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Another Look at Leviticus and its Early American Interpretation

Below I have arranged the pertinent sections out of order to more clearly define the ethnic basis for chattel bondage from the Old Testament, which, in Plantation America, provided justification for the enslavement of Anglicans by Congregationalists, Catholics by Quakers, and heathens by anyone.

44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you [A]; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. [B]

39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, [B] but fear your God.

The Year of Jubilee

8 “‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. [A]

54 “‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. [B] They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.


A. Temporary residents and people of other nations, who were enslaved were not Israelites and therefore did not fit the modern definition of an inhabitant, who in liberal societies are often construed as having rights.

B. Of those people in bondage, it is clear that only the Israelites are to be spared ruthless treatment, for they are God’s servants.

C. In summation, these certain passages of Leviticus stood as a clear justification for the holding of people of other nations as chattel—with the idea of Jubilee becoming intertwined in the minds of Christian slaves with the Second Coming. The stumbling block for Christians was the extra-ethnic nature of their faith, igniting debates for centuries over the question of holding any Christian in bondage for life. This drove the trade in Irish Catholics and heathens of various races in the 1600s and 1700s and culminated in the ridiculous excusing of holding negroes in bondage for life based on the biblical claim that the descendents of Noah’s disrespectful son, Ham, migrated to Africa and therefore possessed a 5,000 year old inherited guilt, for which they might be justly punished.

So Her Master May Have Her Again

A History of Runaway White Slaves in Plantation America: Part Two

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