The bible isn’t really clear on whether or not the following laws are said when Moses is up on Mount Sinai, or whether he’s talking with God in the shadows. Since nobody is there to corroborate the conversation, it doesn’t really matter. So, for the upcoming list of laws, I’m going to skip drawing Moses chatting to himself in the dark, and give you more interesting illustrations.
Exodus 21:1-6 is one of the most often quoted passages by people who want to point out the barbarism of the bible. It is God’s instructions for dealing with your slaves. Not just any slaves, mind you, but slaves from your own tribe. That’s right, God is perfectly okay with having his chosen people enslaved, but just so long as it doesn’t go beyond six years.
Well, that’s not exactly true, God creates a loophole that allows the Hebrew people to keep their slaves forever. You see, if you buy a slave and he has a wife, then at the end of six years, he gets to leave with his wife and any children he has accrued during the enslavement. However, if the slave-owner gives the slave a wife, then the wife and any children they have, remain the slave-owner’s property. The slave cannot take his family with him when he is released from bondage. Someone get a message to Focus On the Family, God sanctions splitting up families!
But wait, there is a way where the slave can keep his family, all he has to do is beg his owner to become a slave forever! God even explains how you mark a slave for permanent bondage. The owner hammers a metal spike through the slave’s ear and into a door. Sexy, no?
But this pretty much guarantees that you can keep any unmarried male slave you buy. Of course, if someone gave you a wife, you probably wouldn’t give up your freedom for her on the first day. But just imagine six years of being married to that woman—living together, learning to love each other, raising children together—when the six year deadline hits, would you just up and leave the family you’ve grown so attached to? Of course not. You’ll surrender your freedom and become a permanent slave in order to remain with them.
Apologists will often point out that slaves in the bible were treated better than the slaves we’re familiar with from American history. To counter, I tend to point out that they’re actually defending slavery. They argue that they’re simply clarifying the definition of slavery. I remind them that slavery is always bad, regardless of how little the slave is beaten. They come up with some crazy excuse for why slavery was acceptable at the time, and I, again, remind them that they’re defending slavery. Their logic tends to derail at this point.
It’s probably safe to assume that the earliest forms of the bible didn’t have God explaining how to drive a spike through the ear of his chosen people in order to permanently brand them as slaves. This was most most likely an addition added centuries later by the priestly source to better control slaves at the time.