Slavery: a brief history Part 2
“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, no by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” – Colossians 3: 22 – 4:1
Even after yesterdays post I still cringe a little when I read those verses. I’m sure it will wear off over time. Well I wanted to pick up where I left off yesterday.
In the ancient Near East, education of slaves was seen as smart business practice. Slaves were educated by their masters, most times they were to a point that they were smarter than and more educated than their owners. Let me give you two examples of where this plays out in the Bible itself. Joseph was a slave who ended up being second in power only to Pharaoh in Egypt. Daniel was a slave who ended up second in power to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. These were slaves who were so educated and so trained and so smart in how they did things that there was an acknowledgment among their owners that, ‘this is an extremely gifted individual. Let’s let him rise all the way up to the top if they can.’ This was not the case colonial America as we all well know. There is no black man who is a congressman in the 1700’s, in fact, we’re late into the 1900’s before that occurs. In the ancient Near East, it’s not uncommon to see a slave rise to an unbelievable amount of power to be able to own land himself and even have slaves that work for him. You had the ability to save your own money, purchase yourself out from slavery and then run the business with the slaves that you had purchased, which you are educating. Because persons owned slaves across a range of economic levels, they developed no conscious awareness of being a class or a group of people. So in colonial America, they are black men and women. There are elements of Chinese men and women who were enslaved in those early centuries of American history, but primarily they were black men and black women who were dressed similarly, they began to develop their own culture, they began to develop their own class and they began to recognize that, “We are an oppressed people.” Like Israel in Egypt, they began to sense the heavy hand of their master as a group. That is not nearly the case in the ancient Near East, because you could be a millionaire and have a slave as your neighbor living in a house nicer than your own and not even be able to tell by how they dressed, where they lived, how they walked or how they talked that they were a slave. In deep contrast to New World slavery, ancient owners did not regard their adult slaves paternalistically. You’ll find littered through our shameful history this idea that the black man and woman are so ignorant that the white master, would need to parent them, “lest they destroy themselves”, and some of even Christianity’s brightest minds bought into this nonsense.
Within the ancient world it was not uncommon for an indebted person to sell himself or herself into slavery to pay debt or to avoid poverty. So on the socioeconomic scale, the slave was not the bottom level, the day laborer was. The slave could be the prince of Persia; or he could be sitting on a throne next to Nebuchadnezzar. The slave might be working at the left hand of Caesar himself, whereas the day laborer is forced every day to try to find something to do to make money to feed his family. So that bottom rung would often offer themselves up to slavery in the hopes that they might be educated, trained and then released in the year of Jubilee. Or if they owed debts, they would offer up themselves to work off those debts. They were not kidnapped from another land and forced into labor. They sold themselves into slavery to cover debt or to learn a trade and make a better life for them. No African did that.
No African said to themselves, ‘I’d like to try to survive a long six weeks at sea in the hopes that I would be forced into an ungodly amount of labor until I died. I would like that as opposed to running free in the beautiful, Africa.’ I don’t know that there is any historical record of an African going, ‘I’ll take slavery in the New World.’
In the end there is a large historical difference between American Colonial slavery and Near Eastern slavery (especially of the Semitic cultures in the Bible). When you address this subject please do so historically and not by lumping differing cultures and context together. I know I can not stop some of you from just being bitter against the Bible but the fact is on this subject there is a difference.
For further information on this subject check out a sermon preached at a church called Redeemer Fellowship (click here for the link).