Was Mary (and therefore Jesus) a slave?

Major David Cavanagh of the The Salvation Army offers this response to Mitzi J. Smith’s reading of doule in Luke 1:38.

Was the Virgin Mary actually a slave?” That is the question raised by Mitzi J. Smith, J. Davison Philips Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Professor of Gender Studies at the University of South Africa, in an article published in Bitter the Chastening Rod: Africana Biblical Interpretation after Stony the Road We Trod in the Age of BLM, SayHerName, and MeToo (Fortress Academic, 2022). The article, published last August, has recently been recycled in blogs by Candida Moss, Was the Virgin Mary Actually a Slave?, and Kevin Giles, What If Jesus’s Mother Mary Was A Slave?.

Having spent eighteen years as the leader of several local congregations, together with my wife, I remember all too well the pressure to find ways of giving the “old, old story” fresh relevance, especially at recurring moments in the ecclesiastical calendar, such as Advent. It would not surprise me if this hypothesis were to be recycled in sermons next December, when preachers will again be looking for a new angle on the Annunciation, the Christmas story and the gospel itself. 

Preachers might find this hypothesis appealing because its corollary is that, as the child of a slave woman, Jesus himself might have been a slave—an idea which would certainly grab any congregation’s attention! Candida Moss quotes Smith as telling her that “In any slave society, a child born to an enslaved woman is born enslaved”, while Antony Thiselton notes that “Those who were born as children of a woman in slavery constituted up to around a third of the slave population in major urban centres”.1 Smith also points to the fact that Jesus began his ministry at the age of thirty, noting that under legislation passed in AD 40 by the emperor Augustus,2 this was the age of manumission for enslaved men, and if Jesus had indeed been a slave, he would not have been free to begin his ministry any earlier. If Jesus, as the child as a slave woman, was indeed a slave, this might shed new light on Jesus’ ministry both in its’ original setting and for some contemporary debates. Smith comments that if Jesus was born as a slave, this 

situates Jesus at the bottom of the society into which he was born. He lived in stigmatized flesh like so many other people during his lifetime and beyond, including Black people, people of color, poor people, immigrants, and so on…The injustice of the world is an injustice that Jesus himself experienced. 

Turning to what this might mean for today, she argues that this creates ethical demands for Christians today: in a world where many people still suffer and are dehumanized, Christians are called to fight to free God’s children. Similarly, Giles suggests that understanding Jesus as a formerly enslaved person provides greater insight into his compassion for “the least of these,” and offers us a window into the everyday reality of most of those who lived during this period as subjects and literal slaves:

If Jesus was born a slave…it would make so many of Jesus’s sayings from the Sermon on the Mount resonate with greater authority and power… Jesus’s status as a former slave would have added immeasurable weight and power to his words and his audience would have accepted him as one of their own and not as an entitled free man who had no idea what the harsh realities of their life was really like.

However, wise preachers should perhaps be wary before reaching too quickly for this appealing hypothesis, no matter how weary they may be. What is the evidence for this revolutionary proposal that Jesus was a slave? 

Moss and Giles, presumably drawing on Smith’s work, expend some considerable time sketching out the place of slavery in the ancient world in an attempt to show that this proposal is plausible. They argue that slavery was so common in the ancient world that

Almost everyone at this time either was a slave, owned a slave, or knew people who were enslaved

and that under Roman rule, Jewish people were enslaved in large numbers, especially in times of political unrest, citing in support of this a figure of 97,000 residents of Jerusalem and its’ environs captured after the Jewish War of 66-70 AD. 

If Luke’s gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem, as is generally agreed, this background would certainly give any reference to slavery a particular resonance for Jewish readers. Of course, it should also be remembered that Luke is generally thought to have written for a Gentile audience, who would not have experienced the horrors of the war and its aftermath, and references to slavery would not have elicited the same response for such readers as for Jews who had suffered in the Jewish defeat, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

However, some caution is called for. Moss and Smith seem to equate “capture” with “slavery”, whereas as Thiselton notes that the custom of enslaving defeated enemies “effectively ceased at the beginning of the Imperial period” and had become “sporadic”.3 Furthermore, Moss and Smith give no source for this figure, and ancient writings are in any case notoriously unreliable sources for statistics, with numbers often reflecting the author’s bias. In the case in point, Thiselton, presumably drawing on different sources, gives a figure of 6,000 Jews taken by Vespasian (and for “forced labour”, which again should perhaps not be taken to necessarily equate with slavery).

