From the numerous references in the text of the Old Testament, it is clear that the Israelites were accounted as both slaves under the oppression of the Egyptians and masters of their own slaves after their Exodus. Freed from bondage only to become a slave-owning society themselves, the biblical Israelites are an interesting oxymoron. The scripture of the Tanakh includes instructions to masters on the bylaws of treatment and protocols pertaining to slaves. It is obvious, through analysis that there was a substantial social gap between Israelite citizens and their slaves. There are several verses in the text that indicate that slaves in Hebrew society were regarded as deeply inferior to free born Israelites.
Aside from its reflection of the institution of slavery in the Congregation of Israel, passages in the Old Testament pertaining to slavery were used by the pro-slavery factions throughout history, particularly the slave-owning elite of the Antebellum American South, to justify the ownership of human capital.
Oposingly, Old Testament rhetoric was utilized by abolitionists as well. The spiritual hymns of African-American slaves were full of references to the Exodus liberation and they sang them to exemplify their own prayers for freedom.
In my essay, I plan to explore the textual references to the institution of slavery from its earliest mentioning in Genesis and throughout the several books of the Old Testament. Using the text, I will analyze the different perspectives of the writers on slavery and the nature of the relationships between slave and master in Israelite society as defined by the Mosaic Law.
Another area I mean to explore in my essay is the story of Exodus and why the liberation of the Jews from Egypt had little implication on their outlook on slavery.
Along with presenting an outline of biblical slavery in context to Hebrew society, I will also address the theological implications it had on the Judeo-Christian world in respect to its role as scripture. I will analyze how both Slave-owner and Abolitionist alike in nineteenth century America and how the rhetoric of the Old Testament served as a sort of “living text” during this era to justify opinions on the issue of slavery.