Monday, March 30, 2015

A problem Bible passage

 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.  If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.  But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her.  And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter.  If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife.  If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.   (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

At the risk of giving cannon fodder to resident gnus,  let me ask, how do we interpret this? 

7 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I wouldn't even bother to interpret the passage. I would defer to whatever the Rabbis and Talmudic scholars have to say about it. There's a whole lot of stuff in the Law that requires a lifetime of study to make sense of, and let's be honest here - there's way too much in the Old Testament far more worthy of our time and attention.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should ignore passages such as this, it's just that we shouldn't invest too much effort trying to suss it out on our own, when there are far more competent authorities out there (who likely have already done the heavy lifting needed to properly interpret the passage).

And finally, let's not forget that Jesus Himself warned us that there are things we may find in the Law that were put there by Moses "due to the hardness of [the peoples'] heart" (Matthew 18:8), although "from the beginning it was not so". (True, He was referring to a different "problem passage", but the principle holds.)

Jezu, ufam tobie!

Hal said...

Victor,
What is to explain? It pretty clearly lays out some rules for how to treat female slaves in an ancient society.

Many of the social and ethical customs in those times differ greatly from those in our modern society.



Jayman said...

From my commentary:

"21:7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.

"The Hebrew term amah, used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The following laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation.

"In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. Documents recording legal arrangements of this kind have survived from Nuzi. The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her. A breach of faith gains her her freedom, and the master receives no compensation for the purchase price.

"Rabbinic interpretation restricted the power of the father to dispose of his daughter in this way. He could do so only so long as she was a minor, that is, below the age of twelve years and a day, and then only if he was utterly destitute. She could not sell herself into slavery nor could she be sold by a court as an insolvent thief, as could a male, in order to make restitution for the stolen articles. Further, she could not be designated to be the wife of the master or his son without her knowledge.

"The status of the amah in biblical times is demonstrated in practice through the discovery of a preexilic epitaph of a royal steward from the village of Siloam outside Jerusalem. The inscription mentions his amah, and it is clear that he arranged to be buried next to her. Another discovery is the seal of “Alyah the amah of Hananel,” who obviously enjoyed superior social rank. In like vein, an extant Babylonian document mentions a slave girl of a married couple who is described as both the assat, “wife,” of the husband and the amat of the wife." (Sarna, Nahum M. Exodus. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1991, p. 120)

21:8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her.

The master’s displeasure is not a matter of sexual dissatisfaction, for the woman is not yet a wife or concubine. It is a matter of general displeasure (e.g., Genesis 28:8). William H. C. Propp argues that in this context am nokri refers to someone unrelated to the maidservant and not to a non-Israelite. In other words, the maidservant must be redeemed by a relative. (Propp, William H.C. Exodus 19-40. Yale University Press, 2006, p. 198-199)

21:9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

The meaning of the Hebrew word translated “marital rights” (ona) is unclear. It may refer to sexual relations, shelter, cosmetic ointments, or to the husband taking responsibility for the woman. (Ibid., 202-203)

B. Prokop said...

Thanks for that, Jayman. Glad that you went to the original Hebrew. So many misconceptions come from an over-reliance on translations, especially when dealing with passages such as this one.

Ilíon said...

Even reading the passage in the manner that the most willfully ignorant gnu-atheist will insist is the only way it can be read, what, exactly, is the "problem" with it?

Seriously, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then how can this (atheistic reading) possibly be a "problem"?

Oh, that's right! When it suits their rhetorical need-of-the-moment, atheists are all-in for morality.

cl said...

Well this kinda ties into the "Everything is Permitted" post. As Ilion alludes to, an atheist can't *honestly* judge this passage as *bad* even if we interpret it as full-on sexual slavery, because on atheism, everything is permitted. It's the inevitable ramification; Strawson's so-called "Basic Argument" ... at least there's an atheist that accepts the annihilation of ultimate moral responsibility like a man!

But wait, Gnus bash Christians because they believe in "non-truths" yet said Gnus also believe in such non-truths as "moral responsibility."

Pure inconsistency.

Ilíon said...

In sustenance economies, there are three basic ways to get a wife exogamously:
1) steal a woman from another family or tribe;
2) buy a woman from another family or tribe;
3) be paid to take a woman from another family or tribe;

Now, option 1) is dangerous: people get killed when a culture truly operates on that principle. It's not conducive to the long-term survival, much less prospering, of the culture. So, option 1) tends to turn into one of the others while maintaining the pretense that the groom steals his bride from her family.

Option 3) is the dowery system -- At its extreme, it becomes: "I have this worthless girl-child: I'll give you valuable property if only you'll take her off my hands." This extreme is what we see today in India ... where (even though the dowery system is officially outlawed) mothers-in-law not infrequently kill their daughters-in-law because they are unsatisfied with the loot they got for marrying their sons to the unfortunate young women.

Option 2) is the bride-price system -- At its extreme, it becomes: "If you want my daughter as a wife for some member of your family, you must give me valuable property for her" This "problematic" passage falls under option 2).

So, yeah, I can see why secularists/atheists/leftists/feminists -- who only pretend to value women -- might consider the passage to be "problematic".