A Slave to Incompetence: The Truth Behind David Marshall’s Research on Slavery by Dr. Hector Avalos

Since the rise of the “New Atheism” there have been many Christian apologists who think that they have defeated the arguments of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. A few of these apologists are seasoned theologians and scholars. Others are what I call “hack” writers, who basically cut-and-paste material found in secondary sources, but who do not: 1) check the accuracy of the secondary sources; 2) have the competence to check those sources independently and directly, even if they wish to do so. The goal of hack writing is to publish something quickly and with little effort and so these books are often very thin bibliographically.

Such a hack writer is David Marshall, author of The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007). To illustrate our point, we shall examine almost every sentence in a section titled, “Jesus Frees Slaves,” and found on pages 144 to 148 of that book.

In that section, Marshall responds to claims by New Atheists that the Bible and Christianity were more of a hindrance than a help to the abolition of slavery. We illustrate how Marshall’s incompetence or just plain indolence leads him to state as facts many claims that are incorrect, misleading, and self-serving in the secondary sources he cites.

For convenience, I place Marshall’s statements in quotations, and my response will immediately follow that quote. I provide full bibliographic references at the end for many of the abbreviated references in the main text.
“Every reasonable person understands that treating people ‘like farm equipment’ is ‘patently evil.’ Harris argues, ‘It is remarkably easy for a person to arrive at this epiphany.’ Yet, it had to be spread ‘at the point of a bayonet’ in the pious American South. Only a historically sheltered child of the West and the product of a politically correct public school system could achieve such breathtaking uncritical naiveté.”
Since “uncritical naiveté” is something Marshall criticizes, then one ought to expect that he intends to avoid displaying this characteristic. However, the rest of this critique will demonstrate Marshall’s abundance of “uncritical naiveté.”
“Slavery was obviously not wrong to Aristotle.”
Marshall provides no quotes from Aristotle to support this claim. Many biblical also authors did not think slavery was “obviously wrong.” For example, Leviticus 25:44-46 (RSV):

"As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession for ever; you may make slaves of them..."

So both Aristotle and the author of this biblical passage don’t seem to think that slavery is obviously wrong, and so Marshall fails to explain how the Bible is superior on this issue.

But unlike the authors of Leviticus, Aristotle’s own discussion indicates that there were already those who opposed his views. For example, Aristotle (Politics 1.2.3; LCL) said:

"[o]thers however maintain that for one man to be another man’s master is contrary to nature, because it is only convention that makes the one a slave and the other a freeman and there is no difference between them by nature, and that therefore it is unjust, for it is based on force."

There is no such notice of any opposing discussion in Leviticus, which prohibits the enslaving of fellow Hebrews, but not outsiders.

“The equality of humanity was denied by the Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes.”
This is a gross and misleading overgeneralization. Marshall provides no documentation for this sweeping statement about entire cultures.

The fact is that the Greeks, for example, had differing ideas about slavery. In addition to the example above from Aristotle, consider Xenophon’s description of Athens in the fifth century BCE: “For this reason we have set up equality between slaves and free men, and between metics and citizens” (Xenophon, The Athenians 1.11-12). Similarly, Plato (Laws 9.872c; LCL) states:

"And if a man kill a slave when he is doing no wrong, actuated by fear lest the slave should expose his own foul and evil deeds or for any other such reason, just as he would have been liable to a charge of murder for slaying a citizen, he shall be liable in the same way for the death of such a slave."

In fact, the equality and common origin of humanity was known to the Greeks, as is suggested by Acts 17:26, where Paul addresses the Athenians:

"And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.'"

Note that Paul alludes to his ideas already pre-existing among the Greeks (“as even some of your poets have said”).

Seneca (ca. 4 BCE-65 CE), the Stoic philosopher, tells his readers (Epistles, 47.11; LCL):

"Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. And as often as you reflect how much power you have over a slave, remember that your master has just as much power over you.”

Qualitatively, nothing in the NT compares to the extensive and thoughtful advocacy of fairness for slaves in Seneca’s forty-seventh epistle, which should be read in its entirety to be appreciated.
“Enlightenment figures such as Hume, Voltaire, Locke, and Jefferson favored slavery, either in word or deed.”
Yes, and so these figures were not different from some biblical authors (Leviticus 25:44-46, 1 Timothy 6:1-2). Of course, Marshall does not define what it means to “favor” slavery as opposed to, for instance, “accepting” slavery as a fact of life.

Depending on which translation of 1 Corinthians 7:21 we accept, we also can say that some biblical authors “favored” slavery. For example the New Jerusalem Bible’s translation is: “even if you have a chance of freedom, you should prefer to make full use of your condition as a slave.”

“Some nineteenth- and twentieth-century Social Darwinists saw blacks as a distinct species, and Australian aborigines “‘at least two grades below the African negro.’”
Yes, but an equal or greater number of self-described Christians did the same thing, and so what does that prove? Moreover, Marshall is completely oblivious to the long racist tradition in Christianity that preceded anything in Darwinism by centuries.

For example, by the fourth century, Didymus the Blind (Commentary on Zechariah 4.312), the Christian commentator, stated that “Ethiopians...share in the devil’s evil and sin, getting their name from his blackness.” Pope Gregory the Great (Moralia in Job 18.52; PL 76:88) said that “‘Ethiopia’ signifies the present world whose blackness is a sign of a sinful people.”

Paulinus, the bishop of Nola (ca. 354-431), remarked that “The Dragon devours the people of Ethiopia, who are not burned by the sun but are black with vice [uitilies nigris], sin giving them the color of night [crimine nocticolores].” (Strickland, Saracens, Demons, and Jews, 84; Latin text on p. 270, n. 96).

More importantly, Paulinus explicitly rejects secular and natural explanations (e.g., exposure to the sun) of human physical features, pioneered by non-Christian Greco-Roman writers (e.g., the Hippocratic corpus, Pliny), and substitutes completely theological rationales pioneered by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian writers.

For the Greco-Roman developments of the theory of environmental effects on human features, including color, see Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 55-102.

Once we see these historical antecedents of race-based slavery in Christian theology, we should not be surprised that black Africans were chosen to be the paradigmatic slave population by Christians. Any Social Darwinists who thought the same way had simply adopted and /or continued attitudes found in Christianity for centuries.

“Ernst Haeckel, the foremost evolutionary thinker in Germany (and a good friend of Darwin) did in fact compare some folk to farm (or jungle) animals: ‘lower races...are psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes and dogs) than to civilized Europeans,’ so ‘we must assign a totally different value to their lives.’”
The only source cited for this statement is a secondary source (Architects of the Culture of Death) authored by Benjamin Wiker, a member of the Discovery Institute, and Donald De Marco, a professor at a Catholic college.

But we can also find self-described Christians who said similar things prior to Darwin, and so maybe these Darwinists inherited such ideas from those Christians. Darwin probably had many more Christian friends than friends who thought like Haeckel, and Marshall seems to resort to guilt by association here (otherwise the comment abut Haeckel being Darwin’s friend is unnecessary and adds nothing to how Darwin thought about anything).

In any case, we can see such bestial imagery of dark races displayed in abundance in Medieval Christian art. Debra H. Strickland (Saracens, Demons and Jews, p. 173), who has studied these representations in Christianity, notes:

"I suggest that what the representations of Saracen/ Ethiopian “hybrids” actually reveal is the extent to which a common pejorative visual vocabulary is applied across different enemy types: This is why demons, Jews, Ethiopians, Saracens and other negative figures are all at various times portrayed with dark skin as well as with a number of other physiognomical features..."

Marshall might also profit from reading Jean Vercoutter, et al., The Image of the Black in Western Art, 2 vols (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976-1979).

“Harris rests his argument against Christianity largely on the fact that the Bible didn’t immediately end slavery. But the Bible did end slavery---twice.”

I actually don’t know many historians who say the Bible ended slavery twice. Marshall gives no examples of any historians who say such a thing. Marshall provides no evidence that the Bible (rather than economics or other non-religious factors) was mainly responsible for any claimed abolition. Marshall doesn’t tell us exactly how he is calculating any “causality” that should be credited to the Bible.

“Not many people know about the first abolition movement. But as soon as the church began disentangling itself from the wreckage of Rome (and where it did not become entangled with Islam), slaves began to trickle out from bondage.”

No statistics or any other documentation is provided for this sweeping claim. Marshall, in fact, confuses voluntary manumission with abolition, as will be clearer in his examples below.

“Christianity spread in Northern Europe through the aristocracy. Already by the fourth century, an upper class convert set 3000 slaves free.”
Marshall furnishes no specific documentation for this claim, and the claimed convert is not named. Perhaps Marshall is referring to Melania, who is mentioned in Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade, a source that does appear in Marshall’s bibliography. According to Thomas (The Slave Trade, p. 26):

One rich lady, Melania, is said to have liberated eight thousand slaves in the early fifth century A.D. when she decided to become a Christian ascetic.

But Thomas only cites a secondary source (Andre Pigniol’s L’empire chretien, A.D. 325-395...), and so he is not really checking on the accuracy of this claim.

Melania’s biography is very difficult to reconstruct, especially because the sources are late, inconsistent, and also filled with legendary stories of miracles that most Protestants would find incredible. A good accessible translation of one of those versions may be found in Elizabeth A. Clark, The Life of Melania the Younger: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen, 1984).

One ancient source that does mention the release of 8,000 slaves by Melania is Palladius’ Historia Lausiaca 61 (Butler edition). However, this release did not constitute part of an abolitionist movement because:

A. Melania sold all her possessions in order to become an ascetic, and not because she thought slavery was wrong. Just as selling her houses to become an ascetic did not mean she thought owning a house was wrong for anyone else, freeing her slaves did not mean she thought owning slaves was wrong for anyone else.

Melania’s biography alludes to Jesus’ injunctions to the rich man to sell his possessions (Matthew 19:21), and not to any biblical injunction against slavery. Thus, Clark’s Life of Melania, p. 33:

"Henceforth, they began to sell their goods, remembering the saying of the Lord that the uttered to the rich man: “If you would be perfect, sell your goods and give them to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Take your cross and follow me.”

Nothing here about giving up slaves because it is sinful or because no Christian can own slaves.

B. The 8,000 were only part of the total number of slaves Melania owned, and some of the rest were transferred to her brother (Clark, The Life of Melania, p. 100). In other words, Melania still believed those transferred to her brother should be enslaved. This transfer shows that her release of slaves had nothing to do with abolitionist sentiments, but was part of her ascetic vows to give up her possessions.

Moreover, Marshall’s definition of “abolition” is unclear. It is useful to distinguish voluntary manumission, wherein slaveowners voluntarily release their slaves, from “abolition,” wherein a state or organization legally enforces the release of all slaves. Thomas, in fact, refers to Melania’s actions as “manumission” (The Slave Trade, p. 31).

Manumission was a well-known and accepted practice available to virtually all slaveowners in the ancient Near East. Roman slaveowners were perfectly able to release their slaves, and many did.

There were three main methods of manumission summarized by Gaius, the famed compiler of Roman Law: “by vindicta, by the census, or by testament.” (Gaius, The Institutes of Gaius, 1.138: qui in causa mancipii sunt, quia servorum loco habentur, vidicta, censu, testamento manumissi sui iuris fiunt).

Marshall must also forget that, according to his own Bible, one of the largest release of slaves ever recorded was by the Egyptian Pharaoh. According to Exodus 12:37, the number of Hebrew adult males set free was 600,000, and one can double that by including women and children. Thus, Pharaoh set free some 1-2 million people. So is Pharaoh an abolitionist for Marshall?

