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The Eleventh Commandment: Impale Your Slave With an Awl

Gather round, kiddies, gather round! It’s time for Today’s Bible Lesson!

Today’s Bible Lesson: Slavery is cool! How do I know? Sing it with me: The Bible Tells Me So.

Slavery sanctioned by the Bible? Oh, I’ll get to that. But a bit of background first.

The “Ten Commandments,” never specifically enumerated and labeled specifically as the “Ten Commandments” in the Bible, have been historically identified in various ways throughout history by different groups of Jews and Christians. The Catholics, for instance, cut out the bit about God telling us to not make any graven images. If you’ve ever been inside a Catholic Church and checked out the statues, you know that little editing job turned out handily for them. The whole notion that there’s a distinct place in the Bible where the Ten Commandments are spelled out is just plain hooey.

A lot of people point out Exodus Chapter 20 as one possible place to look for Ten Commandments. They like to stop right at the end of Exodus Chapter 20 because, well, hey, it’s the end of the Chapter, right? The problem is, the original Hebrew Bible didn’t have chapters or verses in it. The chapters and verses of the Bible weren’t introduced until the 13th Century (and no, not by Jesus). Because the chapters were introduced to fit the relatively modern conceptions of the Bible (like the problem of finding a specific reference to Ten Commandments), chapter divisions can’t tell us where the commandment list ends.

This is important because it’s not like God starts commandmenting in the beginning of Exodus Chapter 20 and stops commandmenting at the end of Exodus Chapter 20. No, God is a profligate commandmenter, just keeping right on with His commandments right at the beginning of Exodus Chapter 21 with the words “Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.” That’s a pretty commandmenty phrase if I’ve ever read one. And what’s the very first commandment (the eleventh commandment, we might say) God sets down in his Exodus Chapter 21? Why, a rule on how to morally keep slaves.

Here’s the Eleventh Commandment set out by God on slave-keeping:

1. If you keep a male slave, you have to set him free after six years.

2. If he was married when he came into servitude, then he can take his wife with him.

3. But if he gets married during his six years of slavery, you get to keep the wife in slavery (and the kids, if there are any — bonus!). If the slave protests this and wants to stay married with his wife and all, why then, as master you get to ram an awl through his ear and keep him, the wife, and the kids in slavery for ever!

How cool is that?

Way cool!

Slavery is an awesome thing. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger or anything; it’s not like I made the rule up. The Bible Tells Me So!

21 thoughts on “The Eleventh Commandment: Impale Your Slave With an Awl”

  1. Mark says:

    Not only is Chapter 21 loaded with commandments, but also Chapters 22 and 23. There must be at least 50 Commandments in total. Many of them are completely ignored in today’s society. It makes for an interesting read.

  2. Jim says:

    You’ve got it, Mark. Watch for our upcoming series on the moral values of the Bible. Gitcher Bible lessons here!

  3. DrLaniac says:

    Yeah, well the Old Testament laws are superceded by the new testament for Christians. (

    “In place of the Old Testament law, we are under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) which is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:37-40). If we do these two things, we will be fulfilling all that Christ wants for us to do, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Technically, the Ten Commandments are not even applicable to Christians. However, 9 of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament (all except the command to observe the Sabbath day). Obviously, if we are loving God we won’t be worshipping other gods or worshipping idols. If we are loving our neighbor, we won’t be murdering them, lying to them, committing adultery against them, or coveting what belongs to them. So, we are not under any of the requirements of the Old Testament law. We are to love God and love our neighbors. If we do those two things faithfully, everything else will fall into place.”

    Of course, the whole bit about loving God and loving your neighbor superceding all that other stuff makes it harder to hate gay people and the like. Similarly, those verses about separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) based on whether they fed the poor, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, etc. makes it tough to support the Republican party. That’s why most of the right-wing Christian groups can’t seem to take a moment to get out of the Old Testament. All the recent claptrap about the hurricane taking out a sinful New Orleans is heretical bullcrap that should discredit the speaker from being able to claim their religion is Christianity.

