slave Summary and Overview
Bible Dictionaries at a Glance
slave in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Jer. 2:14 (A.V.), but not there found in the original. In Rev.
18:13 the word "slaves" is the rendering of a Greek word meaning
"bodies." The Hebrew and Greek words for slave are usually
rendered simply "servant," "bondman," or "bondservant." Slavery
as it existed under the Mosaic law has no modern parallel. That
law did not originate but only regulated the already existing
custom of slavery (Ex. 21:20, 21, 26, 27; Lev. 25:44-46; Josh.
9:6-27). The gospel in its spirit and genius is hostile to
slavery in every form, which under its influence is gradually
disappearing from among men.
slave in Smith's Bible Dictionary
The institution of slavery was recognized, though not established, by the Mosaic law with a view to mitigate its hardship and to secure to every man his ordinary rights. I. Hebrew slaves. --
1. The circumstances under which a Hebrew might be reduced to servitude were-- (1) poverty; (2) the commission of theft; and (3) the exercise of paternal authority. In the first case, a man who had mortgaged his property, and was unable to support his family, might sell himself to another Hebrew, with a view both to obtain maintenance and perchance a surplus sufficient to redeem his property. #Le 25:25,39| (2) The commission of theft rendered a person liable to servitude whenever restitution could not be made on the scale prescribed by the law. #Ex 22:1,3| The thief was bound to work out the value of his restitution money in the service of him on whom the theft had been committed. (3) The exercise of paternal authority was limited to the sale of a daughter of tender age to be a maidservant, with the ulterior view of her becoming the concubine of the purchaser. #Ex 21:7|
2. The servitude of a Hebrew might be terminated in three ways: (1) by the satisfaction or the remission of all claims against him; (2) by the recurrence of the year of jubilee, #Le 25:40| and (3) the expiration of six years from the time that his servitude commenced. #Ex 21:2; De 15:12| (4) To the above modes of obtaining liberty the rabbinists added, as a fourth, the death of the master without leaving a son, there being no power of claiming the salve on the part of any heir except a son. If a servant did not desire to avail himself of the opportunity of leaving his service, he was to signify his intention in a formal manner before the judges (or more exactly at the place of judgment), and then the master was to take him to the door-post, and to bore his ear through with an awl, #Ex 21:6| driving the awl into or "unto the door," as stated in #De 15:17| and thus fixing the servant to it. A servant who had submitted to this operation remained, according to the words of the law, a servant "forever." #Ex 21:6| These words are however, interpreted by Josephus and by the rabbinsts as meaning until the year of jubilee.
3. The condition of a Hebrew servant was by no means intolerable. His master was admonished to treat him, not "as a bond-servant, but as an hired servant and as a sojourner," and, again, "not to rule over him with rigor." #Le 25:39,40,43| At the termination of his servitude the master was enjoined not to "let him go away empty," but to remunerate him liberally out of his flock, his floor and his wine-press. #De 15:13,14| In the event of a Hebrew becoming the servant of a "stranger," meaning a non-Hebrew, the servitude could be terminated only in two ways, viz. by the arrival of the year of jubilee, or by the repayment to the master of the purchase money paid for the servant, after deducting a sum for the value of his services proportioned to the length of his servitude. #Le 25:47-55| A Hebrew woman might enter into voluntary servitude on the score of poverty, and in this case she was entitled to her freedom after six years service, together with her usual gratuity at leaving, just as in the case of a man. #De 15:12,13| Thus far we have seen little that is objectionable in the condition of Hebrew servants. In respect to marriage there were some peculiarities which, to our ideas, would be regarded as hardships. A master might, for instance, give a wife to a Hebrew servant for the time of his servitude, the wife being in this case, it must be remarked, not only a slave but a non-Hebrew. Should he leave when his term had expired, his wife and children would remain the absolute property of the master. #Ex 21:4,5| Again, a father might sell his young daughter to a Hebrew, with a view either of marrying her himself or of giving her to his son. #Ex 21:7-9| It diminishes the apparent harshness of this proceeding if we look on the purchase money as in the light of a dowry given, as was not unusual, to the parents of the bride; still more, if we accept the rabbinical view that the consent of the maid was required before the marriage could take place. The position of a maiden thus sold by her father was subject to the following regulations: (1) She could not "go out as the men-servants do," i.e. she could not leave at the termination of six years, or in the year of jubilee, if her master was willing to fulfill the object for which he had purchased her. (2) Should he not wish to marry her, he should call upon her friends to procure her release by the repayment of the purchase money. (3) If he betrothed her to his son, he was bound to make such provision for her as he would for one of his own daughters. (4) If either he or his son, having married her, took a second wife, it should not be to the prejudice of the first. (5) If neither of the three first specified alternatives took place, the maid was entitled to immediate and gratuitous liberty. #Ex 21:7-11| The custom of reducing Hebrews to servitude appears to have fallen into disuse subsequent to the Babylonish captivity. Vast numbers of Hebrews were reduced to slavery as war-captives at different periods by the Phoenicians, #Joe 3:6| the Philistines, #Joe 3:6; Am 1:6|, the Syrians, 1 Macc. 3:42; 2 Macc. 8:11, the Egyptians, Joseph Ant. xii. 2,3, and above all by the Romans. Joseph. B.C. vi. 9,3. II. Non-Hebrew slaves. --
1. The majority of non-Hebrew slaves were war-captives, either of the Canaanites who had survived the general extermination of their race under Joshua or such as were conquered from the other surrounding nations. #Nu 31:26| ff. Besides these, many were obtained by purchase from foreign slave-dealers, #Le 25:44,45| and others may have been resident foreigners who were reduced to this state by either poverty or crime. The children of slaves remained slaves, being the class described as "born in the house," #Ge 14:14; 17:12; Ec 2:7| and hence the number was likely to increase as time went on. The average value of a slave appears to have been thirty shekels. #Ex 21:32|
2. That the slave might be manumitted appears from #Ex 21:26,27; Le 19:20|
3. The slave is described as the "possession" of his master, apparently with a special reference to the power which the latter had of disposing of him to his heirs, as he would any other article of personal property. #Le 25:45,46| But, on the other hand, provision was made for the protection of his person. #Ex 21:20; Le 24:17,22| A minor personal injury, such as the loss of an eye or a tooth, was to be recompensed by giving the servant his liberty. #Ex 21:26,27| The position of the slave in regard to religious privileges was favorable. He was to be circumcised, #Ge 17:12| and hence was entitled to partake of the paschal sacrifice, #Ex 12:44| as well as of the other religious festivals. #De 12:12,18; 16:11,14| The occupations of slaves were of a menial character, as implied in #Le 25:39| consisting partly in the work of the house and partly in personal attendance on the master. It will be seen that the whole tendency of the Bible legislation was to mitigate slavery, making it little than hired service, and to abolish it, as indeed it was practically abolished among the Jews six hundred years before Christ.
