat your slaves and kids!
[6] Cliff Walker, “One Can Be Ethical And Moral Without God,” Positive Atheism, ©1995-2006

8 comments:

  1. Bravo Mariano!! Masterfully done! I would love to see an atheist get write that off!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The law is this.

    If you beat your slave and he dies, you will be punished, but if he lives a day or two, you will not be punished, because he is your property.

    Your ideas on the implication of the word "if" are a bit over the top.

    True, God does not command his subjects to beat their slaves, he only say that it is ok as long as you do not kill them outright.

    It still implies that the practice of owning slaves as well as the practice of beating them is acceptable in gods eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Apparently David still doesn't get it...read it again dave

    Here I'll do it for you..


    "Thus, we see that we are dealing with someone who for some reason took it upon themselves to beat their servant—if some does this—it does not seem to be considered murder in the first degree yet, there is a punishment (to be determined by the judges and or referring back to the initial law regarding capital punishment).
    As for the second case, note that we previously saw that a person was to have a pain and suffering type of recompense for loss of time which equals loss of earnings. In this case, the loss of earnings is the master’s and so there is no one to recompense. Moreover, note that since the servant remains alive a day or two the legal conclusion may have been that the master did not intend of murdering them and did not kill them unintentionally as in the first case (technically: “murder” is illegal and immoral—such as premeditation, while "killing" is legal and moral—such as in self-defense).

    Note also that such was the view of servants in Israel that, vv. 26-27

    If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.

    If the master damaged their servant they were to release them.

    How is it okay to beat them just short of death but not damage their bodies? Because the atheist is misunderstanding the various scenarios and considerations of intent and outcome which this legal system is considering.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maybe he is not getting it because you are speaking rubbish?

    You say "it does not seem to be considered murder in the first degree yet, there is a punishment (to be determined by the judges and or referring back to the initial law regarding capital punishment)."

    But the lovely cuddly bible says "if he lives a day or two, you will not be punished, because he is your property."

    YOU WILL NOT BE PUNISHED is what it says.
    HE IS YOUR PROPERTY is what it says.

    You seem to mix human law with God law with barely a breath in between!

    "the legal conclusion may have been that the master did not intend of murdering them"

    WHO CARES!! Still no punishment means no punishment!

    If a slave dies in 2 days it is murder whether intentional or not!

    Cripes, I dread to think what you are teaching you kids. Just don't have any...please.

    ReplyDelete
  5. exaclty; both camps may twist the text to fit their exact view and arguement, but its undeniable: the text does NOT condemn the owning of another human being as property with a monetary value. why?

    because the text was written by men who needed to control the people of the time just as laws are made today, and just like today, you would not, as a governing body, pass legislation that the masses would fight to reject, a universally accepted consideration when establishing any laws code of ethics. and that's just one of the reasons any fundamentalist view doesn't fit; atheists can adapt their world view to fit the change of time. theists can't. ("i am the same yesterday, today and tomorrow".) I'm sorry, but that's just not true. Change is inevitable. It's adaptation that is all you can control.

    therefore, any bible-fearing Christian CANNOT condemn the history of slavery, support the american civil war as a struggle over slavery, or complain about the 3rd world and sex-trade slavery of the modern age. nostalgia is part of dogma. if you can't be open to discovery or enlightenment, your ignorance becomes hypocrisy, your opinions invalid, and your truth irrelevant.

    You may be right, and god may exist. But I for one will not take moral criticism or guidance from a being who advocates genocide, deception, obscurity, homophobia, slavery, and free faith as long as its in him...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't Southern US slave owners make the exact same "a slave owner would never intentionally kill his slaves because they're his property" excuse?

    ReplyDelete
  7. intentionally or unintentionally, the slave dies the next day, the master is free to NOT BE PUNISHED.. how many different ways can you "interpret" the words to fit what you obviously know is wrong..

    when you need a 15 page explanation of "interpretation" of something that is two sentences long, you got it wrong and are simply trying to change the actual meaning of those sentences

    ReplyDelete
  8. Does it say you may beat a slave? Yes. Does it say its not punished when a "master" beats his slave to death as long as it takes a few days? Certainly. End of. What ever obfuscational technicalities you can muster, these are the facts and both are abhorrent.

    ReplyDelete