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?
If it wasn't for everyone years ago, drunk and playing games, coming up with these insane stories, there'd be no religion, no racism, no hatred or stupidity that has brought turmoil for the entire world. Believe as you must as to each his/her own, but seriously....get off the high horse of heaven, hell, fairy dust and flying horses, and come down to reality. I wish life never ended and it makes me feel sick to my stomach thinking about it....but as life ends for everything and everyone, you live on through your family and friends and their fond memories. So make a difference while you're around and cherish those close.
Not from the original Reality but well-said.
Big surprise. More reasons to get these religious nuts out of our government and our country
Too bad the "scholar's" didn't bring out the fact that God warned his people that they would go into captivity for their sins and pleaded with them to repent so that this wouldn't happen. You can't blame wars and the killing of millions on religion either since ever since the original sin in the Garden of Eden satan has stirred up this world and "he's" the one putting hatred in the hearts of men, not God. You have to understand the big picture and that it's mankind that wanted to go their own way without God. God is allowing that to show that it will all come to nothing as long as we follow the way of the evil one. God is merciful and will step in before we obliterate ourselves though and save those that accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. There is an awesome wonderful future coming to those that believe and accept Him.
God exists only in your head.
You know you are insane right?
Great post, Vorlon. Amen, God who is love is setting people free of true slavery every day. We need Him not the other way around.
That is some scary delusional stuff.
Did Adam and Even have bellybuttons? seriously.
@MyTake, sshhh , dont spoil it for the rest of us. We can just give a bible to somebody like Vorlon and tell them to run along and behave.
God has instructed me to disregard all information contained in this blog and return to watching Faux News only....Bye Bye
Great to see the state run media is still fanning the flames of hate, salvery and racism. Does anyone find it interesting of the timing for publishing this article? I sure the hell do.
I absolutely agree with you. Coincidental? Maybe. But I think the timing is just all wrong.
You lost me at "state run media" - red flags all over the place with that phrase
The jewish religion had no problem and still has no problem with slavery (for work or s$x). They have been the trade and funding promoters for eons. Their little dirty secret they try desparately to keep secret.
And you are one pathetic and desperate person--
He gags on it.
This is only news to the faithful. Atheists have known this a very long time.
So, there have been several occasions that the bible has been revised to suit changing times. Why not now?
Because it is supposed to be all knowing text, directly from God, and pointing at fallacies scares the conservative religious, especially the literal interpreters. It is a shortcut to pointing out the falsehood of the text as a divine inspired thing, and not another thing of man.
The same thing occurred with out realization that the Earth is not flat, the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, and of course, Evolution and age of the Earth in general.
everyone has gone through slavery in their lives. These goddayum ni66ors don't make me cringe one little bit with their BS about how bad they've had it so hare during 1790-1860. Had it not been for slavery in this country with them for a few years, they would still be trying to push a SQUARE wheel around in AFRICA!!!
Christian I assume?
nobody is doing that.
Nice. And they say racism is dead.
The Bible was originally written to control people
Seems like that's still true
Not true. You imply that the Bible was written all at once as other books, but the bible was not written in the same sense that other books are written. The bible is a compilation of books, written by different authors, in different places around the world, and separated by centuries of time. You are babbling nonsense
A compilation of books written through time with aim of controlling and guiding simpletons.
Totally agree with you.
So you buy a slave from someone to provide food, education, respect, and equality...then you can't be labelled as "owning" a slave. It is setting a slave free. That's what Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H) did. Bilal was a slave and Muhammad gave give one of the greatest honors to say the Call to Prayers.
There should have been more research done before you start writing about what you think is right. Common CCN – You Can Do Better!
Prophet? More like loss!
It actually amuses me when atheists bash Christianity for its moral failings. They generally fail to grasp that the moral codes that they use for this judgement are handed down to them through cultural assimilation from Christianity. The idea that slavery is wrong came from Christian theology. Previous cultures in Europe and the Near East all had slaves, and generally enslaved entire populations of conquered peoples. Pre Christian Rome was 40% slaves, and no one seemd to mind, except the slaves...
Not all Christian societies had slaves nor did all non-Christian societies have slaves but thanks for thinking it was Christians alone who figured things out.