“Early in the seventh century, the monk Aidan took donations from the rich to buy slaves, liberate them, and given them an education.”
No documentation is given for these acts by Aidan. Such claims are found in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, but Marshall fails to see the subtle nuances of Aidan’s acts described by Bede (Historical Works 3.5; LCL), as follows:

“...such gifts as in money were liberally given him by rich men, he did either (as we have said) given in a dole for the relief of the poor, or else he laid them out the ransoming of those that had been wrongfully sold. Finally, many of such as he had ransomed by payment of money he made after his scholars, and by bringing them in learning and virtue advanced them to the degree of priesthood.”

The key to this passage is the phrase “wrongfully sold,” which in Latin is “iniuste fuerant venditi.”

Christianity developed a distinction between “just title” slavery and “unjust title” slavery. The Justinian Code (ca. 529 CE), for example, recognized “war, birth, and self-sale as valid grounds for human bondage” (Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, 102). Those “wrongfully sold” could be people enslaved for reasons other than the ones listed by Justinian.

Thus, Aidan is not really challenging slavery or even buying all types of slaves, but only those who were acquired through procedures considered unjust.

Perhaps a more normal situation in the seventh century may be exemplified by the Sixteenth Council of Toledo (ca. 693), which required churches to have a minimum number of slaves to have a priest: “That the church which shall have as many as ten slaves [decem habuerit manicipia] shall have one priest over it, but that one which have less than ten slaves shall be united to other churches” (Fletcher, Studies on Slavery in Easy Lessons, p. 339, also contains the Latin text).

Since non-Christians also released slaves, Marshall fails to explain why Aidan’s actions count as part of any abolition movement. Marshall, of course, gives no statistics indicating how many slaves remained in their miserable condition.

“Queen Bathild (wife of Clovis II) worked to free Christian slaves (at least) and stop the slave trade.”
False, at least in part. Bathilde did not work to “stop the slave trade.” Indeed, Marshall provides no footnote for this statement, but the claim is found in Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade (p. 35) and in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God (p. 329), both of which Marshall cites elsewhere. However, Stark is simply parroting Thomas, and Thomas provides no documentation for this claim.

Repeating unchecked claims should count as “uncritical naiveté” on the part of Marshall.

The Latin source often used to document the life of St. Bathilde actually says that she “prohibited the sale of Christian captives” (“Captivos homines christianos prohibuit”) as documented by Charles Verlinden, L’esclavage dans l’europe médievale, 2 vols (Brugge: Rijksuniversiteit te Gent, 1955), volume 1, p. 673, n. 113.

Plato (Republic 5.469b-c) had similarly prohibited the enslavement of fellow Greeks, but not that of non-Greeks. Thus, Bathilde is following an ancient tradition of prohibiting the enslavement of members of the in-group, but allowing the enslavement of members of the out-group (see Leviticus 25:44-46 again).

In sum, prohibiting the sale of Christian slaves is not the same as being against the slave trade because it was still perfectly legitimate to buy or capture non-Christian slaves. Bathilde’s actions cannot count as “abolitionism” or even as being against slavery.

“In A.D. 960 the bishops of Venice tried to prohibit Venetians from buying and selling people.”
Marshall does not footnote his source for this statement, but it is most likely from Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade (p. 35). Any such law in Venice in 960 is usually attributed to Pietro Candiano IV, the Doge of Venice.

Pompeo Molmenti, who specializes in the history of Venice, portrays Candiano’s actions this way in his Venice: Its Individual Growth from its Earliest Beginnings to the Fall of the Republic, trans. H. F. Brown (Chicgo: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1906), Part 1, Volume 1, p. 125, n. 6:

“...in 960 Pietro Candiano IV prohibited the purchase and transport of slaves even if they were Jews. All prohibitions, however, were inefficacious, and trade in slaves was not only tolerated but even permitted by the State if it added to the guadagnum in patria or was made in the name of the Doge.”

Again, Marshall shows himself to be a writer who does not check much of anything he says.

“By the eleventh century, ‘no slaves to speak of’ remained in entire regions of Western Europe, and soon after, in England.”
Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade (p. 35) is the secondary source cited by Marshall here. In fact, one can see that Marshall is simply going down the same page of Thomas’ book and just cutting and pasting without any fact checking. Marshall shows himself to be a cut-and-paste artist. In any case, Thomas also gives no source for this statement.

If one consults Jean Bodin (1530-1596), a Protestant abolitionist hero for Rodney Stark, we find that Bodin has a very different explanation for any decrease in slavery in France (Bodin, Commonweale, p. 41):

“But it is more than 400 years agoe, since that Fraunce suffered in it any true slaves. For as for that which we read in our histories, that Lewes Hutin [= Louis X], who came to the crowne in the yeare 1313...set at libertie all slaves for money, to defray the charges of his warres.”

Nothing here about the Bible being a factor or any real abolition movement. Economic necessity and demographic changes are the main reasons cited by Bodin in this case, though he cites religion in others (e.g., Islam).

“When the Normans conquered England, rather than enslaving enemies, as was the custom, they set thousands of slaves free.”
Marshall is simply parroting secondary sources again (e.g., Thomas, The Slave Trade, pp. 35-36). In fact, new documents are revealing the fact that slavery was more common than generally thought in Medieval England.

Marshall also does not tell his readers that Thomas (The Slave Trade, p. 36) says that there were “many causes for the fall of the ancient institution.” Moreover, Thomas is more careful not to call this an “abolitionist movement.”

Otherwise, Marshall’s claim is akin to asserting that since Chimney sweepers have disappeared, then that must reflect a legal movement to prohibit Chimney Sweepers. Chimney Sweepers declined for many economic and technological reasons that need not have been legally mandated.

Nor does Marshall tell readers that Thomas (The Slave Trade, p. 36) also mentions that William Wilberforce, another abolitionist hero of Marshall, speaks about the existence of “child slaves from Bristol being sold to Ireland as late as the reign of Henry VII—an aspect of the troubles of the latter island that has not otherwise received attention.”

Furthermore, we now have a more thorough treatment of Medieval slavery in Britain in David Wyatt’s Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland, 800-1200 (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

“Slavery didn’t die in Greece or Iberia, however. As historian Richard Fletcher explained, ‘peripheral outsiders tend to model themselves upon the hegemonic power on whose flanks they are situated.’”
This is one of those enormous qualifications that Marshall leaves unelaborated. Christians had slavery before Islam existed. Christians already had built up an empire before Islam existed. And so might it be that Muslims were simply emulating Christians on whose flanks Muslims were situated?

And so what if Christians supposedly modeled their behavior on other cultures? Is that really an ethically valid excuse? That is akin to saying that the Nazis were just imitating the Christian anti-Judaism that they inherited. Does that make the Nazis seem better people?

The fact is that it is in areas, such as Iberia and Italy, where the greatest Christian populations were concentrated in the Middle Ages. So it is in the most heavily Christian areas that we find the largest number of slaves still surviving, and so why does Marshall even think that any abolitionist movement correlated to the strength of the Bible or Christianity in the Middle Ages?

“In the long grudge match with the more obviously civilized Moors, Visigoth kings ‘emulated Muslim behavior,’ and enslaved (rather than killed) their enemies.”
This conclusion depends on the sources one uses. For example, Jean Bodin (Commonweale, p. 40) had a different view of the consequences of emulating Muslim behavior:

“But after that Idolatrie began to decay, and the Christians religion to encrease, the multitude of slaves began also to diminish; and yet much more after the publishing of the law of Mahomet, who set at libertie all of them of his religion. To the imitation of whome, the Christians also so frankly set at libertie their slaves. [Note older English orthography used by Bodin].”

For Bodin, a hero of Rodney Stark, it was partly Christians imitating Muslims that had a good effect on releasing slaves, and not the other way around.

“With slavery an accepted institution, and warfare a way of life, as they became more ‘civilized’ themselves, it was natural for the Portuguese and Spaniards to go into the trade on a massive scale in Africa and the Americas. The English, French, and Americans followed their lead.”
Marshall seemingly contradicts himself. He tells us that the Bible is responsible for abolishing slavery in the Middle Ages, but yet he wants to excuse the Spaniards and Portuguese because slavery was “an accepted institution” immediately after the Middle Ages.

But if slavery had been abolished in the Middle Ages how could it be “an accepted institution” by the 1400s-1500s? Who restarted it?

And if it had remained an institution in Iberia throughout the Middle Ages, then Marshall leaves unexplained how the Bible had anything to do with getting rid of slavery in northern or western Europe but not in southern Europe even though the Bible was known in both areas.

“Hitchens claims that ‘this huge and terrible industry was blessed by all churches and for a long time aroused absolutely no religious protest. He’s wrong. Many popes protested, beginning in the fifteenth century. In 1639, Pope Urban VIII ‘condemned slavery absolutely.’”
False. For “a long time” slavery was blessed by the churches and it did not arouse religious protest. Any protests were isolated instances. Marshall himself seemingly agrees that it took a pope until the fifteenth century to protest (“beginning in the fifteenth century”). Yes, 1400-1500 years would qualify as “a long time” to many.

More specifically, Marshall provides no primary sources for where Urban VIII supposedly “condemned slavery absolutely.” Marshall only cites Hugh Thomas (The Slave Trade, p. 451) again. And Hugh Thomas does not give any documentation.

Pope Urban VIII did issue a document titled, Commissum Nobis in 1639. An accessible edition of the Latin and English versions can be found in Joel Panzer, The Popes and Slavery, pp. 89-90.

However, Commissum Nobis does not condemn slavery “absolutely,” but addresses the slavery in the New World. That document specifically mentions “...all the Indians, both in Paraguay and the provinces of Brazil and along the river Plata, as well as all other Indians living in any other regions and places of the West and the South.” Notice that Urban VIII does not include Africa here.

What Marshall does not tell readers is that even books published by Catholic presses acknowledge that Urban VIII himself had obtained galley slaves from the knights of Malta in 1629. So how does that square with that condemning slavery “absolutely”? On Urban VIII’s acceptance of galley slaves, see John T. Noonan, Jr., A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), p. 79.

“In the eighteenth century, Pope Clement XI demanded an ‘end to slavery.’ Generally speaking such calls fell on deaf ears: Whatever the pope (or sheltered twenty-first century grad students) thought, gentleman farmers knew that human beings make uncommonly handy farm equipment.”
Again, Marshall only repeats what he found in Thomas’ The Slave Trade (p. 458), which provides no primary source for this claim. What Marshall omits is Thomas’ clarification that the “Inquisition was at that time more still more concerned about the possibility that some slave dealers were secret Jews than about the trade.”

In other words, the Pope might have merely issued a moratorium because it was against Catholic tradition to allow non-Christians (e.g., Jews) to enslave Christians, rather than because the Pope was against the slave trade itself.

“A second and more radical abolition movement began among the Quakers. One winter day a hunchback named Benjamin Lay near Philadelphia saw a slave hanging naked and dead, executed for trying to escape. Lay used the method of the Hebrew prophets to raise consciousness. He stood outside a Quaker meeting house with one leg half-buried in snow. When people passed on their way to church and expressed concern he replied ‘Ah, you pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel the poor slaves in your field who go all winter half-clad.’”
The Quaker movement is not statistically representative of Christianity, and Marshall leaves out the fact that Benjamin Lay (1681-1760) is not even representative of Quakers, many of whom owned slaves. Despite the reputation of Quakers as abolitionists, careful studies of Quakers show that they varied their positions according to economics, as well.

