Fortress Press

Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions

Slaves in the New Testament

Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions

J. Albert Harrill (Author)


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In this exciting new analysis of slaves and slavery in the New Testament, Harrill breaks new ground with his extensive use of Greco-Roman evidence, discussion of hermeneutics, and treatment of the use of the New Testament in antebellum U.S. slavery debates. He examines in detail Philemon, 1 Corinthians, Romans, Luke-Acts, and the household codes.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800637811
  • Pages 360
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Publication Date October 24, 2005


"Harrill combines wide-ranging knowledge of ancient sources with a sharp eye for the jugular of a text. The result is that rare thing in biblical scholarship, genuinely fresh insights into an old question. A book both delightful and disturbing, Slaves in the New Testament demolishes a card house of wishful thinking about early Christian views on slavery. Everyone who believes that the Bible has something to say about moral issues needs to pay attention."
— Wayne A. Meeks, Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies Department of Religious Studies, Yale University

"Far more than a historical study of slavery in early Christianity, Harrill's remarkable book raises profound moral questions for the field of Biblical Studies and for the Christian churches. Nineteenth-century debates over whether the Bible supports slavery forged the schools of thought that shape today's debates over lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered rights; the full emancipation of women; or capital punishment. Harrill deftly analyzes a range of New Testament and other Christian sources, demonstrating how frequently they echo Roman society's slave-holding values and anxieties about living with people forcibly held in bondage."
— Bernadette Brooten, Robert and Myra Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies, Brandeis University

"With a profound mastery of the ancient sources in context, impressive dialogue with the rich diversity of modern scholarship, and compelling creativity in bringing this knowledge to his analysis of the New Testament, Harrill here presents fresh and persuasive contextualization in slave rhetoric of such passages as Romans 7, 2 Corinthians 10, Luke 16, 1 Timothy 1, and the Domestic Codes both in the New Testament and early Christian 'handbooks.' He challenges the reader to think like an ancient Roman and with Paul and other ancient writers to regard slavery as 'good to think with.' In addition, he helpfully extends these insights into recent discussions of Christian martyrdom and the use of the New Testament in the American slave controversy. Harrill has raised knowledge of ancient slavery and its stereotypical rhetorical uses by early Christians to a new and very productive hermeneutical level. This is a book to be savored slowly, for there is much to digest."
— S. Scott Bartchy, Professor of Christian Origins & History of Religion, Department of History, UCLA Director, Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA

"J. Albert Harrill, an expert on the topic of slavery in the New Testament, forcefully argues that a variety of New Testament texts reflect and promote an ideology of mastery that supported the Roman moral notion of 'auctoritas.' Moreover, he extends his analysis to Christian martyr stories and apologies, revealing that these narratives may challenge ancient ideologies of family as they relate to gender, but reinforce those ideologies in the case of slavery. Finally, he discusses the use of the New Testament in debates about slavery in antebellum America. From this examination he concludes that biblical scholarship cannot solve current conflicts over family values; rather, contemporary moral debate influences developments in biblical criticism. This is a challenging book that will compel interpreters not only to reevaluate some key early Christian texts that relate to slavery and Roman ideologies of mastery and masculinity, but to reflect more generally about the role of the Bible within religious debates about family."
— Alicia Batten, PhD., Assistant Professor, Department of Religion, Pacific Lutheran University

Table of Contents


Slaves in the New Testament, TOC;   Adobe Acrobat Document, 102k

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