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?
Guys all three religions are being scrutinized in this article. One thing about Muslims is that they can't hate the other two religions. Because, they truly "believe" that they are from the same god. Taking cheap shots wont solve your problem or make your religion better. I think only atheist can truly criticize any of these religions assuming they are unbiased. If you believe in one of the three, you can defend your faith without criticizing others.
Yes CNN, your readers clearly know that you have an anti-theology stand. Yea for you once again pointing out the obvious slant. Yawn.
It may be so, but the point is the argument is fair and logic. If you can't argue against it, then you admit it is right ! You can complain about CNN is slant, ok, noted, but you CAN'T say it is wrong. Thanks, for admitting religions are bad throughout history, killing, raping, promoting slaves, all of which you could not refute....
i think its a shame that so many athiests mock god, when the very concept they are mocking is one created by them. instead of looking to god for answers they mock religion. religion is not god. if you want to lean on religion as an excuse to not believe in god then it is on your own ignorance and arrogance that you will fall into. we know nothing of love on this world and we act so proud of being "intelligent". so what. when you are sitting on the bank of a burned out ocean patting yourselves on the back for being so smart it will still be the same. you want proof of god? why? nothing will matter to you. and why would you want proof? you would then HAVE to believe in god, negating free will. So many hard hearts and sarcastic arrogant opinions.
I agree with you that religion and God are different things. However, you are quite uneducated if you think atheists don't believe in God because they don't like religion. Atheists don't believe in God because there is not even one single small shred of evidence anywhere that a God exists.
If you can just claim anything without any evidence, then you also have to equally acknowledge and respect my belief that there are pink unicorns throwing a parade on the dark side of the moon right now.
poor booboo – I hope you get better!
I don't know about proof of god, but I do have proof that religion is just an invention of pure greedy men. Tyhat is the reason why religion adopted slavery, as mentioned in this article, as unrefuted by you, who tried to argue in a different direction ,LOL. If you agree god would not stoop as low as to accept, promote slavery, then clearly, all religion promoting slavery are not from god, for god, but merely invention of greedy men for the purpose of taking advantage of other men. Case close on religion!
why would you require evidence to believe in god? if you had it wouldnt it then negate your freewill to NOT believe in god? do you not realize many many truths cannot be proven? and what evidence would you hold as "proof"? theres nothing that would come your way that would be definitive that couldnt be easily "proved away". to hold true to the fact that god doesnt exist because he cannot be proven, or there is no evidence, is illogical. As many many people talk to god on a daily basis. now if you question that, we will get into semantics, etc. there are many many people who could show you evidence of god all around you. but if you close your eyes in the daytime and believe its night out, how can you be convinced its too dark to see?
"huh".. is that all you have to offer? you have no mind to reason or speak? only ridicule? you arent far from the ultra religious zealots that make fun of people like you for being so lost.. think.. you are the same
How is it ignorant to come up with a decision for yourself based on the evidence presented? I was heavily taught to be a Christian and after taking a moment to analyze what I was being taught and questioning it I took a long hard look around. At quite a cost mind you, I decided it was nonsense through reasoning, analyzing and generally paying attention instead of being ignorant to what's out there in world and in the teachings that totally contradict themselves. I question your definition of ignorance. I didn't base my beliefs off of what was taught but what I observed and found once I stepped out of the sheeps pen.
.. and one last thing. My intention is not to convince or prove anything. I live my life and I know what exists around me. i dont need it fed to me, explained by another human being, or rationaled to my mind. Any blind deaf and dumb person on this earth should be able to commune with god (its called prayer, and prayer on the contrary is not asking god like a genie for wishes to be granted). the only reason one would not be able to understand or communicate with god would be all the blinders they have intalled into their minds along the path to wisdom. they have clouded understanding and have confused wisdom with knowledge. this concept of god that every makes fun of is a concoction by mankind. its such a shame
but you did a comparitive analysis with what you were taught. why not step out of everything? the lobster trap works because the lobster doesnt realize hes in a trap. you obviously think you have been "free" to the truth, but by saying you are "out of the sheep" pen shows you think you were trapped at one point. you werent. perhaps all you did was reason and analyze yourself into another sheep pen. faith is not what you see or can be proven. you understand many things in operation in our lives arent under the jurisdiction of proof.. you know this.. proof only applies to earth anyway.. many many things in space and our universe where our earth based logic and proof falls apart. yet you want to lean on that for your understanding of god?
Well booboo, a couple of things. First off, I am not an atheist (and so lost in your mind). I am more of a gnostic, meaning I seek knowledge. Second, if you don't think referrign to others who do not believe as you do as, :on your own ignorance and arrogance that you will fall into" as ridiculing others, then you have double-standards (as well as very poor grammer). Third, it's hard to present reason and logic to someone who abandons if for "felings" in as rambling a post as yours. Finally, with a screen name like booboo, you set yourself up for ridicule.
you should check your spelling before you rip on someone for grammar. and stop being so defensive, nobody's out to get you. Good luck with life, sounds like you're going to have a rough road ahead with the way you treat people.
booboo, why are you such a bitch today?
