By John Blake, CNN
Editor’s note: The CNN documentary 'Slavery's Last Stronghold' airs on CNN International TV March 29, 30, 31 and April 22. Check local listings for times.
(CNN) - Which revered religious figure - Moses, Jesus, or the Prophet Mohammad - spoke out boldly and unambiguously against slavery?
Answer: None of them.
One of these men owned slaves, another created laws to regulate - but not ban - slavery. The third’s chief spokesman even ordered slaves to obey their masters, religious scholars say.
Most modern people of faith see slavery as a great evil. Though the three great Western religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – disagree on many matters, most of their contemporary followers condemn slavery.
Yet there was a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims routinely cited the words and deeds of their founders to justify human bondage, scholars say.
At times, religion was deployed more to promote the spread of slavery than to prevent it.
Read about present-day slavery in Mauritania
“The lesson in all this is we need historical humility,” says Daniel C. Peterson, author of “Muhammad, Prophet of God.” “It’s stunning for us to look back now and say, how can people face themselves in the mirror after doing what they did, but they did.”
But what did the founders of the three great Western religions do? Did they have slaves and did they condemn the practice? Or were they, at least on this issue, squarely men of their times?
The answers to these questions are as murky and contradictory as history itself.
What’s a slave?
Part of the problem is historical context. Most contemporary people think of slaves as people condemned to a lifetime of bondage, working on plantations and being whipped like oxen.
That kind of slavery did exist during the lives of Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Mohammad. Many slaves were prisoners of war; concubines, gladiators, laborers in salt mines. They could be killed, raped and discarded at any moment.
Yet there were layers of slavery in the ancient world. Many slaves would be seen today as indentured servants, or people trying to pay off debts; royal bodyguards and entrepreneurs, historians say.
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Sometimes the slaves became masters. In medieval Egypt, Muslim rulers trained and educated slaves to be their bodyguards. One group of slaves grew so powerful that they overthrew the rulers of Egypt and established their own dynasty, says Ali Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Languages and Culture at Harvard University.
“Slavery meant different things in different cultures,” Asani says. “There wasn’t always this sense of powerlessness and oppression. In certain forms, it became an access to power.”
In other forms, it became access to freedom, says John Dominic Crossan, one of world’s leading scholars on the life and times of Jesus.
That was the case in the world of Jesus. The Roman Empire was the dominant power of Jesus’ day, and it survived on the backs of millions of slaves. Yet there was only one mass slave revolt against Rome, which was led by Spartacus, a gladiatorial slave, Crossan says.
The reason there were so few massive slave rebellions against Rome was because some of its slaves had avenues for advancement, dim though they may seem to modern sensibilities.
Slaves could buy their freedom. They ran businesses for their masters or tutored their children. Greek slaves, in particular, were often valued because of their education and culture, he says.
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Roman slavery was cruel and capricious, but not all Romans saw slaves as subhuman.
“One of the most extraordinary aspects of Roman slavery,” says Crossan, author of “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus,” was that the Romans ended up with a huge number of slaves who were smarter than their masters.”
The uncomfortable historical record
It’s been said that great religious figures transcend history. They rise above the peculiar customs of their day to show a new path forward.
It’s a matter of debate if Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Mohammad did that with slavery. All three seemed to either ignore or tolerate some forms of slavery, some scholars say.
The parables of Jesus, for example, were full of references to slaves. Terms like “servants” or “stewards” are what we would call slaves today. Yet Jesus doesn’t seem to make any moral judgments about slavery in his parables, Crossan says.
The subject may have been irrelevant to him or his audience, says Crossan, the Jesus scholar. Jesus didn’t own any slaves. Neither did his disciples or the crowds Jesus addressed. They were all too poor and lived under desperate economic circumstances.
“It may well be that the people he talked to were small farmers who would not have the luxury of slaves,” Crossan says. “He [Jesus] doesn’t say anything for or against it.”
Still, Crossan says that he believes that Jesus would have opposed slavery, given the nature of his teachings. Scholars aren’t so certain about Jesus’ most influential disciple, the Apostle Paul.
The man whose writings make up most of the New Testament had to deal with slavery. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, many slaves joined the church.
At various parts of the New Testament, Paul seems to accept slavery. He tells slaves to obey their masters. At other times, Paul seems to challenge the morality of slavery. In one New Testament letter, Paul intercedes on behalf of a runaway slave and chides the master for calling himself a Christian and holding a slave.
