What does Slave, Slavery mean in the Bible?

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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Slave, Slavery
SLAVE, SLAVERY . The Heb. ‘ebhedh , usually tr. [1] ‘servant,’ has a variety of meanings, between which it is not always easy to distinguish. E.g. in 2 Samuel 9:2 ‘servant’ = retainer, in 2 Samuel 9:10 b = bondman, in 2 Samuel 9:11 = a polite expression of self-depreciation (cf. 2 Kings 4:1 and 1 Kings 9:22 ). In a discussion of Hebrew slavery only those passages will be dealt with in which the word probably has the sense of bondage .
1 . Legally the slave was a chattel . In the earliest code (Book of the Covenant [2]) he is called his master’s money ( Exodus 21:21 ). In the Decalogue he is grouped with the cattle ( Exodus 20:17 ), and so regularly in the patriarchal narratives ( Genesis 12:16 etc.). Even those laws which sought to protect the slave witness to his degraded position. In the BC the master is not punished for inflicting even a fatal flogging upon his slave, unless death follows immediately. If the slave lingers a day or two before dying, the master is given the benefit of the doubt as to the cause of his death, and the loss of the slave is regarded as a sufficient punishment ( Exodus 21:21 ). The jus talionis was not applicable to the slave as it was to the freeman (cf. Exodus 21:26 ff. with Exodus 21:22 ff.); and it is the master of the slave, not the slave himself, who is recompensed if the slave is gored by an ox ( Exodus 21:32 ). In these last two instances BC follows the Code of Hammurabi [3] (§§ 196 199, 252).
In practice the slave as a chattel was often subject to ill usage. He was flogged ( Sir 33:24-31 , Proverbs 29:19 ), and at times heartlessly deserted ( 1 Samuel 30:11 ff.). Though the master is here an Amorite, the cases of runaway slaves in Israel bear testimony to their sufferings even at the hands of their fellow-countrymen; cf. the experiences of the churl Nabal ( 1 Samuel 25:10 ), of the passionate Shimei ( 1 Kings 2:39 ), and of Sarah ( Genesis 16:6 ); the implications as to the frequency of such cases in the law of Deuteronomy 23:15 ff. and in later times ( Exodus 21:20 ). The position of the maid-servant was in general the same as that of the manservant. In the BC it is assumed that the maid-servant is at the same time a concubine ( Exodus 21:7 ff.; cf. Hagar, Zilpah, and Bilhah in the patriarchal narratives). Even in P [4] the idea of the slave-girl as property is still retained ( Leviticus 19:20 ). Here the punishment ‘for the violation of a slave-girl was almost certainly a fine to be paid to the master, if we may judge from the analogous law in Exodus 22:16 = Deuteronomy 22:28 ; i.e. it is an indemnity for injury to property. In practice the maid-servant, though the concubine of the master, is often the special property of the mistress ( Genesis 16:6 a, Genesis 16:9 , Genesis 25:12 , Genesis 30:3 ), at times having been given to her at marriage ( Genesis 24:56 ; Genesis 29:24 ; Genesis 29:29 ). She is subject to field labour ( Ruth 2:8 ff.) and to the lowest menial labour ( 1 Samuel 25:41 , figurative, but reflecting actual conditions).
Slaves were recruited (1) principally from war, at least in earliest times. Captives or subject populations were often employed not only as personal attendants, but also as public slaves at the Temple ( Joshua 9:23 ; Joshua 9:27 [5], Nehemiah 7:57-60 , and see art. Nethinim) or on public works in the corvçe ( Joshua 16:10 , Judges 1:28 ff., 1 Kings 9:20-22 = 2 Chronicles 8:7-9 ), while captive women were especially sought as concubines or wives ( Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ). (2) From the slave-trade, of which the Israelites undoubtedly a vailed themselves (cf. the implications in Genesis 37:26 ; Genesis 17:12 , Leviticus 25:44 ). This trade was mainly in the hands of the Phœnicians and Edomites ( Amos 1:6 ; Amos 1:9 , Ezekiel 27:13 , Joel 3:6 ). (3) From native Israelites who bad become enslaved as a punishment for theft ( Exodus 22:1-4 ), whether for other crimes also is not stated; Josephus ( Ant. XVI. i. 1) knows of no other. (4) From native Israelites who, through poverty and debt, had been forced to sell themselves ( Exodus 21:2 , Amos 2:6 ; Amos 8:6 , Deuteronomy 15:12 , Leviticus 25:39 , Proverbs 11:29 [6] Proverbs 22:7 [6]) or their children ( Exodus 21:7 , 2 Kings 4:1 , Nehemiah 5:6 ; Nehemiah 5:8 , Isaiah 50:1 , Job 24:9 ) into servitude.
Whether the creditor had the right to force the debtor into slavery against his will is not clear. Exodus 21:2 and 2 Kings 4:1 (cf. Matthew 18:25 ) rather favour this view. The reflexive verb in Leviticus 25:39 a and in Deuteronomy 15:12 , where the same verbal form should probably be again translated by the reflexive, not by the passive as in RV [8] , favours voluntary servitude. But possibly the later codes are modifications of the earlier practice. Nehemiah 5:5 is ambiguous.
As to the number of slaves we have no adequate data. Genesis 14:14 cannot be used as evidence. The numbers in the corvçe ( 1 Kings 5:13 ; 1 Kings 5:15 ) are discrepant, and in any case probably do not refer to slaves proper. The prosperous retainer of Saul has 20 servants ( 2 Samuel 9:10 ). The proportion of slaves to freemen in Nehemiah 7:66 ff. 1 Timothy 6 1 Timothy 6 . The price of slaves naturally varied. The BC ( Exodus 21:32 ) fixes the average price at 30 shekels (about £4). CH in the same law allows but 17 shekels (§ 252, cf. 214). Joseph is sold for 20 shekels ( Genesis 37:26 ). In later times the price in Exodus seems to have been maintained ( 2Ma 8:11 ; Ant. XII. ii. 3).
