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Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair...
God, speaking through Paul the Apostle
Colossians 4:1

The facts being similar—everybody had the idea—our explanation of how Christianity got the idea of slavery shouldn't be different from our explanation of how Christianity got the idea of a God who gives good people happiness in heaven.

Was Christianity new?  Was Christianity unique? Let's talk about slavery. In ancient Mediterranean cultures people could be property. Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Persians, Thracian, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks all owned slaves.

Jews owned slaves. God told them that was OK.
The first Christians owned slaves. God told them owning slaves was OK.

Reasons preview

In this Facts section of POCM I'm not allowed to talk about Reasons. That doesn't mean you can't think about what the facts mean. As you read the facts about ancient Pagan and Christian slavery, think about this question...

Where did Christianity get the idea of slavery?
Pagans had slavery. Pagans had slavery first. Then the Jews had slavery. Then Christianity had slavery. Let me ask you to think about how we are to interpret these facts. These questions are not rhetorical:

Do you think Christianity developed the idea of slavery all on its own? Or did Christianity borrow—absorb—the idea from the culture around it?

If Christianity borrowed the idea of slavery, do you think Christianity borrowed the ideas of, say, God up in heaven, hell, miracles, prophesy, and a magic, walking talking godman? If not, why not?

And if Christianity did come up with the idea of slavery all on its own, how did it do that? I mean, slavery was common then, so the first Christians must have know about slavery. If they knew about slavery, how could they then invent slavery independently?

How is it possible to invent something you already know about?

If Christianity came up with the idea of slavery all on its own, then how do you think the Jews and the Athenians, and the Laconians, and the Argives and the Argolids, and the Ionians, and the Egyptians and the Thracians, and the Macedonians, and the Cretans, and the Latins, and the Etruscans, and the Romans, and the Assyrians, and the Babylonians came up with the idea of slavery? Did they all come up with the idea all on their own?

And if the other groups back then absorbed the idea of slavery from the culture around them, by what criteria is it possible to conclude that Christianity came up with slavery all on its own?


Pagan Slavery
Slavery was so common in the ancient world this is a place POCM's prime directive—just the facts—doesn't work. Ancient slavery is a big subject, supported by thousands of ancient references, and lots of modern scholarship.

I'm guessing you already know ancient Pagans bought and sold and owned people. Rather than repeat a few drops of the ocean of primary evidence, I'll link you to Wiedemann's Greek and Roman Slavery, a well organized sourcebook with 250 pages of slave-related ancient writing. You'll find links to other books at the bottom of this page. I'll blue box just a few ancient sources.

A sourcebook

Greek & Roman Slavery
by Thomas Wiedemann


Here's Herodotus, a Greek, writing about the Persian's capture of the Greek cities in Ionia (aka Turkey) earlier in his fifth century BC. Persia captured the city of Miletus. They made the folks who lived there into slaves.

You had to figure this was going to happen. The God Apollo had prophesied it exactly, though his oracle at Delphi.

6.18. The Persians, when they had vanquished the Ionians in the sea fight, besieged Miletus both by land and sea, driving mines under the walls, and making use of every known device, until at length they took the whole town, six years from the time when the revolt first broke out under Aristagoras. the inhabitants of the city they reduced to slavery, and thus the event tallied with the announcement which had been made by the oracle

Gods, speaking through their prophets, told people the future. The ancients set up prophecy centers, called oracles, where priests or priestesses were possessed by the God—think "filled with the Holy Spirit"—and spoke His prophetic words.

The most famous oracle was at Delphi, in Greece. It was there that God Apollo's priestess gave the God's prophesy about Miletus

6. 19. For once upon a time, when the Argives had sent to Delphi to consult the god about the safety of their own city, a prophecy was given them, in which others besides themselves were interested; for while it bore in part upon the fortunes of Argos, it touched in a byclause the fate of the men of Miletus. I shall set down the portion which concerned the Argives when I come to that part of my history, mentioning at present only the passage in which the absent Milesians were spoken of. This passage was as follows:

The God's words were written down.
You can read them today.    >>

Then shalt thou, Miletus, so oft the contriver of evil,
Be to many, thyself, a feast and an excellent booty:
Then shall thy matrons wash the feet of long-haired masters;
Others shall then possess our lov'd Didymian temple.

And sure enough, it happened.
just like the God prophesied it would.   >>

Such a fate now befell the Milesians; for the Persians, who wore their hair long, after killing most of the men, made the women and children slaves; and the sanctuary at Didyma, the oracle no less than the tem- [page 346] ple, was plundered and burnt; of the riches whereof I have made frequent mention in other parts of my history.

  Herodotus, The Persian Wars, 6.18- 19 (c 440 BC), -- which you can find in: Godolpin, Francis. The Greek Historians (1942), pg. 345- 6]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The ancient pagans owned slaves. You've read it yourself, in the words of the ancients.