It amuses me when fools miss the point. Even if the moral objection to slavery did originate from later period Christian thinking that doesn't change the fact that Christianity and the Bible condoned and lent support to slavery for thousands of years. Also you are wrong – it was more the Enlightenment period writing and spreading of ideas that helped galvanize opposition to slavery than Christian thinking ever did.
Peter, were you raised in America or Western Europe? Where do you think you get your ideas on morallity? I can't speak to all cultures the world over, but in European cultures slavery declined under Christianity.
Jay, not sure how Christianity supported slavery for thousands of years until the 18th century (that is less than two thousand) Either way, my point was actually to the wider notion by atheists that Christianity is a force of "evil" when there is no logical basis for any moral judgement from a strictly rational perspective. Why is slavery wrong? Well it's immoral to own others. Why? Where do you get the belief that it is wrong? Slavery benefits a culture in many ways, especially when the enslaved are from other less developed cultures.
Yeah, it was the great Christian minds who broke apart the Baptist into the Southern Baptist who supported the idea of slavery. Largest Protestant body in the United States supported and was formed by it's member support for slavery. I not really amazed that a Christian would not know about this or lied about this fact:
"The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a United States-based Christian denomination. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members as of 2010. It is also the second largest Christian body in the United States, after the Catholic Church.
The word Southern in Southern Baptist Convention stems from its having been founded and rooted in the Southern United States. The SBC became a separate denomination in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, following a regional split with northern Baptists over the issues of slavery."
"When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her."
That is patently untrue. Christian ideology has always promoted slavery. It outlines the rules for it entirely in its book. Abolition wasn't even a concept until the Renaissance when Spain first tried to abolish slavery in its colonies in 1542, England in 1574, and it wasn't until the 1700s when abolition really got going.
While it might be worth noting that American Quakers supported abolition, it is important to distinguish that these were members of the Christian faith that were post Protestant reformation and post Renaissance, likely influenced by rational thinkers of their time period, as such were less vocal against slavery until the 1800s.
So no, Christianity does not condemn slavery like you claim it does else the Bible would have been rewritten to omit or explicitly state that slavery is wrong.
Firstly, correlation does not mean causation. Christianity does not condemn slavery or speak against it. The fact that "Christian" nation EVENTUALLY rid their societies of slavery does not mean that Christianity was the cause. Please read me previous post about the Southern Baptist Convention. So attached to the notion of slavery they had to come up with their own sect.
One can indeed have a basis for moral judgements without religion or christianity, based on empathy and shared values across a majority. It's a common theist fallacy that all morals go out the window without God. It doesn't take a supreme moral arbiter to realize that slavery is wrong.
REALLY??? Moses, who freed the slaves and was a slave himself, condoning slavery, what a liberal statement!
Seems like anything conservative don't like it is a liberal statement or liberal press. Does not make any difference if it is true or not!!!
The bible supports slavery ... true fact.
Slavery, so different than conservatives like Carnegie owning his workers? Oh, that's right, he didn't own them, he just didn't pay them a living wage, so that he could build libraries and universities where the rich children could study. Funny how history repeats itself. The workers must have become too "uppity" again!
Slavery in Judaism was indentured servitude as the result of crime or povertry. Jewish law did not allow jails, and a penalty for robbery was indentured servitude of the perpetrator to the victim. Judaism also did not have a poor house or welfare, but if you were poor you could sell yourself into indentured servitude. The indentured servant had to be treated with great respect and be given a room in the house and the indentured servant's children and wife taken care of also. There were many laws that ensured the health and safety of this indentured servent and his family. If the owner hurt the indentured servant, the servent went free. The indentured servant was released regardless at the Jubelee which was every 7 years so the maximumn term limit was seven years. One could argue that this form of "slavery" (really indentured servitude) is far more humane than our current system of jails.
Indentured servitude of Judaism was NOTHING like the slavery of other religions or like the slavery of today. The only similarity is the word as the Hebrew word did not make these important distinctions among types of slavery.
Apologist ... or liar ... the bible CLEARLY states support for slavery ...
IF YOU BELIEVE THIS THEN YOU ARE ADMITTING THAT YOU MUST BELIEVE THE REST OF THE WORD OF GOD. ONE CANNOT PICK AND CHOOSE WHAT TO BELIEVE. IT IS A ALL OR NOTHING SITUATION. I HOPE YOU WILL EVENTUALLY MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE.
