Archive for the ‘CIVIL WAR’ Category


October 9, 2016

Anthony E. Gallo

Speech given to the Civil War Discussion Group at the Cosmos Club in Washington on October   14, 2016

America has always been a religious nation.    Most of our colonies were founded for religious reasons, and our religious nature continues to this very day.   Our church attendance today is overwhelmingly the highest in the world.

And religion was at the heart of America during the Civil War.  Both Union and Confederacy.

 No American conflict has raised the specter of religion as has the Civil War. This   conflict saw the massacre of 700 thousand Americans and two grieving nations, North and South. Each searched for solace in religion; both claimed God was on their side.  The motto of the North was, “In God We Trust”; for the Confederacy, “God Will Determine the Victor.” Americans turned more and more to religion and even to the occult. Both the Union and the Confederacy upheld their Christian identities in the face of their adversary, and both sides believed that the Abrahamic God worked in their favor. Churches were filled.


Both Union and Confederacy invoked the Bible as the source of all truth. Northern and Southern soldiers had their Bibles. Abraham Lincoln himself read the Bible daily, and its cadences can be found in his three greatest speeches: The First and Second Inaugurals and the Gettysburg Address. Jefferson Davis also used the Bible as a tool of war. President Lincoln placed the Bible on the contraband list, believing that the spread of bibles would encourage the enemy. On the other hand, he was willing to overlook that most South- ern churches were also sedition centers. Ironically, the Bible strongly supports the institution of slavery beginning with Genesis and ding with St. Paul’s epistles.


This is a question I am often asked because I have written or in the process of writing four plays, Lincoln and God, The Springfield Boys, Robert, Shakespeare and Lincoln, and the musical, Lincoln and God.    In the process, I have spent 12 years researching Lincoln and the Lincoln family. I have    moved in with them. 


No, I am not a historian, but an economist of forty years before I became a playwright.   But any playwright who writes historical plays wants to be on the mark—getting it right.  And with Abraham Lincoln the onus of responsibility is even worse.  He is the most iconic figure in American history.   A hyperbolic statement.  But l let us take one measure.  The number of books written about him.  One estimate, 60 000, leading me to say that more books have been written about him than all other American Presidents combined


 This discussion is not about Abraham Lincoln per see, even though he began the war and ended the war.   But he is of course pivotal.   And any reading of the second Inaugural address will lead one to believe that yes the Civil War was a religious war.  Each war is a war of justice.  But this one was different.  I accept the basic premise that the war was totally rooted in one word   Slavery. All these other premises—state rights, economics war etc. a secondary cause Both sides fought to either destroy or uphold the institution of slavery which had been a part of the American civilization about 250      years.   


That this is a religious War is clear spelled out by Abraham Lincoln, Julia Ward How, Jefferson Davis among other said so.   When Lincoln was elected seven states left the union.    Why:  one-word slavery.


  A few things about Mr.  Lincoln.  He was the most religious president in American History.   Second no other President has had biblical knowledge as Lincoln.  Third, no president loved or had the knowledge of Shakespeare that Lincoln did, and fourth no president had had the love of theater as Mr. Lincoln.


   He left no doubt that his goal was to abolish slavery.  Yes, he did believe in the inequality of races, and spoke out of both sides of his mouth.   But in the end the abolition of the slavery was the cause of the Civil War. And here is the dichotomy.  The Bible and his beliefs.   As I said no President understood and read the Bible as much as Abraham Lincoln.   Some historians argue that this was only because he liked the cadence of the Kings James bible.  But no it was a moral guide too.  Much of the language he used in his speeches. Innumerable language in his speeches based on both old and new testaments


An important word Protestant, followed by       The inerrancy of the Bible.   The Bible lies at the center of our moral code, then and now.     Of the three major religious groups, Protestants most closely use the Bible as the core of moral authority. A significant portion believed in the inerrancy of the Bible.  


The significance e of Religion in the Civil War was displayed emphatically in Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  Second Inaugural Address with 703 words   Of those, 313 are about the role of religion.  Let us examine


Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.  (Neither North nor South expected to was to last that long)

Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.   Each side thought it was going to prevail.

 Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.  (Both Religious)

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, (South had the Chutzpah to ask God’s Help in preserving slavery)

but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.  (God could not answer both prayers

 That of neither has been answered fully.

 The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. (Don’t second guess God)

” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, (God once willed slavery)

He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.

Yet, if God wills that it continues until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must

  be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether


Also ascertaining the primacy of religion in the War was Jefferson Davis and Julia Ward Howe.   Jefferson said that the Bible approves of the institution of slavery and    he was right.     He also said that abolition interfered with his right of owning private property.  


 Slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves. most abominable aspect of the slave trade, was fueled by the idea that Africans, even children, were better off Christianized under a system of European slavery than left in Africa amid tribal wars, famines and paganism

 There are 300 references to slavery in the Bible.   Not a single reference disapproves of the institution of slavery.   Jesus referred to Slavery 17 times.  In not a single instance did he disapprove.  Some examples No slave is greater than his master.   The owner who returns and find that slaves have not done   work and beats them., St. Paul has at least a dozen references to slavery, but one that stands out is his reference to the son of the slave woman Hagar but that followers of Jesus are born free.   Peter admonishes t slaves to bogey their masters, as does Paul in Titus.  


In conclusion several major points.  

  • Religion was fundamental to the belief of both sides during the Civil War
  • Both Sides believed that God was on their side
  • The Bible supported; the Southern position.
  • Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist moved ahead to eradicate slavery, but this movement was based on what God had written on their hearts. Confirmed by Julia ward Howe in The Battle Hymn of the R:  As he died to Make Men Holy, Let Us Die to Make Men Free.
  • Lincolns second Inaugural address explicitly is devoted to the role of religion and the Civil War, and the immorality of slavery









May 30, 2016


By Anthony E. Gallo

Abraham Lincoln is our most admired and iconic President. More books have been written about this 16th president than all other presidents combined.


The reason is clear.   He was a moral leader who saved the Union, abolished slavery and laid the groundwork for the American Industrial Revolution.     He kept a nation together, and he did so with keen political skills   He kept a cabinet of rivals together. Biographers and historians call these men a Team of Rivals, popularized in a book of that same name by Doris Kearns Goodwin.


But then there is the story of his team of personal allies. Without them,  I argue,  Abraham Lincoln would not have played the role he has in human history.