In particular, a study by Gary Nash (“Slaves and Slaveowners in Colonial Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly 30, no. 2 [1973]:223-256) of the Quakers in colonial Philadelphia showed that the Quaker ownership of slaves varied very directly with the availability and price of white indentured and forced labor. As Nash (“Slaves and Slaveowners,” p. 256) phrases it:

“In an era of economic expansion Philadelphians including Quakers avidly sought slave labor when their manpower requirements could not be otherwise met, and not until white indentured laborers became available in sufficient numbers to supply the needs of the city did the abolitionist appeals produce more than a few dozen manumissions.”

Philadelphia is a good laboratory because the composition and size of the black and Quaker population can be measured with unusual precision by using tax and burial records, as well as the meticulous records of the Quakers themselves.

These records allow us to calculate that in 1767, Philadelphia had a total population of about 16,000, and 1,392 (one-twelfth of the population) were black slaves. In the same year, 88, or 16%, of the 521 slaveowners were Quakers.

The general trend between 1767 and 1775 is certainly one of decline of black slaves in Philadelphia. The total slave population fell from 1,392 to 672 in the same period. My statistics derived from Nash, (“Slaves and Slaveowners,” 237, Table IV) show that the corresponding percentages would be 8.8% of the total population in 1767 to 3.4% in 1775.

We might expect the decline of black slaves to be correlated with the rise of Quaker sentiments against slavery or the efforts of a Benjamin Lay. However, Quaker records show only 18 slaves being manumitted in Philadelphia between 1766 and 1775 (Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 236-38). We also find the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers in 1762 reporting an “increase of Slaves among members of our religious society” (Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 254).

In fact, Nash’s study of Quaker records shows that “Friends were somewhat overrepresented among Philadelphia slaverholders in proportions to their numbers” (Gary Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 253). For example, German Lutherans and Calvinists were about 23% of the population of Philadelphia between 1765 and 1769 (Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 255). Yet, only 17 (3.3%) of the 521 slave owners in 1767 in Philadelphia can be identified as German. It does remain true that Germans were not above having indentured servants, but they seemed averse to having African slaves.

A better explanation for the decline of slaves is the inability of a slave population to reproduce itself after slave importations had virtually stopped. Annual mortality bills show that some 679 blacks were buried in the “Strangers Burialground” between 1767 and 1775, and that yields an average of some 75 deaths per year. Yet, fewer than 100 black children were born in the same period (Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 238-39).

However, this decline in black slave labor was partly recovered by utilizing an increasing number of white indentured servants. Thus, in 1767, the number of white indentured servants was 395, while in 1775 it was 869 (Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners,” 246, especially Table VI).

In 1775, white indentured servants, mostly from Germany and Ireland, composed 56% of the bound labor in Philadelphia compared to about 25% a decade before. Further increases in free wage labor from rural areas of Pennsylvania correlated with the decrease in the need for bound labor. All this justifies Nash’s (“Slaves and Slaveowners,” p. 254) conclusion:

“The evidence is substantial, then, that when faced with a direct choice between forgoing the human labor, they needed or ignoring the principles enunciated by their leaders, and officially sanctioned by the Society through its Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, the rank and file Philadelphia chose the latter course...the decisions of 1758 failed to stem the influx of slave labor into Philadelphia, to bring about more than a handful of manumissions, or even to prevent an increase in slaveowning among Quakers.”

So the neither the Bible nor Benjamin Lay ended much of anything, and the Quakers cannot be counted as the second time “the Bible” ended slavery.

Indeed, Nash notes that it was not until the eve of the American Revolution that the membership was persuaded to effect manumission for its slaves. The American Revolution, after all, disrupted the slave trade so that Quakers no longer had easy access to slaves.

“Evangelical Christians led the movement against slavery in England and America, and England led the world.”
Not quite. In 1791, Haiti became the first country where slaves successfully overthrew their slavemasters (Christian slavemasters in this case), and founded a new nation. Those slaves were heavily influenced by Voodoo and other African traditions rather than just Christianity.

Because the history of abolitionism is often told by Euroamerican Christian historians, they often leave out the importance of African traditions in liberatory movements.

Michel S. Laguerre, a widely respected scholar of Voodoo and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, remarks:

“The singularity of the Haitian revolution stays in part in the religious ardour of the slaves, inflamed by the leaders, who in turn were inspired by Voodoo loas [divinities] to exterminate the colonists of Haiti. Revolutionary leaders successfully used Voodoo to make Haiti the first black republic in the New World and the second nation to achieve independence in the western hemisphere and to make the Haitian revolution the first social revolution in the Third World.”

Haiti’s role in the triumph of abolitionism is acknowledged by Frederick Douglass, the great African-American abolitionist, who served as minister to Haiti under president Benjamin Harrison. After enumerating the heroes of American and British abolitionism, Douglass (“Haiti and the Haitian People...2 January 1893,” in Blassingame, The Frederick Douglass Papers 5:529 ) remarked:

“Until Haiti struck for freedom, the conscience of the Christian world slept profoundly over slavery...Until she [Haiti] spoke no Christian nation had given the world an organized effort to abolish slavery.”

Yes, some of the leaders of British abolition were “evangelicals” but they were vastly outnumbered by “evangelical” slaveowners, especially in America.

“Rodney Stark chronicles Christian work to free the slaves in rich detail. In both England and America ‘the movement was staffed by devout Christian activists, the majority of them clergy.’ Fifty-two percent of ‘travelling agents,’ and 75 percent of ‘local agents’ for the American Anti-Slavery Society were ordained ministers. Why did those so deep in the grasp of the ‘God delusion’ go to this trouble if the Bible is so gung ho for human bondage?”
Marshall either misreads Stark or he is not being sufficiently clear. Stark (For the Glory of God, p. 343) is not doing the chronicling directly. Stark is quoting the work of John A. Auping, a Jesuit priest, who attempts to make a case for the critical role of evangelicalism in his book, Religion and Social Justice: The Case of Christianity and the Abolition of Slavery in America (1994).

Marshall clearly did not read or examine Auping’s book directly, which renders Marshall’s description of Stark’s chronicling “in rich detail” pure bombastic hyperbole.

Auping’s book is a methodological disaster, full of dubious premises, unclear sources for statistics, and speculative claims. I plan to write a more extensive critique of Auping’s methodology.

For the moment note that Auping’s 52% and 75% figures may sound impressive, but the absolute numbers are comparatively small. Those percentages represent 81 travelling agents and 111 local agents for a grand total of 192 clergymen.

But even if Auping’s statistics are valid, they should be contraposed to the proportion of clergy who advocated slavery. Some of these statistics were already compiled on the basis of the 1850 census in Thornton Stringfellow’s Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery (Richmond, Va.: J. W. Randolph, 1856). He compared 5 slave states and 5 New England States, and found the following number of churches (p.115):

New England 4607 churches
Slave states 8081 churches

Not only do you have twice as many churches in the slave states Stringfellow listed, but if you estimate just one clergyman for every church, then we have 8081 clergymen. If we conservatively estimate that 75% of these clergymen supported or accepted slavery, then the resulting absolute number of 6,060 clergymen who supported slavery dwarfs the 192 anti-slavery clergymen Auping touts.

“The New Testament implicitly undermines slavery in many ways: by affirming the nobility of manual labor (Jesus was a carpenter), teaching the essential equality of humankind, and talking eloquently and frequently about slavery.”
Marshall here drifts from merely grossly uninformed pronouncements to absurd bombast. He offers us no direct evidence that any of the features he mentions “implicitly undermined slavery.” Note these problems and questions:

A. Perhaps Marshall also thinks that having the hammer and sickle on the old Soviet communist flag must mean that the Soviets were trying to undermine slavery by highlighting the nobility of labor.

Indeed, what statistical evidence indicates that any abolitionist even cited Jesus being a carpenter or the “nobility of manual” labor as a reason for abolition? Does Marshall realize that slaveowners likewise alluded to the benefits of labor as a reason that they were doing slaves a favor? See, for example, Josiah Priest, Bible Defense of Slavery and Origin Fortunes, and History of the Negro Race (1852; reprint, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2007), 393-95, 415-425.

B. How doe the Bible teach the “essential equality of humankind” when it allows the Hebrews to have foreigners as slaves (Leviticus 25:45-56), or when directing slaves to obey their masters, regardless of how cruel they might be (Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18).

C. The frequency with which one mentions the topic of slavery means nothing without the specific instructions or ideas being expressed about slavery. Indeed, much of the talking about slavery in the Bible was to endorse, accept, or even command enslavement. Otherwise, how does “talking eloquently and frequently” about slavery have any impact on abolition? What does eloquently or frequently mean? Does he think that those who advocated slavery did not talk “eloquently and frequently” about slavery?
“All that talk about loving one’s neighbor may have even registered in a few skulls. The abolitionists saw humanity as equal because they called a Jewish carpenter ‘Lord’—not because abolition was ‘obvious.’”
There is no evidence cited that loving one’s neighbor eventually led to abolition. As Harry M. Orlinsky, the prominent scholar of Hebrew, has deftly noted, the Hebrew term (re‘eka) translated as “your neighbor” is best understood as “your fellow Israelite” in Leviticus 19:18. Outsiders could be enslaved (Leviticus 25:45-46). And loving one’s neighbor never prevented New Testament authors from directing slaves to obey slavemasters (Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18) or to honor Christian slavemasters (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

“Harris tells us that Christian theologians who argued against slavery ‘lost’ the argument. How so? Does Harris presume to know how the Bible should be interpreted better than Thomas Aquinas at least four popes, John Wesley, Samuel Johnson, John Newton, Charles Finney, and Edmund Burke.”
By that logic, we could just as well ask whether Marshall presumes to know how the Bible should be interpreted better than John Calvin, Martin Luther, at least four other “pro-slavery popes” (e.g., Pope Gregory I, Innocent III, Nicholas V and Urban VIII), in addition to a multitude of other major American Christian figures (Charles Hodge, etc.) who advocated slavery.

Marshall has probably not read much of Aquinas, or he would not have classed him as an abolitionist at all. Perhaps Marshall is just uncritically following Stark’s uninformed discussions of Aquinas.

Harris is actually supported by Mark Noll, a well-known evangelical Christian scholar of slavery, but obviously Marshall is not well-read enough to cite him. Noll (“The Bible and Slavery,” p. 66) says “[t]he North...lost the exegetical war.” Similarly, J. Albert Harrill, a biblical scholar, remarks:

“In the late 19th century, conflict over the Bible and slavery American abolitionists, many of whom were Christian evangelicals, ransacked Scripture for texts condemning slavery, but found few. As a consequence, they developed new hermeneutical strategies to read the Bible to counter the “plain sense” (literalist) reading of proslavery theology...Most embarrassing for today’s readers of the Bible, the proslavery clergymen were holding the more defensible position from the perspective of historical criticism. The passages in the Bible about slavery signal the acceptance of an ancient model of civilization for which patriarchy and subjugation were not merely desirable but essential.” (J. Albert Harrill, “Slavery,” New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Nashville: Abingdon, 2009], 5:307).

See also J. Albert Harrill, “The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Criticism and Christian Moral Debate,” Religion and American Culture 10, no. 2 (Summer, 2000): 149-186

“Wesley, founder of Methodism, passionately opposed slavery from early on. His letter to William Wilberforce, who did more than anyone to make the word progress mean something, should be remembered by school children...”

Marshall, singles out an individual Christian and tries to make it appear as though he is typical of Christianity. But we can also pick out a good agnostic or atheist that opposed slavery. We can also find abolitionists of the time who will say good things about our agnostic as compared to an evangelical.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist extraordinaire, even preferred the ethics of Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) the famed agnostic, over those of Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), the celebrated evangelical leader:

“Infidel though Mr. Ingersoll may be called, he never turned his back upon his colored brothers, as did the evangelical Christians of this city on the occasion of the late visit of Mr. Moody” (Douglass, “We are Confronted by a New Administration...16 April, 1885,” in Blassingame, The Frederick Douglass Papers, 5:190).

Mark A. Noll, an evangelical scholar himself, even admits that “in the slave states the success of evangelicalism was marked also by a muting of the evangelical complaint against slavery” (Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, p. 255).

Likewise, Lester B. Scherer, shows how the growth of Methodism actually led to more Methodists abandoning Wesley’s idealism. In particular, Scherer (Slavery and the Churches in Early America, p. 141) notes that, by 1820:

"[T]he majority of Methodists North and South agreed that questioning slaveholders’ status in the churches or their property rights was not the business of a religious body."

In other words, the more Methodism grew, the less they resisted slavery until it was abolished at the point of the bayonet in the Civil War. Thus, Marshall demonstrates that in addition to being ill-read in classical literature and biblical exegesis, he is also not keeping up with Christian evangelical historians.

“Wesley quotes the Bible five times here. How theologically illiterate he must have been not to realize that the Bible supports slavery.”
This is patently absurd because we can find major Christian figures on both sides of the slavery-abolition issue, and so we could just say something analogous about those pro-slavery figures.

Again, we could just as well say of Augustine, Luther, Charles Hodge, and Pope Gregory I, all of which supported slavery: “How theologically illiterate they must have been not to realize that the Bible does not support slavery.”

“But as the movie Amazing Grace beautifully shows, Wilberforce’s ‘delusion’ that God has raised him to make slavery ‘vanish away’ changed the course of history. Christian abolitionists won the argument and liberated much of Christianity.”
The main piece of evidence here appears to be a movie. Marshall mechanically repeats Christian historiography about slavery. Recent historiography, however, has shifted away from this “great man” version of history because, in part, this version was promoted by the actors themselves.

Thomas Clarkson, for instance, wrote a history of abolitionism that even other abolitionists thought was too self-serving (Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade in the British Parliament, 2 vols. London: John W. Parker, 1839).

For the undue influence of Clarkson’s history, see Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: The Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 4-20.

More recent histories pay much more attention to economic and geo-political factors. Examples include Brown’s Moral Capital and Selwyn H. H. Carrington, “The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17 (1987): 823-850.

After all, the Bible had been around for 1800-1900 years before abolition triumphed in any way. To understand why it triumphed one must look at what was different around 1800 and not what had been there for 1800 years. What was different is clear enough:

A. The rise of capitalism
B. More expansive geo-political conflicts (American Revolution)
C. Larger demographic imbalances that resulted in whites becoming increasingly outnumbered, especially in Caribbean islands, and rebellions becoming larger and more common.
D. The Haitian Revolution, which is the first time that slaves overthrew their masters to found a new nation.
E. The secularization of human rights
F. The decline in biblical authority

We can see many of these features in the work of Wilberforce himself. Even though he believe that Christianity was against slavery, he was wise enough to know that the Bible was a very ambiguous source on which to base any arguments.

And, as is often the case with other writers he discusses, Marshall shows no direct reading of anything by Wilberforce. But consider one of the main tracts written by Wilberforce, An Appeal to the Religion Justice and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in behalf other Negro Slaves in the West Indies (1823).

While there are some general allusions to religion and God, there are few or no specific biblical passages cited in Wilberforce’s Appeal (though some general allusions). However, we do find concerns about demographic changes. For example, he asks rhetorically (Wilberforce, An Appeal, p. 75):

"Is this a time, are these the circumstances, in which it can be wise and safe, if it were honest and humane, to keep down in their present states of heathenish and almost brutish degradation, the 800,000 Negroes of our West Indian Colonies? Here, indeed, is danger, if we observe the signs of the times, whether we take our lesson from the history of men, or form our opinion from natural reason or from the revealed word of God."

Since Marshall throughout has shown himself to be a very indolent researcher, he may not be aware of an unpublished letter written by Wilberforce that is found in the archives of Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Howard Edwards Collection of Letters of Anglican Clergymen and other British Public Figures, p. 102). This is cited by David B. Davis (The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, p. 525, n. 5), but he does not quote directly. The letter, a copy of which I have recently acquired, says:

“...there certainly cannot be a doubt as to the principle of the Holy Scriptures especially of the New Testament on the subject of the Slave Trade or even that of slavery; tho’ on the latter point explanation would be required. But I believe it was better not to enter into any such discussion in the House of Commons for many reasons.”

In other words, Wilberforce apparently recognized that arguing on the basis of the Bible was a losing battle in the House of Commons. In a forthcoming book on slavery, I study in detail the main writings of other British abolitionists to show how much they had shifted away from using biblical arguments. So, if anything, it was abandoning the Bible that made the abolitionist argument much easier.

“Dawkins believes a ‘shifting Zeitgeist’ carries humanity ever upwards...The ‘vanguard’ of the nineteenth century is behind the ‘laggers’ or more recent times. Nonsense. In 1774 Wesley described Africans as “of quiet and good disposition,’ ‘well-instructed in what is right,’ hardworking, generous to the old and the blind, ‘ingenious’ at metallurgy and other crafts, ‘sociable,’ and prone to ‘become excellent astronomers,’ given the right instruments... The modern ‘vanguard’ is now talking not just about late-term abortions, but infanticide and euthanasia. ‘Zeitgeists’ do shift, but sometimes the wave is more destructive than any tsunami.”
Actually, Wesley (Thoughts upon Slavery), who was quoting someone else, was hundreds or thousands of years behind many non-Christians who had said complimentary things about Africans. Wesley was a “lagger” extraordinaire. Here are a few examples:

Homer, Iliad 1.423 (LCL)-ca. 8th century BCE
“Zeus went yesterday to Oceanus, to the blameless Ethiopians, for a feast, and all the gods followed with him.”

Pliny, Historia Naturalis, 2.80.189 (LCL)-ca. 77 CE
“The Ethiopians are wise.”

Lucian of Samosata, De Astrologia 3-5 (LCL)-ca. 150-180CE
The Ethiopians are “wiser than other men,” and taught the Egyptians about the heavens. (cf. Wesley’s comments on astronomy).

These and many other examples are collected by Frank M. Snowden, Jr. Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Black (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). Snowden concludes (p. 55):

Certain lines of the Greek and Roman profile of Ethiopians remained basically unchanged from Homer to the end of the classical literature—and the image was essentially favorable.

So, the longer view of history shows that black Africans were not generally regarded as evil, stupid or lazy until the rise of Christianity and Islam. As the world became more Christianized, color prejudice expanded until it reached its horrific fruit from the Renaissance onward.

Marshall is so ill-read in ancient history and literature that he cannot even fathom that color prejudice was mostly a Christian creation when it came to black Africans.

Marshall must also forget that America had segregation even into the 1960s, and a lot of it was promoted by Christians.

Many Greco-Roman writers already had reasonable and quasi-scientific explanations for blackness (e.g., climate), but it was Christianity’s theologization of color (e.g., it represents sin and depravity) that helped to authorize the enslavement of millions of Africans.

As for the modern vanguard speaking about infanticide and abortion, Marshall might want to reread biblical orders to kill children (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

“It took a powerful spiritual force to free the slaves. Few serious historians (and I’ve head the subject discussed by a roomful of very serious historians within minutes of Dawkins’s office) deny that the force was the gospel and those who put it into practice.”
Marshall neither names these historians, nor does he have the competence to evaluate whether these historians are correct or not. As we have already demonstrated, Marshall:

A. Cannot read many of the primary sources on which crucial arguments are made;
B. Does not know enough history to determine when Thomas or Stark are right or wrong, and so how would that be different with a roomful of Thomases and Starks (or any other historians he thinks favor his view)?
C. Has not shown the diligence to check anything Thomas or Stark said even if he had the ability to do so.

But, here are a few recognized historians who might disagree with Marshall:

1. G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, “Early Christian Attitudes toward Property and Slavery,” p. 19: “It is often said that Christianity introduced an entirely new and better attitude toward slavery. Nothing could be more false.”

2. Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism, p. 7: “As to slaves, the disadvantages, which they had suffered for centuries...are well known; but nothing indicates that they were made easier by Christian masters or their congregations.”

3. M. I. Finley, Slavery and Modern Ideology, p. 189: “[a]part from the injection of original sin into the concept of natural slavery...neither the New Testament nor the Church Fathers added anything significant to the rhetoric of the Roman Stoics.”

4. Seymour Drescher, Capitalism and Antislavery, p. 20: "On the more orthodox side, the more strenuously in favour of the biblical sanction for slavery the more one threatened the relevance of the Bible as a sanction for British liberty. Both the racial and biblical lines of argument were burdened by an implicit deligitimization of contemporary metropolitan norms. Racial, biblical, and classical Aristotelean proslavery arguments occupied a very subordinate place in British political discourse during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries."

Again, Christianity and its supposed powerful spiritual force existed for some 1800-1900 years before slavery was overthrown, and so it leaves unexplained why abolition happened when it did. On the other hand, effective abolition was usually associated with the powerful incentive known as war (e.g., Haitian revolution, American Civil War).

Some More thoughts on Method

So what do we learn about Marshall’s research on slavery? If we count the number of sources that Marshall cites to support Christianity’s case, we find the following items in his footnotes 23 to 37 on p. 230 of The Truth Behind the New Atheism... (and not counting the New Atheists he quotes) corresponding to the passages we discussed:

1. De Marco and Wiker, Architects of the Culture of Death
2. Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?
3. John N. Farquhar, Crown of Hinduism
4. Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade
5. Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
6. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God

Observe also:

A. None of these are primary sources.
B. None is a specialized journal study, showing that Marshall is just reading general survey books but not digging much further.
C. Marshall shows no knowledge of the wider history of slavery
D. Marshall cannot read crucial primary sources even he wanted to do so.
E. Marshall does not even check the ones he can read in English (e.g., Wilberforce).

So, Marshall’s whole argument in the passages we discuss is based on 6 secondary sources to cover over 2000 years of history. Superficiality does not begin to describe Marshall’s bibliography.

Does it make a difference? Yes, because we have shown how often consulting the primary sources about, for example, Melania, Aidan, Bathilde, Urban VIII, and Wilberforce, can correct many false or misleading claims Marshall makes.


I don’t use the derogatory “hack” writer very often, but I think it is deserved when an author shows a complete disregard for the basic tenets of research and documentation. As stated at the outset, Marshall seems to work by reading a few secondary surveys and then selecting favorable quotes, whose accuracy he never checks. So, Marshall is a cut-and-paste artist, pure and simple.

More importantly, Marshall repeatedly represents as facts what he does not know to be facts, and that is as deep an indictment of intellectual integrity as one can find. Having accused some New Atheists of displaying “uncritical naiveté,” Marshall shows himself to be just another apologists who fails to live up to the standards he demands of others. Frankly, Marshall is a lazy-person’s apologist.

However, Marshall is not different from a Rodney Stark or other recognized apologists who say the same things Marshall does about slavery. Their case for the Bible’s role in the abolition of slavery is based on mostly careless research, a dismissal of the achievements of other cultures (e.g., Haitians), and a general disregard for the value of checking the primary sources.


Aristotle. Politics. Trans. H. Rackham. LCL. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932.

Blassingame, John W. and John R. McKivigan, eds. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates and Interviews. 5 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979-1992.

Bodin, Jean. The Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed. Kenneth Douglas McRae. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Clark, Elizabeth A. The Life of Melania the Younger:Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen, 1984.

Davis, David B. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. 1966. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

----- The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution 1770-1823. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975.

De Marco and Benjamin Wiker. Architects of the Culture of Death. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Drescher, Seymour. Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987

Didymus the Blind. Commentary on Zechariah. Trans. Robert C. Hill. The Fathers of the Church 111 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006.

Finley, Moses I. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. 1980. Reprinted and expanded edition edited by Brent D. Shaw. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1998

Fletcher, John. Studies on Slavery in Easy Lessons, Compiled into Eight Studies, and Subdivided into Short Lessons for the Convenience of Readers. Natchez, Miss.: Jackson Warner, 1852.

Gaius. The Institutes of Gaius. Trans. W. M. Gordon and O. F. Robinson. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Laguerre, Michel S. Voodoo and Politics in Haiti. New York: Macmillan Press, 1989.

Marshall, David. The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity. Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Noll, Mark A. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. 2003.

----- “The Bible and Slavery,” in Religion and the American Civil War, eds. R. M. Miller, H. S. Stout, and C. R. Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Orlinsky, Harry M. “Nationalism-Universalism and Internationalism in Ancient Israel.” Pages 206-235 in Translating and Understanding the Old Testament: Essays in Honor of Herbert Gordon May. Eds. Harry Thomas Frank and William L. Reed. Nashville: Abingdon, 1970.

Palladius. Historia Lausiaca. The Lausiac History of Palladius. Ed.
Cuthbert Butler. Texts and Studies 6.1-2. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1898-1904.

Panzer, Joel S. The Popes and Slavery. New York: Alba House, 1996

Plato. Republic. Trans. Paul Shorey. 2 vols. LCL. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935.

Seneca. Epistles 1-65. Trans. Richard M. Gummere. LCL. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1917.

Stark, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the End of Slavery. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Ste. Croix, G. E. M. de. “Early Christian Attitudes toward Property and Slavery.” In Church Society and Politics: Papers Read at the Thirteenth Summer Meeting and the Fourteenth Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. Derek Baker, 1-38. Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1975.

Strickland, Debra H. Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in the Medieval Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. 1440-1870. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997

Wilberforce, William. An Appeal to the Religion Justice and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies. London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1823.

Xenophon. Scripta Minora, Pseudo-Xenophon, Constitution of The Athenians. Trans. E. C. Marchant and G. W. Bowersock. LCL. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.

LCL Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

PL Patrologiae Latina [=Patrologiae cursus completus: Series Latina. Edited by J.-P. Migne. 217 vols. Paris, 1844-1864.

RSV Revised Standard Version. Unless noted otherwise, all biblical translations are those of this version.

Written by Dr. Hector Avalos for DC.


The Harbinger of Nothing said...

If anyone wants a definition of the neologism 'pwned', then they should read this.

Hats off to Hector Avalos. His End of Biblical Studies book is a must read as well.

Reverend Phillip Brown said...

A book that neither Marshall or Avalos considers which makes that case that slavery [chattelism] is not condoned in the bible is Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible?, by Isaac Allen.



Hector would do well to argue against this reasoning.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Rev. Brown,
Isaac Allen persuades only those unacquainted with biblical studies.

His arguments about the Hebrew word for 'ebed, for example, are typical of many nineteenth century writers who tried to mitigate slavery in the Bible.

Answer me this: Do you believe that the word 'ebed never refers to chattel property, or anything akin to chattel property, in Hebrew?

Allen's types of arguments were effectively answered by the likes of the Rev. Fred Ross, Slavery Ordained of God (1859), among many others.

I also have a much larger forthcoming work that studies the arguments such as the ones given by Isaac Allen.

Again, the remarks of Harrill that I quoted are more accurate about the weakness of arguments given by 19th century abolitionists such as Allen.

Reverend Phillip Brown said...

@ Hector,

Thanks for responding.

To be perfectly honest I have only started my Hebrew languages study. I have completed three years in Koine Greek but not Hebrew so I am lacking to give an answer to you. I think it translates adequately as servant however at this stage but I am out of my depth to comment further.

I have read Rev. Fred Ross' work and found not that it countered Allen's work but rather argued that it was appropriate fro a fallen state, America in this case. Allen argues from a systematic theology, where Ross does not. I might be that biblical studies finds an uncomfortable bed with Allen but it is safe to say systematic theology finds a uncomfortable bed with Ross.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hector, Please tell me that this is going to be a chapter in a much larger work soon?


Unknown said...

Dr. Avalos: This has to be one of the most interesting writings on slavery and Christianity I've encountered since the aforementioned Slavery Ordained of God. Is the upcoming work to which you refer focused on the intertwining of Christianity and chattel slavery, or is it of broader topic? Regardless, thank you for this response!

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

I have a manuscript completed that is tentatively called: Deconstructing Biblical Ethics: Slavery, Abolition, and Biblical Scholarship.

It is a MASSIVE and DETAILED refutation of the myth that Christian and biblical ethics were mainly responsible for the abolition of slavery, and it will discuss in detail how many modern biblical scholars still try to mitigate the existence of slavery in the Bible (e.g., by arguing that Hebrew 'ebed and Greek doulos only refer to "servants" or "indentured servants," etc.).

The book is meant, in part, to be a response to Rodney Stark's For The Glory of God.

It will go practically era by era or even century by century of Christian history to show how the Bible was used to uphold slavery.

The book will demonstrate that it was abandoning biblical authority that helped to end slavery. Along the way it deals in detail with the usual arguments (e.g., Popes tried to stop slavery; Evangelicals were a major force for abolitionism, Christianity preached equality, etc.).

My current post is especially tailored to David Marshall's statements, and so it is not part of a chapter in that book. However, my book will be so detailed that you will find a refutation of some of the same or similar arguments found in Marshall's book.

I don't know when the book will be published, but it could be 1-2 years.

Rob R said...

The idea of scripture as presenting a homogeneous moral picture without development and without moral trajectories just won't work.

One can say that scripture makes a case for slavery if they have a myopic view that ignores the big picture that is presented.

As Avalos noted, there were prohibitions and limits on making fellow Hebrews slaves. So slavery is ultimately at odds with the goal of scripture that seeks to welcome all men into the covenant with the new Hebrews.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

My forthcoming book is actually also a critique of the idea that there is even such a thing as a "trajectory" in scriptural thoughts on slavery.

Indeed, many Christian apologists argue that while the Bible may have sanctioned slavery, it has a "trajectory" toward freedom. This is what I call "trajectorialist" hermeneutics.

But, in the case of slavery, some scholars see the NT as much worse than the OT.

One such scholar is Margaret Davies, “Work and Slavery in the New Testament: Impoverishment of Traditions, ” in The Bible in Ethics: The Second Sheffield Colloquium, eds. John W. Rogerson, Margaret Davies, and M. Daniel Carroll R., JSOTSupplement Series 207 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995).

Nor is "development" necessarily a better
approach to biblical ethics because what some people call an "advance" others will call "a regression."

After all, anything can be a "development"
from an earlier stage, and so that tells you very little about whether any particular "development" is good or bad.

Rob R said...

I suppose they may have in mind the admonitions for slaves to obey their masters, which is kind of like turning the other cheek or giving a cloak to one who asks for it, which is not to be confused with a positive look on punching people in the face for freeloading.

course I'm just geussing. You didn't post what there arguments are. recomending texts to read is all good and well, but it doesn't advance a blog discussion much.

Nor is "development" necessarily a better
approach to biblical ethics because what some people call an "advance" others will call "a regression."

huh? You mean like what abolitionists would call an advance, slave holders would call a regression? Just what are you saying?

Rufous H. Byrd said...


Funny...Abolitionists had a great deal to say about slavery in the South, yet not much to say about the children working extremely long hours in really crappy conditions for minuscule wages in textile mills, etc. I guess since those kids were receiving wages they couldn't be considered "slaves," right?

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear Rob R:
What I am saying is that “development” is a useless term unless someone specifies what the ethical and/or theological presuppositions are in the first place. Yes, advocates of slavery saw abolition as a regression for slaves (e.g., Josiah Priest; Fred Ross), and abolitionists saw it as an advance for slaves.

On the issue of slavery, Margaret Davies sees the NT as a regression because the Hebrew Bible at least had term limits on enslavement for fellow Hebrews (6 years), but the NT did not have term limits, nor did it prohibit Christians from enslaving fellow Christians (cf. 1 Timothy 6:1-2). That is a step backward for her. Other Christians, of course, think the NT is a step forward.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: “I suppose they may have in mind the admonitions for slaves to obey their masters, which is kind of like turning the other cheek or giving a cloak to one who asks for it, which is not to be confused with a positive look on punching people in the face for freeloading."

This is an oft-used apology for biblical slavery that is patently absurd because the institution or practice being favored is not being analyzed properly. The consequences are also not being taken into account properly.

Almost anywhere else in biblical ethics we do assume that “Do X = approval/acceptance of the institution associated with X.” Notice these commands, which can be reduced to “Do X” in Matthew 19:19:

1. Honor your father and mother
2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself

Since “Do X = approval/acceptance of the institution associated with X,” the command to honor father and mother entails the approval/acceptance of the institution and/or practice of honoring one’s father and mother.

Loving your neighbor as yourself entails endorsement/acceptance of the institution and/or practice of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

Indeed, it would be absurd to say that the relevant command in Matthew 19:19 doesn’t look at the institution of parental authority positively.

Neither would you say that a command to commit homosexual acts means that the one commanding such acts does not see the practice of homosexuality as positive. Otherwise, it would also be unethical to command something that is not approved at some level.

Therefore, obeying slavemasters entails endorsement/acceptance of the institution of slavery. The command to obey slavemasters (Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18) certainly endorses the practice of obeying slavemasters.

And since slavery requires the obedience of slaves to function, then this command entails an endorsement or acceptance of the institution of slavery.

After all, these texts also DO mean that slaves can be enslaved as long as the master wanted them to be enslaved. If so, abolition cannot occur without the slavemasters’ consent.

These texts commanding obedience to slavemasters were quoted against abolition quite effectively in the South, and they were understood that way for much of the last 2000 years in Christianity.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

YES, Jesus views Christians not resisting after being punched in the face positively (but not the act of Christian punching OTHERS) because Christian suffering is a blessing, as suggested in Matthew 10:38-39:

[38] and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
[39] He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.

All commands for non-resistance by Jesus in Matthew are instances of DEFERRED VIOLENCE, something I elaborate in more detail in my book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005).

Deferred violence means that I can command you to act peacefully FOR THE TIME BEING because I intend to come back later and beat up your attacker for you. Jesus says he will do that in Matthew 25:45-46 to those who were not nice to Christians:

[45] Then he will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”
[46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

And here is another regression, for many ethicists, relative to the OT in terms of the proportionality of punishment.

In the OT, punishment was only to last for the lifetime of an individual at maximum (see Deut. 28:15ff). In the NT punishment and violence are eternalized and maximized (burning forever) for those who take hell literally.

From a Jewish viewpoint, therefore, The NT god might be much more brutal and violent than the OT god. But Christians often paint the OT god as the one that is more angry or violent, and the NT is supposed to “advance” to a more loving god.

In any case, all this speaks again to the issue of how “advances” and “regressions” are relative and do depend on other ethical and theological presuppositions.

See also my response to Copan who says the Bible has an “advance” on lex talionis and other laws relative to other cultures of the Near East.

Arizona Atheist said...