Crossan, along with some other biblical scholars, says there are actually two versions of Paul in the New Testament: the authentic, “radical” Paul who opposed slavery and a “Pseudo-Paul” inserted into the texts by early church leaders who were afraid of antagonizing Rome.
“It’s one thing to say that Jesus is Lord,” Crossan says. “Now if you’re saying a Christian can’t have slaves, then something must be wrong with slaves. So now you’re attacking the Roman system, which is a slave economy.”
Jesus’ apparent silence on slavery and Paul’s ambiguous statements on the issue had dreadful historical consequences. It helped ensure that slavery would survive well into the 19th century in the U.S., some scholars say.
American Christians who owned slaves had a simple but powerful defense in the run-up to the Civil War. The Old and New Testament sanctioned slavery and, since the Bible is infallible, slavery is part of God’s order, says Mark Noll, author “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.”
“The defenders of slavery said Jesus condemned quite a few things that were standard in the Old Testament,” Noll says. “He condemned polygamy, violence, easy divorce, but he never condemned slavery.”
Let my people go, but keep the others
Neither did Moses, the founder of Judaism, say other scholars.
There’s no record of Moses owning slaves, but the Mosaic laws permitted and regulated slavery, says Peterson, the author of “Muhammad, Prophet of God” and a religious scholar at Brigham Young University in Utah.
Still, under Mosaic law, a master was encouraged to free slaves and forgive debts after a certain period of time that was called the year of jubilee, Peterson says.
“They were not trying to create a permanent underclass of slaves that went from parents to child and child and grandchildren,” Peterson says of the ancient Israelites.
But how could ancient Israelites sanction any form of slavery given their exodus from Egyptian captivity? Didn’t their God explicitly condemn slavery when he ordered Moses to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go?”
The text is not clear on that question, says Brannon Wheeler, a religious scholar.
He says the Exodus stories suggest that the God of Israel was angry at Pharaoh not for enslaving a group of people, but for unjustly enslaving the “Chosen People” - the people God had promised to give their own homeland.
“In order to make that promise stick, He [God] has to get them out of Egypt,” says Wheeler, director of the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the United States Naval Academy in Maryland.
“It’s not like He [God] says slavery is bad and I want to abolish it.”
The Prophet Mohammad never explicitly condemned slavery, and actually owned slaves, some scholars say.
Yet he recognized the humanity of slaves, teaching followers that freeing slaves was an act of piety. He allowed slaves to buy their freedom and demanded that they should be treated with love and respect, says Asani, author of “Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry.”
“He himself did own slaves but he treated them as family,” Asani says. “One called Zayd he treated like an adopted son and one of his wives was a Coptic Christian slave.”
The followers of men like the Prophet Mohammad, though, would take a harsher attitude toward slaves.
By the time of the crusades, Christians and Muslims were enslaving one another by the thousands. They cited their faith as justification, says Robert C. Davis, author of “Holy War and Human Bondage.”
“Religion was the defining principle of slavery—this person is another faith and can be enslaved,” Davis says.
Some church leaders preached that enslaving others was an act of evangelism, Davis says.
“One pope said that the justification for slavery was that it was important for spreading the faith,” Davis says. “Once they were enslaved, they would more readily take to Christianity.”
Those kinds of actions may now seem barbaric, but the texts and stories that were used to justify slavery still exist in the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Few, though, would quote those scriptures today, and many don’t even know they exist.
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” says Jonathan Brockopp, a religion professor at Pennsylvania State University. “Religions redefine themselves and people draw on different stories and underplay other stories. This happens constantly.”
It happened with slavery, and, who knows, perhaps it’s happening again in our time. There may be a religious practice accepted today that future generations will look upon and ask the same question we ask about people who enslaved others in the name of God:
How could they?
Religions have been nothing but disgrace and confusion. They promote killing innocent animals for food, their skins etc....wrong.....archaic and cruel. We should NOT kill anything or anyone....until we learn to accept all beings as equal, we will remain a disgraceful race with a limited future...
really?? the human race has been omnivorous for millions of years.... if you are ignorant...don't post!
WOW the religatards are out in force today!!
And by the way, stop saying you believe in God! You do not believe in God.. you believe a narrow-minded dogmatic misinterpretation of a bronze-age collection of fairy-tales! I don't see the merit of this article... who cares what deluded masses think of slavery!
you believe a narrow-minded dogmatic misinterpretation of god.
I beg to differ! My interpretation of God comes through logic and science... not children's stories!
in fact American slavery was about race it was religion they didn’t enslaved the black they enslaved the “pagan”
if the enslaved the black the Moors and Nubians would have been targets not associates but because they prayed to nature and not one of the Abrahamic Gods they were considered pagan and thus inhuman and god gave them the right to use all animals
we Pagans are all sick animallistic barbarian Pagans that need to be controlled, educated or killed
And how has time changed things? Brainwashing people into believing your ridiculous mythology is a form of slavery also. You are slaves to your Church Masters. Quick, revolt and get your brain back if it isn't too late!
BRAVO!! how very true!!!
Islam strongly condemned Slavery and Prophet (Peace be upon him) has companions who were slave earlier. Holy Book strongly refer and condemned slavery is biggest crime. If muslims are still involved in it. They will answer on day of judgement.
Many companions of Prophet (PBUH) were slave and they joined Prophet and later we have high regards in Islam. One example is Bilal (R.A). He was the first companion of Prophet who has given Adhan. We love Bilal (R.A) with high regards.
Islam is vision, and condemned all sort of wrong doings in society.
This article writer has no knowledge of islam, if you need I can email you written proof. Muslims are strcitly prohibited to inolved in slavery. No one in this world can be slave of human being. We all are slave of Almighty.
Jesus (PBUH) and Moses (PBUH) both are prophets and their effort to teach us how to behave, how to live and how to treat people is commendable. Do not ever claim they did not condemned slavery. They did and still people did not listen prophets.
BTW this article lacks knowledge writer still need to go and read about prophets Moses, Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
You forgot two (PBUH)'s. Guess you'll pay for that on your D-day. And for all the other lies, or the truths you're not telling. Of course your holy book forbids you to commit any such things against fellow Muslims, but encourages doing every nasty one can think of to non-believers.
I am not here to criticize any religion. But All Abrahmic religions strcitly condemned slavery.
Quran doesnt specify fellow muslim slave or non muslim slave.
Prophet (PBUH) requested to join many slaves and fight for them. They were not fellow muslim but later they became muslim. See faith no one never know where it can be. But all human being is born from Almighty they path can be different. but Lord is one. We all will have to answer to our deeds. Wether it has been done to fellow muslim or non muslim.
My request to people is here, do not get involve in this article, Jesus (PBUH), Moses (PBUH) and Prophet Mohmmad all condemned. But we followers have problem. we do not listen and follow them properly.
Think yourself, it is their fault, you are not listening to teachings, they sacrificed for us. They taught us to be a human being. And now what we all are doing.
Yes, Followers may be wrong, but not Prophets. They have been sent from Almightly for a purpose and they are innocent. They do not have share in our sins.
I strongly say and proud of All prophets be Jesus (PBUH), Moses (PBUH) and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
I am not your brother.
If SEE EN EN is so interested in controvery, why do they delete posts the don't like? I'm not talking profanity or racial anything, but just a position that is inflamatory. Ok, here's my new post SEE EN EN, so that you won't censor me: I agree with everything you say and all your opinions. Thank you for letting me post.
look back to page #27 for helpful hints with the automatic word filter...
We've told you before to move along.
Daniel posted on Thrusday, March 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm stating, "Evidence please. Feelings are not facts."
Daniel posted responding to my prior poat which stated, "Inside all Life is God and His Godly Beings. Every celestial Life and life-formations are but built-by-the Godly; megaliths of terrestrial creations upon celestial shorelines anywhere within the Cosmos such terra-formed Life can be established. Terrestrialized Civilizations are but die-castings, never able to shed off the death sentence. This terrestrial living we endure will never rationalize our self-worthness in light of emotionalisms' dire infirmities."
Luke 17:21 declares that the Kingdom of God is inside us. Agreed are we in this?
1Cor 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Daniel, I am not an emotionally-driven believer in Godliness. I seek the Truth of wisdom in Biblical scripture(s). I am not driven by Christendom's ongoing fallacies in romancing faultiness. One can either attempt to see things philisophically with mental obedience or one can slip-n-slide upon the shoots of immoralizing emotions.
Do Buddhist enslave people? Are they the only ones that are enlightened?
You know what's worse than slavery being condoned by all the religions? Tebow putting on a Jets uniform. Now I know there truly is no God. He wouldn't have allowed this atrocity to take place. Poor Jets.
Secular teachings have been used to promote slavery too. Just saying.
Yes of course but they don't claim divine knowledge, you would think God would at least mention the fact that is WRONG.