Abraham Lincoln did not have many friends.  He had many colleagues, both political and personal, but very few personal friends.  In fact only two men, who both aided his journey to the Presidency.     And both men had an important bearing on his legacy. Without them, he would not have been elected president of the United States.  His third pillar of support  was his wife Mary.  Without Mary, or Mrs. Lincoln, as she liked to be called, Mr. Lincoln would not have survived his depressions.


Mr. Lincoln shared a bed with one friend for four years, an office with his law partner for 16 years and a home and a life with Mary Lincoln for 23 years.  All three loved Abraham Lincoln and he loved them, but in the end, he dominated all three.  One was a slaveholder who believed strongly slavery, the second a drunk and the third a shrewish wife.  But he dominated them all.




Joshua Speed was Abraham Lincoln’s only personal friend.   They had no business dealings, other than their beds.   They shared the same bed for four years.  And Lincoln paid him $17 a month—the amount that they agreed upon in 1837. The sharing of the bed was not homoerotic.   The friendship was instead one of mutual support.   Nor had there been a charge of homoeroticism until the late twentieth century, when activists (led by DC native playwright Larry Kramer) insisted that the relationship was homosexual.  Playwright Kramer announced there was correspondence to show this relationship.  Subsequently none was found, backing the consensus among scholars and historians that the relationship was not homosexual.


Why did Lincoln and Speed continue sharing a bed when the future sixteenth president could afford his own?  The obvious answer would appear to be that sleeping patterns were different in those days.  To a degree, this explanation is true    When Mr. Lincoln arrived in Springfield, he was relatively poor but not for long.  Surely he could have paid more than $17 a month being one of the Springfield’s most successful attorneys.   Further, Mr. Speed, the son of slave owning family (57 slaves), could also afford his own bed. The reason may lie in Lincoln’s basic character.  Mr. Lincoln was an emotional man who suffered from melancholy.   He had bouts of severe depression.    And had a nervous collapse  when he realized he had to leave Mary Todd because of what he perceived as their irreconcilable differences.   They eventually reconciled mostly due to Joshua Speed’s advice.   In turn, Mr. Lincoln strongly supported Joshua Speed in this relationship and subsequent marriage to Fanny.  Both men wanted to marr ”up,”and both did.  Speed had a very successful marriage.   But so did Lincoln. But Lincoln’s marriage was more volatile due to his unhappy nature and her volatility which he recognized before he married her.   He broke off the engagement in 1842, and had a nervous collapse.  The Speed family brought him to Farmington.   He was convinced by Joshua Speed to résumé the engagement.  And he and Mary Todd were married the following year.


Lincoln strongly opposed slavery   Joshua Speed strongly supported it.   Over and over again he persisted in his view and expressed to Lincoln that abolition was good neither for blacks nor whites.  He argued in their correspondence that without slavery the economy would be destroyed, it would bring economic and political mayhem that would ensure the country’s collapse.    Lincoln listened closely, and often seemed to agree with him, but always maintained his abolitionist position.


What was the attraction?    Both men had Kentucky roots.   Both men were highly intelligent and educated.     And Mr. Lincoln, both high strung and restless, needed the guidance and friendship of the calmer Mr. Speed.  That friendship lasted from 1837 to his death 28 years later.  Mr. and Mrs. Speed were invited to the Whitehouse twelve times when Lincoln became President.   And Baraka Obama took his oath of office on the very same Bible that Lucy Speed, Joshua Speed’s mother, gave to Lincoln whom she loved.   I doubt that President Obama was (and is) aware that he was taking his oath of office on a Bible given to Lincoln by ardent slaveholders.


Neither man attended the others wedding, but certainly supported one another.  Their friendship was for a lifetime


That Speed believed in slavery is beyond dispute.  He tried vociferously to get Lincoln to change his mind.    Lincoln, in his correspondence, often seemed not to disagree with him.  But once elected to office Lincoln proceeded with the course and got rid of slavery.     And James Speed was his attorney general.  In fact, when Lincoln appointed Speed his attorney general,  the press asked him what he knew about James Speed personally?   His reply was that he knew the family well, since he shared a bed with his brother for six years.


Speed was a natural businessman. Today he would be a billionaire.   .   Politics was never his prime interest and he said so.  Lincoln, by the same token, did not have any of Speeds business acumen.   In fact, Lincoln was a very poor businessman.  Herndon was even worse.   He spent profligately,  made bad business decisions  and was poor during the last part of his life.  He died a pauper, after the sales of his Lincoln biographies were highly unsuccessful.  Speed was a very wealthy when he died. Among other bequests, he left the Methodist Church of Kentucky nearly million dollars.   By contrast, President Lincoln left an estate of $110,000, and Herndon was essentially bankrupt.


Speed’s impact on the Lincoln legacy came with  what he did for Lincoln during the President’s lifetime. Although Speed opposed abolition, he helped to keep Kentucky in the union.  Supposedly President Lincoln said “I love god, but I must have Kentucky.”   Lincoln got only 1375 votes in Kentucky—and many of those votes were from Speed relatives.   Without Speed’s influence, Kentucky would not have remained in the union.   And many historians agree that had Kentucky not remained in the union, Maryland and Missouri would have joined the Confederacy.





Billy Herndon’s relationship with the President Lincoln was more complex.    They met in 1837 by way of Joshua Speed.  Billy worked in the Bell General Store owned by Speed when Lincoln rented.  Herndon’s wealthy father had sent him to Illinois College to become a good Christian, a responsible slave owner, and sober.  Billy came back an agnostic, drunk, and abolitionist and flunked out


Billy’s admiration of Lincoln began with teri first meeting, and Lincoln loved it    Billy passed the bar and became M. Lincoln’s junior partner, whereas Lincoln had previously been the junior partner himself.  And that was the relationship between the two men.   Billy idolized Lincoln.   He was a brilliant partner and fastidious.    The junior-senior relationship was to persist throughout the sixteen years of their active partnership. During that period, Billy provided great moral, political and emotional support for  Lincoln, as he continued to climb the political latter. Their father- son relationship clashes sharply with the fraternal relationship with Mr. Speed.  Surprisingly, Mr. Lincoln’s relationship with his own father was estranged indeed.  Thomas Lincoln was not invited to his son’s marriage, nordid he  ever met  Mary or any of the Lincoln Children.  Lincoln did not attend Thomas Lincoln’s funeral, and at first would not even buy him a headstone. He eventually did.