2 . But while the slave was a chattel, nevertheless certain religious and civil rights and privileges were accorded him. In law the slave was regarded as an integral part of the master’s household ( Exodus 20:17 ), and, as such, an adherent of the family cult (cf. the instructive early narratives in Genesis 24:1-67 ; Genesis 16:1-16 ). Accordingly the BC ( Exodus 23:12 ) and the Decalogue ( Exodus 20:10 ) guarantee to him the Sabbath rest. Deuteronomy allows him a share in the religious feasts ( Deuteronomy 12:12 ; Deuteronomy 12:18 ; Deuteronomy 16:11 ; Deuteronomy 16:14 ), the humanitarian viewpoint being chiefly emphasized. In P [4] the more primitive idea of the slave as a member of the family, conceived as a religious unit, is still retained and utilized in the interest of religious exclusiveness. Thus, while the gçr (sojourner) cannot partake of the Passover unless circumcised, the slave must be circumcised and so is entitled to partake ( Exodus 12:44 ; cf. the narrative Genesis 17:12 ff.). Again, while the gçr in a priest’s family, or even the daughter of a priest who has married into a non-priestly family, may not eat of the holy things, the priest’s slave is allowed to do so ( Leviticus 22:10 ff.).
As to civil rights: In the BC, murder of the slave as well as of the freeman is punishable with death (Exodus 21:12 = Leviticus 24:17 ; the law is Inclusive). If death results from flogging, the master is also punished, conjecturally by a fine ( Exodus 21:20 ff.). If the slave is seriously maimed by his master, he is given his freedom ( Exodus 21:26 ff.). At this point the BC contrasts very favourably with the CH. The latter does not attempt to protect the slave’s person from the master, but only provides for an indemnity to the master if the slave is injured by another (199, 213, 214). While a man could be sold into slavery for debt (see above), man-stealing is prohibited on pain of death ( Exodus 21:16 = Deuteronomy 24:7 ). Deuteronomy interprets the Exodus law correctly as a prohibition against stealing a fellow-countryman. Deut. also forbids returning a slave who has escaped from a foreign master ( Deuteronomy 23:15 ff.). If the slave in this case were a non-Israelite (which, however, is not certain), the law would be a remarkable example of the humane tendencies in Deut. and would again contrast favourably with CH, which prescribes severe penalties for harbouring fugitive slaves ( Deuteronomy 23:16 ; Deuteronomy 23:19 ). The humane law for the protection of captive wives ( Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ) is also noticeable.
But practice often went far beyond law in mitigating the severity of servitude. Indeed, slavery in the ancient East generally was a comparatively easy lot. The slave is grouped with wife and child as part of the master’s household ( Exodus 20:17 ). Children are property and can be sold as well as slaves ( Exodus 21:7 ; cf. Exodus 22:16 = Deuteronomy 22:28 where the daughter is regarded as the father’s property). Children are flogged as well as slaves ( Proverbs 13:24 ). Wives were originally bought from the parents, and wives and concubines are often almost indistinguishable. Hence the lot of the slave was probably not much harder than that of wife or child (cf. Galatians 4:1 ), and the law implies the possibility of a genuine affection existing between master and man ( Exodus 21:5 = Deuteronomy 15:16 ). Accordingly we find many illustrations of the man-servant rising to a position of importance. He may he intrusted with the most delicate responsibilities ( Genesis 24:1-67 ), may be the heir of his master ( Genesis 15:1-4 ), is often on intimate terms with and advises the master ( Judges 19:3 ff., 1 Samuel 9:5 ff.), the custom of having body-servants (Heb. na‘ar , Num 22:22 , 1 Kings 18:43 , 2 Kings 4:12 , Nehemiah 4:22 etc.) favouring such intimacies, and he may even marry his master’s daughter ( 1 Chronicles 2:34 ff.; cf. similar cases in CH § 175 ff.). Especially servants of important men enjoy a reflected dignity ( 1 Samuel 9:22 , 2 Kings 8:4 ). The rise of servants into positions of prominence was so frequent as to be the subject of making-making ( Proverbs 14:35 ; Proverbs 17:2 ; Proverbs 19:10 ; Proverbs 30:22 a).
Whether a servant could own property while remaining a servant is not clear. The passages adduced in favour of it (1 Samuel 9:8 [10], 2 Samuel 9:2 ff; 2 Samuel 16:1 ff. [11], Leviticus 25:49 b [12]) are not pertinent. Deuteronomy 15:13 makes against it, but not necessarily, and the fact that in Arabia and Babylonia (CH § 176) the slave could own property awakens a presumption in favour of the same custom in Israel.
Under a good house-wife the maid-servant would be well taken care of (
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Slave, Slavery
State of being subjected to involuntary servitude. It usually included being legally owned as property by another person. Slavery in the biblical world was complex and normally very different than the slavery of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western world.
Slavery in the Ancient Near East . This historical and legal antecedents to slavery in the Old Testament are derived from the nations of the Fertile Crescent, ranging from Babylon to Egypt. The society of the ancient Near Eastern world had three major categories: free, semifree, and slave. All social structures were defined within these categories. Pictorial impressions of war captives suggesting slavery have survived from the fourth millennium b.c. The specific literary evidence, however, is contained in a number of law codes that have survived from Babylonia and Assyria. These documents provide information concerning slavery in the ancient Near East that conditioned the culture in which Israel's ideologies developed. The Ur-Nammu Code (2050 b.c.) is one of the oldest; the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 b.c.) is probably the most well known. The earliest Sumerian terms for slaves indicate that enslaved captives of war from foreign countries constituted the initial category of slaves. Slaves were treated in the legal codes as property, not human beings. If a slave was killed by another, the main concern was to settle on the price for the lost property.