David Marshall seems to be a glutton for punishment. See this thread he’s started at

This guy can have fact upon fact piled in front of him and he will still insist he’s right! I should know since I took it upon myself to write a chapter by chapter rebuttal to his book The Truth Behind the New Atheism a while back.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2

Otherwise, it would also be unethical to command something that is not approved at some level.

On some levels, some types of slavery had real benefits to both slave and owner. But that doesn't mean that the institution as a whole sits well with the Christian message as a whole.

After all, these texts also DO mean that slaves can be enslaved as long as the master wanted them to be enslaved. If so, abolition cannot occur without the slavemasters’ consent.

Abolition of slavery wasn't even on the radar of possibilities at the time. So I don't think this speaks against such an idea in the slightest.

These texts commanding obedience to slavemasters were quoted against abolition quite effectively in the South, and they were understood that way for much of the last 2000 years in Christianity.

These slavemasters more often than not did not have Christian brotherhood wither their slaves and did not have even a Roman form of slavery let alone a Hebrew one. Do you honestly truely believe that that southern slave holders held their slaves as brothers? Do your really really believe that the relationship that Paul strongly encouraged of Philemon to have towards Onesimus had any place in southern institutional slavery? Could they even be said to have practiced broader Christian ethics such as the golden rule and the two greatest commandments to their slaves, or was the institution at a whole at odds with this?

Rob R said...

Post 1 of 2

I thought we were relatively on the same page to agree that slavery is morally wanting. So then, scripture as a whole which undermines the legitimacy of slavery, even though it doesn't outright condemn it is progressive.

On the issue of slavery, Margaret Davies sees the NT as a regression because the Hebrew Bible at least had term limits on enslavement for fellow Hebrews (6 years), but the NT did not have term limits,

The NT points to the old testament as a teacher and as I said, the NT invites us all into this covenant. Clearly, limiting slavery for one's brother in the covenant has something to say about slavery, unless the Old testament has nothing to teach us about it. And now we spiritual children of Abraham are to welcome all the goyim with open arms. Enslaving just doesn't do that (enslavement, slave trading is outright condemned). Again, I acknowledge that it isn't outright condemned. But I have to be honest with the text. slavery is undermined (of course in many other ways besides what is mentioned).

Almost anywhere else in biblical ethics we do assume that “Do X = approval/acceptance of the institution associated with X.”

I wouldn't assume it. We can discern a difference. I'd note that your examples (parenthood, merely living along side another) are of institutions built into the fabric of creation. But slavery was not but it was a social invention. And in scripture, the the ownership of one human being by another is very much curtailed and is not absolute since it is limited in time, since one is free to flee this relationship, since owners were required to treat them justly (from the very scripture you cite), since slavery in Philemon is contrasted as inconsistent and inferior to Christian brotherhood that was urged upon a slave holder.

Neither would you say that a command to commit homosexual acts means that the one commanding such acts does not see the practice of homosexuality as positive.

Paul wasn't commanding people to enter into slavery, only regulating it. And that it isn't undermined in one passage, such as in 1 tim 6 hardly indicates that it wasn't undermined powerfully elsewhere such as in Philemon.

Gandolf said...

Rob R said..."One can say that scripture makes a case for slavery if they have a myopic view that ignores the big picture that is presented."

Yes that might sometimes be very true Rob.

But still much the very same, or infact even worse can happen for faithful folks thoughts, when they decide to worship some "charismatic figure".And that figure could be the faith itself.

Never mind ignoring the big picture,many faithful just dont even bother daring look at "any picture" at all, other than that what they have already decided to worship.In other words they dont look at any picture at all,they have even simply become "slaves" to the faith.Its how my own family still remains enslaved in an abusive christian faith in the year 2010.Its how the Jim Jone crew all ended up dead as a door nail.Its what made the Pope think it was maybe a smart thing, to try just keep moving the sexual molestors onward.

Never mind looking at the big picture,sheeze these folks dont even bother looking at any picture.They are all but utter idiotic Faith Zombies.

And thankfully lately modern scientific neurologic tests have even managed to capture the effects this phenomena happening.

David B Marshall said...

I am surprised to find Dr. Avalos' attack on me here, a month after he posted it. I am even more surprised at the quality of his attack.

Avalos doesn't seem to say a word about the context to his attack. He doesn't point out that he only read and attacked my book after I had first criticized his frivolous attempt to blame Christianity for Nazism in The Christian Delusion. He doesn't breath a word about our long debate on Amazon, in which (I think it is evident) his arguments were systematically shredded by an alleged "hack writer." He allows readers to think he writes this article out of objective concern for the truth, rather than personal peeve and revenge over his (as appears to me, but not me alone) public humiliation. Nor does he do me the basic courtesy of letting me know about his attack, so I could respond in a timely manner.

I had already been writing a more thorough response to his original attempt to blame Christianity for the Holocaust. I planned to notify him when it was posted or printed, whatever its ultimate fate.

I was thinking of other venues, but since you've published this personal attack on myself here, do you want it, John? Can you handle posting a serious critique of two chapters of your new book on your own web site? I'll also respond to his attacks on my scholarship. (In fact I've refuted the essence of his approach here in the body of our debate. He makes a simple but telling misunderstanding about the nature of public discourse and pig-headedly adheres to it, however often his error is pointed out, without a word of response to my objections. No doubt that's the advantage of changing venues with notifying your opponent.)

I will not post my response at the tail end of a month-old post. However, given that John posted the original attack, if he's willing to post my response in an equally prominent location, I'll be glad to post it here; otherwise please look for that response elsewhere.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: ROB-R-- “I thought we were relatively on the same page to agree that slavery is morally wanting.”

Not at all. My forthcoming book is meant to analyze in detail the types of arguments you make. In general, you are trying to mitigate biblical slavery through very common apologetic techniques that are ethically inconsistent with any humanitarian “fabric” we should share.

I hold slavery, in any form, to be an unjust and unethical practice. Any scripture that at any time accepts or endorses slavery is automatically disqualified from being any sort of ethical guide for humanity.

RE: "I'd note that your examples (parenthood, merely living along side another) are of institutions built into the fabric of creation."

Not true or you are unclear about what "fabric of creation" means. "Do X = "approval of the institution associated with X" is a logical relation, and is not governed by whether X is considered part of the fabric of creation or not.

Nor do you provide any evidence that commandments, in general, are only signaling approval when linked to “the fabric of creation.” Therefore, the “the fabric of creation” is a meaningless criterion without further specification.

Alternatively, many theologians found justification for slavery because it was part of the "fabric of creation." For example, many people would say that “dominion” is also part of the fabric of creation (Genesis 1:28) and that hierarchy is also part of the “fabric of creation” insofar as it is a natural consequence of sin (Gen. 3:16; cf. also 1 Corinthians 1:9).

ANY COMMANDMENT from God can be assumed to be part of "the fabric of creation" depending on your theological viewpoint.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: “And in scripture, the the ownership of one human being by another is very much curtailed and is not absolute since it is limited in time, since one is free to flee this relationship, since owners were required to treat them justly.”

This again is an old defense of slavery. Either you find slavery immoral or you do not. Talk of “regulating” immoral actions, instead of condemning them, is like saying that we ought to give someone credit for merely regulating genocide rather than outright condemning it.

You also missed the point of Davies’ critique. Slavery is limited in time for “fellow Hebrews,” but not for non-Hebrews (Lev. 25:44-46), who can be owned forever. Slavery went from being limited in time for fellow Hebrews to having NO LIMITS in the NT. Thus, is this an advance or a regression for you?

RE: “Paul wasn't commanding people to enter into slavery, only regulating it.”

This is like arguing “Paul was not commanding people to enter into adultery, but only regulating adultery.” An action considered fundamentally immoral is not usually regulated, but outlawed.

Any command that helps to retain the essential functions of an institution is a, de facto, approval of that institution. Obedience is one of the essential actions that sustains slavery, and all commands to affirm obedience as a duty of slaves perpetuates slavery, DE FACTO.

Paul had no trouble saying that adulterers and even drunkards would not enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:8-9), but you wish to convince us that holding another human being as a slave did not merit the same condemnation, but only “regulation”? Why is that?

Moreover, there were some non-Christian groups who did think that slavery was wrong and prohibited members from having slaves (e.g., Essense, some parts of Greece).

You also miss the fact that NO ONE IS COMMANDED to own slaves in Roman society, and the least Christianity could have done is to prohibit it to its own members. It did not.

RE: “And now we spiritual children of Abraham are to welcome all the goyim with open arms.”

Being a spiritual child of Abraham had NO NECESSARY IMPLICATIONS for whether Christians could have slaves or not because Christians could make a difference between spiritual and physical aspects of human existence. Physical enslavement was not viewed as objectionable as spiritual enslavement to sin, etc.

In fact, Martin Luther, cited precisely that physical and non-spiritual aspect of slavery as being a reason to justify slavery in his tract against the Swabian peasants.

RE: "Enslaving just doesn't do that (enslavement, slave trading is outright condemned)."

Not true, or I don’t know what you mean by “slave trading” is outright condemned. The usual passages adduced for this are often misinterpreted (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:10).

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: “since owners were required to treat them justly.”

Why is the mere act of owning a slave not itself unjust for you? And how is it “just” to take people away from their family? And how is it just to be allowed to beat a slave nearly to death without being punished?

For example, Exodus 21:20-21:
[20]"When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.
[21] But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.

Do you call this "just treatment"?

RE: “1 tim 6 hardly indicates that it wasn't undermined powerfully elsewhere such as in Philemon.”

Philemon does no such thing. I devote a fairly lengthy section to how modern scholars such as Ben Witheringon try to use “socio-rhetorical criticism" to redeem Philemon from being an a epistle that affirms the right of slavemasters to have their slaves returned. I also devote attention to the efforts of A.D. Callahan to argue that Philemon was not a slave at all.

RE: “But that doesn't mean that the institution as a whole sits well with the Christian message as a whole.”

You provide no evidence of why “The Christian message as a whole” was against slavery at all. As you admit, it does not condemn the practice, it tells slaves to obey slavemasters, and the Bible explicitly says that Hebrews can have slaves (e.g., Lev. 25:44-46). So what tells you the Bible or Christianity "as a whole" are against the institution?

RE: "Do you honestly truely believe that that southern slave holders held their slaves as brothers?”

Many southern slaveowners did think they were doing slaves a service and treating them as brothers. Some biblical authors thought the same thing (cf. 1 Cor. 7:21 in some translations).

Clearly, one can be a Christian and own slaves (e.g., 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Philemon). One can have Christian “brothers” as slaves. And how does having a Christian brother as a slave treat him as “a brother” at all?

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear Rob-R,
In order to focus our discussion, I wonder if you would be so kind as to answer these questions more directly:

1. Do you think slavery is fundamentally wrong? Yes or No?

2. If something is fundamentally wrong, is it better to condemn it or merely regulate it?

3. Why does being a drunkard prevent you from enering the Kingdom of Heaven but not slaveholding (1 Cor. 6:8-9)?

4. How does a Christian owning another Christian treat that enslaved Christian as brother in the first place?

5. Do you think that as long as someone treats a slave “justly,” then the slavemaster is justified to have a slave?

6. Do you consider the actions described in Exodus 21:21 toward slaves as just? Yes or No?

7. Why is the mere act of owning a slave not itself unjust for you?

Anonymous said...

Ma Dixiong/ David Marshall, since you cannot read let me inform you that this post of Hector's was made yesterday, that attacking his motives, even if true, is an ad hominem fallacy which does not deal with his arguments, and there is no reason why anyone must tell someone else that they have posted something about you.