slave in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Hired service was little known anciently; slavery was the common form of service. But among the Hebrew the bond service was of a mild and equitable character; so much so that ebed, "servant," is not restricted to the bond servant, but applies to higher relations, as, e.,g., the king's prime minister, a rich man's steward, as Eliezer (Genesis 15:2; Genesis 24:2), God's servant (Daniel 9:17). Bond service was not introduced by Moses, but being found in existence was regulated by laws mitigating its evils and restricting its duration. Man stealing was a capital crime (Deuteronomy 24:7); not only stealing Israelites, but people of other nations (Exodus 21:16). The Mosaic law jealously guarded human life and liberty as sacred. Masters must treat Hebrew servants as hired servants, not with rigour, but with courteous considerateness as brethren, and liberally remunerate them at the close of their service (Deuteronomy 15:12-18; Leviticus 25:39-41). Exodus 21:2 provided that no Israelite bound to service could be forced to continue in it more than six years.
Leviticus supplements this by giving every Hebrew the right to claim freedom for himself and family in the Jubilee year, without respect to period of service, and to recover his land. This was a cheek on the oppression of the rich (Jeremiah 34:8-17). Property in foreign slaves might be handed down from father to son, so too the children born in the house (Genesis 14:14; Genesis 17:12). Some were war captives (Numbers 31:6-7; Numbers 31:9; Deuteronomy 20:14); but Israelites must not reduce to bondage Israelites taken in war (2 Chronicles 28:8-15). The monuments give many illustrations of the state of the Israelites themselves reduced to bondage by foreign kings to whom they were delivered for their rebellion. Others were enslaved for crime (Exodus 22:3, like our penal servitude), or bought from foreign slave dealers (Leviticus 25:44), so they were his property (Exodus 21:21). The price was about 30 or 40 shekels (Exodus 21:32; Leviticus 27:3-4; Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:15).
The slave was encouraged to become a "proselyte" (doulos) (Exodus 12:44). He might be set free (Exodus 21:3; Exodus 21:20-21; Exodus 21:26-27). The law guarded his life and limbs. If a married man became a bondman, his rights to his wife were respected, she going out with him after six years' service. If as single he accepted a wife from his master, and she bore him children, she and they remained the master's, and he alone went out, unless from love to his master and his wife and children he preferred staying (Exodus 21:6); then the master bored his ear (the member symbolizing willing obedience, as the phrase "give ear" implies) with an awl, and he served for ever, i.e. until Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10; Deuteronomy 15:17); type of the Father's willing Servant for man's sake (compare Isaiah 50:5; Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5; Philemon 2:7).
A Hebrew sold to a stranger sojourning in Israel did not go out after six years, but did at the year of Jubilee; meantime he might be freed by himself or a kinsman paying a ransom, the object of the law being to stir up friends to help the distressed relative. His brethren should see that he suffered no undue rigour, but was treated as a yearly hired servant (Leviticus 25:47-55). Even the foreigner, when enslaved, if his master caused his loss of an eye or tooth, could claim freedom (Exodus 21:6; Leviticus 19:20). He might be ransomed. At last he was freed at Jubilee. His murder was punished by death (Leviticus 24:17; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 35:31-33). He was admitted to the spiritual privileges of Israel: circumcision (Genesis 17:12), the great feasts, Passover, etc. (Exodus 12:43; Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 29:10-13; Deuteronomy 31:12), the hearing of the law, the Sabbath and Jubilee rests. The receiver of a fugitive slave was not to deliver him up (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).
Christianity does not begin by opposing the external system prevailing, but plants the seeds of love, universal brotherhood in Christ, communion of all in one redemption from God our common Father, which silently and surely undermines slavery. Paul's sending back Onesimus to Philemon does not sanction slavery as a compulsory system, for Onesimus went back of his own free will to a master whom Christianity had made into a brother. In 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 Paul exhorts slaves not to be unduly impatient to cast off even slavery by unlawful means (1 Peter 2:13-18), as Onesimus did by fleeing. The precept (Greek) "become not ye slaves of men" implies that slavery is abnormal (Leviticus 25:42). "If called, being a slave, to Christianity, be content; but yet, if also (besides spiritual freedom) thou canst be free (bodily, a still additional good, which if thou canst not attain be satisfied without, but which if offered despise not), use the opportunity of becoming free rather than remain a slave." "Use it" in verse 23 (?) refers to freedom, implied in the words just before, "be made free" (2 Peter 2:19).