The Old Testament . The Old Testament record of Israel's origin and development demonstrates that they functioned within the cultural milieu of their own time. God's self-disclosure and direction to his elect nation often accommodated existing cultural aspects. While such accommodation reflects God's way of dealing with his creation, it does not necessarily imply his ideal will. Slavery is accepted in the Old Testament as part of the world in which Israel functioned. It is not abolished but regulated. The legal codes for that regulation (Exodus 21 ; Leviticus 25 ; Deuteronomy 15 ) and the numerous texts that reflect Israel's development in this domain indicate an increasing humanization of slavery in contrast to the rest of the ancient Near East. The Hebrew slave was more protected than those of other nationalities. The Old Testament raised the status of the slave from property to that of a human being who happened to be owned by another person (
Exodus 21:20,26-27 ; Job 31:13-15 ; Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 ). The fact that Israel was enslaved in Egypt may have influenced this development (Leviticus 25:39-43 ; Deuteronomy 5:15 ; 15:13-15 ; Joel 2:29 ).
The Old Testament provides numerous opportunities for the manumission of slaves. Freedom could be purchased (Leviticus 25:48-55 ). The Hebrew slave was to be released in the Sabbatical and Jubilee year cycles (Exodus 21:2-4 ; Leviticus 25:40-43 ). Inhumane treatment by masters was grounds for release (Exodus 21:7-11,26-27 ; Deuteronomy 21:14 ). Some were released by the direct command of Yahweh (Jeremiah 34:8-10 ).
The terminology for slavery permeated relational metaphors in Israel. It was adopted as a metaphor to image the believer's relationship to Yahweh and is more appropriately translated servant rather than slave (cf. Jeremiah 2:14 ). Leaders such as Moses, Joshua, and David were servants of the Lord. All the citizens of Israel were viewed as servants of their earthly king (1 Samuel 17:8 ). Those who were in subordinate positions to others were referred to as servants without implying formal slavery.
The New Testament . The New Testament in contrast with the Old Testament does not record the origin and development of a national entity. Therefore, its references to slaves and slavery are more coincidental and secondary. The Gospels refer to slaves as part of the fabric of society. The personal slave of a centurion (Matthew 8:5-13 ) or of a high priest (Matthew 26:51 ) is a natural part of the narrative. Incidental references to the everyday functions of slaves are numerous. Jesus frequently used slave motifs in his parables because such images were the common stock of his audiences. His mere reference to the social phenomenon neither approved nor condemned its existence.
Paul's epistle to Philemon and his treatment of household codes directly addresses the issue of owner and slave relationships. Paul reflects the dual worlds for which Christians are responsible. He recognizes the legal ownership of Philemon by returning the runaway slave Onesimus (vv. 12-14). He also emphasizes the human relational changes that are the result of believing in Christ. Onesimus now has the status of a brother (v. 16) and thereby deserves to be viewed as such. Paul's statement in verse 16a, "no longer as a slave, " does not abolish the legal issue but highlights the new spiritual relationship. The tone of Paul's appeal for Onesimus may well imply his desire that Philemon give Onesimus his freedom, but Paul comes short of demanding this response. It is Philemon's decision.
The household codes that address slaves call for Christian integrity within existing structures, even when these structures have what can be perceived as negative consequences (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9 ; Colossians 3:18-4:1 ; 1 Timothy 6:1-2 ; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-3:7 ). Paul's instructions to slaves calls for them to fulfill their obligations to human masters as if they were rendering service to Christ. The motive for providing honest and dedicated service is that the Christian witness may be advanced. These texts reflect the missionary mandate Christ gave to the apostles for his church (Matthew 28:18-20 ). While early Christian teaching contained humanitarian emphases (cf. Matthew 24:45-51 ; Luke 15:22 ; 17:7 ) and has often resulted in social change, there is no social mandate to abolish slavery in these texts. The revolutionary nature of the early church is contained in the concept of being "in Christ." The result of being "in Christ" is, on the one hand, spiritual egalitarianism (Galatians 3:23-25 ), and on the other, responsible behavior within existing structures.
Christ plays on the concept of servant to image his own mission (Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ). The epistolary literature focuses on the figurative usage of slave. These books frequently use the primary term for slave, doulos [ Romans 1:1 ; Philippians 1:1 ; 2 Timothy 2:24 ; Titus 1:1 ; James 1:1 ; 1 Peter 2:16 ; 2 Peter 1:1 ), to fellow believers (2 Corinthians 4:5 ), and even to sin (Romans 6:20 ). This is a most striking metaphor because a Greek person linked personal dignity and freedom together. Freedom was power and something about which to be proud. The use of doulos [ 1 Corinthians 7:22 ; Ephesians 6:6 ; Colossians 4:12 ).
Gary T. Meadors
Bibliography . R. Lyall, Slaves, Citizens, Sons ; I. Mendelsohn, IDB, 4:383-91; N. R. Petersen, Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul's Narrative World ; J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts ; E. Schrer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ ; J. E. Stambaugh and D. L. Balch, The New Testament in Its Social Environment ; W. L. Westermann, The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity .
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Slave, Slavery
1. Universal prevalence in the Apostolic Age.-Slavery was a conspicuous and unchallenged feature of the social order into the midst of which Christianity was born. Modern readers easily fail to realize its presence in the background of the NT Scriptures, so great are the social changes that have been brought about in the course of time, and so much is the harsh fact softened by the phrasing of our versions. The Authorized Version ‘servant,’ with its present connotation, is a very mild equivalent for δοῦλος; the Revised Version ‘bond-servant’ is clearer, but is still a euphemistic substitute for ‘slave’-the term which exactly represents what the δοῦλος of the NT really was. In the only instance in which the English Versions use the term ‘slaves’ in the NT (Revelation 18:13) it represents a late but significant use of σῶμα (‘body’). Similarly, the English Versions ‘master’ stands for terms (whether δεσπότης or the commoner κύριος) that imply ownership. The existence of slavery must have lent special vividness and point to the early use of redemption as a figure to describe the experience of salvation.