Another time, says Herodotus, the Getae opposed the Persian King Darius, on account of which they were made slaves.


93. Before arriving at the Ister, the first people whom he subdued were the Getae, who believe in their immortality. The Thracians of Salmydessus, and those who dwelt above the cities of Apollonia and Mesembria-the Scyrmiadae and Nipsaeans, as they are called-gave themselves up to Darius without a struggle; but the Getae obstinately defending themselves, were forthwith enslaved, notwithstanding that they are the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes.

You know which Getae, right? I mean the Getae whose God told them they were immortal. They had eternal life. After they died, they went to live forever with God, aka Zalmoxis. Those Getae.

94. The belief of the Getae in respect of immortality is the following. They think that they do not really die, but that when they depart this life they go to Zalmoxis, who is called also Gebeleizis by some among them.

  Herodotus, The Persian Wars, 6.18- 19 (c 440 BC), -- which you can find in: Godolpin, Francis. The Greek Historians (1942),, pg. 259- 60]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The ancient pagans owned slaves. You've read it yourself, in the words of the ancients.

In Egypt, generations before Jesus, after you died the way you got to live forever with the God Osiris was, when you died and stood before the God who judged you, you said this,  >>
(to be sure you got it just right, they buried you with a copy).


And you recited a long list of bad things you had not done, including #8 and #12.




'Homage to thee, 0 great god, thou Lord of Truth. I have come to thee, my Lord, and I have brought myself hither that I may see thy beauties,'....

1. I have not sinned against men.
2. I have not oppressed (or wronged) [my] kinsfolk.
3. I have not committed evil in the place of truth. . ..
5. I have not committed acts of abomination. . ..
8. I have not domineered over slaves.
9. I have not thought scorn of the god (or, God).
10. I have not defrauded the poor man of his goods.
11. I have not done the things which the gods abominate.
12. I have not caused harm to be done to the slave by his master.

  Egyptian Book of the Dead, Chapter 125 Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The ancient pagans owned slaves. You've read it yourself, in the words of the ancients.


Early Christian sources confirm Roman slavery. Here's "Luke," the unknown author of the New Testament book Acts, describing the apostle Paul's contact with a young Roman slave girl, and the spirit that lived inside her, and gave her the power of prophesy. Foretelling the future, with the help of this spirit, is how the little girl made money for her owner.


Paul cast out the pagan spirit with the power to foretell the future, and the slave girl's owner got mad. Like Paul, the pagan Roman knew all about spirits and their power of prophesy.

Acts Chapter 16
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. 19 When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The ancient pagans owned slaves. You've read it yourself, in the words of the ancients.


Jewish Slavery
It wasn't only Pagans who kept slaves. Right back to the beginnings of their religion, back to stories about Genesis and Abraham, Jews were slave masters.


Abraham owned slaves.

Genesis 20
14 Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and
male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, "My land is before you; live wherever you like." 16 To Sarah he said, "I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated." 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah.


Abraham owned slaves.

Genesis 21
But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."


Joseph owned slaves.

Genesis 44
17 But Joseph said, "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup
will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace."


David owned slaves.

2 Samuel 6
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"



Solomon owned slaves.

2 Chronicles 8
All the people left from the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites), 8 that is, their descendants remaining in the land, whom the Israelites had not destroyed--these Solomon conscripted for his slave labor force, as it is to this day. 9 But Solomon did not make slaves of the Israelites for his work; they were his fighting men, commanders of his captains, and commanders of his chariots and charioteers.

  Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Back to the beginnings of their religion, say their sacred scriptures, Jews were slave masters. But the Old Testament doesn't just record Jewish slave owning in archaic tribal legends, your bible also records detailed instructions, dictated by God, about owning slaves the right way.


For example, Jewish priests owned slaves. And it was OK with God if the slaves ate God's sacred food. Well, that's a relief.

Ancient Jews owned slaves.

Leviticus 22:10-16
10 "'No one outside a priest's family may eat the sacred offering, nor may the guest of a priest or his hired worker eat it. 11 But if a priest buys a slave with money, or if a slave is born in his household, that slave may eat his food.

And, said God to Moses, if you had sex with slave girl who has been promised to another man, that was just the sort of sin God didn't like. Killing a ram would set things right.

Owning girls in the first place, and beating them up, and fucking the pretty ones who hadn't been promised to another man, those things God didn't think were sins Moses needed to jot down.

Ancient Jews owned slaves.

Leviticus 19:19-29
1 The Lord said to Moses, ....
19 "'Keep my decrees. "'Do not mate different kinds of animals. "'Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. "'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. 20 "'If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. 21 The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord. 22 With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the Lord for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven.

