Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Biblical Defense Of Slavery

I recently found an old seminary Bible Course Syllabus from 1885.  It was written by Dr. J.B. Shearer of Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville Tennessee, "For the use of schools, colleges, and private bible classes" is the subtitle. 

This book makes me angry.  Stark raving nuts. 
I have no words to describe the human misery caused by the thinking in this book.

Please keep in mind that J.B. Shearer was an educated man with a Doctorate.  His book on the Old Testament is still in print, at least in a download edition, for those of you who are interested. 


Here's the section from Shearer's Bible Course on "The Scripture Doctrine Of Slavery".

Please stay with me. I'm going to go through Dr. J.B. Shearer's doctrine, point-by-point.  Shearer's bullet points are in bold type, scripture references are in italics, and my stuff looks like what you're reading now. 

Here's the syllabus used for part of Dr. Shearer's classwork.  


1)  I'll never be able to flesh out Shearer's first point, the one about slavery as a social institution vs. slavery as a sin.  Dr. Shearer's lectures are lost to history.  His later bullet-points reveal his sympathies, though. 

2)  Slavery has indeed existed in all ages.  It still exists.  Dr. Shearer is drifting into the "If God doesn't want it to be, then why does it happen?" argument. 

3)  "Jewish slavery antedates The Theocracy". 

You can go here to read the story in Genesis 14:13-16 of some of Abraham's relatives being captured by Sodomites (yeah, you in the back row, Sodomites) and carried away to be household slaves. 

If the Sodomites used military captives as slaves, then slavery was around before God set up his Theocracy of priests, prophets and such.  All political systems in place at that time were part of God's plan.  And God wouldn't have allowed slavery to exist if he didn't approve of it.  

4)  Dr. Shearer sees slavery as a "positive", but not a "moral" institution.  I don't own the other volumes of Dr. Shearer's syllabus that he refers to. 
I do have this picture, though.   


5) Abraham's slaveholding was recognized in the Abrahamic Covenant....(Genesis, Chapter 17)
12  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,
13  Both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
14  Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
So not only was God giving them the right to your labor and effort for the rest of your life, your owners also have the right, if not the responsibility, to cut off part of your reproductive organs.  Dr. Shearer helpfully points out that this is a universal covenant (or agreement).

Slavery was acknowleged and justified in the New Testament as well as the Old.  (Galatians, Chapter 3)
27  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
According to these verses, whether or not someone owns you and keeps you in a cage at gunpoint, you are now a child of Abraham/God/Jesus and will earn your heavenly reward.  But it's a heavenly reward, not to be given in this life.  We've still got a lot of cotton to pick.

6)  The master's right and authority are reconized in the fourth and tenth commandments.  Deuteronomy, Chapter 4.  (Here is the 4th Commandment.)
12  Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.
13  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
14  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.
(And the 10th Commandment:)
21  'And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.'
The statues of The Ten Commandments that Alabama judges want to put in their courtrooms are edited to simply state "Honor The Sabbath" and "Thou Shalt Not Covet".

A useful strategy to combat that lunacy is to insist that the uncensored commandments be posted in the courts.  Commandment advocates would then have to defend slavery or explain the omissions, and that would be fun.  



7)  Moses' law forbade permanent Jewish slavery, but encouraged Pagan slavery.  Exodus 21: 2-3.  Leviticus 25:40-46. 

I included a little more of the Exodus passage because it includes some helpful information on how to treat the daughters of your slaves:
Here's the Leviticus 25 passage.  Do you see why Damn Yankee Christians had such a hard time convincing their Southern counterparts that slavery was pure evil?
2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’
6 then his master must take him before the judges.  He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do.
8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.
9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.
10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.
11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.
45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
8)  Moses' law recognized, defined, limited and defended the rights of master and slave minutely.  Exodus 21:20-32 
The logic in this law, supposedly handed down by God, was clear:  Whip your slave too hard, you take a loss, and you get punished by the community.  But if the slave is back at work in a couple of days (with an improved attitude) the process is no different than tuning up an engine. 
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result,
21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.  