In the old civilization of the world slavery appears as a most natural and inevitable fact. The well-known Code of Hammurabi, fragmentary as it is, affords us considerable insight into the social conditions of Babylonia as existing more than twenty centuries before the Christian era. Therein we have a number of remarkable laws regulating relations between slaves and their owners, side by side with others dealing with the wages payable for the employment of different kinds of free labour. And, most probably with a real relation to this older legal system, we have at a later period the Mosaic legislation similarly embodying slave laws, slavery having been just as much a recognized part of the system of things among the Hebrews as among other ancient peoples. Only the Pentateuchal Code (or Codes) must be admitted to be marked by a conspicuous humanity in this as in some other respects, and especially in the Deuteronomic form (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 15:12 ff.). The existence of slavery, indeed, was so old and general a phenomenon in human history that St. Augustine could explain it only as a result of sin, so sure was he that it was not the Divine intention that man should own and lord it over his fellow-man (de Civ. Dei, xix. 15). (St. Chrysostom takes a similar line in Hom. xl. ad 1 Cor. x. 5.) Incidentally he comments more suo on the fact that the term ‘servus’ first appears in Scripture in the strange Genesis story of the curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25)-a source whence, curiously enough, many a Christian owner of negro slaves in modern times has derived ‘flattering unction’ in defence of his position.
But never was slavery more conspicuous as a social institution than it was in the Roman Empire in the 1st cent. a.d. Numerous wars of conquest had swollen the numbers of the slave class to an enormous extent: for all prisoners of war were made slaves as a matter of course. Slave-dealers followed the armies on their campaigns and purchased on the spot those who were taken captive. Indeed, St. Augustine (loc. cit.) gives currency to a popular etymology of the term ‘servus,’ deriving it from the verb ‘servare.’ The servus was a man who might justly have been slain, but was preserved alive by the conqueror, though inevitably doomed to lose his freedom. There was, moreover, a regular slave-trade carried on in the East, the markets being abundantly supplied from the barbarous tribes of Western Asia. Barbarians were regarded as being naturally designed to be the slaves of their superiors-a sentiment not wholly wanting even yet in many white people towards the ‘inferior races.’
As in the Greek States at an earlier period the slaves numbered four or five times as many as the citizens proper, so the proportion in the Roman Empire must have been similarly great. Thus Pliny (Historia Naturalis (Pliny) xxxiii. 47) mentions a wealthy Roman, named Claudius Isidorus, of the time of Augustus, who left by will 4116 slaves as part of his possessions. When, too, it was proposed that slaves should wear a distinctive dress, the proposal was abandoned lest this should reveal their strength; and Roman history had already furnished evidence of grim possibilities in the serious slave wars of Sicily which occurred in the latter part of the 2nd cent. b.c. Similar considerations caused the enactment of severe laws that supplied drastic in terrorem methods for keeping slaves in subjection. Tacitus mentions the case of Pedanius Secundus, prefect of the city, who had been murdered by one of his slaves, and under a law requiring that, should a slave kill his master, all the slaves of the same household should forfeit their lives, some 400 of the culprit’s fellow-slaves were put to death at Rome a.d. 61 (Ann. xiv. 42).
2. The ‘libertini.’-As an outcome of the system of slavery, the class of libertini or freedmen, which formed so conspicuous a feature of Roman society, calls for passing notice. These were citizens who either had actually been slaves themselves aforetime or were the immediate descendants of freed slaves. They must have far outnumbered the free-born, and possessed overwhelming influence in the State. Manumission was of frequent occurrence. The enormous numbers of captives reduced to slavery after every war, and the frequent fluctuations in great Roman establishments, all tended to make manumission easy. Many slaves were permitted by their masters to accumulate savings and purchase their freedom with the money. Sometimes the enfranchisement was accomplished by the solemn rite of fictitious purchase on the part of some divinity. The slave first paid the purchase money which he had saved into the treasury of some temple: then owner and slave went together to the temple, and the latter was supposed to be sold to the god, the price being duly paid to the master. The slave became technically the property of the god (and was indeed regarded as his protégé), but was to all intents and purposes, and especially as regards his former master, a completely free man. In inscriptions and papyri frequent references are to be found to slaves who had been bought by this or that god for freedom. The practice sheds much light on the argument pursued by St. Paul in Galatians 4, 5 (see A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East [1]). Manumission was often regarded as a normal result of faithful service. A man would emancipate slaves in individual cases during his own life-time, whilst very commonly a master would set a multitude at liberty on his death-bed or by will. But such wholesale emancipation was attended with evils of its own. One result was to flood the citizens’ roll with crowds of ‘undesirables.’ On this account Augustus ordained (lex Furia Caninia, a.d. 8) that in no case should more than 100 slaves be emancipated by will.
When a slave was set free not by a legal but by an extra-legal process, i.e. by a simple exercise of authority on the part of his master, a kind of feudal tie still united the two. The freedman was his master’s cliens, his master being now known as his patronus. A Roman noble depended very much on the multitude of his ‘clients’ for his political and social importance. Only in the third generation did these restrictions disappear and the family of the freedman come into the enjoyment of complete liberty. But the power possessed by this class in the early Christian period was very great: emancipated slaves or their descendants occupied all kinds of State offices. The libertini, too, prospered greatly in trade and commerce, being, indeed, as a class notorious for their ambition to amass wealth. The literature of the early Empire exhibits many of them as playing the part of the nouveaux riches and vulgarly emulating the luxury of aristocratic palaces.
3. Evils of slavery.-The evils of slavery were manifold, deep-seated, far-reaching. If, as Matthew Arnold puts it,
‘On that hard Pagan world disgust
And secret loathing fell.
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell’
(Obermann once More, lines 93-96),
the evils of slavery contributed materially to that result.
