Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Debating Dr. Laura

Selling Daughters into Slavery.

Right before Christmas I had a friend email me a link to a so-called letter written to Dr. Laura Schlesinger. In the letter, a writer is taking the popular talk radio guru to task over her views of homosexuality and her use of Leviticus 18:22 as a proof text.

The identity of the original author is unknown. Snopes, the urban legend resource site, claims the letter has been circulating around in email form as early as May 2000 and has found its way into various publications over the last 10 years or so. The writers of the leftist alternative history show, The West Wing, used the letter as a model for the president to berate a cartoonish character version of Dr. Laura in one of its episodes.

Even though the original author is anonymous, that is only better for him or her, because who ever the person is who wrote it, the argumentation presented is embarrassingly dumb. It reveals a shallow mind that doesn't really care to think through the position of his or her opponent, but is meant more as a spring board to mock Scripture as God's Word.

That said, it is true this person is "debating" Dr. Laura. She is a conservative, and Jewish, so she at least acknowledges the OT. But as conservative and Jewish as she may be, we're not dealing with some one who is orthodox in her basic convictions. She isn't theologically solid let alone biblically astute. The times I have heard her go after homosexual marriage using the Bible made me want to smack my forehead, and her lack of wisdom in her anti-homosexual pronouncements sort of brings this type of scorn upon herself.

I won't reproduce the letter (you can find a full copy at the two links above), because a lot of the "objections" raised in the letter I have answered in other posts from some time ago. I did want to address at least one point, however. That concerns the text often cited from Exodus 21:7. The writer states,

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

The objection is taken from Exodus 21 that reads in part (From the KJV by the way),

7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. 9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. 11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

Now, what has always amused me in discussions with skeptics and cranks regarding what they think the Bible says, is how they, unchurched, biblically illiterate persons, become instant experts in what the text says and means.

The basic objection goes like this: The Bible is condoning slavery, but not just any kind of slavery. It allows for a father to sell his own children into slavery if he so chooses. And, making it even worse is this passage tells us that God is okay with a father selling off his own daughter to be a sex slave to some dirty old man. This is a primitive practice of a prehistoric society; the kind of stuff we see in the backwaters of third world Islamic countries like Sudan or Pakistan. Seeing that we live in a progressive, modern 21st century culture here in these United States, why would we want to appeal to an ancient book that allowed the sex trade to flourish in their society to inform us what we should believe about gays and whether or not they should marry each other?

Let me highlight three problems with this facile reasoning:

First of all is the assumption that the "slavery" described in the Bible is the same slavery we experienced here in America and fought a Civil War over. This is false. In reality, the "slavery" described in scripture is an indentured servitude designed to maintain the dignity of a person or family in extreme poverty or debt. A good portion of ancient slavery was this kind of servitude. We still practice indentured servitude to a degree in today's world. Only now we are paid for it differently. Granted, we go home to the wife and kids in the evening, but in the morning, we are required by our servitude to get up out of bed and serve a "master" of sorts in order to make a living.

Secondly, coming to the text in question, it is also wrongfully assumed that the daughter being sold is being sold to a man who immediately engages her in a sexual relationship. This is also false, as a careful reading of the text demonstrates. The passage is establishing strict regulations that protect the girl's purity. The idea is a man places his daughter into the service of another man as a maid servant. She was to serve him for at least 6 years, because on the 7th year she was to be released from her obligation as other Levitical law informs us. If the man has the intention of marrying her, he was to look after her as a daughter. If he had intended to marry her, but then doesn't want to, he was to let her be released back her family, the idea of being redeemed (vs 8). The same requirements were set up if the man wants her to marry his son. If the son marries someone else instead, the girl was to be taken care of even allowed to be married to someone else, "not diminish ... her marriage rights" as it is translated in the NKJV. In other words, she could not be forcible kept a virgin and never allowed to marry.

Third, OT scholar, Walter Kaiser, notes a few mistakes when translating this passage in his book, Toward Old Testament Ethics.

1) In verse 8, many translators follow the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew and miss the significant little word "not" that is important to the meaning. The verse would read, If she displeases her master so that he does NOT betroth her to himself. The idea is what I noted above: If the man does not want to marry her, he is to let her go. He can't keep her in a perpetual state of chastity all of her life.

2) The translation of verse 10 as, If he marries another wife, is unclear because it implies the man now has two wives, the original slave girl and now a second woman. But verse 8 has already noted that the original girl has been rejected for marriage. Rather than meaning he is adding to a harem of women, the text means he marries another woman other than the original girl in service to him.

3) In verse 10 and 11. If a man doesn't marry the girl, or if a man has obtained a girl for his son and he doesn't marry her, the girl was to be allowed to marry. The idea that she was to go free and it is the man or the family she served who lose financially, not the girl.

Then lastly, in the discussion of biblical authority condemning homosexuality, this passage is truly irrelevant to the debate. It doesn't really matter what the Bible says about other alleged "hot button" issues like slavery. What does it say about human sexuality? And as I have pointed out in a number of posts over the last few years when I have addressed gay apologetics, human sexual behavior is always tied to God's character and HOW He has created men and women to function as sexual beings. Homosexuality, and the behavior of gay sex, is an abomination because it violates God's basic creative decree regarding the nature of humanity.
Slavery doesn't violate the nature of things as God has created them to be.

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Blogger donsands said...

Good job on a difficult truth.

It's essential for us to know how to share with others about these things.

7:21 PM, January 20, 2010  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Excellent article.

7:39 AM, January 22, 2010  

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