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?
There are two sources that may more or less challenge this assertion. One is in Wikipedia. Type: Slavery Timeline / Slavery and Christianity. Reflecting thoughts would be: How can Europe predating the American Revolution explain Abolition of Slavery without the Catholic Church, which remain the single spiritual bond before the Protestant Revolt? Did you know that Catholic Theologians like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas agree that God did not intend slavery as such in nature before the fall...etc?
The second is the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Abolition of African Slavery in Brazil attests that there are innumerable sources in which the Catholic Church has not remained silent regarding slavery....
Prayer changes things .
~~You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!
Mr. Blake, please try to find someone more mainstream than Crossan next time. He's fringe and we all know it, but he tends to attach himself to the media (self promotion?). Biblical slavery was never chattel in nature (as American slavery was) and not limited to certain races or classes either. Yahweh (the Judeo-Christian God) was constantly looking out for the needs of the oppressed and disenfranchised. The Bible is full of proof of this claim. Given our American experience with slavery, it's hard to imagine what slavery was like in Bible times. At least the article points that out.
Nothing to see here, just another apologist AKA liar for mythological Jesus.
The Greatest Commandment is proven by de 2nd Greatest Commandment which states,"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". The 10 Commandments r 4 kids. If someone abides by this he will seek to abolish slavery in all its forms. If not then a milder form of slavery will eventually wipe it out.
Dear Mr John Blake, When you make the effort to present the facts, pls be fair and present the entire story and not just the parts that you feel would make the article more controversial and hence 'news worthy'.
Which religion am i talking about ?
a) The followers were strongly encouraged and promised great rewards for freeing slaves.
b) Their scriptures clearly state "There is no difference between a black man and a white man , except by the virtue of the good deeds.
c) If the slave bore the child of the master, then the mother and the child were considered to be free.
d) One of slaves named 'Bilal' is held in very high esteem by the modern day followers
e) The scriptures encouraged marrying (and hence freeing) a pious slave rather than a non believing rich woman
f) The most misunderstood, misunderstood religion in the history of the world, with the followers as bad examples
The article is obviously about he three Abrahamic desert blood cults.
He forgot to add "Ali Wassallam" (peace and blessings upon his name). Norwegian atheists have been bombing govt buildings in the name of their Christian culture but maybe that is not enough. It shud be The Prophet Moses the Lawgiver, The Lord Jesus Christ and Blessed Paul the Apostle. lol
Oh you meant Anders Behring Brevik the Norwegian christian crusader that bombed a building and massacred nearly 80 people.
De Church of Norway isnt a Xtian fundamentalist group. In fact, like most Scandinavian Lutheran Churches it has a high proportion of Atheist n Agnostic Xtians. One Swedish poster called himself n these cultural Xtians. The bomber was more interested in defending HIS Xtian culture than Christ.
Moses, Jesus, and "The Prophet Mohamad"?
Mr. Blake, are you afraid of a beheading fatwa?
Civil laws r enforced by government religious rules seek to influence civil law positively. A person who followed the Torah completely will not keep slaves. Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the Mosaic law. However people will be people. Moses regulated divorce n polygamy but kept to 1 wife
According to the big book of Jewish myths, Moises commanded his soldiers to slay non-virgin females and the males.
The soldiers mass r@ped the rest.
ANON I don't particularly like to be told half-truths and fibs about what the Bible did say no matter how brutal it may sound. Now you are paraphrasing with ulterior motives the rules of warfare. So why don't you go back and look at all the rules of war and then you wil see how wrong you are.
Moises can go fck himself with the 10 commandments given by Yahweh the volcano god.
I know you are christohobic but are you so afraid that you are afraid to study the Bible? I am a minister with Agnostic and Anglican parents which is a very liberal background. I was not taught to hate any religion or its exponents or lie to support mine. If you can't be intellectually honest. Bye
Reading the bible, studying comparative religion, history and science is what eventually made me an atheist.
I await the day to see your desert cults reduced to mythology status in a museum.