So, I made one typo compared to your many grammatical errors and you consider it the same. Also, I wasn't being defensive; I was responding to your comment to me. Please show me where I was being defensive and acting like people are out to get me.
You feel it's okay to write to me, "Good luck with life, sounds like you're going to have a rough road ahead" yet when, after reading your rambling post I wish you good health you write that I am ridiculing you. Again, douible-standards.
Booboo, that is a false argument and a rationalization that all religious use to explain away what is impossible. If you are Christian, then you say that if we had proof of good, then that would remove your free will in believing in god, YET, at the same time Christians believe that god knows the number of your days and has a plan, meaning that you don't have free will because knew all that you would do. You can't have free will and yet be part of a plan that is predetermined. That is delusional thinking. God is imaginary.
Creative 36: A myth? Say what you will my friend it is your God givin choice but it is no myth. To KNOW God's love is more than a factual knowledge it is "experienced" within one. It is an intimit personal relationship, fellowship with God. It is beyond words and it is real. I experience it continually moment by moment in my daily walk. Even in the midst when all hell seems to break loose in my life...I have seen God's work in my life! Prayers answered. But I have seen.
Bob / Zaximus42: I apoligise if I have offended you in any way that was not is not my intend. My only intend is to share the Love of Christ not out of duty but rather from the Love and Life that He has poured into me. I pass no judgement on you or anyone else. I am not pushing God on anyone, that is not my place but rather to share what he has done for me and let God take care of the rest.
Bob: If I could offer any words of hope it would be not to stop seeking Him..It is not a religion that He desires for us to seek but a intimate personal relationship with him. It is not a bunch of do's and dont's! or laws. Satan and the world have worked ther way into the church and the church alot of times gets it wrong in that they preach a message to the lost when the pews are filled with the saved which inturn causes we the believers to walk a time in the wilderness. We walk not knowing our true Idenity in Christ ! What happened to us on the cross! That abundant Life that Christ came for? It is real. It is Christ's Life!I pray if it be your prayer that God will bring someone in your path that will disciple to you. To show you the truth of the Gospel!
See pg 21 for original comments
You are imagining what you want to be real. People need to believe in a god because they are afraid to be alone, they are ignorant of how the universe works and they are afraid of death.
I don't think Jesus condoned slavery but he was teaching His disciples a new way of living, one in which they learned the principles of love and forgiveness. This can be applied in the modern workplace as well: do I fight back when wronged or do I choose to love/forgive? Loving/forgiving is the harder way to behave. The slave holders were acting out of selfishness, wickedness; they were treating their slaves w/no respect, love: in no way following Christ's example: He, the son of God, came to earth as a human being, and not as a king, and allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, abused and then martyred on a cross.
More anti-religion drivel. Mankind is mankind and most every culture, country and peoples have had slavery at one time or another. Some still do. Definitely not saying that is alright. Far from it. Just stating a fact. Pointed, shallow and pointless piece by yet another anti-supreme being zealot. Newsworthy? Bah! Shame on you CNN.
Where was the anti-religion in this article? Did the author write that religions are bad because they condoned some form of slavery at one time or another?
What I read was the fact that what we call slavery toady is not the same as it was back then. I got the message that just because the OT/NT and Koran speak of slavery, it wasn't necessarily a bad thing and could actually have positive results How is that anti-religious?.
So Africans haven't any religions ? They participated. I bet a lot of Atheists helped also.
Moses, his son Muhammad and Jesus should be very proud of the war, genocide and centuries of repression their teachings have created
They deserve the reverence of their followers – practicing witch burning, conducting crusades, blowing up children, firing missiles into residential housing projects – these are the acts of a righteous group – following their teaching's
If I've learned anything in this life – It's that religion is a tool, not a faith
It's that religion is used to subjugate the weak minded – Religion is used to pilfer money and belongings in the name of the king who re-wrote the bible to fill his own coffers in the name of tidings – Religion is used for justifying slavery, stoning and blasphemy ( Religion murders a man for blasphemy, as if murder itself is not blasphemous )
Every religion says one thing, but acts in contradiction to its own teaching
I guess you know better than God. You know everything we need to change the laws of God. That is why everthing is sin such a mess because of arrogant people who think they are better than God himself.
Every single human being is in bondage to something or to someone else, therefore, a slave. The bondage can be to a job, peers, society, ideas, and the list goes one. The question if we are a slave or not has been answered long ago. The relevant question is "What or who is our master?" I rather be a slave of a God like the one from the Bible, who is the only ONE completely FREE in the absolute sense of the word "free", than being a slave to someone else, or to someone's ideas, who is nothing more than another slave like me. Only a God truly free, like Jesus, called the Christ, could say: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." And the TRUTH is not a concept: IT IS A PERSON!
You could still be a slave to somebody's idea of a wonderful God if the effect is still to keep you controlled. Does your faith make you feel "controlled?"
So, if I am a slave to my heroin or meth addiction, should I serve the addiction the way the addiction desires I serve it? Interpretations...all over the map and I believe man is the center of all these arguments...always has been and always will be until our final demise (or the 2nd coming, if that's your cup of tea). It's interesting how many people consider folks in a church as Christians and somehow saved...that they are folks that don't need to be reached...hogwash!!!
