I suppose an entry about slavery is inline since the Bible’s stance toward it is variously represented by 3 different sources: the Elohist (Ex 21:12-6), the Deuteronomic (Deut 15:12-18), and the Priestly (Lev 25:39-55).
The typical manner in which the slavery contradiction is articulated is to ask if Hebrew slavery was permitted or not—the 2 contradictory texts being Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18, which clearly speak of Hebrew slaves (i.e., to other Hebrews), and and Leviticus 25:39-43, whose stance is somewhat more ambiguous, but nonetheless avoids the term. The text claims the following for a Hebrew that has been sold to another Hebrew.
- you shall not have him work a slave’s work; rather, he shall be like a resident hireling
- he shall work with you until the jubilee year
- he and his family shall go out with him
- you shall not dominate him with harshness
These different treatments for the Hebrew servant, the avoidance of the term slave (‘ebed), and the text’s rationale for why a Hebrew cannot be a slave to another Hebrew—because they are Yahweh’s servants and cannot be sold into slavery since they are Yahweh’s (25:42, 55)—together seem to make a convincing case against the older institution of Hebrew slavery. Through these strokes of the pen, the Priestly writer has abolished it.
There is the flip-side too. Hebrews may have slaves from the non-Israelite population. It is interesting to note that in these cases the slave is treated as a possession that can even be passed down to the next generation (Lev 25:46)! So regardless whether the Torah allows Hebrew slavery (Ex 21:2-4; Deut 12:15-18) or forbids it (Lev 25:39-43), all its traditions seem to allow the Hebrew to terminate his slavery or servitude if so desired after a specific time period: 6 years or the next jubilee year.
The Deuteronomic law (Deut 15:12-18), although also allowing for Hebrew slaves nevertheless contradicts the Elohist version as well by commanding the owner to provide for provisions when the slave is released. We will look at this contradiction more closely when we get to the book of Deuteronomy.