#1: Anti-Harm Laws. One marked improvement of Israel’s laws over other ANE law codes is the release of injured servants themselves (Exod 21:26-27). When an employer (‘master’) accidentally gouged out the eye or knocked out the tooth of his male or female servant/employee, she was to go free. No bodily abuse of servants was permitted. If any employer’s disciplining his servant resulted in immediate death, that employer (‘master’) himself was to be put to death for murder (Exod 21:20) – unlike other ANE codes. In fact, Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi actually permitted the master to cut off his disobedient slave’s ear (¶282). Typically in ANE law codes, masters—not slaves—were merely financially compensated. The Mosaic law, however, held masters to legal account for their own treatment of their own servants—not simply of another person’s servants.

#2: Anti-Kidnapping Laws. Another unique feature of the Mosaic law was its condemnation of kidnapping a person to sell as a slave—an act punishable by death: ‘He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death’ (Exod 21:16 NASB; cf. Deut 24:7). By contrast, of course, kidnapping is how slavery in the antebellum South got off the ground.

#3: Anti-Return Laws. Unlike the antebellum South, Israel was to offer safe harbor to foreign runaway slaves (Deut 23:15-16)—a marked contrast with the Southern states’ Fugitive Slave Law. Hammurabi’s Code demanded the death penalty for those helping runaway slaves (¶16). In other less-severe cases—in the Lipit-Ishtar (¶12), Eshunna (¶49-50), and Hittite (¶24) laws, fines were exacted for sheltering fugitive slaves. Some claim that this is an improvement. Well, sort of! In these ‘improved’ scenarios, the slave was still just property; the ANE extradition arrangements still required that the slave be returned to his master. And not only this, the slave was going back to the harsh conditions that prompted him to run away in the first place!…

If these three clear laws from Exodus and Deuteronomy had been followed in the American South, then ‘slavery’ would have been a nonissue. What’s more, Israel’s treatment of servants (‘slaves’) was unparalleled in the ANE.” – Excerpts from “Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery?” by Paul Copan in Come Let Us Reason edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig

Speaker, Educator, President of A Clear Lens, Inc. and host of A Clear Lens Podcast. B.Sc., M.Ed. Lives in Las Vegas with his wife, two sons, and dogs.