« AnteriorContinuar »
it was supposed that the conqueror always reserved the power of taking away their lives, if they committed any thing worthy of death; and that he acquired the same power over their children, because they had never been born, if he had not spared the father, and transmitted it when he alienated his slave. Such is the foundation of the absolute power claimed by the orientals over the unhappy persons whom they detained in slavery. It must be granted, that such reasons never can justify the exorbitant power of a slave-holder, or even his right to deprive his fellow creature of his liberty, who has been guilty of no adequate crime. The claims of Israel rested upon different grounds, the positive grant of Jehovah himself, who certainly has a right to dispose of his creatures as he pleases. But among that people, the power of the master was limited by laws, which secured the safety and comfort of the slave, perhaps as much as that condition could possibly admit. Though the Israelitish master had the power of life and death, it has been alleged by some writers that he seldom abused it; for his interest obliged him to preserve his slave, who made a part of his riches. This is the reason of the law, That he should not be punished who had smitten a servant, if he continued alive a day or two after. He is his money, says the lawgiver, to shew that the loss of his property was deemed å sufficient punishment; and it may be presumed, in this case, that the master only intended his correction. But if the slave died under the strokes, it was to be supposed the master had a real design to kill him, for which the law commanded him to be punished. But considerations of interest are too feeble a barrier to resist the impulse of passions, inflamed by the consciousness and exercise of absolute power over a fellow mortal. The wise and benevolent restraints imposed upon a master of slaves, by the law of Moses, clearly prove that he very often abused his power, or was in extreme danger of doing so; for laws are not made for the good, but for the evil doer.
The oriental slave must not presume to look his master in the face; he stands before him with his eyes cast on the ground, or directed to the hand of his master, watching the sign which is to regulate his movements. To this profound reverence and solicitous attention of the bondman in the presence of his owner, the Psalmist alludes, when he describes his feelings and conduct in the presence of his God: “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes,
O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the
eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon a ti
The slaves of the Greeks and Romans were treated with great severity, and very often with the most revolting injustice and cruelty. One of the most common punishments which that wretched class of mankind had to endure from the hands of their merciless lords, was to be whipped through the circus, bearing a gallows or cross; which strongly reminds us of the sufferings to which our blessed Lord was subjected on our account. Despised by the Gentiles, and abhorred by the Jews, as the vilest of malefactors, he was, like one of the meanest slaves, compelled to bear his cross, till he sunk under its weight. His disciples are required to submit to similar treatment for his sake; “ He that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me."
But, though the slaves in the oriental regions were treated with more severity than hired servants, their condition was by no means reckoned so degrading as in modern times, among the civilized nations of the west. The slave master in the east, when he has no son to inherit his wealth, and even when the fortune he has to bequeath is very considerable, frequently gives his daughter to one of his slaves. The wealthy people of Barbary, when they have no children, purchase young slaves, edueate them in their own faith, and sometimes adopt them for their own children. This custom, so strange and unnatural,
* Ps . cxxii, 1, 2.
according to our modes of thinking,' may be traced to a very remote antiquity ; it seemed to have prevailed so early as the days of Abraham, who says of one of his slaves, “One born in mine house is mine heir :" although Lot, his brother's son, resided in his neighbourhood, and he had besides many relations in Mesopotamia. In the courts of eastern monarchs, it is well known, that slaves frequently rise to the highest honours of the state. The greatest men in the Turkish empire are originally slaves, reared and educated in the seraglio. When Maillet was in Egypt, there was an eunuch who had raised three of his slaves to the rank of princes; and he mentions a Bey who exalted five or six of his slaves to the same office with himself. With these facts before us, we have no reason to question the veracity of the inspired writers, who record the extraordinrry advancement of Joseph in the house of Pharaoh, and of Daniel, under the monarch of Babylon. These sudden elevations from the lowest stations in society, from the abject condition of a slave, or the horrors of a dungeon, to the highest and most honourable offices of state, are quite consistent with the established manners and customs of those countries,
ILLUSTRATIONS OF SCRIPTURE FROM THE CONTRACTS AND
COVENANTS OF THE EASTERN NATIONS.
