Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Chattel Slavery (4) - Greater Protection

Subsequent verses give even greater protection to bonded servants.

If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth (Ex 21:26-27).
The previous verses had explained that a person who assaults another, must make full financial compensation to the victim. These verses clarify any confusion about whether these requirements apply to bonded servants.

God’s law actually imposes an even higher standard on people with bonded servants. If a citizen has a tooth knocked out, they must receive full restitution equivalent to the value of the tooth. The value of the tooth would not be that great. If a man assaults his servant and knocks out a tooth, he must let the bonded servant go free by writing off the total debt that was owed.

In most cases, the debt being cancelled would be worth far more than the tooth. This means that the punishment for a assaulting a bonded servant was greater than for assaulting another citizen. Biblical law recognises the fact that bonded servants are in a vulnerable position, so it provides them with greater protection. If man is violent and inflicts physical harm on a bonded a servant, he must release him from his debt. This could be a very severe penalty.

Exodus 21 does not justify slavery, it is actually the opposite. It explains that the laws against assault apply equally to servants, as to citizens. The only exception is that bonded servants receive even greater protection, because they are in a defenceless situation. Exodus provides protection for the weak, it does not take away their rights.

Exodus 21 is a passage specifying punishments for crimes. Therefore it is the last place that you would expect a theology of slavery. Building a justification for chattel slavery on an obtuse translation of a verse that is difficult to translate is quite unwise.

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