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Exodus 21:20
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Author:  Will Storm [ Thu May 16, 2019 3:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Exodus 21:20

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. Ex 21:20-21 NRSVCE

Having quite a bit of trouble defending this one. The argument is typically along the lines of this: "If morality is objective, and slavery is objectively immoral, then the Bible condoning slavery is immoral." The New Testament descriptions of treating slaves with "justice and fairness" are much easier to defend.

So, this reminds me of other immoral things that God permitted of the Hebrews. Namely, divorce.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” Mt 19:3-9 NRSVCE

So, I suppose the answer lies somewhere with the seeming contradiction of objective morality and God permitting certain things.

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Author:  theJack [ Mon May 27, 2019 1:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Exodus 21:20

I noticed you'd not gotten a reply on this, so here are my thoughts (which, of course, are not mine originally):

Regarding the issue of Exod 21:20-21, set aside a moment the question of slavery and look at the situation the text is actually addressing. It's presumes the right of the master to impose corporeal punishment on his slaves. It is evident from both the nature of corporeal punishment and from the entire thrust of the passage that the master is not intending on beating the slaver to death. That is, it isn't as if the master finds a disobedient slave and as a punishment decides to beat him to death (that, by the way, would be dealt with under other laws). Rather, the text is addressing a more realistic problem: what happens if in a fit of rage and anger, the master beats his slave so heavily that he immediately dies. In this case, you have something like manslaughter, and the master is to be punished. The text does not say what that punishment is, but Jewish commentators have traditionally regarded this to be execution. It seems better to say simply that, in this case, the master would be brought before a judge and an appropriate punishment directed (possibly up to and including execution).

But what happens if, after the beating, the slave survives for a few days and only dies later from his wounds? In this case, the master is not held accountable for the man's death in the sense above--i.e., he is not to be taken before a judge and sentenced. The reason is that the evidence is obvious and compelling that he was not intending on beating the slave to death. His anger or passion did not push him to that point. But that doesn't mean he gets away scott free. After all, the slave is still dead. And in that case, the master has suffered loss: the loss of money/property. Now, I realize that in our culture today, that feels like an unjust punishment, but I would suggest that sentiment is entirely culturally conditioned. The idea that the proper punishment for a crime includes the loss of freedom for some time doesn't necessarily and logically follow. Slaves, contrary to popular opinion, were not cheap. Moreover, if you lose a slave, you also lose his output. So in losing the slave, you don't just lose the actual financial investment--you lose all the fruit of his or her labor. In other words, you end up paying a steep price for taking your punishment too far.

So the big difference in the two situations is how far you let your passions take you: if in a moment of rage, you beat someone to death, you deserve special punishment. And if you think about how badly you have to beat someone so that they die in the spot, it's pretty clear that, in that moment, you're not content with just punishing them--you are looking to mortally wound them. That's a problem! But if instead you beat them badly enough that they eventually die, your punishment is the natural results of your own misjudgment.

None of that addresses the basic problem of slavery, I know. That's a much larger question to be answered on other grounds. But the point, as far as this verse is concerned, is that so long as slavery itself is not your objection, then the explanation above is sufficient to answer the moral question the passage raises.

As to the issue of divorce, here I'll offer an answer to what I think is your broader question. After all, you said,

Will wrote:
I this reminds me of other immoral things that God permitted of the Hebrews.

Insisting on right and forbidding wrong is not the only moral principle here, nor is it necessarily even the guiding principle. Part of God's righteousness is not merely that He is moral (all qualifies regarding analogy implied) but also that He is wise. Now I have three children ages nine, six, and seven months. It wouldn't surprise you to know that I treat them differently and have different expectations of them based exactly on their differences in conceptual ability. Sometimes, for example, that makes my oldest kid angry. She doesn't think it's fair that she gets in more severe trouble than her little sister does or might for the same offense. A wise ruler understands that it's not enough to insist that people do right and not do wrong (as an aide, this is also an important point for voters to remember when it comes to assessing political candidates for whom they will vote). After all, it is perfectly possible to insist people do some right or forbid someone from doing some wrong, and because of where the people/culture presently is, that requirement/prohibition cause more harm than good. Again, this is just a general rule of life. Suppose I want to help an obese person lose weight. If I give them a perfect diet and exercise regime, the amount of change they'll need to make would prove unsustainable, and the yo-yo dieting would create new problems all of its own.

In other words, moral truths, especially at the cultural level, have to be contextualized and really are subject to progress. And Jesus basically gets at that in the very passage about divorce you raise. "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives." God and Moses understood that the complete rejection of divorce at that point in Israel's history would have come with problems worse than those brought about by divorce itself. Such a prohibition would have been unwise, or if you prefer the language of the virtues, imprudent. It's always a funny thing when moralists get uncomfortable when they think about the fact that a good, virtuous action is not only in line with moral principles, but also is a prudent action, and that it is true that otherwise good actions can be very imprudent and therefore wrong.

