At least the bible opposes the returning of escaped slaves to their former masters, for as Deuteronomy 23:15 tells us, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you.” Galatians 5:1 concurs: “Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” which is all very good news indeed. But Leviticus 25:44-46 does not agree: “As for your male and female slaves: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them.” But then again, Exodus 21:16 seems to be of a different opinion: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death,” which sort of puts a fly in the ointment of those who take things literally.
Galatians 3:28 nonchalantly shrugs off the differences: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one,” though what he meant by “no male or female” is a bit of a mystery and could easily be misinterpreted as gay liberation propaganda.
Titus 2:9-10 expects us to know our rightful places: “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith,” so no stealing from the boss, folks; 1 Peter 2:18 certainly agrees: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust,” no matter how badly the boss treats you. Speaking of bad bosses, Exodus 21:26-27 defends the rights of slaves: “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth,” so that’s okay, except of course, there’s nobody to take care of them.
Exodus 21 lays down the law: “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone,” which I have to say I find a bit tough on the poor family. But it gets worse: “If the slave says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” Just a minute, did I get that right? The guy doesn’t want to abandon his family so the boss gets to bore a hole in his ear?
Leviticus clearly had a problem with women: “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, 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. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money,” which basically means a man can throw a female slave out in the streets without a penny to her name if she turned out not to be a “good lay” or his son didn’t want her.
There’s no end to the abuse of women; even gang rape or beatings that result in abortions have a law. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Bet you didn’t know where the phrase “an eye for an eye” came from, did you?
To top it all, slaves were supposed to be truly happy: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” But even the worst scenarios have an upside, “If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”
You know what? These are the rules that poor misguided people lived by hundreds of years ago. They did what The Good Book told them to do. Surely we can do better than that.