Beyond Slavery pp 159-176 | Cite as

Gender, Slavery, and Technology: The Shaping of the Early Christian Moral Imagination

  • Sheila Briggs
Chapter
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series

Abstract

We think of sexuality as something natural that all human beings possess. Even when we acknowledge a range of sexual behaviors and attitudes, we tend to assume that these remain stable across time and across cultures. Therefore, when it comes to sexual ethics—our beliefs about the moral principles governing sexuality—we may allow for a wide spectrum of values and opinions, but we also see these as addressing the same issues in every time and place. It is not surprising, then, that when we read the New Testament, we suppose that Jesus and the first Christian leaders faced the same sort of sexual questions that we do today. Christians, who accept the Bible as a moral authority or at least see it as an ethical guide, expect its sexual teachings to be relevant to their lives and their society in the twenty-first century because they think that their sexuality and questions about sex are not really different from those of Christians in the first century. It may be troubling, especially to Christians, that sexuality and our attitudes toward it vary greatly in different historical periods and cultures. The New Testament is a historical document, written at a particular time in a society that held very different assumptions about what was obvious and natural about sex. One crucial element in the sexual lives and thinking of people in the ancient world was the all-pervasive fact of slavery. This is something that most of us would like to ignore, and Christians are likely to insist that New Testament sexual ethics were not founded on the acceptance of slavery.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982) 5–10, 38–41.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Discussions of the technical and architectural as well as social and ideological aspects of the amphitheater can be found in D. L. Bomgardner, The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre (New York: Routledge, 2000); Alison Futrell, The Roman Games: A Sourcebook, Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006); Futrell, Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alison Futrell, The Roman Games: A Sourcebook, Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006);Google Scholar
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  5. Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (New York: Routledge, 1998).Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    My discussion of Roman spectacle is informed by K. M. Coleman, “Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments,” Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990) 44–73; and Coleman, “Launching Into History: Aquatic Displays in the Early Empire,” Journal of Roman Studies 83 (1993) 48–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For a provocative study of the Christian resignification of suffering, see Judith Perkins, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (New York: Routledge, 1995) 104–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For an excellent study of Perpetua and her historical context, see Joyce E. Salisbury, Perpetuaos Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman (New York: Routledge, 1997).Google Scholar
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  11. 23.
    Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas 10.7. Translation from Herbert Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs: Introduction, Texts and Translations (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972) 119.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas 10.7. Gladiators, who suffered social contempt as well as enjoying public adulation, often tried to redefine themselves as athletes, a much more highly esteemed identity. This practice, attested in the surviving commemorations of gladiators in the Greek East, has been suggested as a source for the imagery of Christian martyrdom as athletic contest. See David S. Potter, “Entertainers in the Roman Empire,” in Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire, ed. Potter and D. J. Mattingly (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999) 323.Google Scholar
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    For this interpretation, see Jennifer A. Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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  • Sheila Briggs

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