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Solomon, Sirach & Isaiah on Antiquity’s Common Plight
© 2023 James LaFond
Modern academia is largely devoted to the belief that there was no slavery in Antiquity, that only Africans held in bondage by modern Europeans might be slaves. The Bible puts the lie to this deception on nearly every page.
“For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, that your children [or servants] might be kept unharmed.”
Solomon 19-6
In the above passage the translation to children or servants is left up to the translator to decide, a reminder that children, through most of civilized Antiquity were economic assets, beasts of burden, and that a father had the right to use unlimited force to maintain obedience. When we see the harsh use of servants throughout history, it should be a reminder that this will generally reflect the use of children by parents as well. That harsh use of the son by the father will encourage even harsher use of the slave by the son become a man.
“Others had refused to receive strangers when they came to them, but these made slaves of guests who were their benefactors.”
Solomon, 19:14
In many other passages in the Old Testament, the fate of the wandering exile suffered by Odysseus, at the mercy of possibly cruel and demeaning hosts is addressed, particularly the fate of the beggar as debtor to his benefactor, his creditor. This, it seems was accepted as the fate of the dispossessed wanderer in the Near East, where in the more heroic and overlapping Homeric sphere the wanderer was granted the status of an especially cursed entertainer, an involuntary minstrel tossed about by the cruel Fates.
Below we see the debt-based system of Antiquity in its full brutality. For the good neighbor who binds himself as “surety” promises to be sold into bondage if the borrower he is seconding defaults on his loan! This was the plight of runaway debtor Thomas Hellier’s father in 1678 England.
From Sirach 29:
16: “A good man will be surety for his neighbor, but a man who has lost his sense of shame will fail him.
15: “Do not forget all the kindness of your surety, for he has given his life for you.” [A recognition that a slave has no right to life, that his master may take it.]
16-17: “A sinner will overthrow the prosperity of his surety, and one who does not feel grateful will abandon his rescuer.
18: “Being Surety has ruined many men who were prosperous, and has shaken them like a wave of the sea; it has driven men of power into exile, and they have wandered among foreign nations…”
It continues in the same Odyssean plight and finally…
28: “These things are hard to bear for a man who has feeling: scolding about lodging and the reproach of the moneylender.”
Such are the lessons proffered On Lending and Borrowing, Home and Hospitality. What follows is the other basis for a slave society, that children are property and that slaves are therefore a kind of step child owned by their economic foster parent.
Sirach 30:
Discipline of Children, Right Attitudes
A sampling will do, for the message is overwhelming.
1: “He who loves his son will whip him often...”
2: “He who disciplines his son will profit by him...”
3-6: This disciplined son is now left behind as an avenger to afflict one’s enemies
7: “He who spoils his son will bind up his wounds…”
8: “A horse that is untamed turns out to be stubborn, and a son unrestrained turns out to be willful.”
9: “Pamper a child and he will frighten you; play with him and he will give you grief.”
10: “Do not laugh with him, lest you have sorrow…”
12: “Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young…”
The eunuch, by definition a slave, is addressed in passages 19-20 as having been sexually maimed: “ an eunuch who embraces a maiden and groans.”
48: 20-21 Jacob is held up as the “redeemed” servant of the Lord. Modern readers should understand that redemption until the late 1800s meant to be economically redeemed from bondage and forced labor, not morally absolved of fault as we now understand the concept.
Below “the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob,” speaks to his people through Isaiah, in metaphor common to every day servile life in Antiquity, for one was a slave or a master, and often both.
The Sufferings of the Servant
1: “Where is your mother’s bill of divorce, with which I put her away?
“Of which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?
“Behold for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was put away.”
5: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and that I was rebellious, I turned not backward.
6: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”
Note that the beard of the patriarch is pulled out when he is dispossessed. The habit of Roman soldiers, gladiators and statesmen of shaving, suggests a shared sense that slaves were bare-faced, as well as naked, in much of antiquity, a symbol of a social status shared with children. What a disgusting rabble of brute beasts were the Biblical patriarchs. Below Zion is addressed as a captive woman who is being set free by God.
Awake to Good Tidings of Redemption
2 “...loose the bonds from your neck.”
Egyptian illustrations depict slaves bound together by the neck, as does an illustration of “Duty Boys” in London from 1619-21.
Below is suggested the common fate of any folk who fail to impose their military will upon an aggressor, exposing Near Eastern Civilization for the gaggle of slave pens it was, rather than the storehouse of abundant community surplus posited by academics, as God speaks to his redeemed servants:
60:17: “I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness.”
Even in redemption their must be slave drivers, if heaven sent.
61: 1: “ proclaim liberty for the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…’
But someone must be enslaved for others to be free to dominate, to enjoy “freedom.”
61:5 “Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your ploughmen and vinedressers…”
Far from the collective grain farming paradise that historians claim of the ancient Near East and for the ancient world in general within its cultivated boundaries, Antiquity was a slave matrix, where one must own others or be owned by others.
‘God of the Ages’
A Fettered Dawn
orphan nation
the gods of boxing
the first boxers
song of the secret gardener
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