"She shall not go free as male slaves do": The Female Debt-Slave in the Hebrew Bible


David Wright


The Hebrew Bible, as part of ancient Near Eastern literature, considers slavery a valid social and economic institution. Abraham and the other exemplars of piety in Genesis owned slaves. God is even said to have blessed these men by providing them with slaves. How are we, today, to make ethical sense of this positive acceptance of slavery, and of God's apparent role in it? One important step is to recognize the Bible as a human document, based on other human documents. It was created within particular historical circumstances for particular political, ideological, and social purposes, and was rewritten again and again over time. If we could recognize the ways in which the Bible expresses its writers' ideals and the goals-ideals and goals specific to the age the writers lived in and tied to the customs and expectations of their time-then we could realize the impossibility of simply applying biblical laws to our own society, regardless of how they encourage exploitation or limit individual physical, social and sexual freedoms. We could, indeed, adopt the method of the biblical law writers themselves: instead of sticking to the literal dictates of the texts they inherited, these authors questioned them.