ANON I study Theology of which comparative religion is part, I study History as my main hobby and I am a civil engineer but I am still a Christian. Understanding the Bible as Jesus Christ said is based on loving your neighbor as yourself, a Mosaic law. The position u've to taken isnt intellecual.
No need to get nasty Anon. The information age will be the end of religion, belief is trending down steadily in the western world.....except in the US. A recent study showed belief to be below 20% in Europe in 25 years.
Anon wrote to closet atheist on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm stating, "Comparative religious studies is what eventually drove me to be an atheist. Teach her to be skeptical of what other adults say, especially the religious."
Does not skepticism lean toward fearfulness when combined with overt social wants and individualized social needs?
Should've wrote skeptical but not to the point of being paranoid of everything.
Take evolution for example because it totally obliterates the Adam and Eve myth.
Fundies are afraid of losing control and that scares the $#it out of them. :D
I C. so are "Fundies" of atheism part and parcel of the gameplans you seem to subject others of religious dissention upon? Pawtry moments of selflessness seems to be one of your systemic virtues. :-)
Prayer changes things .
You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.! . .
I don't understand why such a scholarly and informative article doesn't tell its readers what the religious texts actually SAY, or even give readers a reference as to where they can even FIND them. You can find the actual verses of the most important and most infuential New Tesetament writer in these matters, i.e. Paul of Tarsus, at my http://liberalslikechrist.org/Paulvsall.html .
When one gives up wanting to understand issues pertinent to their social wellnesses, they become as slaves to their own dimliness. As many issues of socialism befall and bewail the people, the nooses of deadness become many a person's accolade. Spiritual socialisms are fast becoming the ladled apathies of governed apologetics. The spiritually governed lean left and right upon many a centrist's values.
Wonder if paying heavy Tax's make of us as good as slaves..? Earlier Slaves were chained by steel chains while present Slaves are chained by Time...! I think we are still being Slaved but with a different means than that of earlier times...
The other day I posted a twit comment. It said basically this: "Teach one's children well their parent's hell and maybe, just maybe your children might stay away from and out of hell's kitchens!"
I don't know how telling people to treat their slaves better can be promoting or condoning slaves. If I ask prisoners to be treated better am I promoting imprisonment which I hate with a passion? The Bible forbids kidnapping into slavery on pain of death. Female slaves must not be sold on to another
Most people forget that prisoners were being used for slave labour in the US as late as the 50's. I don't wish slavery of the kind that happened in the Americas on my worst enemy. Colonialism is another form of slavery still in de US. I wish slavery never existed but a slave mentality is even worse.
Giving rules to an action IS condoning it. I don't know how you can see it any other way. If it is not acceptable, then it should be stated to NOT have slaves. Giving guidelines condones the action itself.
Why didn't your god just tell Moses to write down an 11th commandment – Thou shalt not own another human.
For being all knowing and all powerful it is amazing how the gods of all the major religions are such horrible communicators.
The 2nd Greatest Commandment says love your neighbor as yourself n is de highest Law there is cos u can't prove u obey de Greatest w'out it. All forms of maltreatment r constrained by this law. Like vaccination de milder form of slavery advocated by Moses wud have wipe slavery out.
You seem to be the master at posting many posts and writing many words, yet saying absolutely nothing new. You have said the same thing over and over for months. Even your responses to people say the exact same thing. Stop using cop outs and idioicy and actually address the points made against your assertions.
It is practically because Xtianity is not hard. It is just learning to love your neighbor as yourself to show God that you love Him with all your life because He came to teach u this truth Himself at the cost of His Life. I will defend it with simple words. I hope this will not anger you.
Once again Nii, the same thing over and over. How about you actually answer the points brought against your original post? Or is that to difficult for you to comprehend? Other commandments have absolutely NOTHING to do with the point you brought up, not to mention the article or the counter points to your original post.
TOM TOM technicaal dictionaries please. English dictionaries tell you what it means generally but even there some will tell you its particular meaning in a certain field of study.
That's hilarious, Nii demanding other posters use dictionaries of a specific type.
