Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chattel Slavery (2) - Property

The problem with most translations of Exodus 21:20-21 is the last clause: “the slave is his property”. A literal rendering of the Hebrew text is,

He his silver
It is not clear who the “he” refers to. It could be the master and it could be the servant. The same applies to the possessive pronoun “his”.

The Hebrew word used for silver is “keseph”. It is sometime used for coins, but can also refer to silver metal. The same word is used in later in the same chapter to describe the penalty for a man who leaves a dangerous pit open.
And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his (Ex 21:33-34).
The word translated money is “keseph”. In this example, it refers to the money paid to make restitution for harm done to another person. It follows that in Exodus 21:20- 21, the word “keseph” also refers to restitution and not to chattel slavery. The passage is just a further amplification of the law of financial restitution that is described in Exodus 22.

The man does not need any other punishment, because he must make restitution for the damage he has done.

A better translation of the last clause would be,
He must receive some of his silver.

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