According to the Most High God, Lord of the Universe, Creator and Protector of Mankind, not only was it OK to own people, it was OK to beat the people you owned, them being your property and all.

Ancient Jews owned slaves.

Exodus 21
20 "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. . ..



God didn't say not to own slaves. What God said was, you ought to give the people you owned, and beat, and fucked, a day of rest once a week.

Ancient Jews owned slaves.

Exodus 23:10-19
10 "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed. 13 "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

If somebody else's bull hurt your slave, you had to throw stones at the bull to kill it.

Ancient Jews owned slaves.

Exodus 21
32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.


Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Ancient Jews were slave masters. You've read it yourself in the holy word of God.


Early Christian Slavery
The Christian New Testament does not say "Don't own people. Don't own slaves. Just, for the love of God, don't do it." The NT doesn't say that. It doesn't say anything like that. Instead it gives instructions on how to own slaves the right way.

The first Christians were instructed by God how to be slave masters.

Here's a passage from the holy word of God, written by Paul the apostle. Paul, you remember, spent a lot of time filled with the Holy Spirit of God, which is where Paul learned about Jesus and what Jesus expected.

What Jesus expected was that Christians would be slave masters. But you'd better be right and fair about it! Don't make me come down there!

Colossians 4:1
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Like the Pagans, like the Jews, the first Christians were slave masters.


And, said God through Paul His apostle, Christian slaves were to obey their masters.




Like the Pagans, like the Jews, the first Christians were slave masters.

Ephesians 6:1-9
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Slaves obey your masters.

Colossians 3
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

Again more instructions in the holy word of God about how to be a slave master the right way—teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything.



Like the Pagans, like the Jews, the first Christians were slave masters

Titus 2
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. . ... 9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. . .. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

And the holy word of God explicitly says, do not stop slavery. Every person must stay in the situation they are in. Including slaves. That's how Jesus wants it.





I Corinthians 7
20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

Like the Pagans, like the Jews, the first Christians were slave masters


The First Christians' Slavery was Different from Pagan and Jewish Slavery
If you've read the New Testament you probably know the letters there often go on about how Christians are the slaves of God. That was a Christian idea.

Like the Pagans and the Jews, the first Christians were not just slave masters, they were theoreticians of slavery. Details of the Jesus myth were different from details of the Pagan and Jewish legends. Details of the Christian theory about slavery were different from Pagan and Jewish theories about slavery.

Here's Cambridge's Peter Garnsey chattering about how. >>


The twin concepts of good slavery and bad slavery are both well-developed in Paul. In Stoic thought slavery was almost invariably bad. This was slavery to the passions and emotions, the mark of fools, or the mass of mankind. It is the equivalent, roughly, of Paul's slavery to sin.

But whereas good slavery is prominent in the Old Testament, bad slavery in the Pauline sense is apparently not fully conceptualized. Paul takes over and develops good slavery, and builds a fully fledged Christian doctrine of slavery to sin on raw materials provided by the Old Testament. Let us look a little more closely at both concepts. One is either a slave to sin or a slave to God. ....

This is a specifically Christian doctrine, in the sense that slavery to sin is the condition of non-Christians and pre-Christians as well as erring Christians. The Jews too are caught up in the net. The ancient Israelites saw themselves as redeemed by their God, but in Paul's view they needed to undergo a further act of emancipation, because they were still enslaved to the Law (Gal. 4:2-7 = ~12).

The Pauline image of slavery to God or Christ ('good' slavery) has several facets or roles. First...

  Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery From Aristotle to Augustine, 1996, pg 183-4
POCM quotes modern scholars

For our purposes, it's enough to know that Pagan and Christian ideas about slavery were different.



In case you're interested in Paul's metaphorical theories about slavery, here's a smattering. >>



I Corinthians 12
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Galatians 3
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Romans 7
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.



Those are the facts. In ancient Mediterranean cultures people could be property. Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Persians, Thracian, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks all owned slaves.

Jews owned slaves. God told them that was OK.
The first Christians owned slaves. God told them owning slaves was OK.



Good Books for this section

Greek & Roman Slavery
by Thomas Wiedemann

What you'll find:

250 pages of primary source material detailing the workings of Greek and Roman slavery

Organized by topic. Sections include:
The slave as property
Moral Inferiors
Status Symbol or Economic Investment
Sources of Slaves
Domestic Slaves and Rural Slaves
Slaves Owned by the State
The Treatment of Slave: Cruelty, Exploitation, and Protection
The True Freedom of the Spirit: Stoics and Christians

An excellent source of primary material.

Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine
by Peter Garnsey

What you'll find:

A scholarly roundup of ancient ideas about slavery, Pagan, Jewish, Christian.

Almost a sourcebook—Professor Garnsey supports his analysis with extended passages from the ancient texts