Sex and freedom in ancient Rome

Classical scholar Peter Brown has published in the New York Review of Books an excited review of Kyle Harper’s From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Harvard University Press).  The book, which is said to break new ground in the scholarship of ancient Rome, shows that the vaunted sexual permissiveness of ancient Rome was inextricably linked to the practice of slavery, with slave boys and girls being the primary sex objects who could not object to how they were used.  He also shows how the early Church, which decisively challenged and successfully changed this  brutal and hypersexualized culture, connected sexual morality with freedom.

After the jump, an excerpt from the review with a link to the book.  Question:  Could Christianity transform sexual morality once again? [Read more...]

Islam & concubines

A Muslim woman is calling for the legalization of sex slavery–which she describes as the temporary marriage of concubines–on the grounds that Islam permits it and that it is a cure for adultery.  From the International Business Times:

Sex slaves are OK in Islam, according to a former candidate for the Kuwaiti parliament, who is advocating for the legalization of sex slavery. . . .

In a video posted on YouTube earlier this year [see below], Salwa Al-Mutairi proclaimed that a sex slave trade would prevent Kuwait’s Muslim men from extramarital sexual activity, explaining that a purchase transaction for a sex partner would be tantamount to marriage.

“We want our youth to be protected from adultery,” she said.

Mutairi claimed that on a recent trip to Mecca, she spoke with several muftis, or Muslim religious scholars, who believe that there is a basis for the purchase of concubines in the shariah, or Islamic holy law.

She gave the example of Haroun al-Rashid, the third caliph or head of state of the Islamic Abbasid Empire, is rumored to have had some 2,000 concubines.

Appropriate candidates for the sex trade would be Muslim women from war-torn countries like Chechnya, Mutairi suggested.

In an earlier post, we talked about “living together” as a kind of revival of concubinage; that is, “marriage lite.” Islam apparently has a specific provision for it. The description of the “purchase transaction” is also something we blogged about: The woman is paid a sum, which is construed as a bride price. The man says something like, “I marry you.” Then, after having sex, he says, “I divorce you.” Given the acceptability in Islam of polygamy, that is all anyone needs for valid marriages and divorces. Thus we have prostitution without adultery, all of which is religiously-sanctioned and oh-so-moral.

This may be the perfect religion for our time: One that is legalistic–giving the pleasure of self-righteousness–while also, at the same time, allowing immorality! How can Christianity compete against that?

HT: Mary

The Czar and the President as liberators

Russia is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the serfs by Czar Alexander II, tying this event to what the Czar’s contemporary, President Abraham Lincoln, would do soon thereafter in emancipating America’s slaves.  From the Washington Post:

In this season of sesquicentennials, Russia is marking the liberation of 20 million serfs on March 3, 1861. That was one day before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, assuming powers that he would eventually use to bring American slavery to an end. . . .

Alexander was intent on reforming the creaky Russian state, and the conservative owners of Russia’s vast land holdings passionately resisted him. Liberals couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the slave-holding plantation owners in the American South, said Andrei Yanovsky, a co-curator of the archive exhibit. In the 1850s, in fact, when censorship made it impossible to criticize conditions in Russia, newspapers and magazines devoted large amounts of space to denunciations of American slavery – and, Kurilla said, readers understood that this was a stand-in for the actual target, Russian serfdom.

His foreign minister said Alexander considered the outbreak of the Civil War to be “deplorable,” threatening the progress and prosperity that America had achieved in its 80 years of independence. The czar sent naval squadrons to New York and San Francisco as a show of support for the Union. Russia at the time was wary of British designs and feared that a Confederate victory would play into British hands. On this point he got no argument from Lincoln.

The president was under no illusions about Russian despotism – he once remarked, before going to the White House, that at least it was honest about its cruelty, compared with the hypocrisy that swirled around the American debate over slavery. For his part, Alexander seems to have been confident enough in the lasting power of the Russian royal family that he needn’t worry about befriending a republic that had cast off a king.

via Russia remembers Lincoln as it marks the freeing of the serfs.


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