When Lincoln was elected President, Billy did not get a Government position.   He did borrow $20  from the newly elected President who also got a wife for him.   After the death of his first wife; Herndon courted a woman name Anna, who did not want to marry him. He beseeched Lincoln to get her brother a job in the Deferral government, which Lincoln did.   Billy got Anna.


Lincoln but made one request of Billy.  That he was to keep the fires burning in the home office and that when Lincoln was done being president he would return to the law office of Lincoln and Herndon.  Billy was satisfied.






Herndon’s influence on Lincoln’s legacy was horrendous, and nearly all  negative. .  F,ollowing the assassination William Herndon dedicated the rest of his life to Abraham Lincoln,. as self-anointed keeper of the flame. Herndon felt he had a   special hold on Lincoln’s legacy.

Here are some of his eye popping assertions:

  • Lincoln was a bastard; Herndon argued that Nancy Hanks was a very promiscuous woman and that Lincoln was the illegitimate offspring of one of her trysts.
  • Herndon says the same about Nancy Hank’s mother, with affidavits showing that she too was a very loose woman.
  • Ann Rutledge. This fabrication was written solely to hurt Mrs. Lincoln. Ann Rutledge was a young   woman whom Lincoln did know.   She was betrothed to a man who left town and would not release her from the engagement.  She died.   Herndon argues that she was the only woman Lincoln ever loved and since he lost both his mother and his sister, he was incapable of loving any other woman.     Despite affidavits to support this contention, the  man to whom she was betrothed said that he never head of Lincoln until he became President.   Carl Sandburg made up a sad saga out of this fabrication. (Mr. Sandburg won two Pulitzer prizes for his two Lincoln biographies which are  historically inaccurate.  One reviewer found 200-errors in the first twenty pages and thereby stopped reading)
  • Syphilis: Herndon said that Lincoln had syphilis, which he acquired as a child. And Herndon also says Nancy Hanks had syphilis.
  • The dead Lincoln sons were brats. Herndon says that the Lincolns let their two sons, now dead, run wild, and that all four were brats.
  • Bad Lawyer: Herndon says Lincoln was a sloppy lawyer who did not like looking at details.  He was also sloppy and had to depend on Herndon to keephis things in order.
  • Bowel movements: He describes Lincoln bowel movements in detail.
  • Religion: Today much of the world believes that Lincoln was a free thinker Herndon bases this assertion on afternoon chats at the office.   The evidence is overwhelming against this.   Lincoln mentioned God more times than any other President in American history.   His relationship with the Reverend Phineas Gurley, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, was a very close, and Gurley presided over the funeral s of both Wiie and the President.   Lincoln attended Church with great regularity and participated in several discussion groups. He also paid the yearly dues of $50.  Lincoln did not join the Church, which remains a mystery, but was definitely an active member.  And last but not least, the day he died, he and Mary discussed plans  to visit Holy Land. And, oh yes, Lincoln’s knowledge of the Bribe exceed that of any other President in America history.  And of course we should not lose sight of one of President Lincoln’s quotes:  When I have a need for real guidance, I get on my knees.



Her indispensible role in the Lincoln Presidency cannot be denied.  Abraham Lincoln was very much in love with her. After the deaths of two of her sons, Mrs. Lincoln became difficult and in fact earned the Hellcat Mary Name.  But one must always remember what Robert Lincoln said:  that Abraham Lincoln, his father, loved his mother and was very lonely without her


Abraham Lincoln found it difficult to live with her.  He found it even more difficult to live without her.   He broke off the engagement, and essentially had a nervous breakdown.     They met in 1837 when she was 18 and he was 27 in the flourishing city of Springfield   But what is most important about Mary Lincoln (Mary TODD Lincoln was unacceptable to her) is that she was indispensible to Abraham despite her mercurial behavior after the deaths of Willy and Eddy


The relationship between Mrs. Lincoln with these Speed and Herndon was at both extremes. She loved Joshua Speed.  She loathed Billy Herndon, whom she described as an uncouth drink.   He described her as a serpent. Both men felt the same about her as she felt about them, as did their wives. She was vilified by both of the eyewitness account biographies of the 16th President by Herndon and Hay and Nicolay, who came up with the name Hellcat Mary, later shortened to The Hellcat.




Clinton Catherine, Mrs. Lincoln:  A Life , Harpeer Collins  Publisher,


Donald, David Lincoln, , Jonathan Cape, London, 1995


________________, Lincoln at home : Two Glimpses of Abraham

Lincoln’s Family Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

___________________ We are Lincoln Men, Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, Simon and Schuster, NY 2003,     Pulitzer PrizeSchuster, Lincoln’s Billy. ,Alfred Knopf,  1948  NY,   ________________, Lincoln’s Billy: Alfred A. Knopf Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

________________, Lincoln at home : Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincoln’s Family Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003


___________, We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003


Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2005


Hawke, David Freeman, Billy’s Lincoln, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. New York, New York, 1970

Herttz The Hidden Lincoln From the Letters and Papers of Wiliam Herndon, blue Ribbon Books, 1940


Neale, Donald Walsch, Conversations with  God, An Uncommon Dialogue, book 1, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY, 1995


Oates, Stephen B., With Malice Toward None: the Life of Abraham Lincoln, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 1994



White, Ronald C.. Jr., Lincoln’s Greatest Speech : The Second Inaugural, Simon &Schuster, New york, NY, 2005


_________________,The Eloquent President : A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, Random House, New York, NY, 2005

Temple, Wayne, Abraham Lincoln, From Skeptic to Prophet, Mayhaven Publishing, Mahomet, IL, 1995












May 26, 2016



Anthony E. Gallo


Dare we ask?   Should we ask?   Or has God’s mind already changed and we missed out?


Here we might tread lightly.  We remember the Biblical warning that God’s ways are not our ways and our ways are not God’s Ways.   We acknowledge the Jewish adage that our arms are too short to box with God.  And we all know the story of the Tower of Babel when men got too smart for its britches and its tower came falling down.


However, is it time to assess within the Jewish-Christian dialogue?  All religions, even atheism and agnosticism, want to do the right thing, to foster morality and social responsibility.   While persons of faith want to do the right thing pursuing the will of God, atheists and agnostics simply want to do the right thing.


