Slavery in Early Christianity, by Glancy, characterizes the typical slave as "a person and a thing." Beyond that depiction, there is much speculation without conclusive support. An examination of documents alludes to a multitude of possibilities where relations with "the free" are concerned. Were the slaves actually workers, confidants, nurses (wet nurses), lovers, chattel, nannies, illegal wives, servants, or a combination of such?
One way that infants become slaves is to be "exposed." The child of a man (born to his wife or to someone else in his household) can be left out—on a dungheap, for instance. Anyone could raise that found child—and they are often raised as enslaved prostitutes (hence, "unwitting incest" was possible). Male slaves had no legal connection to their offspring. Slaveholders had unrestricted sexual access to their slaves—which most affected female slaves and young male slaves.
As an extension of the chattel idea, "the Greek word for body, soma, serves as a euphemism for the "person" of a slave (pg. 10). Property registers and wills reference slaves of a household as "the bodies," literally. From here, we transition briefly from physical slavery to spiritual slavery (from bodies to souls). Then abruptly back to the tangible again, we learn that slaves can serve as body doubles, doing time in prison for their owners' crimes. Women also use them as literal "body doubles" for their husbands so as to preserve their own reputation of respect, and the inheritance status of their own free child (or children). Jealousy is touched upon, but does not appear to be a strong issue. One can assume that "a body/a thing" is considered subhuman for the most part, and therefore not worthy of emotion against it. Male slaves were also physically exploited by their masters, and could not bear claim to any children they fathered.
This becomes a turning point in the book. We revisit the idea of "the body," as distinguished from "the soul." A body can be owned, injured, even destroyed. What is inside cannot be tampered with. "...The master tames neither the consciousness nor the conscience of the slave. In achieving victory over the slave's body the master has merely subdued an inanimate object" (pg. 33).
What follows is conjecture about slavery and Pauline churches, including their possible active role in prostitution. The following quotation is indicative of the time in history, but not necessarily the slave status of the common prostitute: "By diverting the sexual energies of men away from those whose honor mattered, prostitution protected the honor of respectable families" (pg. 56). Then "sexual ethics" appear to change (prohibiting any sex outside of marriage) in the late third century. Still, we find slaves not to be "humanized." In terms of sexual outlets, they are simply referenced as "vessels." Men were literally instructed to "take a vessel" (pg. 62).
The fascinating concept of self-sale into slavery was also raised. "For many this was the quickest way to climb socially and financially" (pg. 80). Later, they would count on being freed in a "rich citizen" status with free-born children.
Obedience is viewed as the most desirable virtue for slaves. Vulnerability is key. In such a state, one cannot protect the integrity of their own body (pg. 101). Depending on who one is talking to and where and when, selling oneself into slavery can be wholly condemned.
Slavery was addressed in the Bible without afterthought. The following quotation sums up much of historical context: "...Slavery caused no one in antiquity a crisis of conscience or an agony of the soul as it did abolitionists in later history, and as it still does some modern historians today. For a thousand years and more slavery was not a problem in classical culture" (pg. 103).
A Markan parable will suffice (among the many offered) to illustrate the positive possibilities for slaves. With the promise of manumission (release to freedom), a slave built a fence for his absent master's vineyard. Seeing the yard choked with weeds, the slave turned the soil, bringing high yields. Upon discovering this, the master announced the release of the slave and also named him as joint heir with his son. In celebration, the master sent the slave food from his feast. The slave kept a little to eat, and shared the rest with his fellow slaves: The lesson: "...Those who not only adhere to God's commandments but do still more than God commands will receive rich rewards" (pg. 104-105).
Being a slave to sin, having multiple owners (it being impossible to serve all), slaves subjected to corporal punishment, the notion of managerial slaves, faithful slaves, wicked slaves, the liability of the slave, slaves suffering abuse, and downright brutality against slaves are all subjects of in-depth treatment. "...The corporal punishment of disobedient slaves in the parables foreshadows the broken body of Jesus: ridiculed, beaten, executed" (pg. 129).
At the close of this study, in many ways, we come away with more questions than we started with. But all in all, this is a worthy effort on a scantily documented, but vital historical topic.