What about HINDUISM and its so called VARNA-CASTE SYSTEM ? the most wretched of all religions and values on earth
There is no more evil than the other, brother. They're all in the same boat! However, at-least Hindus seem to know their religion as mythology and not as the truth, and are dead serious as all 3 Abrahamic religions are.
I am opposed to calling them "western religions". They are all rooted in the near to middle east, and have all in one way or another conquered and thoroughly destroyed every culture that existed in every land west of their own. Lucky Chinese – they had and have their own atrocities, but at least were spared this one.
Just my two cents here, but if all those who believe in a supreme being(s), aren't they themselves slaves to that being? Sent out not only obey their god's wills and laws, but required to "go forth and multiply," as well as convert as many people as they possibly can to the ways of their religion – given to them by their god through the writings and teachings of other members.
These things are all done with the hope of eventually living eternally among their god and having to not want or need anything again. Kind of sounds like we're all some sort of indentured servants that are paying back the debt of our creation and all other "blessings" we receive throughout our mortal lives. If we do those things required of us on this earth – as declared by "our maker" – we are freed of the hard times we've had upon ascension. Really? Is this the only way?
I am NOT a fan in any way at all of slavery of any type. So, I am not fan of organized religion because of the way it propagates religion by damning those of us who do not believe straight to hell (if that even exists). Instead of getting whipped like an ox, we are indoctrinated with fear of eternal damnation. This is my correlation to what we recognize as "slaves" in our world. Do as your told or suffer the consequences.
However, I believe that if I live a good and decent life based on the moral beliefs taught to me by my family – not religion – I certainly will ascend – if that is a possibility when my physical form is dead.
I really wonder if the practices of today's religions are anywhere near what our god's intended to be...
Fine thing for freedom-loving Americans to want to do, eh?
I'm not sure if slave is the right word to describe religious followers. It's more of the fact they aren't blamed for anything. If you commit a crime or whatever sin as a Christian, you just apologize to daddy and he sends you to Heaven. It's become a popular religion for that reason. They have no responsibility.
practices of today's and even in early times religions were NEVER what God (nature) intended to be. Their intentions were clearly to control and make fear, and its been serving its purpose since the very beginning on religions.
God was created because people are afraid of death. They are afraid of the unknown, so they created a God and a paradise to give them comfort. The key is,.. don't fear death! We all go through it. Everything living will die.. it is what it is. Stop fearing death and you won't need a God to comfort you
*hands kilmo a beer* Cheers!
These people are scholars, and they're just reporting. I don't think their intentions were to make religious nuts any more angrier than they generally are. You wanna have an opinion? Go study, study every religion first, so that you can have more intelligent opinion. Slavery was one of the biggest custom in history and even still today, in some parts of the world. Since we have tasted the freedom in modern world, we understand how evil slavery is despite the fact not every master was cruel to their slaves.
And unfortunately, none of the 3 prophets did anything about it since it was so common, almost like a culture. Something to think about hmm?
Many Christians tend to hold their religious beliefs and opinions as superior to everyone else's the same way that a sports fan sees his own team as the best. Nobody would take that fan's opinion very seriously if they admitted to not knowing the stats of the other teams, or never watching another sport being played, or not trying another pass time that doesn't involve sports, but we do have Christians who "know" that being their particular denomination id the only way to be.
Ridiculous and speculative article. We are our own worse enemy and slaves to our misguided pride. Just because each and every issue wasn't addressed by Jesus doesn't mean he was for it. The 2nd greatest commandment was to "Love your neighbor has yourself." Does that sound like Jesus or Paul was giving the green light on slavery. Dr. Martin Luther King was a baptist minister and a preacher. His convictions on the civil rights movement were born from the Word of God so what are you talking about CNN?!
People please don't go towards the other extreme and put down someone's beliefs and become intolerrant yourself. I believe in God, and I'm thankful I live in a country where I can do so without fear and still love people that might not believe either.
Jesus was probably an ok dude, but his followers are horrible.
Depends on who you consider your "neighbor", doesn't it? "Neighbor" doesn't mean everybody, right? If it did, then why didn't they just use the proper word in the first place?
"And if any of your slaves ask you for a deed in writing (for emancipation) give them such a deed; If ye knew any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you…"[24:33]
Koran directed Muslims to not only free their own slaves, also free slaves of non-Muslim believers.
But Mohammed owned slaves until his death. So its really BS to say that Islam was for freeing slaves. Like most everything in Islam there are the empty "nice" teachings and then there is the opposite example in everything that Mohammed actually did. He was a con man, basically. He died rich off the spoils of his banditry and conquest, with nine wives and slaves galore.