Western civilization’s cultural, political, and aesthetic foundations are grounded to a great extent in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, the product of the Golden Age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim dialogue in Spain, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.  Our religious and ethical mores however are more clearly descended from the Hebrew Scriptures, which represent over a millennium of the experience and divinely inspired reflection of God’s People,  the Jews.  Jesus’ teaching, epitomized in the New Testament in the Sermon on the Mount, distills this ancient Jewish, biblical wisdom, and closely parallels the moral vision not only of the Hebrew prophets but of Jewish rabbinic tradition which reflected on the Scriptures and how to apply them in ever-changing times, much in the way the Fathers of the Church developed the biblical tradition which they held sacred.


American tradition holds to the separation of Church and State and allows for the free exchange of all views, religious and philosophical, in a pluralistic society.  Some would call this a secular state, but the reality is more nuanced. The Bible, variously interpreted, is very much the underlying document upon which our moral code is based.  It continues to be a major source of light on our understanding of justice and righteousness.   Our Founding Fathers, while reflecting the Enlightenment, were deeply entrenched in the moral values of Judaism and Christianity.  tony


Our Declaration of Independence acknowledges faith in a Supreme God who created humankind.  Those who signed it believed that they were following the laws of God, the providence of God, and the judgment of God even though, again, they acknowledged their own diversity of interpretation.  It was this resolution,  the  celebration of diversity within an overall union of national purpose, that set the American experiment apart from all societies in human history which had preceded it.  The French revolution, which did not begin until 1789, the year our Constitution was ratified by the former American colonies, sought to embody the same principle of unity within diversity, though its road to eventual success proved to be more difficult and fraught with internal violence  and discord before it achieved that goal.


While God is not mentioned in the US, Constitution, God is mentioned today in the constitutions of nearly all of our fifty states, and all territories mention God, sometimes as often at ten times.  Every American President has taken his oath of office on at least one Bible, and President Obama took his oath of office on two Bibles, one belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the other to Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most biblically literate President in US History.   Although Lincoln joined no Church, he mentioned God at least three thousand times by one count in his speeches, and made no secret of the fact that the Bible (along with the works of William Shakespeare) was his favorite book.  One cannot read his Second Inaugural Address, probably the most significant in American history, without understanding its biblical references, allusions with which his original audience was well aware, since they were in the main steeped in the Scriptures themselves.


It cannot be denied therefore that the Bible is the foundation of the understanding of truth and justice in Western civilization in general and in the United States in particular.  But we also know that this document has been used though the ages as a basis for justifying a wide variety of points of view. We have relied on those who speak with authority, knowledge about how to interpret biblical passages which sometimes they had, and sometimes they merely asserted they had.  Many of the issues that divide society throughout the world are often defended on the basis of the Bible. These include stances on gay/lesbian marriage, polygamy, divorce, ordination of women, abortion, capitol punishment and numerous others.


There are, as commonly understood, two main views of God’s will.  One is that God’s will is unbending and unchanging.  Another is that God’s will changes over time.  How do we reconcile those passages which state that God does not change, with others that seem to suggest that God’s will alters over time?   


Jewish- Christian Theology is largely based on God speaking to the human race through Scripture–the Bible, the human heart, prophets and religious leaders.  In Genesis, God changes his mind about destroying the human race in the flood, promising, and creating the rainbow as a sign of the divine promise, never to do so again.  God reconciles Himself to human evil and sets about creating a special people, the children of Abraham and Sarah, the Jews, to be a people especially dedicated to observing God’s teachings and thereby be a witness to and a blessing for all of humanity.


Instead of presuming human goodness, God realizes that it will take many generations of divine teaching, patience, justice and mercy to raise this people to the level of faithfulness to the divine will that He originally hoped humanity would attain from the beginning.   God allows Abraham to argue with him to save the righteous few in Sodom when He had originally planned to destroy the whole city.  And God, in one of the most profound, and to this day still much discussed and variously interpreted passages in the Bible, orders Abraham to sacrifice his son and heir, Isaac, only to stay Abraham’s hand at the last moment.  Was this God’s plan all along?  Or did the willingness to suffer of Abraham and Isaac move the divine heart so that God changed his mind about what he had originally commanded Abraham to do?


Likewise, the commandments of the Law given by God to Moses changed with time.  The changes reflected the differing circumstances of tribal societies, early farming settlements, and more urban settings.  One has only to compare the earlier versions of the many commandments (the ten but many others as well) in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers with those given in Deuteronomy (literally, the Second Law) to see what amounts to an evolution of the divine will and commandments from the earlier versions of the Law with the Pentateuch to the later.  Both rabbinic and Christian commentators over the centuries have worked hard to reconcile these different versions of the Law.  Modern biblical scholars would not that the essential moral and spiritual principles remained the same but that specific laws changed to reflect the changing circumstances of the people of God as the many centuries of human experience reflected in the Bible passed, one into another over time.


Though  the New Testament was written over a much shorter period of time, approximately a single century rather than a millennium, one can see such evolution of views in it as well.  The Epistle to the Hebrews, written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, addresses the issue of how to observe the biblical commandments without a temple within which to offer sacrifice.  Its author argues that the sacrifice of Jesus more than compensates for temple offerings.  In the same period, of course, Jewish tradition was developing its own theory that study of the Bible, prayer and good works were sufficient sacrifices to God, in this following and expanding on the biblical prophets such as Amos.  God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, the author of Hebrews argues, had something new to say through Jesus.  He implies, with good biblical precedent, as we have seen, that God’s will for humanity does change over time, as humanity changes and, we would say, evolves.


Other examples from over the course of post biblical Jewish and Christian history are not difficult to find.  A few will be briefly mentioned here.



In the Middle Ages, Christians interpreted the biblical commandment against lending money at exorbitant interest (which we would call usury) to prohibit lending any money at interest.  Various decrees first allowed it, and then prohibited it.

In one period, both Jews and Christians interpreted the biblical commandment against lending money at interest to one’s fellows as meaning that Jews should not lend money to Jews and Christians not to Christians.  With this new interpretation, both believed that they could lend money at interest to people outside of their own community.  In Renaissance Italy, taking advantage of this, Jews and Christians worked together to create the basis of the modern banking system.  Changing times had brought new needs and possibilities, and the one word of God was reinterpreted to fit them.  Ultimately, the commandment was interpreted yet again to prohibit lending money at high interest rates that would impoverish the debtor, and the financial basis for modern capitalism was established.  Usury remained prohibited, in accordance with the intent of the biblical law, but banking was allowed.