(a) The slave population was necessarily a hot-bed of vice, contaminating all who came into contact with it. Moral excellence was not expected in a slave. He was only ‘an animated chattel’ (κτῆμα ἔμψυχον): a tool could similarly be described as ‘an inanimate slave’ (ἄψυχος δοῦλος). (Cf. Varro’s classification of implements, in de Re rust. I. xvii. 1: (1) those with voice and speech, e.g. slaves; (2) those with voice but not speech, e.g. oxen; (3) those without voice, e.g. wagons.) The term ‘slaves’ occurs only once in English Versions of the NT, viz. in Revelation 18:13 as a crowning item in Babylon’s merchandise: and there it represents σώματα (‘bodies’). How significant that σῶμα thus came to denote a slave! The somewhat similar use of the term ‘hands’ in modern industrialism-with subtle possibilities of suggestion lurking in the use-has often been remarked upon. Vast numbers of slaves hailed from Greece, from Western Asia, and from Egypt, whose great cities were the notorious seats of the wildest abominations; and their vices flourished with unimpeded growth.
(b) Luxury and extravagance increased in society as slaves increased in numbers and were more easily acquired. Friedländer points out that in great houses large numbers of slaves were kept merely for ostentatious display. Their service was often limited to ridiculously insignificant functions. Some had only to act as torch-bearers, or as street-attendants: there were instances in which slaves had merely ‘to serve as clocks and announce the hours’ (Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire, ii. 219). Masters and mistresses were thus spared every kind of personal exertion. Clement of Alexandria gives a scathing account of these evils in PCEdagogus, iii. 4.
(c) A tyrannical and ferocious spirit found easy development in the masters. There was always the temptation to treat slaves worse than dogs. Moreover, an iron rule seemed the only means of keeping slaves in subjection and guarding against outbreaks of violence. Masters could not feel perfectly sure even of slaves born on their estates, how much less of those who could be described as a rabble of various nationalities! (Tacitus, Ann. xiv. 44). This state of things gave rise to the proverb: ‘Quot servi, tot hostes.’ The master might reckon every slave he had as a foe.
(d) The economic influence of slavery was disastrous. Trade and labour came more and more to be carried on by slaves. Poor citizens found themselves almost entirely excluded from ways of getting an honourable livelihood, and suffered degradation in consequence. Many even came to regard trade with repugnance. They betook themselves to corrupt and corrupting occupations, as actors, pantomimes, hired gladiators, political spies, and the like. Large numbers lived in idleness, having corn given them as a right and amusements gratuitously provided (‘panem et circenses’).
(e) Friedländer and others emphasize as the most revolting feature of slavery its ‘contemptuous disregard of human dignity’ (op. cit., p. 221). But this is to speak from a modern point of view. We may well agree with J. S. Mill that what most injures and dishonours a country is ‘the personal slavery of human beings’; but it has taken the world many centuries to realize this. The average Roman citizen of the 1st cent. would be incapable of such a sentiment.
4. The better side of things.-There must, however, have been not a few lights to relieve the heavy shadows of such a system. Instances are not wanting of kindly affection in masters and of loyal devotion in slaves. Tacitus tells of the slave-girls of Octavia who braved torture and death in defence of her good name (Ann. xiv. 60). Slaves were to be found who preferred to remain slaves even when offered the chance of manumission (see the case of a slave belonging to the famous Maecenas referred to by Suetonius, de Gramm. Illustr. 21). Deuteronomy 15:16 f., it may be remembered, provides for such a case as a quite possible thing as regards slavery among the Hebrews. There must have been many houses like that of the younger Pliny, in which, as Seneca says, slaves were regarded as ‘humble friends and real members of the family’ (Ep. 47. See also de Benef. iii. 21). Inscriptions, again, often reveal a better side of slave life, testifying to mutual love between master and servant, and also to faithful love between slave-husband and wife, even though de iure slaves could not occupy the status of matrimony (Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 117).
Many a slave found some amelioration of his lot in being (with his master’s permission) a member of one of the numerous collegia or sodalities which formed such a feature of plebeian society in those days. These clubs or unions, as an institution, were of great antiquity, and were maintained ‘for protection against oppression, for mutual sympathy and support, for relief from the deadly dulness of an obscure and sordid life’ (Dill, op. cit., p. 256). In their gatherings fraternity found expression: slave could meet with freeman on equal terms and fully share in the same rights and privileges. Such gilds, indeed, most probably furnished to some extent the model on which the first societies of Christians were formed.
It must also be said that from the time of Augustus onwards a growingly humane sentiment made itself felt in legislation which decidedly improved the condition of the slave. The fact, also, that many people of superior ability, such as physicians, sculptors, and littérateurs, were of this class made legislative reforms urgent. The mass of laws dealing with slavery was immense (see Buckland, The Roman Law of Slavery). By the changes that were made from time to time the absolute power of masters over slaves for life or death was curtailed. Thus, the Lex Petronia (in the time of Augustus or Nero) prohibited masters from condemning slaves to fight with wild beasts unless with judicial sanction. Under Nero, a special judge was appointed to hear complaints of slaves, and now masters could be punished for ill-treating them. There is on record a case in which Hadrian exiled a Roman lady for five years for treating her slaves with atrocious cruelty.
5. Christianity and slavery.-One thing is clear, however surprising it may seem to some: it was no part of the Christian propaganda to attack slavery as a system and seek its overthrow. But, as B. F. Westcott incidentally remarks, ‘the abolition of slavery would have seemed in the first age more impossible than universal peace’ (Lessons from Work, London, 1901, p. 179). The existing social order was accepted as a fact. The Christian message addressed itself primarily to men in themselves. It had nothing to say as to their environment, their social status, the government and laws under which they lived-except so far as there were usages and characteristics of society to be denounced (e.g. idolatry, impurity, cruelty) as in deadly conflict with the cultivation of Christian character. So far from directly advocating efforts to effect social changes, Christianity rather counselled its adherents to acquiesce in their condition, though, as far as the servile class was concerned, their lot too commonly was degraded and hopeless.