More generally, this is very much a “broad-brush” background sketch of ancient culture, which arguably neglects the particularities of Jewish society. A modern parallel might be  discussing commerce in a Muslim society entirely in terms of the dominant Western capitalist culture. While it is clear that slavery existed in ancient Israel [though note this significant challenge on the meaning of the word from Peter Williams], it is evident that the founding event of the Exodus, when YHWH freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, occupied a central place in Israel’s memory (cf. Exodus 13:3-16; 20:2; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 5:6; 6:12, 20-25; 16:12; 24:22) and exercised a restraining influence on the practice of slavery. 

Because YHWH had freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, no Israelite was to be enslaved and limits were placed on any term of bound service an Israelite might enter into (Exodus 21:1-4; Leviticus 25:39-46; Deuteronomy 15:12-15). Special protections were accorded to female captive slaves (Deuteronomy 21:10-14), abusive masters would forfeit their slaves (Exodus 21:26-27) and slaves who had escaped into Israel were not to be returned to their masters (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Similarly, slaves were to be included in Sabbath rest and in Israel’s worship (Exodus 20:10; 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14-15; 12:12).

In the light of all this, it would be extremely odd if Mary were Joseph’s slave, rather than his wife, as historically understood. While this possibility cannot be excluded, it has to be asked what biblical grounds there are for this hypothesis, and for the corollary that her son, Jesus, would in turn have been born a slave.

This is where the proposal really begins to unravel. The only evidence presented to support this claim is Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she is to bear a child. Mary identifies herself as a δουλη, a Greek word that unambiguously means “enslaved girl” (Luke 1:38). Moss comments that

If we were reading any other ancient text written in Greek, we would assume that Mary was enslaved

and quotes Smith as telling her that

Any first-century reader, of any ethnicity, culture or religion, living under the Roman empire…..would have taken Mary’s self-designation as an enslaved woman seriously and as a declaration of her material or physical lived reality and not simply as a metaphor. And we should, too.

This strikes me as a wilfully tendentious reading. For a start, we are not reading “any other text”: we are reading the New Testament, in which δουλος is commonly used as a metaphor with no indication of actual socio-economic status. For instance, the feminine form used in Luke 1:38 recurs in the Magnificat, when Mary declares that God “has looked with favour on the lowliness of his δουλη” (Luke 1:48) and also in Acts 2:18 at Pentecost, when Peter reminds the crowds of Joel’s prophecy that “Even upon my slaves, both men and women (Greek: καί γε ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους μου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς δούλας) I will pour out my spirit”. In neither case is socio-economic status is being indicated, and in that both instances are drawn from Luke, suggest that he did not necessarily intend us to take Mary’s words as “a declaration of her material or physical lived reality”.  Indeed, together with Simeon’s description of himself as τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα (Luke 2:29), these texts strongly suggest that Luke is happy to use the term as a metaphor.

Given these clear precedents, it is highly problematic that Smith truncates Mary’s response, which in full reads: Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου (“Here am I, the δουλη of the Lord”). Mary indeed identifies herself as a “slave”, but it is not Joseph she refers to as her master, but “the Lord” – ie. God. Mary is not classifying herself in a socio-economic category: rather, as I.H. Marshall points out, she is drawing on a traditional Jewish form of expressing devotion to God, as attested by the LXX use of δουλος and its cognates in 1 Sam. 11:1; 25:41; 2 Sam. 9:6; 2 Ki. 4:16.4 As Green comments, by “describing herself as the Lord’s servant”, Mary “acknowledges her submission to God’s purpose” and “her role in assisting that purpose”.5

As one might expect, such uses of δουλος and its cognates are by no means limited to Luke but are common in the New Testament. The apostle Paul typically presents himself and his companions as “slaves” of Christ Jesus and of the gospel (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthans 3:5, 9; 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 6:4; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1). Similar formulae appear in James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, and Jude 1. Elsewhere, Moses is described as a δουλος in God’s house (Hebrews 3:5) and as God’s δουλος (Revelation 1:1), and the term is also applied more widely to Christians in general (John 13:16; Romans 6:18-19; 7:6; 1 Corinthians 7:22; 1 Peter 2:16).

