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?
Prayer changes things,
Imbecile troll on the lose?
Atheism. Without ceasing in 2012.
can't find my pants
Religions has always reflected the values of the present day population, or worse, lagged them. They have not been the "innovators", on the contrary, they changed their point of view only if they would lose ground and become a laughing stock (the sun revolved aroun the Earth etc., and killing the idea men didn't snuff out the ideas).
Maybe religion does more harm than good in the modern world, however back in the old days that was the enlightenment which guided the people by a set of laws and fear of God. Religion helped the human race to advance to the point they could actually realize that there are other alternatives to religious life. But of course without religion, how would they ever come to that point?
Bit short on enlightenment. What exactly do we call a heroine or crack addict if not enslaved? And how about those who feed those disorders? What about hatred or narcism? Eating disorders? Chid abuse? What is the mind of business that all there is is profit, percentages at any cost, not to mention FOR ME? Are we really trying to compare the times of CHRIST to today. A time with no machine for building or harvest? No sewer or shower? No light? The death of JESUS stands alone as to mans plight of HIS time. Was HE a slave? No! But as were all to the executioner. Everyone was under authority of Caesar and the Kings. When JESUS crossed the sea of Galilee HE was getting away from the be-header of John the Baptist HIS mission was yet finished. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, and everybody has to serve somebody. Being human is being enslaved HIS life answered to that, enslaved in all our digressions and thats all mankind!
Uch, so inaccurate. Yes, the Torah (Hebrew Bible) permitted servitude. But according to the Torah and Sages, the servant was treated as good or better than their master! If the master had one meal, it went to the servant. If he had one pillow, by law it had to be given to the servant. Not to mention hurting one's servant, etc. was out of the question (at least in the Torah's text, I can't speak about what went on back then). Leaving this out was a crime by this writer. Do your research
Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things...
† Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
† Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
† Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here are posted by closet Atheists)
† Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
† Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
† Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
† Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
† Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
† No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
† Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
† Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
† Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
† Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
† Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
† Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
† All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
† The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
† Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate!
**Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**
†† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††
Idiot troll on the lose?
Just shut the hell up troll. One thing is being committed to your faith, and another thing is to use your "precious" time to trash other religions. That's why I can't stand some religious nutcases such as yourself.
THIS IS WHY ORGANIZED RELIGION IS ON THE DOWNSIDE ! .......WHEN MORONS LIKE THIS SPILL THERE HATE !
"Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists"
That one is my favorite. :D
do you know what a non sequitur is?
As a Christian, I'm offended by this. In fact, I just reported it as abuse, because that's all it is.
It shouldn't be a surprise that religion plays a huge roll in human enslavement. The very nature of organized religion is to control people, to tell them how, what and when to think. Additionally, it's actually very easy to get the people in line with the dogma. They are thirsty for something that's perceived as "good", because from an early age, they've been taught that they aren't worthy (of whatever, usually the deity's love). So, to keep that control, there is no room for argument or questions about the particular belief system. Also, all other belief systems are illegitimate and considered blasphemous and your deity will punish you if you stray. That's another reason why education always takes a back seat in a theocratic society, the religious powers want to keep power, so the people are sedated with mystical tales of paradise to come later, that is, if you obey the dogma today.
AMEN BUDDY !
Slavery in the U.S. extended well beyond the Civil War, into the twentieth century. The Pulitzer Prize winning book Slavery by Another Name detail this appalling story. Well worth your time.
Jesus was against slavery!!!! Muhammed was a ped.ophile!!
And this Jesus was born to a promiscuous woman. Go figure.
Jesus knew something that many on this board will never get: slavery chains on earth are temporary. The chains of sin and non-belief drag you into an eternity of Hell forever. Many on this board opt for the latter.
Yep, typical stick and carrot approach of most organized religions. "Believe now and you'll be rewarded later. Don't believe now and you'll be punished later. Oh, and give the lord your money because He needs it". Why not get a life now and enjoy everything life has to offer? Don't wait for something mystical because you're likely to be disappointed. Either way, keep your religion to yourself. Nobody wants to hear how your wasting your life away on something that cannot be disproved or even proven.
You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.
Which would you prefer? To be free in this world and be a slave in non existent hell OR to be a slave in this world and free in the non existent hell? I prefer the first and I am sure 99.99% of this world would join me.
TODD..... YOUR LIVING IN YOUR OWN HELL , AND TO THINK IF YOUR A GOOD LITTLE BOY YOU WILL LIVE FOREVER IN SOME MAGIC KINGDOM SOME WERE IN DARK SPACE WERE NOTHING CAN SURVIVE IS SAD ! YOU SEE YOU ARE STILL INSLAVED TO A BOOK WRITTEN BY MAN TO INSLAVE THE WEAK MINDED LIKE YOUR SELF !
Since when did CNN become an anti-slavery organization? Do your friggin job and report NEWS.
Um...slavery's been in the news quite a bit recently.
I love bondage. Maybe religions really is good for something.
CNN Tryin to write an article on religon and have people take them seriously is like Henrich Himler writing an article on the jewish people and expecting the world to take it as fact.......this is nothing but a breeding ground for atheist and liberals to vent.. FACT
Saying FACT at the end of a statement does nothing to increase it's validity.
Wow, you said FACT at the end of your statement, so it must be true. I don't recall seeing the word FACT anywhere in the bible though, does that make the bible fiction?
This is only based on 3 religious beliefs and 2 of them being relatively young, Look at Eastern religions that are 5,000 to 10,000 years old and their beliefs. Their is a reason these ideas have sustained for so long.