Although not laden with race, the entirely of the old and new testament are filled with examples of slavery. The Hebrew Scriptures contain many laws which give slaves rights, among them the Law of the Jubilee Year, in which all slaves were to be freed.  Jesus of Nazareth took on the priestly establishment with an action which would have been cheered on by the group in first century Judaism with whom he was in closest contact, the Pharisees.  Many of his teachings reflect and are parallel to those of the two main Pharisaic schools of thought of his time, the schools of Hillel and Shammai.  Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple, and the chief priests, as all three of the Synoptic gospels agree in virtually the same language, began to plot against him.  Pontius Pilate, who controlled the priesthood entirely, having appointed Caiaphas as his chief collaborator, saw in the popularity of Jesus with the Jewish people a potential source of Jewish revolution against Roman rule, and so executed him.  Jesus boldly paid with his life for probing interpretations of Jewish Law and for being one around whom rebellious Jews might gather.   He would have supported the biblical laws which strove to make slavery relatively humane.   But he did not condemn slavery.  “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely” (Luke 12:47).   “No disciple is not above his teacher, no slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24).


St Paul‘s epistles called for slaves to “obey their masters.”   St Peter’s letters appear to suggest that it was commendable for Christian slaves to suffer willingly at the hands of cruel masters  In several Pauline epistles, and the First Epistle of Peter, slaves are admonished to obey their masters, as to the Lord, and not to men;  however masters were told to serve their slaves “in the same way”  and “even better” as “brothers” and not to threaten them as God is their Master as well.  This latter admonition reflects the Law of the Hebrew Scriptures in just treatment of slaves.


The Epistle to Philemon was used by pro-slavery advocates as well as by abolitionists.  Paul writes that he is returning Onesimus, a fugitive slave, back to his master Philemon; and entreats Philemon to regard him  not as a slave but as a beloved brother in Christ.


Jesus of Nazareth took on the entirety of the Israel’s establishment, but did not condemn slavery.   Both Peter and Paul likely were martyred for their evangelizing, but neither condemned slavery.  God’s will as expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures affirmed the institution of slavery as it existed at the time.  Regarding the emancipation of slaves, Jewish slaves were to be freed in the seventh year, the Jubilee Year, reflecting in years the seven day cycle of Creation in Genesis 1, when the Lord rested and when all humanity must rest, according to both Deuteronomy and Exodus.  In addition the Hebrew Scriptures  contain laws regarding punishment for the one who kills slave as well as injunctions to avoid injuring the eyes and teeth.



Exodus Says” And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continues a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” And   “And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”    Leviticus prohibited enslavingover other Israelites, but  allowed for Gentile slaves.


Sadly, the Christians in American history used certain biblical passages to justify the practice, and did observe the spirit of the biblical laws which saw slaves as fully human and worthy of respect.  Slavery, though acknowledges as a valid societal norm in the bible, and regulated as such, is however totally condemned today throughout the world and especially in the Jewish and Christian tradition as a violation of God’s will, even though sanctioned in their scriptures.



The laws of marriage and divorce changed many times in the Bible.  Moses provided for the possibility of a man divorcing his wife, in certain circumstances.  It was not an easy matter, because in the Hebrew Scriptures, as in the New Testament, marriage is a covenant, reflective of the unbreakable covenant between God and the People of God.  In the centuries before Jesus there was a disagreement over how to interpret the biblical Law in this regard.  The School of Hillel was relatively lenient, giving fairly wide reasons for divorce.  The School of Shammai interpreted the Law more strictly, rendering it next to impossible.   Jesus, when asked, sided with the Pharisaic school of Shammai in this instance, and went a bit beyond even their strictness, making it next to impossible.   Many Christian and Jewish groups today allow for divorce and remarriage.  The Catholic Church allows for divorce when the married couple cannot reasonably live together, but does not allow for remarriage.  It views the covenant between man and wife as a symbol and sign of the unbreakable covenant between God and the People of God.  This would make remarriage technically adultery, which is not condoned by any branch of Judaism or Christianity.


Polygamy has its own history.  Jewish tradition has never banned polygamy outright, because it was practiced by the Patriarchs.  Technically, it has not been banned outright, but banned “temporarily,” i.e. for the next millennium (depending on the interpretation).   Up to the 1940’s some Jewish groups, such as the Jews of Yemen, continued to practice polygamy.  When they migrated to the new Jewish state of Israel, its high court ruled that those who had brought more than one wife could keep them, but marry no others, nor were their sons to be allowed to marry more than one wife.   On the Christian side, when the Mormons accepted and encouraged polygamy they like the Jews had to look no further than the biblical patriarchs and kings.  Abraham had plural wives, as did King David and King Solomon supposedly had 7000 wives. But by the time of Jesus and earlier, reflected in the later strata of the bible, the ideal was no longer polygamy but monogamy.  The Bible in Genesis says that God’s original intention was for one man to be married to only one woman: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.”    .



The first  record in the Bible of animal sacrifices was at the gate of the Garden of Eden.” In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor, suggests that this offering of sacrifices was a recurring event. It is actually implied in Genesis 3:21 where it says, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The clothing of skins with which God covered Adam and Eve presumably came from animals that were killed.

Why did the Lord look with favor on Abel’s sacrifice and did not look with favor on Cain’s offering? It was because the sacrifice of “the firstborn of his flock” carried a symbolism certainly known and understood by both Cain and Abel. It was an acted out prophecy of a coming Savior who would give His life to save the human race.

Offerings of clean animals were offered by Noah after the flood when the ark came to rest on the top of Mt. Ararat  Later Abraham built altars and offered sacrifices in the land of Canaan ( ).When Israel escaped from their slavery in Egypt, they came to Mt. Sinai. There God gave them instructions to build a tent tabernacle they would carry as a portable meeting place while they were on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan. This tent tabernacle and its services were designed to give Israel an object lesson of the plan of salvation God had put in place “before the creation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20.)  Such stories reflect and provide a sacred history for the practice of animal sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem.
In the Christian understanding of salvation God sent His Son to be born into the human race, to live a perfect life and then die on the cross as a sacrifice in expiation for the sins of all humanity. His sacrifice, Christians believe, was foretold by the slaying of lambs and other animals in the tabernacle services. Each morning and each evening a lamb was killed on the altar of burnt offerings. In the springtime at the Passover celebration, the Passover lamb was killed.  The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach, from which Christians derive the word, “Paschal,” seeing Jesus as the Paschal lamb the blood of which daubed on the doorways of the Jews in Egypt saved them from the angel of death who came to kill all of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, a divine show of force to convince the Pharaoh to let God’s people go out of slavery and into the Land promised to them by God.  Jews who could, in Jesus’ time, would go to Jerusalem to sacrifice a lamb in the temple and to consume with the Passover meal.  The Synoptics set the Last Supper as a Passover meal and this as the reason Jesus went into Jerusalem:  to celebrate there the Passover and consume the Pesach/Paschal lamb.
John the Baptist as a Jew understood this symbolism. When He saw Jesus passing by he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Paul understood the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ similarly, for he said, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”