9) Captives in war were divided by Divine direction.  And in the tithing, the Lord's portion was duly set apart.  Numbers 31:28-40.

This passage from the book of Numbers explains how the Israelites divided the slaves and loot after a battle.  When the author says that certain things were to be given to "the Lord", he means Eleazar and the priestly caste.  If we were to do this in our Middle East adventures, 1/500th of the oil would go to Jimmy Swaggart, the eleven Cardinals now representing the U.S. in the Roman Catholic Church, and Thomas S. Monson, now head of the Mormons in Salt Lake City:
28  From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the LORD one one of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep.
29  Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part.
30  From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.”
31  So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.


32  The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep,
33  72,000 cattle,
34  61,000 donkeys
35  and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
36  The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep,
37  of which the tribute for the LORD was 675;
38  36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the LORD was 72;
39  30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the LORD was 61;
40  16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the LORD was 32.
If you aren't disturbed by verse 35 up there, the one which explains who gets the young virgins, you should be.  
10)  Slavery was in its origin a merciful system.  "Servus Quia Servatus" (The servant is saved).  The weaker were protected in the family, first by the master's interest and then by his affection.  The freemen became citizens. 
Yeah.  Well, Dr. Shearer, no one saw your Presbyterian ass signing up for a few years of picking other people's cotton in this merciful system. 
I don't have the time or desire to go through the rest of J.B. Shearer's drivel point-by-point.  Here's the second page of his chapter on slavery.  Boil it down to basics, and Shearer proves that the God of the New Testament approved of slavery just as much as he did in the time of Abrham, Isaac and Jacob. 


According to the book that we now call "Bible", God approves of slavery.  You can look it up. 

Ephesians 6:5-9: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him."

Colossians 4:1: "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven."

1 Timothy 6:1-3 "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;"

Finally, there is the story of Onesimus, the runaway slave that Dr. Shearer mentions in bullet point #12.  Onesimus was a Christian.  Paul told him to return to his former masters.  Go here.  With the exception of "Buy Enron Stock" that's probably the worst advice in history. 

The collection loosely called "Bible" is just a book.  We don't know who wrote it.  Parts of it are interesting, parts of it are incredibly dull, and parts of it are downright evil.  It doesn't hold together very well.  If God really did inspire the book of Leviticus, then he is bat-shit crazy.  I defy you to read it and tell me otherwise.  Here's part of the leprosy cure from Leviticus 14:

Then the priest shall command to take for him who is cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days.

For those who got lost, here's a paraphrase:

Get two birds. Kill one. Dip the live bird in the blood of the dead one. Sprinkle the blood on the leper seven times, and then let the blood-soaked bird fly away. Next find a lamb and kill it. Wipe some of its blood on the patient's right ear, thumb, and big toe. Sprinkle seven times with oil and wipe some of the oil on his right ear, thumb and big toe. Repeat. Finally find another pair of birds. Kill one and dip the live bird in the dead bird's blood. Wipe some blood on the patient's right ear, thumb, and big toe. Sprinkle the house with blood 7 times. That's all there is to it.
The Bible shouldn't be used as a manual for doctors.  The Bible shouldn't be used as a justification for opposition to gay marriage.  It shouldn't be used as an excuse to close restaurants or bars on the Muslim, Jewish, or Christian Sabbaths. 

It should have never been used as an excuse for using other humans as slaves. 

Perhaps some of you disagree.  If so, please remember some of us have more guns than you, and might have some cotton that needs picking.   

2 comments:

Hot Sam said...

Speaking of slavery, it is Juneteenth, the day slavery was banned in Texas.

Here is the proclamation from General Gordon Granger:

General Order No. 3”:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

In other words, you black folks are free men, but stay where you are and WORK FOR YOUR FORMER MASTERS at extremely low wages. Do not attempt to flee to the Union Army for protection and don't expect the US government to support your idleness.

This makes the contemporary celebrations seem rather...odd.

John Shuey said...

Good job. Amazingly, the document cited was published two decades AFTER the Civil War, and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Old Doc Shearer must have truly been a die-hard.