Slavery & The Old Testament Prospectus

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.

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2 Responses to Slavery & The Old Testament Prospectus

  1. Pam says:

    I’m impressed by the carefully poingnant direction of your research for this project. Not only are you examining the writers and this text and what the differences in what they were trying to convey, but you’re also examining how slavery affected, or did not affect the Jews, and later the Israelites, as one would expect. I will be particularly interested to learn how cultures, ie the Israelites and early southern Americans, were able to justify human ownership and bondage. Did the Israelites use the Torah to justify slavery, or were they just ignoring their history. It’s pretty weird human behavior. Since having a personal connection to Savannah, and re-learning that her port received the bulk of the ships conducting human trafficing from Africa, I have felt a refreshed horror for the depth of the barbarity that took place in such a poetic, artful and soulful city. So, somehow, our churches justified this torture in our own southern Garden of Eden?

  2. Ashley Lee says:

    I think this is an interesting topic. I’m currently in a History Religious thought class here at UK too, and one of the things we talked about was a new testament scripture, but it was on the matter of slavery. Paul writes in his letters for slaves to obey your masters, which sounds not too controversy when you consider the time and culture in which it was written, but I was very intrigued to know that at the time when he wrote about this he was also writing about sexual immorality. Master’s had sexual control over their slaves and would often take advantage of them, especially the women ones, and it just offered a whole new wow factor to the fact that Paul was saying ‘obey your masters’ basically regardless of what he may do to you.

    This was a practice that was true in the slavery times of the Israelites too. It’s all so interesting. You sound like you have a good idea of what you want to write about and like you’ve put some good thought into your ideas. Sounds great! I look forward to seeing the final outcome.

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