The earliest contracts of which we read in the sacred volume, seem to have been proposed merely in words. Of this kind, for any thing we can discover, was the agreement between Isaac and Abimelech the king of Gerar *. A written instrument was the invention of an age long posterior ; for the first contract of this kind, of which we read in the Scriptures, is in the
Gen. xxvi. 29.
book of Jeremiah, and relates to a purchase of land. The law of Moses prescribes no writing, except in cases of divorce. But though it is presumeable, that written contracts were not introduced till an advanced period of the Jewish history, we are not to suppose that such transactions were nugatory or insecure. The public manner in which they were commonly managed and concluded, and perhaps the general prevalence of simplieity and integrity in the intercourse of life, rendered them in most cases, perfectly safe. In the patriarchal age, and for a long time afterwards, the gate of the city was the place where business was transacted. Abraham purchased his burying-place in the presence of all those that entered in at the gate of Hebron. Hamor and his son Shechem, went to the gate of their city, when they endeavoured to persuade their people to make an alliance with Jacob and his family. The way in which such transactions were managed in those primitive times, is beautifully described in the history of Ruth. Boaz, wishing to prevail with his kinsman, who had the right of redemption, either to perform the part of a kinsman to the wife of his deceased relative, or cede his right to himself, went up to the gate, and sat down there; he then called his relation to sit down, and took some of the elders of the place as witnesses ; after they were all seated, he explained the matter, and obtained the acknowledgement he wanted, with all the formality prescribed by the law, which was to pull off his shoe ; and concluded the business by taking the elders and all the people, who from curiosity or interest had gathered about them, as witnesses of the transaction. We read of no writing on the occasion, yet was the transfer made, and complete security given, by the acknowledged testimony of the elders and people that were present. It was at first reckoned sufficient, if the covenant was made in the presence of all the people; but in process of time, the ceremony of striking hands was introduced at the conclusion of a bargain, which has maintained its ground among the customs of civilized nations down to the present time. To strike hands
with another, was the emblem of agreement among the Greeks under the walls of Troy; for Nestor complains in a public assembly of the chiefs, that the Trojans had violated the engagements which they had sanctioned by libations of wine, and giving their right hands,
Σπονδαι τ' ακρη του, και δεξιαι ης επιτιθμεν. II. b. 2. l. 341. And in another passage, Agamemnon protests that the agreement which the Trojans had ratified by the blood of lambs, libations of wine, and their right hands, could not in any way be set aside *. The Roman faith was plighted in the same way; for in Virgil, when Dido marked from her watch-towers the Trojan fleet setting forward with balanced sails, she exclaimed, is this the honour, the faith, “ En dextra fidesquet." The wise man alludes often to this mode of ratifying a bargain, which shews, it was in general practice among the people : “My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, thou art snared with the words of thy mouth.". Traces of this custom may be discovered in ages long anterior to that in which Solomon flourished; for Job, in his solemn appeal to God from the tribunal of men, thus expresses himself; “ Lay down now, put me in surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me 8?” The covenant which Abraham made with the king of Gerar, was ratified by a present of SEVEN EWE LAMBS. The interesting ceremony is thus described : “ Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves, and Abimelech said to Abraham, what mean these seven ewe lambs, which thou hast set by themselves ? And he said, for these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of
hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well.” This was accompanied with the solemnity of an oath, for it is added, “ Wherefore he called' that place Beershebah, because there they sware both of them. Thus they made a covenant at Beershebah ||." The same form of ratification con* Il. b. 4. 1. 159,
+ Æn. 4, 1, 597. * Prov. vi. 1. see also ch. xvii. 18. and xxü. 26. & Job xvii. 3. | Gen. xxi, 28.