The New Testament usage of δουλος is of course far more complex and varied than this whistle-tour of texts might suggest. The apostle Paul in particular uses the term to refer to bondage under the Law, to sin, or to elemental spiritual forces (Romans 6:6; 6:16-20 – five occurrences; 7:14; 7:25; Galatians 2:4; 4:8; 5:1), usually contrasted with the freedom that God has given through Christ to those who believe in him (Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 5:1).

For our purposes, however, the most significant appearance of δουλος is perhaps that of Philippians 2:6-7, where Paul calls on the example of Jesus, who

though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a δουλου, being born in human likeness.

Once again, the term is used metaphorically, in this case to illustrate the enormous gulf between “equality with God” and taking on “human likeness”. As Fee puts it, Christ’s taking the form of a slave has to do with his ’being made in the likeness of human beings’” and “taking on the role of a slave” is equivalent to “humbling himself to the point of death”.6 The idea is similar to that of 2 Corinthians 8:9, where Christ is said to have made himself poor by becoming human.

In conclusion: it appears that Smith’s hypothesis rests on a hermeneutic of suspicion, which decides a priori that the text cannot be trusted and occludes realities which can only be uncovered and deciphered by challenging its vested interests. Such a hermeneutic is ultimately unsustainable because it will, hydra-like, turn upon and consume itself: the proposed reading is itself highly vulnerable to the charge that it is driven by the reader’s vested interests.

In this particular case, Smith’s reading clearly relies upon distorting the actual text and ignoring the canonical context, failing to take account of the multiple inter-textual echoes which should govern our understanding of Mary’s words. Preachers looking for the wonder of the gospel would be well-advised to rediscover the wonder of the incarnation of the eternal Word in Jesus of Nazareth, and the ways in which his life, death and resurrection free human beings from the slavery of oppressive sin.

David Cavanagh was commissioned and ordained as an officer of The Salvation Army in 1992. He subsequently spent 28 years with The Salvation Army in Italy, serving together with his wife, Elaine, as the leader of local congregations in Milan, Catania, Naples and Florence before being appointed as the General Secretary for Italy and Greece. Returning to the UK in the summer of 2020, he now serves as the Assistant Secretary for Scotland, with responsibility for The Salvation Army’s political engagement and ecumenical and interfaith relations in Scotland. 

He holds a BA in English & American Literature from the University of Manchester (1986), a BA in Religion and Theology from Oxford Brookes University (2014) and is about to embark on the MA in Mission from Cliff College. His theological interests include hermeneutics, the Quest of the Historical Jesus, the New Perspective on Paul, and Christian Mission.


Gordon D. Fee, The Letter of Paul to the Philippians: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).

Kevin Giles, “What if Jesus’ mother Mary was a slave?”: Patheos blog 04.01.23 at What If Jesus’s Mother Mary Was A Slave? accessed 20.01.23.

Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997).

I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: New International Commentary on the Greek Text (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978).

Candida Moss, ““What if Jesus’ mother Mary was a slave?” at Was the Virgin Mary Actually a Slave? accessed 20.01.23.

Mitzi J. Smith (ed.), Bitter the Chastening Rod: Africana Biblical Interpretation after Stony the Road We Trod in the Age of BLM, SayHerName, and MeToo (Fortress Academic, 2022)

Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: New International Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000

  1. Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 562.
  2. Lex Aelia Sentia
  3. Thiselton, op. cit., p. 563
  4. I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: New International Greek Text Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1980), p. 72
  5. Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman, 1997), p. 92.
  6. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 196, 197.

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40 thoughts on “Was Mary (and therefore Jesus) a slave?”

