Skip to main content

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 :-)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .