Friday, June 22, 2012

Protections for Slaves in the Code of Alfred (Theonomy Applied)

King Alfred the Great used the Bible as
the basis for protecting slaves, as well as
for protecting individuals from being
kidnapped into slavery.

Alfred the Great (849-901 AD), an English king who ruled from 871-901, implemented in around 890 the Code of Alfred. 

This code bases much of its law on the Old Testament, and includes several protections for slaves. Protections deal with everything from a slave's length of service to personal injury. In addition, the code protected people from being kidnapped into slavery.

A Christian slave's length of service/marriage in slavery

"These are the judgments which you must appoint. If anyone buys a Christian slave 
[or man in bondage], let him be bonded for six years — but the seventh, he must freely be unbought. With such clothes as he went in, with such must he go forth. If he himself had a wife [previously] — she must go out with him. However, if his overlord gave him a wife — she and her bairn [must] go to the overlord. If, however, the bondsman then says, 'I do not wish to go away from my overlord; nor from my wife; nor from my bairn; nor from my goods' — let his overlord then bring him to the door of the church and drill his ear through with an awl, as a sign that he should be a bondsman ever since!" Exodus 21:2-6.

Dealing with maidservants

"Though anyone sells his daughter as a maidservant, let her not at all be a bondswoman like other women. Nor may he sell her to foreigners. But if he who bought her does not respect her — let her go free, [even] among foreigners. If, then, he [her overlord] allows his son to cohabit with her — let him give her marriage-gifts, and see to it that she receives clothes and the dowry which is the value of her maidenhood! Let him give her that! If he do none of these things to her — then she is free." See: Exodus 21:7f.

Personal Injury/Murder

"He who smites his own bondservant or bondswoman — if he or she does not die the same day but still lives for two or three nights — he is not at all so guilty [of death]: for it was his own chattel. However, if he or she die the same day — put the guilt upon him [the overlord]!" See: Exodus 21:20-21

"If anyone smite out the eye of his manservant or his maidservant, so that he makes them one-eyed — for that, he must free them!" See: Exodus 21:26-27.

Kidnapping for enslavement

"He who steals a Freeman and sells him, and it be proved against him, so that he cannot clear himself — let him suffer death!"[1]


[1] All laws cited from Francis Nigel Lee, King Alfred the Great and our Common Law (Brisbane, Australia: Queensland Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 2000), 10, 11. Scripture prooftexts with each law were added by Lee.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 

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