"Home-born" and "bought with Silver" Categories of Slaves in the Bible and in Greek and Latin Sources

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In this article I examine expressions from the context of the circumcision and Passover laws in Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, which suggest two kinds of slaves: "home-born" and "bought with silver". These expressions, alongside the more common terminology of slavery {Hebrew language presented}, bear witness to the development of chattel slavery and slave trade in the land of Israel by the time these books were composed, and to the existence of precise distinctions between free persons and slaves, and between different kinds of slaves. However, the distinction between home-born and bought slaves was not legal but social. This raises the question of why this pair of expressions was used together in the context in which they appear. This is all the more important because "home-born" and "bought with silver" have perfect equivalents in Greek and Latin, in the translations of the Hebrew Bible as well as in Greek and Roman literary and epigraphic sources, but there is no evidence for such a combination of the two expressions in a legal context. Reviewing and analyzing the evidence for the use of these expressions I suggest that the need to be precise as to who was entitled to eat holy food was behind the exacting phrasing of the circumcision law: not only home-born slaves must be circumcised at the age of eight days, but even slaves purchased when they are much older.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-259
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


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