To sum up with a cliche, doing the right thing at the wrong time is still wrong.

Author:  Doom [ Mon May 27, 2019 4:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Exodus 21:20

It is important to understand the allegedly 'scandalous' provisions of the Mosaic law in context by what was considered normal and ordinary in other societies in the same time period and earlier. In every or nearly every case, the Mosaic law is more progressive and compassionate than the prevailing pre-Mosaic customs and the customs that were practiced outside of Israel.

In fact, if you read all of the regulations concerning slavery in context, it is clear that law does not take a completely favorable idea towards slavery and the attitude seems to be that slavery is at best only a necessary evil and there are literally dozens of regulations which say 'if you do X to your slave, then you have to immediately free him.' In fact, the laws in the Bible regarding the regulation of slavery tend to be biased in favor of recognizing the rights and personhood of the slave.

The stuff in the Bible that sounds barbaric to us in the 21st century were, in their time, usually a VAST morality improvement over the customs that prevailed at the time.

Let me give you an example of this: one of the most controversial provisions of the law that is singled out for criticism today is the 'eye for an eye' passage. How barbaric, right? Actually, no. The point of 'an eye for an eye' was to place strict LIMITS on retaliation. Before Moses, in the ancient near east, the practice that prevailed was of unlimited retaliation, if I kill a member of your family, then you had the right to kill my entire family, and maybe even my entire tribe. The rule of 'an eye for an eye' means that if I kill a member of your family, then you can retaliate only against ME, you can't kill my entire family, you can't kill my entire tribe. An eye for an eye means that when a guilty person is punished, the punishment has to be proportional to the damage inflicted, if I poke out one of your eyes, then you can poke out one of my eyes, and that is it, you can't kill me, you can't poke out both of my eyes, you can't poke out an eye from every member of my family. The punishment has to be proportionate to the original offense. In its time, this idea, which is the entire basis of western jurisprudence, was quite revolutionary.

Thus, 'eye for an eye' represents a dramatic moral IMPROVEMENT over the pre-Mosaic custom. This is usually the case with the provisions in the law of Moses that modern people find 'scandalous'.

Author:  EtcumSpiri22-0 [ Tue May 28, 2019 1:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Exodus 21:20

Will Storm wrote:
When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. Ex 21:20-21 NRSVCE

Having quite a bit of trouble defending this one.

Personally I throw it right back in their lap...
In what universe is it perfectly rational to pay 2 or $300 to have some stranger shove a knife into the spine to murder a newborn infant and complain that 4 or 5000 yr old Jews were barbaric?

I wrote this in response to a similar question by an atheist on a debate board last year.

Germany and Japan were forced and controlled by other nations after they were stopped from wreaking havoc. Even up until present day. My take; The ancient world was rife with conflict and strong, enforceable rules were needed to mitigate conflict. Slavery was a tool used to hold bad actors in check. A means of long term conflict resolution. There were a lot of bad actors in those cultures. ISIS vs ISIS vs ISIS ... ad infinitum. Warring clans. Warring city states. One example is Egypt, became unrestrained ruler of the world as a result of Joseph giving the Egyptians the tools and wisdom to beat a 7 yr famine that devastated the rest of the civilized world. So how did they return the favor? Arbitrarily acting in bad faith, Egypt turned on the descendants of Joseph and Abraham for fear that Israel would take sides with Egypt's enemy in a war. They made a law to kill all the male children at birth and the people they let live, they turned into slaves. Egypt destroyed their freedom, though they had done nothing to deserve it. In fact, the polar opposite. There is a sentence in the Bible that stands out. A tell ... "In the spring of the year, when kings go off to war." Pretty much describes the pattern of things that Israel was up against in that world. After regaining their freedom Israel was in a situation where the best defense was a good offense against Egypt and every other king in the spring. There was also a widespread cultural norm that required revenge. Mid eastern culture has remnants of it to this day ... even if it was ten generations beyond the perceived wrong the revenge was exacted. Not exactly a healthy foreign policy. Maintaining peace required a controlled environment in a kill or be killed world. As in the martial arts, Israel flipped the tactic of their enemies right back on them. Israel used the enemy's own tool, slavery, to maintain a stable social structure in an unstable world. Through the norm of slavery Israel was able to maintain the peace and stability after the war was won. A way to stop bad actors. Egypt codified fear, doubt, mistrust, confusion. The Bible codified the inherent value of the individual, no matter his/ her circumstances.. The difference was that, the Bible codified the inherent value of the individual, no matter his/ her circumstances.. Jews did not have the right to arbitrarily kill or mistreat those in their charge, as Egypt had done. The instructions regarding slavery in the Bible were intended to provide a peaceful predictable, stable environment for the servant as well as the master. Further reducing the chances of conflict right down to the day to day personal interaction where the root of bitterness can be nipped in the bud.

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