  1. David,
    I your article at brough despair and gratitude.
    1 Despair that that such stuff is written in the first place : an ideology in search of speculation, non evidence.
    2 Gratitude that:
    2.1 I don’t have to read it and was unaware of its existence.
    2.2 that you have stayed awake, and have written a necessary response.
    Thank you.

    • Agreed Geoff. I started reading then dropped down to the comments to find you got here before me!
      30 was the age priests started work in the temple
      As for Mary, the only biblical connection I think is remotely in agreement is Esther’s pathway to the crown. Esther was similarly constrained by the culture in which she lived.

      Did slaves go awol every time there was a festival in Jerusalem? wor weeks on end? If they were slaves they had it pretty good.

      • “Did slaves go awol every time there was a festival in Jerusalem? wor weeks on end? If they were slaves they had it pretty good…”

        I’m not sure why you’re asking this….If it’s connected to the Nativity narrative, then remember that the “slave-girl Mary” (according to Smith et al) would only have been accompanying Joseph, her Master.

        Also, as per the blog…

        “slaves were to be included in Sabbath rest and in Israel’s worship (Exodus 20:10; 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14-15; 12:12).”

        That is, of course, the theory/ideal and practice may sometimes (often?) have fallen short, but it does make the idea less unlikely that your comment suggests. After all, we have to remember that “slavery” in first-century Israel (and the Roman empire in general) should not be equated with eighteenth and nineteenth century slavery in the Western world…

        • Then we should not use the word ‘slave’ to describe Mary’s position in society, it gives a totally wrong perception.
          If in today’s world we had to run society without bank accounts, accounting, computers, etc labourers would end up little better off than slaves. Slavery in the 1st century was probably the only practical way to manage ‘workers’.
          I have my manumition. ..a pension

          • Again, I am not entirely sure what you are getting at with the second part of your comment.

            I don’t disagree that “slave” is perhaps an inappropriate translation. Although it is literally correct, the alternative “servant” adopted by many translations is reasonable.

            In the context of Smith’s article and the blogs which picked up her proposal, the problem is that they ignore that Mary describes herself as “the slave/servant/handmaiden of the Lord” and will fully fix on “slave” to suggest she was Joseph’s slave

        • remember that the “slave-girl Mary” (according to Smith et al) would only have been accompanying Joseph, her Master

          Wait what? If Joseph was her master and she his slave why would theynhave been betrothed? Did people in the first century often marry their slaves?

    • Thank you….I do agree to a great extent. The argument that Mary was a slave (and therefore Jesus would have been) is utterly flawed. I responded simply because experience has shown me that even the weirdest reading of Scripture can sometimes gain quite unexpected and unmerited traction…..I was very glad that the blogs picked up this idea only after Advent (on January 1)!

      • A friend has also pointed out to me that 30 was also the age at which one could become a rabbi….wish I’d thought to include that!

  2. If Jesus was born a slave…it would make so many of Jesus’s sayings from the Sermon on the Mount resonate with greater authority and power

    Um no it wouldn’t? Sayings derive their authority and power from their truth, not the background of whoever says them. This is an ad hominem premise and we must not simply accept this premise, because it is totally false.

    • Well, Greek was the ‘lingua franca’, just as broken English is now the international language. So it is distinct possibility.

      • Well, Greek was the ‘lingua franca’, just as broken English is now the international language. So it is distinct possibility.

        When talking to an angel though? Wouldn’t you use the language of the scriptures to talk to a messenger of God?

      • Was Greek the lingua franca of the time when the Roman Empire held sway.
        Norman French was the lordly language of the Conquest but the majority spoke English.

        I would think it is safe to assume that Mary spoke Aramaic.

        • actually there is quite a debate on this question. I am more inclined to think that Jesus and others commonly spoke Greek. This would be normal in ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’

          • I am certainly happy to defer to you, but “… Jesus and others …” this includes his mother at an early age speaking to an angel?