Judaism had a better record at least because slavery was not permanent. If someone fell into that condition, they had to be freed in the Jubilee year. It wasnt up to the master.
Yeah today I am spamming because the pages go by quick..
Reality must be wetting himself today as Crossan was the person they went to on the subject
For a more complete view I would offer
or the audio
In Muhammadan Islam, all human beings are the SLAVES/ ABEED of Allah.
The relationship between Allah and Humanity is like that of a Master and his Slaves. It is based on FEAR of Allah and NOT on LOVE.
In the Arabic language even before Muhammad, the word Slave/ Abd was – and still is – associated with BLACK AFRICANS.
The Arabs looked upon the Black people as inferior beings. Muhammadan Islam
and the exegetes of the faith propagated the same image.
Sura Al-i-Imran, 3:106-107 "On the day when some faces will be whitened and some faces will be blackened, say to those whose faces will be blackened, 'Did ye reject faith after accepting it? Taste then the penalty for rejecting faith.' But those whose faces will be whitened, they will be in Allah's mercy: therein to dwell."
Looks like Johnny Blake is way off with his assesment of Islam?!?!?!
I say that we send in Chuck Norris to rip the towel heads a new one... just like he did in Delta Force!
You are just a illiterate as most people who speak about things they have no knowledge of. That quote from the Holy Quraan is referring to people of Heaven and People of Hell. Becahse the Hell-fire will burn people to a blackened color. And the white color refers to light of purity.
Ofcourse you are too ignorant to understand that because you are a Hater! Go and get an education and do everyone who knows you and has to listen to your spew of hate a favor.
do your study bro! Only in muslims Mosque you'll see all colors and race of people.. You never see one type of race in your churches! I arrest my case
Firstly, and for mostly. It's not Muhammadan. We do not worship him. He is a prophet, a messenger. Not God,Allah, or the Son of God, assuming he has one. It is Islam. There are several branches, a minority of which is Muhammadan, a group of people who worship the Prophet, (PBUH), and not Allah. This is wrong, and the Prophet specifically said so.
The faith is based on a healthy dose of both.You must fear ones creator, God himself. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.He can change your life with the word 'Be'. This is why you must fear him. Love, the love being the love that you would love your parents, or Jesus with. Because he graced you with life, a tongue, mouth, arms, body, etc. etc. That is why.
Secondly, Abd does not pertain to a black person. Abd simply means slave. You and your Islamaphobic, racist comment simply assumed that all slaves are black. Not so. There were whites, Spaniards, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and, yes, blacks. But, they were not the majority. When the word 'Abd' is used in a name, or a sentence, it usually means the slave of. For instance, there is a common Muslim name. Abu-Rahman, which literally means Slave of the Merciful, Rahman being one of Allah's 99 holy names.
And, if you looked closely at the quote, YOU put up. You will see. I agree with Abrahammic Faiths. What happens when you burn something? It becomes black, no matter what the original color. Here we go:"'Did ye reject faith after accepting it? Taste then the penalty for rejecting faith."
They were hypocrites. They took the Shahadah, then rejected the faith, for whatefer reason. You will then go to Hell for not believing in the faith. Think. Day of Judgment.
So, you did your research, and I applaud you. But, you did it for the wrong cause, and twisted the words. Nice. Go have fun slandering on someones religion somewhere else my friend! You just got it BACK.
Your hate shall consume you, is that what jesus or Moses would do, Abd means servant, as in servant of God not slave. As for your spin on the black metaphor, Arabs that aren't from Levant i.e. Saudi's etc were dark themselves, dark is historically been used for ignorance and thus the usage. Does spinning the words of a religion you know little about make you a better human being alga?
You do not understandd the teachings of Jesus Christ. His whole message and all his teachings were about being kind to others treating others as you would treat yourself. Jesus did not come to change the ciivic world he came to teach us how to get to the next world. This is another way to try and push your anti-religious anti-life agenda. Yo
You would think that being the son of God would give you some insight of the fact that slavery is wrong don't you think?
and if you don't believe that I'm the son of God (or the lord himself depending on who you ask) then you will go to Hell.
like the christians havent spent centuries pushing their religious point of view on hundreds of cultures
completely wiping out entire cultures in the process
faith is a good thing – religion for the sake of religion is a tool of the weak to force a view onto those they mean to subjugate
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.