TRY READING THE ENTIRE BIBLE BEFORE YOU TRY TO JUSTIFY NOT BELIEVEING IN GOD. YOU DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME!
I have read three different versions and I don't believe. Each version made me less and less likely to believe.
So, I can kill my neighbor if he touches a pig, wears mixed fabrics clothing, didn't marry as a virgin, etc... Really, do you even read that bible thing you keep waving in front of us?
Ha! The Bible = Ancient Fiction
"When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept, all the people shall be subject to forced labor for you. If they refuse and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord delivers it into your hand, take the women, children, the livestock and everything else in the city. You may take these as plunder for yourselves and you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. "
Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.
When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
Actually god gave us free will, which means I can choose and pick what i want to believe. Remember that humans wrote the bible, not God himself. It even states that the they excluded information from the bible as to not offend Rome, who knows what else they changed. You do not have to believe in a specific religion to believe in God, believe whatever you want to believe. I believe in God but i do not believe everything that is in the bible. Some of it couldnt even be translated from the original scripts, so it was just the interpretation of whoever translated it.
Todd in DC.......... Thats the OLd Testiment, dont claim to know something which you obviouslly do not. We obide by the new testiment now.
Tyler Durden............ You to, thats the old testiment! You were allowed to get away with more because you could not be forgiven for sins until after Jesus died on the cross.
Try relying on reality and common sense instead of believing solely on the bible(s) or any other religous books WHICH were written by MEN. The world will be a better place when man quits using various religions to justify bad behavior.
@Chris, the New Testament is just as wacky. Your god is a murderer.
"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."
Let's not forget another entire class of human beings that are systematically forgotten, murdered, and literally thrown out in the trash as another piece of garbage. The mentality that allows and justifies this is exactly the mentality that allowed and justfied slavery, yet one of the only voices that speaks out against it, to the chagrin of so many in our culture including our leaders, is the Church. This article is nonsense.
Slavery in Jesus' time was not like the slavery we've come to know in America. Slavery was often times a volunatry punishment accepted by a person who committed a crime. They could be enslaved for as much as 7 years.... The goal of this practice was to pay for your crime (e.g. being the slave to a person you committed the act against). Jesus taught that nobody should be unusually cruel to their slaves and they should be treated w/ dignity. He also said that they should be set free when the time came. It is important to understand how the defenition of the word has changed from what it meant 2000 years ago.
I wonder where the author actually checked on any of the facts at all. I didn't get half way through without saying, "what the hell," to myself. For example, saying there was only one mass slave uprising against Rome, led by Spartacus. Anyone that actually knows what they're talking about would note that the Spartacus War was better known as, "The 3rd Servile War," because there had been two mass slave uprising before, and there would be several after. The main reason there were so few slave revolts wasn't so much that there were "avenues for advnacement" as there were the threat of cricifixion for runaway slaves, which was very common. But to hear a Christian speak, Jesus was the only person ever to be crucified.
This 24/7 attempt by the Liberal Media to portray religion in a bad light is ludicrous and laughable.
Religion does a good enough job on its own.
Anywhere people are curious enough to search for truth
and shine the light of intellect to reveal the facts that religion is incompatible with logic, reality, and history, then
religion will be revealed for the horrible fraud that it is.
Hold on as hard as you like, but its only a matter of time before we grow out of it completely.
Its not ludicrous and it certainly isn't laughable. Countless millions have died DIRECTLY from religion, Christianity being no exception. The Catholic Church is still telling people in Africa that AIDS is bad, but not as bad as condoms. Slavery, treating women like sub humans, persecutions of all kinds.... which part is laughable?
@jj , ssshhhhhh
God works in mysterious ways that you don't understand
I can't believe anyone really gives a rat's @s$ what religions justify. THEY BELIEVE IN SKY FAIRIES, PEOPLE! These are not rational beings!
I'll believe in sky fairies any day over "rational" people like you who believe in scraping a human fetus out of a womb and shredding it to pieces.
Religion may have it's flaws. But it is still what separates humans from animals (and I include liberals in the animal category).
First of all – we don't know animals aren't religious.
Second- It is our intelligence that separates us from animals.
Religion contradicts and subverts our intelligence, bringing us closer to being the mindless beasts we once were.
says the one making the ignorant, irrational comment...
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.