When the Temple was destroyed in 70 of the Common Era Christians, who according to the book of Acts continued to offer sacrifices in the Temple after the resurrection of Jesus, like Jews, no longer had a place in which to offer the prescribed sacrifices.  Christians, as we saw, believe Jesus’ sacrifice more than compensates for the inability to continue offering sacrifices in the Temple.  Rabbinic Judaism believes study of the law, prayer and good deeds compensate, making the righteousness of one’s life a fitting sacrifice to the God of Israel.




The Bible specifically prohibits homosexuality in  a couple of places.  However,  unlike adultery, which is included in the Ten Commandments, homosexuality is no included int eh biblical summaries of the most serious covenant-breaching sins And there are no stories about homosexuality parallel to those in which the sin of adultery, for example David’s with Bathsheba, cause serious problems for the People of Israel, incurring the righteous anger of the God of Israel.


St. Paul, in a later time  likely reflecs a growing abhorrence of Greek and Roman practice with regard to sexual relations with young boys, thoroughly condemned the practice.   The Romans and the Greeks did not condemn homosexuality.  Paul’s references to homosexual acts were not particularly controversial to early Christians who knew that the holiness code of Leviticus forbade homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13). Paul was reaffirming that which was held by faithful Jews and early Christians. We have no evidence that there was a movement afoot in Corinth to press for wider acceptance of same-sex activity. Paul does not single out homosexuality but refers to it within a list of other acts that were accepted as idolatrous but were now to be left behind by those who had chosen Jesus. So, although Paul might not be considered homophobic in the way we today would understand the term, he was clearly against any form of homosexual activity.


Jesus of Nazareth did not condemn homosexuality.  St. Augustine was a practicing homosexual for a year and likely had a lover, but turned vehemently against it.

Capital Punishment. Leviticus  20:2–27 provides a list of transgressions in which execution is recommended. Christian positions on these passages vary.  In the New Testament.  Jesus uses the example of those who killed the king’s son.. The king in turn retaliated by killing the guests who did not attend the wedding feast. Indeed Jesus Death and Resurrection would not have taken place because he would have been sent to prison had there been no capital punishment.   Rabbinic tradition, interpreting the biblical laws for new times and with new insights, gradually made capital punishment harder and harder to enforce, so that by the time the Talmud was set down, it was in effect practically impossible.  The Jewish State of Israel, though it considers itself, understandably, as besieged by enemies, has condemned only one person to death, making capital punishment, while possible, in practice not a real option.  That person, of course, was the man in the glass booth, a chief perpetrator of the Holocaust.  Most Christian countries of Europe today no longer practice capital punishment.  It is a strong position of most  Christian Denominiations that capital punishment should be banned everywhere.



It seems to have been a practice in some parts of the ancient world until a shift was indicated by Ezekiel.  Once, God’s will seemed to indicate that the sins of the fathers could be passed on to the children.  While we notice parental traits being passed from one generation  to the next and in family lines indeed, God speaking through Ezekiel, indicated that henceforth each human would be judged on his own actions rather than those of his father.   What seems to have been acceptable earlier in biblical times was no longer so after Ezekiel.



The prophets, spokesmen for God evolved.   God evolved from a God of power to a God of love.


“But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.  Then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.  And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you.   your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.


There are only three cases in which the lex talionis is referred to.  In each, it is meant to restrict people’s urge for vengeance to a more just sense of retributive justice.  In context, the ancient saying, common in the societies around Israel, is appealed to, but most scholars would agree was not to be taken literally, but rather meant to show the seriousness of the matter at hand, as for example when two men are fighting and they harm a pregnant woman.  If the child within her survives, then there is a monetary compensation for the harm done to her.  If the child dies, then the matter is much more serious, akin in fact to murder of the child, so a more severe punishment is exacted.  It is not however a literal “eye for an eye,” of course, since neither of the men could be pregnant, so a literal interpretation of the dictum would be impossible.

Jesus likewise uses the phrase more symbolically than literally, to make a deeper point.  “You have heard that it was said,  ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’   But I say to you,  do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.   And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,  let him have your cloak as well.   And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.   Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”  Responding to evil with goodness is attested in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  Taken seriously, it would lead to a life of what we would today call pacifism, as indeed many of the first Christians so understood it.  The early Christian practice of non-violence, however, gave way to the theory of justifiable war when Christianity gained power in the Roman Empire.






Drunkenness is condemned but wine is extolled throughout the Bible.   Alcoholic beverages appear in biblical literature, from Noah planting a vineyard and becoming inebriated in the Hebrew Bible, to Jesus in the New Testament miraculously making copious amounts of wine  at the marriage at Cana and later incorporating wine as part of the Eucharist. Wine is the most common alcoholic beverage mentioned in biblical literature, where it is a source of symbolism, ] and was an important part of daily life in biblical times.  Additionally, the inhabitants of ancient Israel drank beer, and wines made from fruits other than grapes, and references to these appear in scripture


Biblical literature displays ambivalence toward intoxicating drinks, considering them both a blessing from God that brings joy and merriment and potentially dangerous beverages that can be sinfully abused. The relationships between Judaism and alcohol and Christianity and alcohol have generally maintained this same tension, though Christianity saw a number of its adherents, particularly around the time of Prohibition, rejecting alcohol as evil. The original versions of the books of the Bible use several different words for alcoholic beverages: at least    in Hebrew, and five in Greek. Drunkenness is discouraged and not infrequently portrayed, and some biblical persons abstained from alcohol. Alcohol is used symbolically, in both positive and negative terms. Its consumption is prescribed for religious rites or medicinal uses in some places.



The Bible neither supports nor opposes abortion or birth control. The issue arises as a serious one only with the advent of modern medicine.  Abortion is not mentioned as such in the Bible.