Jesus Himself used the relation of master and slave to illustrate His teaching, without any word condemning slavery as an evil in itself (see, e.g., Matthew 18:23 ff.). So, too, St. Paul in his Epistles has nothing to say against the institution. Indeed, in one important passage (1 Corinthians 7:20-24) he definitely counsels slave converts to stay contentedly in their lot, even if they should have an opportunity to become free. The rendering of the English Versions (‘use it rather’) is enigmatical; and certainly from early times some have understood the Apostle’s phrase (μᾶλλον χρῆσαι) thus rendered to mean, ‘take your freedom, if you can get it,’ but there is more to be said for viewing it as counselling them to stay as they were. (Revised Version margin dimly indicates this.) Again, in his letter to Philemon (that little classic in the literature of slavery), St. Paul does not dream of suggesting that Onesimus should be set at liberty because he has become a Christian. Nor is this attitude to be explained merely by the fact that St. Paul was absorbed in the expectation of the Parousia and the break-up of all society in the near future (as A. E. Garvie suggests in Studies of Paul and his Gospel, London, 1911, pp. 73, 304). Rather, surely, slavery was so ancient and established a feature in the social framework as to be regarded as quite natural. Besides, in the Apostle’s eyes, a slave could be as good a Christian as a freeman. The life of faith, the spiritual experience, was the one thing that mattered; and ‘in Christ’ the distinction between slave and freeman, like other distinctions, was of no moment (Colossians 3:11, etc.). And then, did not the Lord Himself assume the μορφὴ δούλου?-a consideration repeatedly used by the Fathers of the Early Church in consoling and encouraging believers who were slaves.
From the first both slaves and slave-owners were found in the ranks of the Christian society. No doubt the greater proportion of converts to the Faith came from the servile class-witness St. Paul’s references in 1 Corinthians 1 and elsewhere; but, as Friedländer says, the evangel ‘certainly penetrated often enough from the cell of the slave to the house of the master’ (op. cit., iii. 195). There was many another Philemon as well as many another Onesimus. Otherwise there would be little point in the reiterated NT counsels addressed to masters and slaves. Athenagoras, the 2nd cent. apologist, mentions as a simple matter of fact: ‘We have slaves, some more and some fewer’ (Apol. 35). In the persecution at Lyons, a.d. 177, pagan slaves gave evidence against their Christian masters (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.) v. 1). And, again, from Constantine’s time onwards we find numerous laws in operation dealing with the case of Christian slaves. Thus, Jews (against whom, especially as proselytizers, strict laws also existed in the Early Empire) were forbidden to possess such.
Yet the principles of Christianity were bound in time to act as powerful solvents on this institution. They contributed to its ultimate downfall. For one thing, Christianity set up a new order of relations that did not recognize class-distinctions. Master and slave sat together at the Agape, received the sacred elements together, and joined together in public worship. The Epistle to Philemon, though written to restore a runaway slave to his master, had within it the seeds of revolution in the words, ‘No longer as a bondservant, but … a brother beloved’ (v. 16). In penitential discipline, wrongs done to a slave were not distinguished from wrongs done to a freeman. Church legislation carefully guarded the chastity of female slaves. Slave-birth was no bar to admission to the priesthood; e.g. Callistus, a 3rd cent. bishop of Rome, was originally a slave. Many names of slaves appear in the roll of the martyrs, and the memories of such as Blandina, Felicitas, and Vitalis, who suffered in the persecutions of the first two centuries, received highest honour.
Again, Christianity placed a high value on what might be called servile virtues-the qualities that any master would esteem as most desirable in his slaves. Humility, obedience, patience, gentleness, resignation are cardinal virtues in a Christian. Jesus said to His disciples, when speaking of the high-handed exercise of authority and power in the world, ‘Not so shall it be among you’ (Matthew 20:26), and apostolic teaching followed the same line. It emphasized qualities that paganism neglected or under-rated, as was only natural since Roman society in general held slaves in utter contempt.
Primitive Christian teaching, however, in relation to the various duties of life, kept the balance even as between masters and slaves. That teaching in its essence still supplies the fundamental principle for regulating similar relations (masters and servants, employers and employees) under whatever changed conditions they may continue to exist. Masters were warned against a tyrannical spirit, a disdainful inhumanity; slaves were counselled to avoid ‘eye-service’ and do their work as for Christ (Ephesians 6:5 ff.), and even to be patiently submissive towards hard masters (1 Peter 2:18). So also the Didache (4) exhorts Christian masters not to show harshness towards their slaves, ‘whose hope is in the same God,’ and slaves to submit to their lords as being a type, or copy, of God. The regulating consideration for both parties is summarily given in the so-called Apostolic Constitutions (iv. 12); it is their common humanity-‘even as he is a man.’ The warning addressed to slaves in 1 Timothy 6:1 f. is noticeable, and by no means superfluous, human nature being what it is. If their masters were fellow-believers, they were not to despise them, ‘because they are brethren.’ similarly Ignatius (Ep. ad Polyc. 4): ‘Do not despise slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather submit themselves the more (sc. as Christian slaves with Christian masters) for the glory of God.’ He adds: ‘Let them not long to be set free at the public expense, lest they be found slaves to their own desires.’ With the continuance of slavery in the Christian era the need for such counsels continued. How imperfectly Christians sometimes followed them may be gathered from the simple fact that the Synod of Elvira (circa, about a.d. 300) could legislate for the possibility that a Christian mistress might whip her handmaid to death (Canon v.).
The Church also in the course of time sought to bring about practical ameliorations of the state of servitude. A surprising illustration of this is afforded by Apostolic Constitutions, viii. 33, where it is laid down that slaves are to be exempt from labour at all the great ecclesiastical seasons, on the days of apostles and martyrs, and on both the Jewish Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. The reference to enfranchisement ‘at the public expense’ found in the quotation from Ignatius given above points also to the encouragement given by Christianity to the liberation of slaves as its influence increased. Christian slaves, as such, had no claim to help from the Church in order to purchase their freedom, yet cases occurred in which such help was given. After the time of Constantine still more is heard of the manumission of slaves by Christian masters. It came to be regarded as a meritorious, and even expiatory, act.