          • dexey – Luke got his material from somewhere. What if his source was Mary? And what if he told her he was putting together an account in Greek and asked her for her input? He may even have suggested to her that doulos would be a good translation of the account and may have had her agreement for this (since it is, after all, the Septuagint translation of servant where God describes Moses as a servant – exalted position – when explaining to Aaron and Miriam the difference between Moses and them).

          • Yes, I think John Dom Crossan, amongst others, argues that Greek may have been quite widespread in Galilee, not least because the “Greek” cities of Sephoris and Tiberias were close

    • A fair point. However, while we might presume there is an underlying Aramaic, all we have is Luke’s text, in Greek, which is presumably a faithful transcription of Mary’s words

      • Jock – “material from somewhere”, “What if his source was …”, ” .. what if he told her …”, – an awful lot of speculation there. Equally, what if none of those things happened?
        “He may even have suggested to her that doulos would be a good translation of the account..” – and if that did happen why would that mean that ‘doulos’ is a good translation?
        We have what is written in Greek and can have no certainty that doulos is a perfect translation of Mary’s words.

        • dexey – well, Luke tells us that this is what Mary said (and he doesn’t qualify it by saying ‘Mary said something like this’). If this is not either what Mary said, or at the very least an accurate translation of what Mary said (according to the rules of how Hebrew got translated into Septuagint Greek), then he has misrepresented her and that would make him a liar. If Luke is guilty of putting words on peoples lips (when he claims that this is what they said), that would make him a liar and a very evil man – it would mean that we can’t trust anything he says – and it would put the whole of Scripture in doubt.

          It is (of course) up to you whether you accept Scripture or not. There are some people who take the view that Luke made up some of the parables and put them on the lips of Jesus. I take the view that that would make Luke a liar.

          I was simply trying to suggest a natural scenario whereby Luke could have received this information – and how Luke could write what he did without being guilty of blatant lies.

          • The NIV tells us that Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant.” and the ESV “.. I am the servant of the Lord.”
            The study notes of either make no mention of δουλη. Should I not regard them as scripture.

          • dexey – Let me spell this out. Look at Numbers 12:7 where the NIV uses the word ‘servant’ to describe Moses. Here God is using ‘servant’ to indicate a particularly exalted position, with whom He talks face to face, unlike your average bog-standard prophet.

            The Septuagint translation (into Greek) of the Hebrew word (in the Hebrew Old Testament) is ‘doulos’. Therefore, for people who knew Septuagint Greek, ‘doulos’ would be the perfect rendition into Greek for the words of Mary if Mary was describing herself using the same Hebrew word (or Aramaic equivalent) that God used to describe Moses in Numbers 12:7. There is every indication that Luke knew Septuagint Greek.

            So when the word ‘doulos’ is used in the Greek Scripture, it is used to indicate a person who is particularly exalted, while at the same time the person is not their own, but is in entirely within the Lord’s service. Paul uses the word ‘doulos’ to describe himself at the beginning of Romans.

            So I reckon the NIV made a good translation here when they translated the word as ‘servant’. The NIV also uses ‘servant’ for ‘doulos’ in Romans 1:1

        • We have what is written in Greek and can have no certainty that doulos is a perfect translation of Mary’s words.

          We absolutely can have certainty that God would not have allowed a misleading translation to appear in His Word.

  3. Geoff, David – on the one hand, yes – the article is correctly refuting something that looks like nonsense which doesn’t need refuting – but David Cavanagh is a Salvation Army man who has been working on the front line – and he’s probably much more aware than any of us about the sort of nonsense which could take hold – and which needs to be refuted as firmly, quickly and comprehensively as possible.

    In my experience, these Salvation Army people are more Spiritual and think in a more Spiritual way and at a higher level than the rest of us. I’m reminded of my Salvation Army friend from Cork (now deceased), who was able to get a bundle of Russian language bibles on to a Russian spy ship in the 1980’s. He considered this to be the high point of his career. It seems that a Russian spy ship got into difficulties and requested permission to dock (claiming that it was a meteorological survey vessel). While everybody else was concerned about whether or not the Irish government should let in the spy ship (which claimed that it was a humble meteorological survey vessel – but nobody believe this), this was not the first reaction of the Salvation Army man. When he read about the situation in the newspaper, he was hoping that they would allow the ship to dock, because he saw this is a great opportunity for evangelism. He contacted the people who could provide him with Russian language bibles and got a bundle.