So there. Ya got nothing except that you can do a lot of chest beating, but that's all ya got, chest beating. Any ignorant person can do that.


T said...

Dr. Avalos,

This is great! I sincerely appreciate all the time it took to respond here on DC. I am already looking forward to your new book!


Anonymous said...

Slavery was wrong to Marcion. His entire soteriology was based around the idea of the Good God sending Jesus Chrestos to come and set us free from the Demiurge (OT god). This of course offended Tertullian (circa 208 AD) a Catholic apologist, who argues that since the "Good God" is found to be freeing another's slaves without his consent, he must not be good! Why if he were good (argues Tertullian) he would return runaway slaves to their master.

We see then that pro-slavery Christianity is a result of Catholicism, i.e. of the melding of church and empire, and not part of the original idea.

Anonymous said...

In case I didn't mention this, that's in Tertullian's 5 books Against Marcion. I did a post about it once called Tertullian's cheesy logic, and Marcion on slavery. As then, I don't feel like looking up the reference right now, but Against Marcion is online at Tertullian.org if anybody wants to look it up for themselves.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 3

First I'll answer your questions. I don't know if slavery is fundamentally wrong or not considering I don't know that we have a clear definition of what slavery is. But even then, I don't know that it isn't fundamentally wrong. I think capitalism might be fundamentally wrong. but that doesn't mean that it is personally wrong for me to participate and excel in it which can be done to its corrupt potential or it can be carried out with integrity. I think some forms of slavery are truly deplorable. The worst I suppose is what we have around today in the sex trade where the nature of the labor itself is degrading and destructive to everyone involved. American southern slavery was not intrinsically as bad as that though it is a fairly bad form based on racism which increased it's corruption.

If something is fundamentally wrong, is it better to regulate it or condemn it. I suppose I answered this in my comment about capitalism. If it is somehow wrong at a fundamental level, I don't suppose that this is necessarily indicative of the degree or quality of its immorality. You may define slavery as owning someone. I think to treat someone absolutely as property is absolutely wrong. But you don't have that in scripture. I doubt you have it in even in ancient Rome. You have elements in that, but not completely. I just don't see any and all treatment of people in the same way as propterty as evil unless it's absolute. I have an employer and when I am on the clock, he owns my time. He owns my efforts and labor which is purchased for a fee. If I was an engineer, he might even own some of my creative thoughts. But this ownership is very limited. But at what point does that become slavery?

Why is it worse to be a drunkard than a slave holder? A drunkard puts his alcohol above people and drunkenness compromises one's moral self control. It's conceivable that a slave holder treats his slaves right. It may not ultimately be a good relationship, but it's not necessarily dehumanizing and even the slaves could have a kind of positive relationship that they could look positively upon. The Mosaic Law even speaks to this suggesting that it was a Hebrew slave's right to serve his master all his life if he loved him. So why should we consider this particular relationship immoral? I still agree that the whole system of slavery is a bad one, ultimately at odds with the broad goals of scripture, but people can still function right in a flawed system.

How does a slaveholder treat his slave as a Christian brother? With tension. This point from Philemon isn't going to go away. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus AS a brother and INSTEAD of as a slave. Paul makes it a point that the two are at odds. You mention either here or in John's book that Paul gives Philemon the choice to retain Onesimus as a slave. Not because he respects his right as a slave holder but because he wants him to do the right thing out of his own initiative, though he procedes to give Philemon one heck of a guilt trip on what he ought to do that would make a Jewish mother blush. You want to refuse to see the trajectory. I just don't see how this honest fair treatment of the text.

In Philemon, Paul brings to the forefront the inconsistency of holding a Christian brother as a slave in this letter written to someone who is very dedicated to the faith and to the church, in other words a more advanced believer. This is not contradicted by Paul's generic instruction about slaveholders in the flock to Timothy, men who may not be as advanced. But for Philemon, Paul indicates how he can advance further in the faith. As to whatever Ben Witherington's argument is, that's all well and good, but in a discussion with me, I'd rather you'd deal with the arguments that i bring up, not someone else.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3

Either you find slavery immoral or you do not.

I don't see things that things are that simple. And as I am not an absolutist about moral absolutes (I said I wasn't a moral absolutist, but I really do believe in some absolutes, I just don't think all morals are absolute), this kind of statement isn't going to go far with me.

Talk of “regulating” immoral actions, instead of condemning them, is like saying that we ought to give someone credit for merely regulating genocide rather than outright condemning it.

Now this is just illogical. I don't see why moral reasoning about genocide has to be the same as that about slavery which are radically different behaviors.

You also missed the point of Davies’ critique. Slavery is limited in time for “fellow Hebrews,” but not for non-Hebrews (Lev. 25:44-46), who can be owned forever.

I didn't miss that point. You ignored my response to it. While the Christians were not under the mosaic covenant, while new covenant could be more demanding, the Mosaic covanent was still a teacher and this limitation points to an ideal for the goyim Christians to follow. What we have here is the Christian mission taking those with lower standards allowing gentiles with slaves (and their slaves) into the covenant which has had the potential, a potential that has seen fruit to undermine slavery as we see made explicit in Philemon. The standards to become a Christian were lower. The standards to grow in the faith were higher. You see fewer compulsory rules on slavery as a regression, but it is a higher aspect of the Christian covenant that Paul says that the freeing of a slave should come from the heart. There is to be a greater internalization.

Christianity could have done is to prohibit it to its own members. It did not.

Yes, flawed people were allowed into the covenant. This is consistent with the redemptive mission of Christianity.

Being a spiritual child of Abraham had NO NECESSARY IMPLICATIONS for whether Christians could have slaves or not

Right... we're talking about trajectories. If by necessary implications, you mean what was immeadiately expected, it is obvious that slavery was one of those things not immeadiately eradicated. That's why we see the negative nature of slavery as a scriptural trajectory, not something immediately condemned for the believer, but something that was definitely at odds.

because Christians could make a difference between spiritual and physical aspects of human existence.

Well that might be an in vogue way of interpreting and dichotomizing scripture from whatever evangelical faith you rejected, but I find it suspect and am more interested in a more holistic understanding.

Many southern slaveowners did think they were doing slaves a service and treating them as brothers

Oh yeah, they were just members of the family. They left land to them, helped them run their own buisnesses, respected their marriages and never raped any of their women. Brothers. yeah.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3

Exodus 21:21 is really general. A slave is punished severly. Well punishments can be just and they can be unjust and the question is whether they actually did something to deserve the punishment. If it wasn't deserved, then the slave ought to run away as was his right. And of course if he dies, then the master who clearly didn't intend death deserves to be punished for manslaughter. Course if it's murder, if he beat him to death right there and then, then and eye for an eye. But, Christians were held to a higher standard.

Why is the mere act of owning a slave not unjust to me? It is unjust for me and for you and for all Americans now because it is the sovereign right of the US to outlaw what is a flawed and morally wanting relationship of authority and it is ultimately at odds with the scriptural message and trajectory of scripture that has matured on this issue in our culture. I am not an absolutist after all.

It was not unjust for ancients who were already in that relationship, a relationship which could have developed for legitimate reasons such as one who sold himself into slavery due to his debts.

Not true or you are unclear about what "fabric of creation" means.

Parenthood and the status of being a neighbor are necessities of human existence (necessities of varying degrees, of course one could be a hermit, but that's not normal). Relationships and modes of authority are far more socially variable across societies.

but at any rate as you want me to accept that to regulate something is to accept it, the burden of proof is on you since I have no reason to believe it. And modern counterexamples abound. We'd be better off if the adult industry just went away, but it'd be better to regulate it than to do nothing. A closer example (since I don't think slaverholding is necessarily damning) would be industries that harm the environment. We ought to regulate them and pursue the elimination of such harms, but to eliminate them completely right away, we might not be able to support the population of the world. But even if we could, how we could get to that place in an economically feasible manner is a challenge which requires careful thought (perhaps it wouldn't have to be economically feasible though. Maybe we could do it at gun point!!)

ANY COMMANDMENT from God can be assumed to be part of "the fabric of creation" depending on your theological viewpoint.

Which clearly isn't a problem since I don't have to be concerned about just ANY theological viewpoint. That's a strange point to me since I could counter many of your objections could be otherwise depending on one's ethical viewpoint. But I don't see how that would advance the discussion any.

Anonymous said...

John: What I posted wasn't a response to Hector, it was a quick note I wrote after finding his attack on me on your web site. Whether or not my response to him is effective remains to be seen for you.

But you didn't answer my question. You've posted a personal attack on my character and scholarship on your web site. Are you willing to post my response in an equally prominent position? (Not under 20 other posts.)

Anonymous said...

David, all you did was beat your chest. What am I supposed to think? Chest beating does not a man's argument answer. It's like masturbating on us, and THAT is insulting.

Nothing of what you've written answers MY argument when it comes to The Problem of Miscommunication spelled out in my book, which I consider a more telling criticism of the slavery issue. Hector tackles the issue as it relates to the Bible and slavery in the church and does a masterful job of the details. I have an undercutting defeater to the whole issue. It's like a two punch knockout. You can't answer him but even if you can, I finish you off with the final punch.

Why is it you can't see this? It's because of the first three chapters in TCD, that's why. Read them again.

In any case, I do not post criticisms of me or other contributors at DC. If you have a venue then post it there. Or perhaps you could show me where a Christian apologist would do likewise and post an essay criticizing them on their own blog?


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear Rob R
RE: "I think to treat someone absolutely as property is absolutely wrong. But you don't have that in scripture. I doubt you have it in even in ancient Rome. You have elements in that, but not completely. I just don't see any and all treatment of people in the same way as propterty as evil unless it's absolute."

Thanks for your sincere and forthright attempt to answer my questions. However, I am even more puzzled now by your view of slavery.

First, NO slave system treated a slave completely as property, if that means the same as inanimate non-living property. There was a tension in all slave systems between treating the slave completely as property and treating that slave completely as a person.

The reason is that non-living property normally does not rebel, or run away, or talk back to masters. Thus, it was nearly impossible to treat a slave as you would a hammer or a chair completely in ANY SYSTEM.

So, perhaps you can clarify further by answering these questions:

A. What slave system did (or does) treat slaves “completely as property”?

B. Are there any elements that must be sufficiently present for you to classify someone “completely as property"?

C. How did you come to conclude that we should not consider “all treatment of people in the same way as propterty [sic] as evil unless it's absolute"? That is to say, why does treating someone as property have to be "absolute" to be considered "evil" for you?

D. Is “absolute” the same as “complete” to you?
(e.g., is treating slave "completely" as property
the same as treating a slave "absolutely" as property)?

GearHedEd said...

John said,

"...Seneca (ca. 4 BCE-65 CE), the Stoic philosopher, tells his readers (Epistles, 47.11; LCL):

"Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. And as often as you reflect how much power you have over a slave, remember that your master has just as much power over you.”"

Having noticed that Seneca is a verifiable historical person who lived through the period given as THE ENTIRE LIFESPAN OF JESUS, I thought it would be fun to see if he wrote anything about our erstwhile rabbi. Here's what I found:

"Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65 AD) was a prodigious writer. His legacy includes satires, tragedies, several books on natural phenomena, and at least 124 insightful letters (Epistulae morales). A dozen essays on philosophy include edifying tracts on the brevity of life, human destiny, clemency and virtue. In On Clemency, Seneca describes the prince who safeguards the lives of his subjects as "god like". In On Tranquility of Mind, he urges a contentment gained from thrift rather than a ceaseless passion for wealth. A lost work De Superstitione ridiculed popular conceptions of the gods.

