Servitude (עֲבֹדָה). The servants of the Israelites were slaves, and usually foreigners (1Ch 2:34), who vet were required to be circumcised (comp. Ge 17:23,27). Servants of both sexes were acquired (comp. Mishna, Kiddushin, 1, 2 sq.), sometimes as prisoners of war, whose lives were spared (comp. Nu 31:26 sq.), sometimes by purchase in peace (these were called miknath keseph, "purchased," Judith 4:10; comp. Livy, 41, 6; see Ge 17:23; Ex 21:7; Ex 22:2; Le 25:44; and on their purchase in Abyssinia now, see Russegger, Reis. 1, 156). But foreign servants who had escaped could neither be enslaved nor given up to their masters (De 23:15 sq.). The children of slaves were of course the property of the master (comp. Ge 17:23; Ex 21:4). These were generally considered most faithful (Horace, Ep. 2, 2, 6). At the legal valuation, perhaps an average, thirty silver shekels were given for a servant (Ex 21:32), while a free Israelite was valued at fifty (Le 27:3 sq.). On the price of remarkable servants in Egypt under the Ptolemies, see Josephus (Ant. 12, 4, 9). A moderate price for a Jewish slave was one hundred and twenty drachms (ibid. 12, 2, 3). An Israelite could become by purchase the property of another (Ex 21:2; De 15:12) if he was compelled by poverty to sell himself (Le 25:39), but he could not, according to the law, be treated as a slave, and in any case he obtained his freedom again, without ransom, after six years of service, or in the year of jubilee (Ex 21:2 sq. Le 25:39-40 sq.), if he were not ransomed earlier (ver. 48 sq.). Perhaps the case was different with him who was sold for theft (Ex 22:3). Even this sale was always to an Israelite.(Josephus, Ant. 16, 1, l), though whether to the injured man or to the highest bidder is doubtful (ibid. 4, 8, 27). It seems that hard creditors could sell insolvent debtors or their families (2Ki 4; 2Ki 1; Isa 1; Isa 1; Ne 5:5; Mt 18:25), but perhaps not legally, as sometimes among the Greeks (Becker, Charik. 2, 32). Parents were permitted to sell daughters (Ex 21:7), but the law showed much favor to such servants (ver. 8 sq.), for, though there is difficulty in the statements, it is plain that they were protected against violence (see Hengstenberg, Pentat. 2, 438 sq., whom Kurtz, Mos. Opfer, p. 216, contradicts without reason). It is plain that servants could not have been dispensed with among a people where almost every man was an agriculturist, and where there were few of a lower class to work for hire (yet comp. Le 19:13; De 24:14; Job 7:2; also Josephus, Ant. 4, 8, 38); and, indeed, the ancestors of the Israelites, the nomadic patriarchs, had numbered slaves among their valuable possessions (Ge 12:16; Ge 24:35; Ge 30:43; Ge 32:5). These were very numerous (Ge 14:14), and, in case of need, served as an army for defense (ver. 14 sq.). When a daughter of the family married a stranger, a female servant accompanied her to her new home (Ge 29:24,29). The Mosaic law sought to establish on just principles a permanent relation between master and servant, and conferred many favors on the servants. They not only enjoyed rest from all work every seventh day (Ex 20:10); not only was it forbidden to punish a slave so severely that he should die on the spot (21:20), or to mutilate him (ver. 26 sq.), on penalty, in the former case, of suffering punishment (not death, perhaps, as the rabbins say; comp. Koran, 2, 179); in the latter, of the freedom of the slave (less protection than this was given to the Greek and Roman slaves; see Becker, Charik. 2, 48; Röm. Alter. 2, 1, 58 sq.); not only were they to be admitted to certain festivals (De 12:12,18; De 16:11,14, comp. Athen. 