    He explained the importance of the Salvation Army uniform; this is basically what enabled him to get onboard the ship, because to the untrained eye, it looked like the uniform of an official from the port authorities. To cut a long story short, several of the Russian seamen were Christians, including the captain, who were very happy to receive the stash of Russian language bibles. There are other aspects of this story that I could mention – the take-home message, though, is that Salvation Army people are always looking for an opportunity to spread the Word – and they are quite creative when it comes to seizing the opportunities to do so. Spiritually they seem to be tuned in at a higher level than the rest of us.

    • ‘You mean you keep a bundle of Russian Bibles in Ireland just in case God sends you a spy ship with a Christian Captain?’

      ‘Do you not?’

        • Well, I think this happened in the early 80’s – he told me about it in the mid 90’s. I seem to be able to remember something of the incident, because it was in the newspapers at the time. There was quite a long period between the ship requesting permission to dock and permission actually being given. This gave him sufficient time to contact his Wycliffe friends and get a stash of Russian language bibles. But he acted fast. These Salvation Army people have a one-track mind when it comes to looking for, and exploiting opportunities to spread The Word.

  4. Luke 1:39 “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea ….” – a journey of between 50-70 miles, on foot, without pre-booked overnight accommodation. For a physically fit 15-year-old, probably 4 days. It sounds as if Mary had a lot more freedom than her average UK sister of a similar age, 20 centuries later.

  5. William Tyndale’s suggestion,is that the Hebrew Adonai was translated as “Lord” to distinguish it from YHWH. In the New Testament, “Lord” is the Greek kurios, which simply means master, whether referring to God (Matthew 1:20), Jesus (Matthew 7:21), or a general authority (Matthew 18:27).
    As a Jewess Mary would have viewed God as Adonai which means Master which would mean that she confessed that God is Master:she would have known that God was Isreals Husband and would probably have honoured God as her “Head”
    As christians we often hear the gospel preached as half a gospel:
    Having the work of salvation as only one part of the gospel and very little on the fact of the Lorship of God and the lordship of Our Lord Jesus.
    Act 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
    Act 13:23 Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
    Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
    Phil 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ
    2 Pet 3:2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
    2 Pet 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our
    Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. St. Paul saw himself as God’s slave and prisoner

  6. I dont see why the correct translation of the word as slave or servant is relevant. The context shows what Mary means – Im your slave/servant Lord, may your will be done.

    I find it odd that some ‘professors’ have so much time to spend on writing such nonsense.


    • PC1 bullseye – whatever it is (servant or slave), it is ‘of the Lord’ – and that gives us the complete meaning of Mary.

      But I take it that you’re not an academic, or you wouldn’t find it odd. That’s what academics get paid to do (write nonsense – especially nonsense using big words and sophisticated sentence structures – preferably inventing some fancy name for the category – so that the nonsense is then considered a valid line of research and then has to be treated with some respect).

      • To be fair, I think that’s tarring them all with the same brush, just as we do with politicians, though the latter often deserve it. As do pointless economists.

  7. Hi David. Thanks for your good article and the link to Peter Williams’ lecture on slavery.
    I am wondering though about one of your concluding comments:
    ‘failing to take account of the multiple inter-textual echoes which should govern our understanding of Mary’s words.’
    How do you see ‘multiple inter-textual echoes’ GOVERNING ‘our understanding’? Yes, we can read ‘doulos’ more broadly or narrowly in some contexts but that does not mean that we read that individual word in the same way in a particular context. Isn’t this the problem with looking at individual words that James Barr pointed out?

    • PS Have you read Margaret Sim, A Relevant Way to Read (Clarke, 2016) especially what she says about literal language and metaphor?

    • The inter textual echoes I am referring to are the multiple NT texts (and LXX texts) where “doulos” is used to describe a human’s relationship to God or to Christ and the gospel. I think these make it very clear that Mary’s words should not be understood as a literal reference to her socio-economic status.


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