The Slave Bible was a powerful tool of propaganda, a mind control device, and a peddler of ‘Mis-information’ once used by British missionaries to convert slaves to Christianity. Such bibles had all “references to freedom and escape from slavery” scrapped, while passages encouraging obedience and submission were reiterated.
The Slave Bible was produced in England in the early 19th century for use in the British West Indies when they were colonies of the British Empire.
According to a Fisk University paper, “Only three copies of this Bible are known to exist”. One copy belongs to Fisk University, and the other two are located in the United Kingdom.
Titled: “Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands“, the Slave Bible was Published by the Law and Gilbert publishing house in London, on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves. It was presented as a tool for education, but its true purpose was to control and manipulate the enslaved African population. By limiting access to knowledge and selectively altering the sacred text, British missionaries and slaveholders aimed to ensure compliance, obedience, and the perpetuation of the institution of slavery.
The alterations made to the ‘Slave Bible’ were calculated to strip away any notions of equality, freedom, and resistance. Verses that could potentially inspire rebellion or challenge the status quo were carefully removed. For instance, Galatians 3:28, which emphasizes the unity of all people in Christ, regardless of social status, was entirely excised. By erasing this powerful message of equality, the oppressors sought to undermine any potential unity among the enslaved.
Conversely, passages endorsing the institution of slavery and emphasizing subservience were deliberately retained. Ephesians 6:5, which instructs servants to be obedient to their masters, was one such verse that reinforced the oppressive hierarchy. By repeatedly exposing enslaved individuals to these passages, the ‘Slave Bible’ aimed to suppress any aspirations for liberation and maintain control over their actions and beliefs.
“Servants , be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Ephesians 6:5.
In an act of further erasure, the ‘Slave Bible’ deliberately omitted sections of the biblical narrative that emphasized liberation and freedom. Notably, the story of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom from bondage was deliberately removed, but the story of Joseph’s enslavement was retained. By eliminating these stories of resistance and deliverance, the oppressors sought to erase any glimmer of hope or inspiration for enslaved individuals to envision a life beyond their current circumstances.
The Christian holy book underwent a complete restructuring, with approximately 90 percent of the Old Testament and 50 percent of the New Testament missing from the Slave Bible. In terms of readable content, while a typical Protestant Bible contains 1,189 chapters, the Slave Bible was reduced to a mere 232 chapters.
The motivation behind the creation of the Slave Bible is still a subject of debate among scholars. Various theories attempt to explain the inspiration behind the deliberate omissions found in this edited version of the standard Protestant Bible. However, many experts concur that the farming communities in the West Indies likely played a significant role in the decision-making process.
These farmers, opposed to the Christian missionaries collaborating with the enslaved African population on their plantations, joined forces with the missionaries to rework the Bible. Their objective was to ensure that enslaved Africans in Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua would not have access to any content that could potentially incite rebellion. By manipulating the biblical text, they aimed to suppress any sentiments of resistance or liberation among the enslaved community.
Also, the Haitian Revolution could have been a motivation for publishing a Bible without the part where Moses tells the Pharoah to “Let my people go.” Missionaries and planters may have thought that Christianity—at least, certain parts of it—would protect against revolutions by teaching enslaved people to respect their earthly masters.
In this context, the British may have thought that teaching enslaved people Biblical lesson about obedience and accepting one’s fate would help them “be better slaves.” said Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the Washington museum.
Today, the ‘Slave Bible’ stands as a somber reminder of the historical injustices perpetrated against the enslaved African population. It serves as a call to examine the complex intersections of religion, power, and oppression and the enduring legacy of systemic racism.