    I’m an ex-Christian. (I don’t believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, either.) I haven’t abandoned my respect for Christian principles, however. In fact, they are what led me to my politics. People need to be aware that not all Christian groups are like the right-wingers. Many Christians take the new testament seriously and devote a large part of their efforts to social services and taking care of those who need help. Lutheran Social Services, for example, doesn’t attract much media attention, but they are very large and very scrupulous and make a big point of being non-proselytizing and culturally sensitive in their work.

    Go ahead and make fun of the religious right. They are cultists of a religion that bears no relationship to Christianity. But don’t just take on all Christians. There’s a great many of them that live in the modern world quite comfortably. My mom, for example, was a psych nurse for 20-some years. She’s now retired and a parish nurse. She worked for the Kerry and other Democratic campaigns in the last election. There are plenty more like her. Actual Christians are people progressives should be happy to work with. Real Christian values are in line with progressive values. Make sure you understand the difference.

  4. Jim says:

    Dr. Laniac,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I’m cool with the notion that the Old Testament laws are superceded by the New Testament laws, but it’s crucial that you’ve cited an opinion that is not itself in the Bible, but is a piece of writing that cites particular biblical passages, and not others. There are a number of passages, even in the New Testament, that say exactly the opposite, like Jesus himself: “Not one jot or tittle will by any means disappear from the Law…” Even two of the passages you cite (Matthew 22: 37-40 and 1 John 5:3) don’t actually say that the Old Testament laws are superceded by the New Testament laws.

    My point? First, it is not not clearly biblical that the Old Testament laws are superceded by the New Testament laws. This is, in fact, why many Christians don’t go with that notion: they’re called biblical literalists, and they’re the ones who are screaming up and down about the Ten Commandments, and they’re the ones who are going on about gays and justifying it via Leviticus (Old Testament!). What various sects and segments of Christianity refer to as “real Christianity” (your term) isn’t really about the Bible, but about how different groups choose to selectively read it. And that’s fine, as long as people are going to be honest about it.

    I hope you trust me when I say that I don’t have a problem with all Christians, either. If you’re not a biblical literalist and you’re a Christian, then you won’t have a problem with this post, since it’s really poking at that subset of Christians who go on and on about how we all (including the non-Christians) must follow the moral example, nay the commandments laid out in the Bible — specifically, the Old Testament! My point in this post (and the ones to follow) are: Sweet Holy Jesus’ Bunghole! Have such people read the Bible’s moral commandments?

    There’s nothing in the post that said “I’m speaking of all Christians.” You read into that, and although I understand why you might have felt that way, I hope you understand now that’s clearly not the case. But there is an underlying image problem here, and it’s not for me to fix: If “right-thinking” Christians don’t want to be lumped in with the gay-bashing, proselytizing biblical literalists, they’ve got to speak up and make themselves heard. ‘Cause right now, friend, the literalists have got America by the balls, and they’re screaming in its ear.

  5. Scott says:

    Dr.Laniac & Jim,
    Thanks for these very thoughtful comments. Like Dr. L, I abandoned the notion of faith as an indicator of truth some time ago.
    I too would like to emphasize that all believers should not be lumped in with each other. Believers are not a single collective whole.
    In the West, those who take the time to understand recognize that terrorism from the middle east does not reflect of most Muslims.
    We should also be careful to not think that the radical right, evangelical version of Christianity that has sprouted in N. America is representative of Historical or Worldwide Christianity.
    Many around the world look at the North American version of the church and simply scratch their heads.
    There are many intellectually honest Christians who do not subscribe to the odd right wing notions of this recent upstart that is claiming to be Christianity.

  6. Peregrin Wood says:

    Yes, but where are those Christians here in the United States? They’re remaining silent for the most part, while maniacs like the crowd at Justice Sunday III go on ranting about how they’re going to bury the critics of the church. That’s right – they said they were going to “bury” us.

    What does that make the Religious Right – the new Kruschev?

  7. Scott says:

    Sadly, Peregrin Wood, you are absolutely correct. I think that, at least in Canada and the US, those types of believers are an unvocal minority. This Is why I point out that many (believers and non-believers alike) look at N American religiosity and can do little but wonder.

  8. bgmark says:

    Yes how true if you are to keep the law by word and line by line you should keep it all.

