No scholar worth his salt says the Bible condones slavery. Any scholar who does say the Bible condones slavery is plainly not worth his salt. Rather, he or she is driven by a pop scholarship, usually atheistic, that opines jauntily on a topic it neither comprehends nor respects—if it gets something wrong, who cares? It’s only the bible to them.
An example of such is found at the National Historical Park poster at Harper’s Ferry.
“Although slavery is often condoned in the Bible, [John] Brown believed that the ‘Golden Rule’ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you implicitly condemned slavery.” Why is that statement weird?
It’s because the words in themselves are directly contrary to the intended conclusion! That blanket statement, that the Bible condones slavery, is supported by nothing therein. If they are scriptures to the effect that it does, the reader is not made aware of them. On the other hand, there is a scripture embedded in the poster that indicates the contrary is true, that the Bible does not condone slavery—that of the Golden Rule.
To be sure, the Golden Rule is unaccredited—whereas if you quoted the words of the Park system’s own resident scholars without accredation, their screams of protest would shake down the halls of academia enough to make Samson’s knocking down the temple of the Philistines look like a mere application of sandpaper.
“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them. This, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”
It’s the Bible. Unaccredited. Matthew 7:12. Furthermore, it’s a key passage—it’s ‘what the Law and the Prophets mean.’ Do the National Historical Park scholars care if modern readers conclude some ancient practitioner of mindfulness—probably some Buddha-like figure—originated the saying, and not Jesus? It doesn’t seem to bother them. The same sloppiness that would never be tolerated in any topic they cared deeply about is left unmolested in a topic they do not.
They do good work, the National Historical Park system does. They bring history to life. They restore old venues. They recreate old dramas. They make their rangers wear hats when outdoors. I’ve many times referred to them in the course of Historical Park visits in Go Where Tom Goes. But they are not immune to pop scholarship; that is the point of the preceding—a conclusion also demonstrated in that they got wrong the religion of Eisenhower’s upbringing.
Moreover, were they to encounter the scholars that dig deep and do their research without regard for what’s trendy, they would never make such a shallow statement. Here I have read through Grant by Ron Chernow, and Team of Rivals [biography of Abraham Lincoln], by Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David Blight, and nowhere in any of these works is there a single mention that “the Bible condones slavery!”
It’s a little early to tell with the Douglass book, I admit, because I started with Part 2, commencing with Civil War days till the end of Douglass’s life, but there is not one mention in what I have read. Instead, there are abundant references in all of these works of how abolitionists drew their very inspiration from the Bible—and not one mention that “the Bible condoned slavery.” Frederick Douglass took as his mission statement the Acts 10:34-35 passage of how the apostle Peter “began to speak, and he said: ‘Now I truly understand that God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”
When visiting the Seward house in Auburn N.Y, [Willian Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State] with its preserved, well-stocked library, we learned that Doris Goodwin spend countless hours there researching the tomes. Did she issue any new-age blather that “the Bible condones slavery?” No. She researched with respect, as modern atheistic scholars are not inclined to do, how Christian faith firmly molded the notable players of that age, certainly that of the abolitionists. Lincoln, though not an overtly religious man, was as familiar and respectful of the Bible as anyone of the age—and more representative of its basic theme of ‘proclaiming liberty to the captives’ than all but the tiniest handful of them.
And just how far do you think you would get were John Brown, the reason for that Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’ existence, were to stumble across that Bible-dishonoring poster. Oh yeah—try to explain it to that hothead how “the Bible condones slavery!” As is made abundantly clear in Good Lord Bird, [James McBride’s literary and TV adaptation of Brown’s life] nobody was as obsessed the the Lord back then as was Brown, and never did the Lord have to sit through so many interminable prayers as he did from that fellow.
Now, there are mentions of slavery in the Bible. They were misrepresented by Southern slaveholders to reinforce their hand with divine power. But they are so thoroughly lacking in historical context that any thorough and/or balanced researcher sees it promptly and knows enough not to extract from it biblical support of antebellum Southern slavery.
The slavery in the Bible was a volunteer slavery—an impoverished Israelite as a last resort might sell himself into slavery. It was a humane slavery—slaves by law were not to be beaten. It was a temporary slavery—temporary unless that slave wished to make it permanent. And he was not to be put into such straits that he had no choice but to remain enslaved. At the end of the ‘temporary’ period—the seven year jubilee cycle, that slave was to be released with a gift from the owner he willingly subjected himself to—so that he could hit the ground with his feet running upon release from his time of slavery.
It’s so far from the slavery of modern times that all but the willfully blind ideological historians will realize you can’t extract from it support for Civil War era slavery. True, not all slaves were Hebrew slaves. It is possible a rich Jew might come to own non-Hebrew slaves, as spoils of war, as was universal practice at that time. There are few details in the Bible about this. But since the Mosaic law mandated kind treatment for animals, one can hardly imagine it condoned harsh treatment for humans—certainly not enough to prattle on about how “the Bible condones slavery” when the premiere historians of that age knew it did not.
To be continued. . . .
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