It must be fully admitted that in the ancient non-Christian world there were those who felt the manifold evils of slavery. Sentiments of enlarged philanthropy were not wanting. Among the Jews, the community of the Essenes, with their interesting experiment in social reconstruction, must not be forgotten. Philo says: ‘There is not a slave amongst them, but all are free’ (Quod omnis probus liber, 12). The Stoics held the fraternity of mankind. ‘We are members of one great body,’ says Seneca (Ep. 95), and the same spirit breathes in many of his writings. Cicero, too, emphatically proclaims universal brotherhood (see, e.g., de Officiis, iii. 6). Still, such voices were comparatively rare. Men for the most part acquiesced in the system: some argued for its necessity. It is idle to ask if humaner sentiments would have gained force in time and brought about the overthrow of slavery, had Christianity not emerged. All that we know is that Christianity, with all its imperfections, is the one power that has most effectively led to such a result.
6. In no instance has the incubus of slavery been easily or speedily removed. Serfdom, that modified form of slavery, lingered in Europe well into the last century. In Scotland colliers were legally serfs up to the end of the 18th cent.; and Archibald Geikie (Scottish Reminiscences, Glasgow, 1904, p. 341) speaks of having talked in his boyhood with men and women who had been born in servitude and had worked as serfs in the pits of Midlothian. And long after the system itself in any particular instance has disappeared, its baneful effects are clearly traceable, sometimes in conditions of national decadence, as Wallon says regarding Greece: ‘degradation of the man, disorganization of the family, ruin of the States-these were the certain effects of slavery’ (Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité, i. 452). Our very language, too, bears witness to long-lingering legacies in character and temper derived from this source, e.g. in ‘servility’ and a ‘domineering’ spirit-both hateful things.
Slavery still exists in various parts of the world, and anti-slavery campaigns are not unnecessary. The sons of freedom themselves sometimes succumb to the temptation to make slaves practically of their weaker fellow-men. If the cause of worldwide liberty for men is to prosper, the teaching of the NT must have full effect given to it. Christians have, indeed, sometimes defended slavery (as in America), and often failed to carry out the Christian doctrine of brotherhood: but the doctrine is there, and its corollary is liberty. Nor has Christianity wholly failed in exemplifying both brotherhood and the passion for freedom. It is surely bias that makes I. Benzinger hold up Islâm and ancient Israel as perfect examples of ‘the brotherhood in the faith,’ and declare that this ‘has come to be, in the Christian world, a mere empty phrase’ (article ‘slavery,’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4658; also in his Hebräische Archäologie2, Tübingen, 1907, article ‘sklaven’).
Literature.-H. Wallon, Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité2, 3 vols., Paris, 1879; W. W. Buckland, The Roman Law of Slavery, Cambridge, 1908; L. Friedländer, Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire (translation from Die Sittengeschichte Roms7, Leipzig, 1901), 3 vols., London, 1908-1909; S. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, do., 1904; W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals7, 2 vols., do., 1886; J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, do., 1879, Philippians 4, do., 1878 (Excursus on ‘Caesar’s Household’).
J. S. Clemens.
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Slave, Slavery (2)
SLAVE, SLAVERY.—While δοῦλος is the general term for ‘a slave,’ οἰκέτης (Luke 16:13; cf. Acts 10:7, Romans 14:4, 1 Peter 2:18) denotes specifically one employed in household service or in immediate attendance upon the master or δεσπότης. Except in the latter form the institution did not flourish amongst the Jews in NT times. Field-work was done generally by hired labourers (μίσθιος, Luke 15:17; or less technically ἐργάτης, Matthew 10:10; Matthew 20:1, cf. James 5:4). In large houses, especially of a Gentile (Luke 7:2) or foreign type, there would be slaves, generally of non-Jewish or mixed blood, as also in the great establishments of the Sadducaean and priestly aristocracy. In Palestine the institution was familiar enough in experience as well as tradition to supply popular illustrations and give point to practical religious teaching; but features met with in Greek and especially in Roman usage must not be transferred without modification to the Jewish practice. Not only were the dimensions different, but the prevalent oppression and fear in the one case were replaced in the other by a general spirit of kindliness and content.
1. Jewish slaves abroad.—On several occasions before the Fall of Jerusalem, large numbers of Jews had been deported and sold into captivity. Such incidents were frequent during the wars of the Seleucids and Ptolemies (cf. 1 Maccabees 3:41, 2 Maccabees 8:21), and recur during the period of the Roman over-rule (Josephus BJ vi. ix. 3). Herod ordained that thieves should be sold to foreigners; but the enactment aroused such a degree of animosity as rendered its enforcement impracticable (Josephus Ant. xvi. i. 1). The supply of Jewish slaves was kept up almost entirely from among prisoners taken in the numerous campaigns, and the children of those who were already in captivity, with a few who lost their freedom under the laws of the foreign country or city in which they resided. Their treatment, like that of other slaves, was as a rule cruel to the degree of barbarity. Exceptions are met with, where courtesy to slaves is commended, as by Seneca (Ep. xlvii.). But the great mass of evidence is on the other side. Pallas, a brother of Felix (Acts 23:24), considered his slaves too abject to be spoken to, and would signify his pleasure to them only by a gesture or nod (Tac. Ann. xiii. 23). The slave was merely property, and could be transferred like any other property. He was incapable of contracting a legal marriage, and was not regarded as invested with any rights. On the ground of expediency, he was gradually protected against excessive cruelty. By the Lex Petronia, which may have been first enacted in the time of Augustus, a slave could not be punished by condemnation to fight with gladiators or wild beasts; and the master’s power of life and death was threatened, if not actually restricted, by Claudius. In such hesitating improvements of their condition Jewish slaves abroad would share.