As it happens, the life of Seneca, like that of Philo, was contemporaneous with the "Jesus" of legend. Yet though Seneca wrote extensively on many subjects and people, nothing relating to "Jesus" ever caught his attention, nor does he show any awareness of a "vast multitude" of Christians, supposedly, punished for the fire that ravaged Rome in 64 AD."

Seneca's Commentary on Jesus

Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

David B Marshall said...

I've now posted two responses to Dr. Hector Avalos' attacks, and his attempts to deny or denigrate the role Christianity has played in overthrowing slavery:

I. "Why the hectoring, Dr. Avalos?" Avalos has a few simple tricks that he plays in trying to undermine the credibility of Christian opponents; the purpose of this article is to demonstrate the illegitimacy of those tricks, and (not incidentally) to respond to his phoney critique of my work:


II. "Slave to Cherry-Picked Footnotes: 19 Problems with Hector Avalos on Religion and Human Bondage." While not a full response, this article contains more details about the issue Avalos chooses to critique me on, the Christian record on slavery. It also demonstrates some pretty sloppy scholarship on Dr. Avalos' part:


This is a new forum; substantive responses will be welcome!


XAtheistX said...

I took it upon myself to engage David’s wrongheaded attacks upon Avalos and his laughingly silly arguments. I responded a second time but David decided not to post my comment that demonstrated with one example just how silly his criticisms were. Not only is David apparently unethical for his attacks upon Avalos but also feels he must silence his critics. Check out the above link in David’s comment for the first half of the exchange. Here is the comment that was suppressed - I’m assuming out of embarrassment. There I posted anonymously as The Angry Atheist:

Hello David. Nice to hear from you! My post wasn’t vitriolic at all. I merely pointed out the obvious. While you yourself constantly engage others with ad hominem you whine when someone does it back to you. That’s hypocritical. Your attempt at tarnishing Avalos’ rep. was not when when you allegedly refuted his arguments (you did no such thing) but when you referred to some of his past debates and things he had said. So what? That has nothing to do with the arguments at hand.

As far as your supposed arguments (if they can even be considered that) you haven’t made a dent in anything he said. For example, you equivocate (among other things) about how he argues against your citation of Queen Bathild who freed fellow Christians from slavery. You claim Avalos says what you’ve written is false and then quote him as saying it’s partially true. Avalos is correct. You argue incorrectly that Bathild tried to stop the slave trade. The slave trade was much more than just the Christians being enslaved by Muslims, the opposite also occurred with Christians enslaving Muslims, but you didn’t see Bathild try to free anyone else but her brethren. That’s not anywhere close to stopping the slave trade but practicing the “in group” morality that your bible preaches so much of. If she was truly all for stopping the actual slave trade she would have tried to free everyone she could, but she didn’t.

To quote Avalos from the butt whooping he gave you -

“Plato (Republic 5.469b-c) had similarly prohibited the enslavement of fellow Greeks, but not that of non-Greeks. Thus, Bathilde is following an ancient tradition of prohibiting the enslavement of members of the in-group, but allowing the enslavement of members of the out-group (see Leviticus 25:44-46 again).

In sum, prohibiting the sale of Christian slaves is not the same as being against the slave trade because it was still perfectly legitimate to buy or capture non-Christian slaves. Bathilde’s actions cannot count as “abolitionism” or even as being against slavery.”

Precisely. That was Avalos’ point, but you simply glossed over that. Would you care to try again? You still have two more strikes before you’re out.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

I won’t spend much time on Marshall’s responses because he repeats the same sorts of techniques, arguments and methods that I already criticized.

I will respond on this thread in case Marshall decides to edit or delete my posts on his threads, which may be found at:

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/ 2010/08/i-why-hectoring-dr.html

http://christthetao.blogspot. com/2010/08/ii-slave-to-cherry-picked-footnotes-19.html

His Part I is mostly a personal attack that has little bearing on my arguments on slavery. Marshall repeats material found on the internet about my debate with Craig, and other issues of which he has no first-hand knowledge whatsoever (e.g., the Gonzalez case).

For example, he cites a critique of my debate with William Lane Craig at Common Sense Atheism, but then does not cite my subsequent interview with Luke Muehlhauser about this debate.

See: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7046. He also assumes those criticisms are correct.

For the record, I have answered many of Dr. Craig’s allegations, including some of Craig’s factual errors, and so why didn’t Marshall note that fact? Craig never has retracted even the clearest of factual errors (e.g., Craig misidentifies my position at my university), but Marshall does not seem to mind. I list some of them here:


I’ve answered some of Dr. Gonzalez’s claims here:


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: Marshall/Avalos accuses me of a "gross and misleading overgeneralization." Actually he MISQUOTES me again, then goes on a twelve-paragraph panegyric..."

I do grant that I mistakenly added a “the” in manually typing (versus cut and pasting, which I prefer to do for accuracy) one of Marshall’s quotes (see below). Though inadvertent, that should never happen. That is my responsibility.

Marshall is, however, wrong to say that it really changed the nature of his claim. Compare the two statements at issue as he summarizes them:

A: "The equality of humanity was denied by Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Marshall classic version, p. 144.)

B: "The equality of humanity was denied by THE Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Avalos redacted version, emphasis added.)

If, as he claims, he did not mean to overgeneralize in the way that adding “the” appears to have made it, then he seems inconsistent with other statements he makes.

The whole context of his discussion is that Christians were different from other cultures in regard to slavery.

So, how would that make his point if some Greeks denied the equality of human beings, but then some Christians did, too?

In any case, Marshall’s premise seems to be that a cultural/national word such as “Greeks” without the article is fine as long as “SOME Greeks believe X.” An expression such as “THE Greeks” applies only if “ALL Greeks believe X.” Fine.

If this is the case, then I surmise that the following statements would also satisfy Marshall’s rules for the presence or omission of the definite article.

A. “Greeks affirmed the equality of humanity” (since all I need is for some Greeks to affirm this equality to use “Greeks” instead of “the Greeks”).

B. “Christians endorsed slavery” (all I need is for some Christians to endorse slavery to make this statement true).

Yet, the point remains. How does Marshall intend to convince us that Christianity was better or superior in regard to slavery if we can make equivalent statements about Christian and non-Christian cultures without the use of a definite article at the equivalent grammatical junctures?

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE:Marshall/ 4th Century: “Gregory of Nyssa critiques slavery in the light of Christian theology”

This is typical of the superficial approach Marshall takes to abolitionism. He offers no precise documentation. He offers no context to those quotes. His whole timeline is poorly documented.

For example, he quotes Gregory of Nyssa with a well-known passage (Fourth Homily on Ecclesiastes) that he copies from an uncited source.

But then he seems to know very little about Gregory of Nyssa’s OTHER statements that may show he was not an abolitionist.

In fact, some of Gregory's other statements found slavery acceptable (see citations below), and so why not list him in the timeline as part of the highlights of “Christian slavery”?

So maybe Marshall can tell us:

1. Why did Marshall not quote Gregory’s statements on slavery found in his Homily IV on the Song of Songs (PG 44:853)?

2. Why did Marshall not discuss what Gregory said about slavery in The Great Catechism, 22 (NPNF2 5:492-93)?

3. If statements against slavery by Gregory count as highlights of abolitionism, do statements supporting/accepting slavery by Gregory count as highlights of the increasing slavery that Christianity brought?

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: Marshall/“Why did Avalos spend so much time and effort attacking four pages of a low-profile book by an alleged "indolent, incompetent hack?"

Because books such as this are read by people who need to hear the other side.

RE: Marshall/“Why didn't Avalos mention the fact that we had a "history?"

Marshall seems to demand courtesies of others than he does not offer himself. For example, his comments on Amazon also did not mention that Marshall “had a history” of attacking me personally without any response from me.

According to his chronology I am supposed to be angry because of the critique he posted of The Christian Delusion on Amazon on April 26, 2010.

The fact is he had already attacked me personally on October 5, 2009 when he was responding to another comment in a thread in which I never participated. Here is his comment:

"You accused me of "intellectual dishonesty" for not responding to "some issues of substance" a fanatic named Avalos claimed to have with one of my sources.


I never had interacted with Marshall before then to the best of my recollection.

And I was not even criticizing Marshall then, but rather I had commented on Richard Weikart’s book, From Darwin to Hitler, in a discussion completely unrelated to any interaction with Marshall.

So, why did he not mention that he already had this sort of animosity toward me before he issued his critique of The Christian Delusion?

I had been thinking of doing a critique of responses to the New Atheists for months before he posted his review, but I was doing a book on slavery. That is why I selected the section on slavery in his book. I prefer to speak on subjects I know something about.

RE: Marshall/“Why it is OK for Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens to write general attacks on Christianity spanning many topics about which they know next to nothing...”

Marshall seems to think that I don’t criticize New Atheists or skeptics when they speak outside of their expertise. Yet, this only shows Marshall’s unfamiliarity with my writings. In Fighting Words (pp. 53-55), I criticize Michael Shermer for some of his statements about the Bible.

I have an unsolicited testimonial from another secularist blogger, Tom Verenna. I had criticized Verenna for lack of credentials in the subjects on which he spoke, and later he decided to get credentials because of that criticism. See comment #9 at:


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

RE: Marshall/“Hitchens’ claim that there were “absolutely no” such instances is false”

Here, Marshall leaves out an important qualifier by Hitchens: “for a long time.” The relevant portion of Hitchens’s statement reads: “...and for a long time aroused absolutely no religious protest...” (god is not Great, p. 176).

Marshall rails against the mistaken addition of a definite article but he has no problem omitting a whole and important qualifying phrase. The phrase “for a long time” is open to interpretation, and the examples of protests usually adduced by apologists (e.g., Sublimis deus) are not as definitive as supposed.

RE: Marshall/“Worse, Dr. Avalos’ criticism is based on badly misreading our discussion. Hitchens is not talking about slavery in general, but, to be precise, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.”

Even if we are talking about the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, Hitchens is basically correct, depending on how you interpret “for a long time.”

To prove Hitchens wrong, all Marshall has to do is note all the supposed religious protests against slavery that we find between 1492 (or Marshall can suggest another date) and 1800. List the precise dates and then look in between those dates to see if any gaps without protest qualify as “a long time with absolutely no religious protest.”

Notice that the earliest instance that Marshall could come up in his book was a false claim that Pope Urban VIII “condemned slavery absolutely” in 1639 (The Truth Behind the New Atheism, p. 146).

And why does Marshall feel free to use the word “absolutely” when he chides Hitchens for doing the same thing? Yet, Marshall already admitted that he could not find any such absolute condemnation by Urban VIII. How's that for manufacturing evidence?

And between 1492 and 1639 would be 147 years. So was 1639 earliest protest Marshall could come up with then to refute Hitchens? Is 147 years not “a long time” for him?

In fact, consult his own “Timeline for Christian Abolition, and you will find gaps of up to 172 years (e.g., 1416 and 1588), and that is assuming those highlights are what he represents them to be.

RE: Marshall/“Aside from the confusing punctuation, it almost appears that Dr. Avalos is suggesting his "Italy" as a synonym for my "Greece!"

No, Marshall is simply glossing over a larger point I was making. He was contrasting, as is often the case in apologetic literature, the relative lack of slaves in northern Europe (e.g., England; Germany) with the situation in southern Europe in the Middle Ages. This was also in the context of his general argument that slavery diminished where Christianity was strongest.

I simply was pointing out that the amount slavery seemed to be proportional to Christian population numbers, and the largest concentrations were in Iberia and Italy (rather than Iberia and Greece). Where Christianity was presumably strongest is where you found the most slavery. Comprende?