The treatment of slaves (Sir 33:24-33:29)

“Fodder is for a donkey.

A stick is for a donkey.

A burden is for a donkey.

Bread is for a slave.

Discipline is for a slave.

Work is for a slave.

Set your slave to work.

You will find rest.

If you leave his hands idle,

He will seek liberty.

A yoke will bow his neck.

A thong will bow his neck.

A wicked servant should have

Rack and tortures.

Put him to work.

Thus he may not be idle.

Idleness teaches much evil.

Set him to work,

As is fitting for him.

If he does not obey,

Make his fetters heavy.

Do not be overbearing

Toward anybody.

Do nothing unjust.”

Sirach accepts slavery as a fact of life, not to be disputed. This was a common biblical theme, so that the slave owners who cited the Bible could not be faulted. Slaves were slaves, so what? There was no sense of the idea of an equal fellow human being. In fact, it was clear that they should work hard as there was a comparison of a slave to a donkey. Just as the donkey was fed, whipped, and burdened, so too the slave should be fed with bread, disciplined, and worked hard. If your slave worked hard, you could get some restful idleness time for yourself. You should put a yoke and thong around your slave’s neck. If he was bad, you could beat him up. The slave should never be idle because that would lead to evil and his possible escape. If the slave did not obey, he should be punished. However, there was a limit to this brutality. You should not be overbearing or unjust. Of course, it was your decision to evaluate the situation.

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