  9. Iroquois Honky says:

    That’s not a Christian way of thinking, bgmark. Christians are not the same as Jews. The apostle Paul established that Christians are not required to follow Jewish food laws or the circumcision laws. Jesus himself broke laws about gathering food on the sabbath and working on the sabbaoth when he healed a man with a cripple arm. Jesus said the two laws are to 1)love god and 2)love your neighbor as yourself. On these two laws are based all of the laws and prophets.

    If someone says they understand Daniel’s prophecy, I don’t believe them.

  10. Jim says:

    Which is why American Christian fundamentalists talk all the time about the 2 Commandments, and not the “10” Commandments grabbed selectively from Exodus.


  11. The Animist says:

    So the whole speaking in tounges thing-Does that mean that any multi-lingual person has been blessed?

  12. DD says:

    As is typical for anti-Christian bigots you aren’t telling the whole truth. The passage says that the slave loves his master and he prospers as his/her slave so he CHOOSES to stay a slave.

  13. Jim says:

    As is typical for a selective reader, you neglect to mention that the slave has to CHOOSE between gaining freedom but leaving spouse and children behind, and staying with spouse and children but remaining in perpetual bondage.

    You’re right — it’s so bigoted of me to tell people what’s in the Bible. As good Christians know, the Bible should never be read, except for John 3:16!

    But don’t blame me for the problems associated with reading the Bible; these are YOUR God’s commandments.

  14. Ralph says:

    So, if there are just the “Two Commandments” in Christianity now–love God and love your neighbor as yourself (and be honest, who really loves their neighbor that much? But that another point altogether)–then why do you have to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior to get into heaven? Or is that a third commandment? Religion would be SO confusing if anyone took it seriously enough to try to make sense out of it.

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  19. MY Honest opinion says:

    The more and more I read the more I begin to realize that the bible’s only flaw is that is not politically correct by today’s standards. I believe that with the context of the time and who the particular piece of scripture was being written to should be considered. The message is there. I am sorry that it isn’t politically correct by today’s standards but who really expected it to be? I didn’t.

    1. Jim says:

      Yeah, impaling your SLAVE with an AWL is so gosh-darned UN-PC.

  20. Paul Hanover says:

    1. This passage IMPROVES the rights of slaves from other ancient codes and is designed to repress slavery and make stringent laws.
    2.Slaves were to be set free after a certain period of time and during the year of Jubilee, all slaves went free. The point of all this is to be a picture of our slavery to sin, but after God is done with His great work, we go free, i.e. God rested on the seventh day, i.e. God frees the slaves in the seventh year.
    3. Slaves were to be treated completely opposite of modern slavery stories. The law held slavery back by stating that no one was able to force a slave to go back to his master, unlike pre Civil War, and masters couldn’t kill or maim their slaves, unlike pre Civil War. Also, they weren’t living in some pig sty of a shack, they were given food, clothing, shelter, and daily needs. Some times people would purposely sell themselves into slavery to pay a debt. They chose to. It was often much more like a job.
    4. The boring of an awl through the ear is symbolic of both the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts and of Christ being nailed to a tree. It connects both through its imagery, the lamb’s blood, and the Lamb’s blood. He became a servant to God and our sacrifice at the same time.
    5. No, no slave was forced to keep wife and child in slavery. If a person entered slavery by themselves, they were working on the property for six years tops. If a person entered slavery with a wife/kids, he keeps them with him when he leaves. If a person either through punishment, or financial need enters the six, or possibly less, years of slavery without a wife, and he CHOOSES to take a wife and have kids, then that slave CHOOSES to leave freely without the wife he chose, knowing he would eventually have to make the choice to stay or not, or he CHOOSES to stay. It was all a matter of choice, and it’s designed to be less desirable to dissuade people from slavery and concubines. It’s purpose is not to make it look “cool” as some are saying, but to make it seem as what it is, problematic and difficult. However, some did choose to stay, wife or not, with their masters. They wanted to stay on the property and be taken care of instead of going back out and doing a regular job, and buying a house, etc. For some, slavery was actually a better life option than freedom.

    1. Horatio says:

      So, in short, Paul Hanover is saying that the Bible encourages a really good kind of slavery, and really good moral kind of forced mutilation.

      Also, enslaving other people is okay so long as it’s just for a while, right?

      Great religion you’ve got there, Paul.

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