14, 639; Buttmann, Myth. 2, 52 sq.), but every slave of Hebrew descent obtained his freedom after six years' servitude (Ex 21:2 sq.; De 15:12; comp. Josephus, Ant. 16, 1, 1; including females, De 15:12); yet without wife or child, if these had come to him in the house of his master (Ex 21:3 sq.); and the year of jubilee emancipated all slaves of Hebrew descent (Le 25:41; Jer 34:8 sq.; comp. Josephus, Ant. 3, 12, 3). If a slave would not make use of the legal freedom granted him in the seventh year, but wished to remain in his master's house, then he was led to the judge, and his ear was bored (Ex 21:6; De 15:17. So the bored ears among other nations were a proof of servitude — as the Arabians [Petron, Satir. 102], the Lydians, Indians, and Persians [Xenoph. Anab. 3, 1, 31; Plutarch, Sympos. 2, 1, 4];. yet comp. Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 2, 70 sq., and on the symbolic customs at manumission by the Romans, see Becker, Rom. Alter 2, 1, 66 sq. Plautus [Poen. 5, 2, 21] shows that the wearing of earrings was a mark of a slave). There is no other kind of manumission mentioned in the Old Test. (see Mishna, Maas. Sheni, 5, 14). It was at least allowed to slaves of Israelitish descent to acquire some property (Le 25:49; comp. Arvieux, 4, 3 sq.); and though, on the whole, the servants were required to labor diligently (Job 7:2; Sir. 33, 26, 28), and the masters required attention and obedience in service (Ps 123:2), inflicting corporal punishment when necessary (Pr 29:19,21; Sir. 23, 10; 33, 10), yet the lot of Israelitish servants seems to have been more tolerable than that of those in Rome (Becker, Gallus, 1, 128 sq.) and of the modern slaves in the East; yet the tatter, even among the Turks, are not treated so inhumanely as is often thought (comp. Arvieux, 3, 385; Burckhardt, Reise durch Arabien u. Nubien, p. 232 sq.; Wellsted, 1, 273, Russegger, 2, 2, 524. On the mild treatment of slaves in ancient India, see Von Bohlen, Indien, 2, 157 sq.). Hebrew slaves sometimes married their masters' daughters (1Ch 2:35; see Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 3, 253 sq.). It was more usual for the masters to give Israelitish slaves as wives to. their sons, by which they acquired the rights of daughters (Ex 21:9; comp. Ge 30:3; Chardin, Voyage, 2, 220). The relation of chief servant, or head of the house, in. whom the master reposed full confidence, may have continued in the more important families from patriarchal times (Ge 24:2; comp. 15:2; 39:2; and for a modern parallel, Arvieux, 4, 30) and slaves seem even to have been employed to educate the sons of the house (παιδαγωγοί, Ga 3:24 sq.; see Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth. 2, 368). The common slaves were required to do field and house work (Lu 17:7 sq.), and, especially the females, to turn the hand mill, and to take off or carry the master's sandals, etc. None but the Essenes, among the Jews, rejected all slavery, as contradicting the natural freedom of men (Philo, Op. 2, 458, etc.; so the Therapeutae, ibid. 2, 482).

It is well known that in war with foreign nations many Jews were sold abroad as slaves (Joe 3:11; Am 1:6,9; Am 1 Macc. 3:41; 2 Macc. 8:11, comp. De 28:68). This happened. especially in the wars with Egypt (Josephus, Ant. 12, 2, 3) and Syria, then with Rome; and after the destruction of Jerusalem ninety-seven thousand Jews fell into the power of the victorious enemy (id. War, 6, 9, 2). The Jewish community at Rome consisted, in great measure, of freed slaves. See, in general, Pignoria, De Servis et eor. ap. Vet. Minister. (Patav. 1694, and often); Mos. Maimon. De Servis et Ancillis (tract. c. vers. et not. Kall, Hafn. 1744); Abicht, De Servor. Hebr. Acquis. atq. Serv. (Lips. 1704); Alting,. Opp. 5, 222 sq,; Mieg, Constitut. Servi Hebr. ex Script. et Rabbin. Collect. (Herborn, 1785); Michaelis, Mos. Rit. 2, 358 sq.; Amn. Bib. Repos. 2d Ser. 11, 302 sq. SEE NETHINIM; SEE SLAVE.

Definition of servitude

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.