People come on here, Jesus Christ has come to the world to free the world from slavery, a spritual slavery and note that the spirit is the main man, not the body. Guys, don't fool yourself, life is spiritual and only can be noted if you try to know about it deligently. Well, i would like to post a verse from the bible and i hope, atleast you would get to question yourself, especialy those who are blaspheming please do not rush to come to conclusion about God for you have not enough knowledge about yourself, let alone God. But, " the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned". (1cor 2:14)
Sorry. Jesus and Paul were both blatant liars.
Epignosis, " the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned".
A quite old and sometimes effective tactic – declaring that those who do not believe your story are 'fools'. Nobody wants to be considered 'dumb' for not seeing the Emperor's new clothes, or a 'bas.tard' for not seeing the Sultan's new turban, or a 'cuckold' for not being able to see the Miller's gold thumb.
Even Joseph Smith used it when he gathered his 'witnesses' to his golden plates. He told them that only those with 'true faith' would be able to 'see' them.
The ancient, primitive Hebrews (and Paul of Tarsus) who originated those Bible stories were quite adept at manipulative mind-games.
Slavery is just one of the problems; the worst crimes has been commited in the name of "GOD." Just Look in History. And it is funny, but it is still going on today; not only by those extremist in the middle east, but by us here in the U.S. all those fanatics are choosing our presidents for their convenients, even though that president is ordering the massacre of inocent people abroad. Just read the news, not our news, bbut outside sources, and you would know wthat I mean; if you already don't know. They care about a fetus (abortion), but they don't care for little kids, adult and elderly people. For them it is more important an unborn person than a very alive one. wake up people!!!!
This was the justice of Umar the Companion of the last Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him, and that was his living statement, “When did you enslave people, and their mothers have given birth to them as free-men!?”
And you believe a ped..file?
All three accepted evil, yet are revered as moral figures. Does this make sense? Did any of these three revered figures condemn child molestation? or torture? Why our civilization wastes so much time on the nonsense of these three 'historic' figures is beyond me.
Christ said, "If any of you offend one of these little ones, it would be better for him that a millstone had been tied around his neck and he be thrown into the sea" sounds like condemnation of child molestation to me. You are willfully ignorant on a subject of which you pretend to have knowledge.
um definitely yes, one of muhammad's wives was 8 when he first got it on with her when she was playing with some dolls...
your pedo-file god impregnated 11 year old Mary.
I must say, I have come across controversial and difficult issues in some CNN articles before, the sorts with which I might disagree, but the disagreement amounted to a difference in opinion or perspective...
But this article outright angers me. Why? Because IT'S NOT EVEN TRUE! The information presented in this article is completely skewed towards the presuppositions and pre-determinations of the author, and a particular school of thought. The evidence has not been truly evaluated.
What am I talking about? Well, I can't say too much for Islam...I know a good deal about Islam and its history, but not enough to comment here. But in the case of Judaism, the author of this article should take a closer look at what's going on in Exodus–Deuteronomy (especially Deut.). Were slaves allowed in ancient Israel? Yes, they were, like every other culture of that time period. Yet, the Hebrew Bible contains UNPRECEDENTED regulations regarding the treatment of slaves, awarding greater rights and protections to slaves than any society ever had before, including the MANDATORY EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES after seven years! Thus, LONG TERM SLAVERY WAS FORBIDDEN in Judaism, as was generational slavery. Never once is slavery depicted in a positive light in the Hebrew Bible.
Christianity, as an offshoot of Judaism in the first place, proceeded in the same vein of thought. Crossan's comments about slavery in the Roman world (also the world of the New Testament of course) are correct. Slavery then was not the sort of slavery we have in mind today. Moreover, while the New Testament (truly enough) never condemns the social construct of slavery outright, the sole purpose of one book of the Bible (the letter of Philemon written by Paul) was to encourage Philemon (a believer) to set his slave (Onesimus) free. There are strong implications that within the church, slavery was not meant to continue. It needs to be said that one should not expect the New Testament to condemn slavery in society at large either–the New Testament speaks only to Christians about how they are supposed to live and operate as a society.
Ultimately, while neither Judaism nor Christianity condemn slavery altogether, both should correctly be viewed as introducing a reforming thread into the societies they governed (i.e. Israel and the church, respectively) that would eventually bring slavery within their respective societies to an end. This article is an embarrassment to journalism and scholarship, and comes close to slander.
The key word in your reply was "governed'. That is what religion is all about. It started as a form of governing people and have nothing to do with a " divine being". It is all bull crap.
@ Jim, Great Points.
Jesus could have been king but refused that authority to teach people crazy subversive things like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". People who abuse authority religious or otherwise, are responsible for the evils in the world, not people who preached "love thy neighbor as thyself" and practiced it.
Um...you need to take some blood pressure meds and then read through this article more carefully. You condemn this article as completely false, and yet you do not point out one thing in the article that you consider untrue. On the contrary, most of what you state as the truth the article ignores is actually the same as what the article said.
The only slander I see here is coming from you calling this article a disgrace to journalism right after you use a lot of the same information cited in the article to try and disprove it.
Strange and irrational rage does not lend itself to reasoned analysis.
My thoughts exactly. A careful reading of the Bible will never lead anyone to think that holding slaves is appropriate.
"Jesus could have been king"
I agree with you Jim. The author needs more historical research and primary sources to Back up his comments. Cnn dropped the ball again.
Religion is a bunch of rich snake oil salesmen and stupid lowlifes.
LMAO ur lack of knowledge and ur commitment to insults and hate shows who u really are. sucks dont it
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.