The redemption of Jewish slaves was regarded in theory as a sacred duty (cf. Nehemiah 5:8); but there is no evidence of any general attempt during our period to acquire the merit of such service. The wealth of the country was chiefly in the hands of those sections of the people in whom racial feeling was not strong; and the majority were at once too poor and too much hindered by political conditions to be able to act in other than rare individual cases. The price of a slave, or of his redemption, varied with his qualities, and with the state of the market. Exact particulars for the 1st cent, are not available. Ptolemy Philadelphus redeemed Jewish captives in Egypt at the price of 120 drachmae, or about £4 each (Josephus Ant. xii. ii. 3). And Nicanor endeavoured to raise the Roman tribute of 2000 talents by the sale of Jews at the rate of ninety per talent (2 Maccabees 8:10 f.).
2. Slaves in Palestine.—Nehemiah’s influence had made it a fundamental rule in Jewish practice that no Jew should be held as a slave by another Jew (cf. Nehemiah 5:8); and as the rule obtained also in Talmudical times (cf. Winter, Die Stellung der Sklaven, 10 ff.), it is almost certain to have been observed in the intermediate period. Even thieves were not to be reduced to a state of permanent slavery; and while the disorganization of trade due to a strict observance of the Sabbatic law of Deuteronomy 15:1-11 was prevented by Hillel’s statute of Prosbol, which made registered debts always recoverable, other means were adopted of freeing poor Jews from the burden of their mortgages than that of their reduction to actual servitude. Work was accepted and required as a substitute for repayment, but as far as possible the personal freedom of the debtor was respected. In regard to females, the Talmud decides that a wife can never be sold into slavery, but that a daughter under marriageable age can; with the apparent proviso that, if she be sold again, the purchaser must not be a foreigner. Amongst the Essenes, the holding of slaves was unknown and not allowed (Philo, ed. Mang. ii. 457, 482; Josephus Ant. xviii. i. 5). In a few of the great houses of alien officials there would be the retinue usual in other lands; but even then the slaves would be chiefly of Canaanitish or mixed blood. In Jewish houses free service was the rule for men, whilst some of the girls might be servile in status, though comparatively unrestrained. By law, and even more effectually by usage and public sentiment, they were protected from many cruelties customarily practised upon their class elsewhere.
3. Treatment of slaves.—Discipline without undue laxity was recognized as the right treatment of slaves (cf. Sirach 33:24 ff., where the two prominent features are the severity to which the discipline might legally be carried, viz., ‘yoke and thong’ and even ‘racks and tortures.’ and the kindliness that was the customary rule). So in NT times the master could legally imprison or chastise a slave (Matthew 25:30, Luke 12:46 with the alternative rendering ‘severely scourge’), though the power of life and death was withheld, as also any punishment that led to the loss of a limb. An early tradition recounts a controversy between Pharisees and Sadducees, assumed to have taken place in or about our period, as to the incidence of the responsibility for an injury done by a slave (Yadayim, iv. 7). The solution of the Pharisees was that the slave himself, and not the master, must be held responsible, as the slave was capable of reasoning, and not to be classed with beasts of burden. Another regulation (Babâ kammâ, viii. 4) required the slave to make compensation on his release, and thus has clearly in view a case of temporary servitude amongst Jews, akin to those met with in the OT.
At a time when Pharisaism was predominant, such slaves as were found in a Jewish household, whether Hebrews or aliens by birth, had on religious grounds to be treated humanely. They shared the family worship, and in regard to obligations were classed with the women and children as bound to observe all religious ritual in the home, except the repetition of the Shema‘ and the wearing of phylacteries. Laws of an earlier date required the circumcision of slaves (Genesis 17:12) and their participation in feast and sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 16:11). Such regulations could not have fallen into desuetude without involving the ceremonial pollution from which it was one of the first objects of the legalists of the first century to escape. The knitting together of master and slave in religious bonds supplied a strong motive for kindness and forbearance. And in later literature the life of the Jewish home is represented as united and happy, master and slave partaking of the same food, exchanging words of respect and tenderness, and mourning over the separation effected by death (Berakhôth 16b, Kethubôth 61). Altogether the condition of slavery, as far as it existed, was much less oppressive than in Greece or Rome, and was already being superseded by the freer relationships of voluntary service, which alone are in complete accord with the genius of Christianity.
4. Teaching of the Gospels.—The institution of slavery was not directly condemned by Christ, but its continuance was undermined by the new principles of social life which He emphasized. Supreme praise is passed upon service marked by absolute submission (Mark 10:44). The title of slave is appropriated to the highest usage (Matthew 21:34, Mark 12:2; Mark 12:4, Luke 20:10 f.), and sanction is thus given to the practice which had applied it to Moses (cf. Joshua 14:7, Psalms 105:26), and made it the formal style of a prophet (cf. Jeremiah 7:25, Zechariah 1:6, and the Pauline usage of the term). Redemptive love recognizes no distinctions of sex or status, but makes men of all social ranks equally responsible for their attitude towards God; and thus society becomes an organism of free men, amongst whom the only authority that is strictly imperial or beyond questioning is that of Christ. The bond-servant of Jesus Christ can be bound to no other master; and in their equal dependence upon Him disciples cease to be able to maintain artificial distinctions of grade or privilege.
Literature.—Articles in the handbooks of Jewish Archaeology, and in such Cyclopaedias as those of Hamburger, Riehm, and Herzog-Hauck; Winter, Die Stellung der Sklaven bei den Juden … nach talm. Quellen; Grünfeld, Die Stellung … nach bibl. und talm. Quellen; Brace, Gesta Christi, ch. v. For the conditions in non-Jewish districts see Mommsen, and Smith’s Dict. of Gr. and Rom. [1] Ant.
R. W. Moss.

Sentence search

Masters And Servants - See Slave, Slavery
Bondage, Bondmaid, Bondman, - See Slave, Slavery
Meekness - For the application of this principle to slavery in the Christian economy of life, see article Slave, Slavery
Slave, Slavery (2) - SLAVE, SLAVERY
Slave, Slavery - Slave, Slavery
Liberty - See, further, article Slave, Slavery