You don't even know how to write a complete sentence, dingbat.
My Dad was Agnostic but not christo.ph.ob.ic. If your ex brainwashes your daughter she will end up rejecting religion. if you on the other hand push her to choose your religion it wud only seem like u r jealous. Just love her n ur ex as yourself she will learn about other "options" on her own.
I need advice...
I am unmarried and have a 4 year old daughter. She lives with her mother, but I have her 2-3 weekends a month. I'm worried because her mother (my ex) is a devout catholic. I'm trying to figure out a way to introduce my daughter to "other options" without directly undermining the ex... we have a cordial relationship and I would like to keep it that way. I'm honestly scared though, as I know the brainwashing has begun. I'm afraid that, by the time we can have an adult conversation on the topic, it could be too late.
I think you'll find better advice at reddit atheism.
Advice? Try treating any and all children the way(s) you yourself wannabe treated. With dignity and honor are good values to espouse upon little people of youngness.
Comparative religious studies is what eventually drove me to be an atheist.
Teach her to be skeptical of what other adults say, especially the religious.
How about simply taking her to other church services while you have her on weekends. She's 4, she will see there are other ways simply by observing, you don't need to indoctrinate her. BTW did you agree to raise her catholic when you married her mother? If so, you may be teaching your child she doesn't need to keep her promises.
Remember fellow male atheists, never stick your d!ck in crazy unless you're prepared for the consequences.
@ context ~~ We were never married. She knows my position on religion and we've never openly agreed or disagreed on how this would be handled... and I'm guessing we'll need to have an honest talk on that soon. I like the idea of exposing her to other religions, because I do believe that will naturally show the contradictions of religions in general.
@ pipe-dreamer ~~ I truly hope that you're not implying that honor and dignity are lacking due to my non-belief in a god? I think it's been amply demonstrated that there is no correlation between relious belief (or non-belief) and morals.
Anon wrote, " Remember fellow male atheists, never stick your d!ck in crazy unless you're prepared for the consequences"
Anon is hereby awarded 1750 internetz
Nii replied to me stating, "Pipe dreamer you must understand that everyone's religious experience is unique. You have yours and I have mine. When I learnt to love my neighbor as myself it helped me to avoid the extremes of emotion you talk about. I know some people use religion as a crutch but spirituality is my wings."
I do so understand that which you say I "Must". The veiling nature(s) of wanton communicative ectoplasmatic entrails of linguistics are communally endorsed protoplasms spoked toward wanting others to believe in one's self. The adjusted symmetries of spokenness be it verbal or written contains much value or little to be evaluated upon and/or toward.
Atheists suffering from reading comprehension shud understand this. If you love your neighbor as yourself as a choice ( parents do this mostly by instinct to their children) you understand what they say. How can me, being Messianic Jewish, "attack Jews" cos I ask u 2 confirm Mosaic laws with them
Pipe please slow down on your verbosity. I am not an English major! lol
@ Nii,,,, Sorry Nii but you lost me for I can not gain an insightiveness in reading your posting. Sorry,,, :-(
Yep! My first post was a comment not a reply but it posted wrongly. Sorry PIPE.
I am sorrowed with your desire for me to write in a downy sorta way. Such a prospect would mean I have to stop the ebbs and flows of my writing style! I cannot do that Nii! Sorree,,,, :-(
Because the branch is still part of the tree and didn't change. Music is not something that EVOLVED.Evolution: change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift
The branch is part of the tree as a trunk is. Just as humans and monkeys are both animals.
Another Epic Logic Fail.
This is fun, keep them coming!!
The heredical spirals of genetic philosophies are Godly Principalities in pleasentries' conforming monumental momentumns. God and His Godly kinds, do and will forever live upon all celestial based life-forms innerness. WE are but Godly Buildings, our bodies are the Godly Kingdoms as scripture does attest to.
Music has evolved. Definition of 'evolve':evolve verb
develop, progress, advance; mature, grow, expand, spread; alter, change, transform, adapt, metamorphose; transmogrify.
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