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
Chapter
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series

Abstract

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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Notes

  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
  2. James Barr, The Scope and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980)Google Scholar
  3. Raymond Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist, 1981).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See William Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) for a discussion of the connection of scribal institutions with monarchy and a history of biblical scribalism.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    Verse numbers follow the Revised Standard Version (in the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, the verse numbering for the Covenant Code is Exodus 20:20–23:19). For an introduction to the different law collections of the Pentateuch, see Dale Patrick, Old Testament Law: An Introduction (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    For full discussion of the evidence, see David P. Wright, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See Jeffrey Stackert, Rewriting the Torah (Forschungen zum Alten Testament 52; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007) 282–302Google Scholar
  8. Bernard M. Levinson, “Is the Covenant Code an Exilic Composition? A Response to John Van Seters,” in In Search of Preexilic Israel, ed. John Day (JSOTSup 406. London: T&T Clark, 2004) 272–325 at 283f.Google Scholar
  9. Bernard M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    See Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995)Google Scholar
  11. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17–22 (Anchor Bible Commentary 3A; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 1319–1364.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For passages of the Pentateuch belonging to the Priestly Source (=P) of the Pentateuch (which includes the Priestly Law and Narrative and the Holiness Legislation and Narrative), see Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Summit, 1987) 246–255; for passages of the Holiness Legislation sorted out from Priestly Law and Narrative, see Knohl, Sanctuary, 104–106.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For a broad and insightful discussion of ethical criticism in the reading of literature, see Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    For a translation of Hammurabi’s Laws, see Martha Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (2nd ed.; Atlanta: Scholars, 1997) 71–142. Chap. 5 of Wright, Inventing God’s Laws, provides an extensive analysis of debt slavery in the Covenant Code and discusses how these laws develop from the Laws of Hammurabi.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    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
  16. 21.
    For a recent detailed analysis of the relationship of Deuteronomy’s slave law to the Covenant Code, see Bernard M. Levinson, “The Manumission of Hermeneutics: The Slave Laws of the Pentateuch as a Challenge to Contemporary Pentateuchal Theory,” in Congress Volume Leiden 2004 (ed. André Lemaire; Vetus Testamentum Supplement 109; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2006) 281–324; and Stackert, Rewriting, 142–164.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    For discussion, see Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27 (Anchor Bible 3b; New York: Doubleday, 2001) 2224.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    Milgrom, Leviticus 17–22, 1666, states that Leviticus 19:20–22 reflects a different source or tradition (i.e., Priestly) from Leviticus 25 (i.e., Holiness Legislation).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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  • David P. Wright

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