Beyond Slavery pp 125-142 | Cite as

“She Shall Not Go Free as Male Slaves Do”: Developing Views About Slavery and Gender in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible

  • David P. Wright
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series


Biblical law and narrative describe a world that is quite agreeable to a man—specifically a man who is successful in his occupation or is wealthy, and one who is an Israelite. If you are not an Israelite, male or female, you might end up as a chattel slave, you and your children permanently enslaved, passed on as property from one generation to the next, and ruthlessly beaten. If you are a female chattel slave, you should expect to submit sexually to your master. If you are an Israelite male but unsuccessful in your trade or otherwise poor, you might be enslaved for some time, even your whole life, to pay off a debt, and be subject to beatings. If you are an Israelite woman, you might be enslaved to pay off your father’s or husband’s debts, and you could be forced to marry your father’s creditor.


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  1. 6.
    For a superb introduction to the academic study of the Hebrew Bible, see Marc Brettler, How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005) (also under the title How to Read the Jewish Bible [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007]).Google Scholar
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    Middle Assyrian Laws, A, 55–56 (for a translation of these laws, see Roth, Law Collections, 153–194). There is debate about whether Near Eastern texts (including the Bible) consider women to possess their own sexuality, which raises the question of whether the terms “rape” or “seduce” in their modern sense are appropriate as a translation in cases such as this. Still, the texts make distinctions between forced intercourse and cases in which the woman is described as complicit to some degree, as found in the Middle Assyrian Laws (which are paralleled, respectively, by Deuteronomy 22:28f and Exodus 22:15f). Hence, I will use the terms “rape” and “seduction” in this relative and contextual sense, without attempting to flesh out the nuances and qualifications or larger cultural perspectives. For discussion, see Hilary Lipka, Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew Bible Monographs 7; Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006) 245f and throughout.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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  • David P. Wright

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