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Bhc Analysis: The Bible Against Slavery

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Slavery in the Bible

Drew Gibson

Submitted Nov 17

Works Cited:

· Weld, Theodore Dwight. The Bible against Slavery an Inquiry into the Patriarchal and Mosaic

Systems on the Subject of Human Rights. New York, NY: American Anti-Slavery

Society, 1838. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

· "Priest's Bible Defense of Slavery." Priest's Bible Defense of Slavery. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

BHC Analysis: The Bible Against Slavery (Weld)

In The Bible Against Slavery, Weld uses the Decalogue to condemn slavery. He states that the emancipation of the Israelites from Egypt and subsequent delivery of the Ten Commandments brought about Yahweh’s moral law. Weld assigns the eighth commandment—though shalt not steal—directly to slavery. He highlights that “self-right is the foundation right—the post in the middle, to which all other rights are fastened” (Weld). The author argues that every human has the right to himself, his powers, and their products.

All man's powers are God's gift to him. That they are his own, is proved from the fact that God has given them to him alone,—that each of them is a part of himself, and all of them together constitute himself. (Weld)

When a slave owner treats another as their property, they are taking away those “original and intrinsic” rights (Weld). Weld elaborates that the Bible does not justify slavery because doing so would negate an essential component, the Ten Commandments.

A key consistency that we find from this text and the Bible is Weld’s introduction of the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy and Exodus. He cites the eighth commandment, the focus of his argument, to provide credibility behind his assertions.

However, it is in his interpretation and application that we see a blurred line between Weld remaining consistent to the Bible, or slightly altering it. Weld applies the commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), to the self-right that is lost through the act of slavery. Weld’s interpretation of the eighth commandment describes the original and intrinsic rights belonging to every human that are taken when a human enters slavery. He says, “The eighth commandment presupposes and assumes the right of every man to his power, and their product. Slavery robs of both. A man’s rights to anything else is merely relative to this, is derived from it, and held only by virtue of it” (Weld). Weld belabors the point that self-right is the foundation of all other rights, and to lose this identity would cause all other rights to crumble. Therefore, when a slave owner takes control of a slave and removes their identity, they are stealing something that is intrinsically not theirs and breaking the eighth commandment. Traditionally, this commandment is viewed as the stealing of physical goods. Weld introduces a new perspective that views stealing in a more abstract sense of the word – usurping a self-right that was given to the individual by Yahweh as a foundational right. Further exploring this viewpoint of stealing another’s inherent identity, Weld asserts that slave owners are disobeying the eighth commandment by stealing a slave’s original self-right. This proclamation substantiates that the Bible condemns slavery.

Further, in making him a slave, he does not merely disfranchise the humanity of one individual, but of universal man. He destroys the foundations. He annihilates all rights. He attacks not only the human race, but universal being, and rushes upon Jehovah. For rights are rights; God's are no more—man's are no less. (Weld)

Similarly, Weld makes an additional claim that alters the original text through further application of its scripture. He argues that slaves during this time were not forced into slavery, but instead volunteered. To demonstrate this point, Weld highlights Deuteronomy 23, which states that when a slave flees its master, whoever finds him “shall not oppress them,” but instead provide them housing. This articulates a slave’s ability to escape slavery, however it fails to make the declaration that slaves voluntarily entered slavery as Weld asserts.

  Weld makes several omissions that would otherwise detract from his stance against slavery. Priest, the author using the Bible as a defense slavery, highlights a key point that Weld neglects to include – the Mosaic laws that describe regulations for treatment of slaves. In addition, he disregards the potential consequences of breaking a commandment. In Exodus 21: 1-3, we see that the penalty of stealing is a fine, which Weld does not allude to. In fact, Exodus 21:15 states that, “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.” Weld makes no mention of this because there are no punishments for slaveholders evident in the Bible. By failing to articulate and address points made by the opposing view, Weld loses some credibility.

Weld also includes several additions to his work that support his argument. As mentioned, Weld states that the “eighth commandment presupposes and assumes the right of every man to his power, and their product” (Weld). This presupposition is a bold progression from the original text. By adding people’s rights to their powers, this makes the condemnation of slavery easier. If the capacity to perform certain abilities is reserved for the individual, the usurping of those “powers” and especially “their product” is a clear violation of the commandment. Slaves no longer have the ability to choose what they apply their powers to, and lose this inherent entitlement. When slaveholders exploit their slaves for their work and service, they are negating an individual’s right to those things. Again, this builds on the abstract assumption that the object stolen can be non-physical. These assertions that Weld is referencing are absent from the Bible.

Weld makes a persuasive argument that supports the belief that the Bible is an anti-slavery text. To do this, he emphasizes the interpretation of the eighth commandment that establishes self-right as the commanding right held by an individual – without which no other rights can be upheld. He claims that this right, which is “original and intrinsic”, if denied, is a direct discretion from the original commandment, thou shalt not steal. This self-right principle proceeds to elicit a possession of one’s own powers. These powers include the ability of an individual to act, think, behave, and control the products of those actions. When slaveholders exploit their slaves, they are ridding the individual of their inherent privilege – subsequently eliminating and denying all their rights.

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