How you can write an article about Slavery and Religion, and not mention Hagar?
You can justify just about anything with a Holy Book. As long as the meme is popular enough, and requires people to face hardship to destroy it, even when our species would clearly be better off without it in the future, the masses will follow. And most people to do not possess the brain power to finish a book. Our genes our working against us.
John you seem to have no knowledge in islam , Zaid was a servant of prophet mohammed not a slave. in arabic slave means servant.
When Zaid became a gang member of Islam, Mohammad decided to reward him with an attractive woman. He wanted his beautiful cousin Zainab to marry Zaid but why should she marry an ex-slave? She inquired if she has been asked or ordered by the prophet to marry Zaid. Overconfident Mohammed said, “I am asking you.” – Zainab flatly refused the proposal. Mohammad’s problem is Allah’s problem. It did not take long for Allah to send a message (33.36) and force Zainab to marry Zaid.
two minutes hate. Go.
اروع الموسيقى العربية
The scholars that you consulted appear to be biased in one direction, that being to confirm the premise of the article. I suggest that for a well-rounded article you consult scholars who approach the subject from the Biblical perspective. If you understand the Bible you will realize that the Bible does not promote slavery as we know it in our history. Those in our history who justified slavery using the Bible were misinterpreting it from their own ends.
Good post! In addition, Jesus also elevated women and the less fortunate to a much higher status then was thhe accepted norm for society
That must include all the Founding Fathers who owned slaves and didn't consider freeing them important enough to include in the Const.ition. Hell of a "Christian nation" they established America to be, eh? One based on a "false" version of "true" Christianity.
Jesus may have elevated women, but Paul brought them back to the traditional lower levels, where Christianity kept them until liberal-minded women fought to get their voice in Church.
There are only two kingdoms.... the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan... Nothing inbetween. Each human being belongs to either one of these or is a slave to one of these. You are either God's or Satan's... So in this light, the question of slavery is irrelevant. The real question is... WHO'S SLAVE ARE YOU??? Do you belong to God or Satan? Think it over sincerely... God Bless.
why is grace ignorant? curious? the same could be said about you.. you have nothing but what other people have fed you your whole life.. including your religious preferences.. right now you think grace is ignorant, but its based on what other people have told you. the same reasonings behind why you hate religion.. dont you find that strange?
Quit with the 1,000 year old comparisons. It is 2012 and there is one religion and one only that hasn't changed in 1,000 years and never will. Gee, I wonder what the prominent religion is in Mauritania?
Ofcourse you probably have never met a muslim in your life. Id say the world should end peope's hate, like yours, now. If you actually picked up a book about islam and learned it from a Muslim who actually knows his/her religion, you would realize what a fool you really are. ISLAM is the # 1 growing religion in the world... there is a reason for that! Most people don't have terrorist tendencies or want to do bad. Most people want good.
If you just get your education about Islam on CNN, you will be ignorant forever. There's a reason those Muslims make the news, because they're not Muslims, but criminals who use religion as a playing card.
You should show your face so everyone knows what an Idiot is when they see one.
But I thought the Bible said God is unchanging. You would think his religion would be too.
John 8:34-35 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
Perhaps the Bible allow for temporal slavery to in order to help us understand that as long as we seek a way that is seems right to us, we continue in slavery of our sinful nature. When we accept Gods Commands as True and Right, we become sons of an eternal family.
Are you kidding me? God was okay with slavery so he could make a point about us being sinners?
This is a typical work of CNN or piece of journalism, if that's what you call it, that has not been researched properly and words and phrases are completely used out of context. The author has absolutely no idea what they are talking about when they reference the Bible. If you reference the Bible, you should actually read 1st of all the passages before it and following. Also, when translated to English from the original language of Greek/Hebrew, there are some of the words that have meanings deeper than our basic English. It takes a bit of studying. So, with all of that said. A large part of the time, when the Bible references "slaves," it is actually referring to everyone or to all people and the bondage of sin has on God's creation. Romans 6:5-9 " For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likenesss of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now is we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him."
Moses was God's chosen man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But once they were free physically, they were not free spiritually. That took 40 years of wondering around in the desert. They didn't learn about their freedom the easy way. God gave them everything that they needed, yet they complained. I am not "for" slavery. But I just dislike it when bloggers bash my God and have no idea what they are talking about when they reference the Bible.
Odd, you would think if millions of nomads were walking around in the desert for 40 years, there would be one single piece of evidence (not from the Bible) that indicates that. Weird how there is no evidence of this 40 year trek through the wilderness.
it's not YOUR god, it's everyones. And even god needs to be bashed once in a while
"Say to them, "as I live, 'says the Lord,' just as you have skoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your coprses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey–I will bring them in, and they shall know the land in which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherd for FORTY YEARS in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness until your corpses lie in the wilderness.According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you shall know My opposition." Numbers 14: 28-34
Yes, He is everyone's God. And He loves everyone. But He is my God personally, too. He's my friend but also a Holy God who as from the verses above demands respect. That is what I was referring to.
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.