Monday, January 16, 2012

Much of my recent scholarly work has dealt with people on the margins, children, abandoned children, slaves, child slaves and pederasty in the ancient world. The notion of equality in the ancient world did not cross the boundary of gender or age and the whole ancient notion of free and slave is an embedded social and cultural construct of inequality.  While slavery was not, so far as I can tell, based upon race in the ancient world, it was based upon the social construction of “us” and “them” at two levels. On the first level, you are a slave because you have been enslaved, for whatever reason, and so your children, too, will be slaves. You might have been an abandoned child sold into slavery, or born to a slave mother, but whatever your ethnicity or race, since you are a slave you must be a slave. The reality of manumission could change one’s status, and did, but until you were free, you were a slave. On the second level, “us” and “them” could indicate that various peoples or nations were different, culturally and socially, and so not as worthy of respect and certainly not of equality. In this case, even if some measure of respect was due to your culture or nation, such as the Romans for the Greeks, if you were a Greek captured in war, you were now a slave.

The move from the ancient world to the modern world has been, in so many respects, a move to greater freedom and equality for more and more people, politically, economically, socially and culturally. It is easy to see how much has been done positively the world over for so many people. It is also in that same context easy to take a short term look at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and reflect on how much has been done positively in the USA in terms of bringing African-Americans and others into the mainstream of American life. These positive movements should not be overlooked. But as a resident alien in the USA, one of the things that strikes a person almost immediately upon moving to the USA is how informally segregated the country still remains. While the possibility of equality in the workplace and the broader society have expanded, and real gains are obvious, widespread relationships between people of various ethnicities and races still lags behind the forms of legal equality in place. These relationships will need to emerge at broad personal levels before genuine equality will occur throughout the country. There is genuine hope here, though, for I do think that younger generations of Americans are starting to push through these artificial, though stubborn, boundaries of division on the basis of race and ethnicity and are on their way to creating genuine relationships and friendships that are the real basis for human equality.

Worldwide, however, the same issues that I am studying in an ancient context still are current issues: slavery and pederasty. Many girls and boys, as well as women and men, are indeed enslaved, even today, and so many of them in the context of sexual slavery. We have an advantage today, as opposed to the ancient world, and that is that these practices are illegal, even if too common. It is something that we need to stop whenever we know of its occurrence and draw attention to whenever we have that possibility. If it seems impossible to know how to stop its occurrence, try this as a starting point: do not consume pornography. You do not know if the people involved in its production are enslaved or coerced or of age. Do not frequent sex workers. Studies show that most people on the street have been sexually abused as children or have been or are being forced to work on the streets.

Many positive steps have been made towards equality, but as long as sin reigns in this world, many more steps will need to be taken and vigilance is essential.  Paul urges us to “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). It is a key for genuine equality. For those seeking more information, in an ancient or modern context, please look at some of the sites listed below.

Sites Against Human Trafficking:

This site gives an overview of modern slavery.  

This site combats sex trafficking in the USA by training truckers to report, especially, underage girls who are being trafficked. I also follow on Twitter @TATKylla


A Book Detailing the Legacy of Slavery in the USA:


Books Detailing Ancient Slavery:

Jennifer Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity  .

J. Albert Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament.

Cornelia Horn and John Martens, Let the Little Children Come to Me.


John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens