Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jensen on Sex, Slavery and the NT

This is another rare instance of a NT scholar noticing the elephant in the room of the sexual use of slaves.  This comes at the end of Jensen's clinical demolition of an earlier article by Bruce Malina that argued that porneia, a NT term for sexual immorality, did not include non commercial and non-cultic extra-marital sex. My only complaints are that he does not discuss the fact that male slaves might also be preyed upon and he neglect the evience of Philemon and 1 Cor 7:21 as Paul's implicit desire to see slaves freed.

The following remarks venture into what may be called purely indirect evidence.  This is less satisfactory, but nevertheless it seems necessary to ask whether we can suppose that the New Testament was wholly silent on the difficult and delicate question of relations between master and famle slave.

The was a close connection bewteen slavery and prostitution in the Hellenistic world.  Liddell-Scott give the probable derivation of porne, prostitute, from pernemi, because "Greek prostitutes were commonly bought slaves."  But also frequent was the use of female household slaves, who were subject to the whims of their masters for sexual relations.  In Israel too, this sort of relationship was l;egitimated.  Exod. xxi 7-11 deals with the Israelite girl sold as a slave and Deut. xxi 10-14 with the prisoner of war.   The basic protection offered each is that she might not later be sold.

It can hardly be supposed that this srt of behaviour was tolerated in the Christian community, but the silence of the New Testament is surprising.  Paul is aware of the hold a master can have over his slave for evil, for he uses it as an illustration (Rom vi 16), but this has no place in his exhortations.  Instead we find the New Testament writers exhorting slaves not to seek their freedom (1 Cor vii 21-23); to obey wilingly (Eph vi 5-8); to render their masters respect for the sake of God and the church, mst especially if the masters are Christian (1 Tim vi 1-2); to try to please them in every way and not contradict them (Tit ii 9); to obey not only good and reasonable masters but even those who are harsh (1 Pet ii 18-20).

Human Nature being what it is, the abuse of female slaves would tend to persist, even in Christian circles, especialy those subject to hellenistic influences, unlessthe standard moral teaching made the matter clear.  The exhortations we have in the epistkles merely tell slave owners not to threaten (Eph vi 9) and to be just and fair (Col iv 1).  Unless we are willing to suppose that this important matter was completely ignored, we must suppose that the early Christians understood it to be included in the frequent exhortations addressed to all about avoiding porneia and that, therefore, the term included this as well as other sorts of extra-marital intercourse.
Novum Testamentum, Vol. 20, Fasc. 3 (Jul., 1978), pp. 161-184 

Let me know what you think :-)

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