Antiquity and Slavery

Antiquity and Slavery


The Influence of Slavery in Christian Thought

Slavery was part of life in the biblical world, and slave women experienced it differently than slave men. Even ancient Israelite and early rabbinic law treated enslaved women differently than enslaved men and enslaved Israelites differently than enslaved foreigners. (See a list of sources on a range of Jewish views concerning slavery.)

The New Testament commanded slaves to obey their masters in all things, and owners sometimes coerced their enslaved women, girls and boys into sex or made them work as prostitutes. Enslaved Christians were therefore burdened with the pain of exploitation compounded by the moral dilemmas posed by the teachings of their church, and although some early Christians spoke out against the sexual exploitation of enslaved persons, their writings don't speak of punishing Christian men for sexually exploiting their slave girls or women. Christian mistresses, sometimes out of jealousy, could also treat their human property with great cruelty.

Feminist Sexual Ethics Project scholars are researching the life circumstances of enslaved women and girls and of slaveholding women in the Bible and in the early centuries of Christianity, a subject to which historians have thus far paid little attention.