The first is that God’s Law, its understanding and application, changed and evolved over the course of time in which the Scriptures were written, and that rabbinic and Christian traditions have changed over the centuries as well as new questions have arisen and new situations needed to be faced.  Changing specifics has often proven the best way of adhering to the substance and spirit of a given law.  Animal sacrifice,  divorce, polygamy, and so on are just some examples.  The second is that people do change their minds about what they think, often in response to changing scientific knowledge or public demands.  The Bible is and will always remain a major source of justification and righteousness.   But if we believe God’s will is also written in our hearts and enough people thinks so then perhaps we should reassess and see where we go.  In conclusion,   we do not know but are simply  beginning a discussion.  And again we may revert to another source of God’s knowledge.  What God writes is in our hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31).   And we can try more prayer and more dialogue.


May 24, 2016

Slavery and Religion


Anthony E Gallo

In God We Trust or God Will Determine the Victor?  Did the Union or the Confederacy have God and the Bible on its Side? Does Religion Condemn Slavery?

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!  It ain’t so.

Julia Ward Howe’s majestic and inspiring Battle Hymn of the Republic leads us to believe that God is against slavery.


The Battle Hymn of the Republic

By Julia Ward Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of

Wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible

Swift sword;

His truth is marching on.


Glory, glory! Hallelujah!

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling


They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and


I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring


His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel;

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall


Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.”

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call


He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement


Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant,

My feet!

Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the


With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe explicitly infers that the Bible and Jesus of Nazareth were on the side of abolition.   Nothing could be further from the truth.    Neither Christianity nor Judaism nor the Moslem religion opposed slavery.  The entirety of the Judeo-Christian tradition is biblically based.      There was one difference to the slavery we had in the United States?     Slavery was not tinged with racism in either the Bible or the Koran as it was in the institution of American slavery.

The Civil War was a religious war.  Each side claimed God.  The motto of the North was In God We Trust.    The motto of the South was God is the Vindicator.   Each side claimed God.   Both assertions were based on the Bible.   The major issue was slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was the most religious president in American History.   he was also the most biblically knowledgeable.  And he hated and eventually abolished slavery.   But the Bible was no friend.  He had to fight the battle alone.    There are 300 references to slavery in the bible, and few, if any are outright negative.   Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as most other major world religions not only approved but encouraged slavery.   This is in sharp contrast to today’s world where except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do.

Slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves. During the most abominable period of the slave trade (1600-1900), slavery was fueled by the idea that Africans, even children, were better off Christianized under a system of European slavery than left in Africa amid tribal wars, famines and paganism

From Genesis to Hebrews to the Epistles the message is clear that Slavery is condoned as an institution and an undesirable situation for the slaves.  In Geneses Hagar is the Slave Woman who serves as a surrogate mother for Abrahams heir.    We will then visit Exodus, Genesis, Deuteronomy, a Numbers   We then examine the new testament. In this paper we only examine the Judeo Christian tradition.  The Muslim religion is actually not much better.  The harsh treatment of slaves is condemned, but the institution is not condemned.  In fact, Mohamed owned slaves, but treated them kindly which the Koran also encourages.

Some Jewish and Christian apologists will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants.   Many translations of the Bible use the word “servant”, “bondservant”, or “manservant” instead of “slave” to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is.  While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn’t mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and in some instances treated like livestock.

Augustine opposed slavery as did some other church fathers.  But by and large popes for a thousand years supported it.  The illegitimate children of priests were made slaves.  Thomas Aquinas said it was natural. Other popes deemed that Christians could not be slaves, but non- Christians were fair game.   Several popes were involved in the purchase of slaves The prevailing attitude was that men could take care of their own.   Mirroring what Jesus of Nazareth   said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars’ and unto God that which is God!  Translate   that means fend for yourself –  The separation of church and state.   Slavery was presented as part of the human condition.      Slavery was the same as peasant or only of a lower statio

New Testament 

Here are some of the major new testament references to slavery/


Jesus of Nazareth took on the entirety of the religious establishment, drove the money changers out of the Temple, and boldly paid with his life for his claim that he was the Son of God. But he did not condemn slavery.    Here are some examples.

He knowingly accepted the beating of slaves: “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely;t48and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Luke 12:47.

Jesus recognized the class system of master and slave. He believed in the class system “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.” (Matthew 10:24) Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong   Luke 12:47-48 In the following parable, the servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.”

Jesus even cites situations where families can be sold into slavery    Matthew: 18 23-  4 “When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.  Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.

He readily accepts the class system.   Mat13-16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.  “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them


Christianity’s leading architect after Jesus, did not oppose slavery.  Essentially, he agreed with Jesus.  St Paul’s epistles called for slaves to “obey their masters,”

The Epistle to Philemon has become an important text in regards to slavery; it was used by pro-slavery advocates as well as by abolitionists.  In the Epistle, Paul writes that he is returning Onesimus, a fugitive slave, back to his master Philemon.  However, Paul also entreats Philemon to regard Onesimus, who he says he views as a son, not as a slave but as a beloved brother in Christ. Philemon is requested to treat Onesimus as he would treat Paul.  Jesus of Nazareth took on the entirety of Israel’s establishment, but did not condemn slavery.

(Ephesians 6:5) Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.

Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.  (1 Timothy 6:1-2)


In several Pauline epistles, and the First Epistle of Peter, slaves are admonished to obey their masters, “as to the Lord, and not to men However, masters were told to serve their slaves “in the same way” and “even better” as “brothers”, [ to not threaten them as God is their Master as well



St Peter’s letters appear to suggest it was wholly commendable for Christian slaves to suffer at the hands of cruel masters.

The First Epistle of Peter, slaves are admonished to obey their masters, as to the Lord, and not to men;  however masters were told to serve their slaves “in the same way”  and “even better” as “brothers  to not threaten them as God is their Master as well




The Old Testament has nearly 240 references to slavery.  Nearly all are positive toward that institution    Slaves were definitely looked down upon.   We begin with Genesis.    Abraham was a wealthy man and a major slave owner.    Because Sarah was childless, one of his slaves, Hagar was forced to have a child by him.  But that offspring was Ishmael\ the son of the slave woman.  So from the very beginning slavery was considered a lower state and the institution was approved.   Hagar had no alternative but to bear Abraham a child an heir to the Abrahamic fortune.

