1. Among the most horrific aspects of slavery is the inability to escape, to flee from oppression, and seek refuge. Throughout history, to run away meant being hunted down and returned. Some laws prescribed penalties for harboring slaves, and rewards for returning them. The following laws and codes precede the time of Moses, and are among the oldest in human history:
-Code of Ur-Nammu, 2350 BC: “If a slave or slave woman […] ventures beyond the borders of his or her city and a man returns him or her, the slave's master shall weigh and deliver […] shekels of silver to the man who returned the slave."
-Laws of Lipit-Ishtar, 1934 BC: “If a man's female slave or male slave flees within the city, and it is confirmed that the slave dwelled in a man's house for one month, the one who harbored the fugitive slave shall give slave for slave. If he has no slave he shall weigh and deliver fifteen shekels of silver.”
-Laws of Dadusha of Eshnunna, 1800 BC: “If a military governor, a governor of the canal system, or any person in a position of authority seizes a fugitive slave, fugitive slave woman […] and does not lead it to Eshnunna, but detains it in his house and allows more than one month to elapse, the palace shall bring a charge of theft against him.”
2. The following now comes from recent history. In 1793 slave owners in America were allowed to enter other states to recapture their runaway slaves. In 1850, in order to seize an alleged slave, a slaveholder simply had to appear before a commissioner and swear that the runaway was his. All citizens were expected to assist officials. Theodore Parker, a Christian clergymen, called the new law "a hateful statue of kidnappers."
-Article IV of the United States Constitution: “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
-Section 7 of the Fugitive Slave Act: “Any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant... or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant... or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States... and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed."
3. In contrast to such laws, that both required people to return runaway slaves under penalty of law, and allowed slaveowners to hunt after fugitives, often with the use of slave-hunting dogs, Scripture breaks away from such laws:
Deuteronomy 23:15, circa 1500 BC - “If slaves should escape from their masters and take refuge with you, you must not hand them over to their masters. Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them."
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