Here are a few of the other positive references to Abraham and slavery:

  • Abraham, the chosen servant of God, had his bond servants, whose condition was similar to, or worse than, that of our slaves.
  • He considered them as his property, to be bought and sold as any other property which he owned.
  • In Genesis, we are told that God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his bond-servants, “bought with his money,” and that Abraham obeyed God’s commandment on this same day.
  • In Genesis 20, we are told that Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and men servants and women servants, and gave them to Abraham.
  •  In chapter 7, we are told that Abraham possessed sheep and oxen, and he asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she asses, and camels.
  •  Also, in Genesis 26, 14, Isaac is said to have had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great store of servants.
  • In other places in Genesis, they are spoken   as property.
  • Not only was the bond-servant of Abraham considered his property, but the condition of the bond-servant was hereditary.
  • God not only commanded Abraham to circumcise his servants, bought with his money, but also, those born in his house, and those which, at any future time, should be born in his house, or in that of any of his descendants; and in the twenty-third and twenty-seventh verses of the same chapter, we are told that Abraham did circumcise all his male servants, born in his house, on the same day.
  • In chapter of Genesis we are told, that Abraham took three hundred and eighteen trained servants,
  • When Sara, Abraham’s wife, complained to him of the conduct of Hagar, her maid servant, he answered, “thy maid is in thy hand, do to her as it pleases thee showing that she wanted only her husband’s consent to punish Hagar as she pleased. We are then told, that, when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face into the wilderness—there the angel of the Lord found her; but, instead of relieving her distress, and sending her to some free country, he told her to return and submit herself to her mistress.
  •  When Abraham pursued Chederlaomer, the king of Elam, he took his three hundred and eighteen servants, and his three friends, Aner, Eschol and Mamre, and recaptured a large amount of property which had been carried away from Sodom.
  • But when the king of Sodom offered him all the property which he had taken, he refused everything, except what his servants had eaten and the portion of his three friends—answering immediately for himself and his servants, and refusing everything, but reserving the right to his friends to answer for themselves.


  • Abraham was a worshiper of God; he had direct and immediate communication with him. He showed his willingness to obey God’s commands, even in offering his only son a sacrifice to God. He is spoken of by all the sacred writers, as one who was selected, from the whole human race, as the father of the faithful.


  •  God would not have so highly honored him, had he been living in constant and habitual violation of his laws: nor would he have required from him the performance of immaterial ceremonies, or of painful things not required by the moral law, and left him ignorantly to continue to violate his duties to his fellow men. Had our abolition friends been in God’s stead, they would have certainly acted in a very different manner. Is there one of them who will dare to say, he would have done better than God did?


  • But God, instead of teaching Abraham, his chosen servant, that it was immoral to use and buy his slaves, demanded from him the performance of certain things, which required that the relation of master and slave should be kept up, not only during Abraham’s time, but in all future ages.


  • And when the angel of the Lord interfered between Sarai and Hagar, it was to cause the slave to submit to punishment inflicted by her mistress


  • Jacob’s sons sold Joseph, their brother, to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They agreed with each other that they would sell him, when the Ishmaelites were afar off, and before they could have known that the Ishmaelites would buy him; only they knew, that such sales were common in the country at the time


  • The narrative of Joseph’s life in Egypt, shows that the sale of slaves was common there.


Deuteronomy and Numbers also have many references to slavery.

  • Jewish slaves were to be freed after six years according to both Deuteronomy and Exodus.


  • There are also laws regarding punishment for the one who kills the slave as well as injunctions to avoid injuring their eyes and teeth.


  • The betrothal clause seems to have provided an exception to the law of release in Deuteronomy 15:12 (cf. Jeremiah 34:14), in which both male and female Israelite servants were to be given release in the seventh year


  • The penalty if an Israelite engaged in sexual activity with an unredeemed female slave who was betrothed was that of scourging, with Jewish tradition seeing this as only referring to the slave (versus Deuteronomy 22:22, where both parties were stoned, being free persons), as well as the man confessing his guilt and the priest making atonement for his sin.


  • Women captured by Israelite armies could be adopted forcibly as wives, but first they had to have their heads shaved and undergo a period of mourning. However, “If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell her; you must not take advantage of her, since you have already humiliated her.”


 Leviticus and Exodus

In Leviticus   we are told, that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them”—after various provisions of the law, the 39th verse reads as follows, in regard to servitude: “If thy brother that dwells by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, then shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant, but as a hired servant,” &c.—clearly showing that there was a distinction between bond-servant and hired-servant. After providing for the case of a Hebrew servant, verses 44, 45, and 46, of the same law, read as follows: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever.”


Exodus states:    And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continues a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.”    The same chapter provide, that if the servant has lost an eye or a tooth, by a blow from the master, the servant should go free.  Also, that if an ox was known to be vicious and killed a freeman, the ox and his owner were both put to death; but if he gored a bond-servant, the ox should be killed and the master should pay thirty shekels of silver: showing the distinction between bond and freemen.


And about beating slaves.  It says you can beat both male and Exodus female slaves with a rod so hard that as long as they don’t die right away you are cleared of any wrong doing.    When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.


Notice how they can get a male Hebrew slave to become a permanent slave by keeping his wife and children hostage until he says he wants to become a permanent slave.  What kind of family values are these?

Debt slavery.    Sometimes humans were enslaved because they could not pay debts.


  • Like that of the Ancient Near East, the legal systems of the Israelites divided “slaves” into different categories:
  • “In determining who should benefit from their intervention, the legal systems drew two important distinctions: between debt and chattel slaves, and between native and foreign slaves.
  • The authorities intervened first and foremost to protect the former category of each–citizens who had fallen on hard times and had been forced into slavery by debt or famine.


  • Poverty, and more general lack of economic security, compelled some people to enter debt bondage.


  • Furthermore, in the ancient Near East, wives and (non-adult) children were often viewed as property, and were sometimes sold into slavery by the husband/father for financial reasons.Sexual and conjugal slavery

Sexual slavery, or being sold to be a wife, was common in the ancient world. It’s commonly debated whether or not the Old Testament ever condones this

  •  However, throughout the Old Testament, the taking of multiple wives was recorded many times
  •   An Israelite father could sell his unmarried daughters into servitude, with the expectation or understanding that the master or his son would eventually marry her. [
  • It is understood by Jewish and Christian commentators that this referred to the sale of a daughter, who “is not arrived to the age of twelve years and a day, and this through poverty.”