Home > Judaism, Religion > Equality: Where did it come from?

Equality: Where did it come from?

December 11th, 2010

Many of our critics spend an inordinate amount of time trumpeting the virtues of equality.

They also have a few nasty things to say about the Pentateuch.

Now for the sixty five thousand dollar question:

What is the origin of the concept of equality?

You see, in the ancient world, there was one truth that was self-evident:  That all men were NOT created equal.

So, what changed things? Why do we now assume that all men ARE created equal?

It was because of this.

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  1. Sean
    December 11th, 2010 at 19:15 | #1

    “Many of our critics spend an inordinate amount of time trumpeting the virtues of equality.”

    Well, it’s kind of a big deal in this country, and our important documents, like the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, make frequent and specific references to it.

    This is the United States, not Israel circa 500 BC.

  2. Ari
    December 11th, 2010 at 20:20 | #2

    As usual, you’re missing the point. The question is this: How did we get from there to here? What affected that change? How so?

    Don’t you ever ask yourself questions like that?

  3. Sean
    December 11th, 2010 at 21:21 | #3

    I’m often interested in drivers of change. But in this instance, I just figured this was one more dishonest attempt to attack same-sex marriage: “gee, historically people weren’t equal, so maybe gays and lesbians shouldn’t be treated equally in the first place!”

  4. Leo
    December 12th, 2010 at 09:10 | #4


    The referenced article is both fascinating and thought provoking.

    The institution of the Jubilee in Leviticus is also remarkable for its revolutionary economics.

    Christian development of the idea of a classless society can be seen in Galatians 3:28.

    The more I participate in these discussions, the more I become a “small d” democrat.

  5. December 12th, 2010 at 23:46 | #5


  6. Mark
    December 13th, 2010 at 05:50 | #6

    “Why do we now assume that all men ARE created equal?”

    An interesting question. For me, I feel it comes from the teachings of Jesus who spoke of everyone being equal in the eyes of God.

  7. Ari
    December 13th, 2010 at 09:53 | #7

    Very insightful comment, John. Perhaps you can enlighten us as to the true origins of the concept of equality. Please include in your answer all references to the pertinent ancient sources.

  8. December 13th, 2010 at 13:01 | #8

    Sorry, that wasn’t nice of me I apologize. I just knew that this was a hard topic, but an important one, and I wasn’t up for all the typing and thinking it would require to say why I thought that appealing to religion is a bad idea, and could backfire by obscuring the need for all people to literally be created equal, as the union of a man and a woman.

    The American idea of equality was a rejection of inheritable nobility and monarchy, and was a product of European enlightenment philosophy and scientific determinism meeting Native Indian values.

    “Native American isn’t blood; it is what is in the heart. The love for the land. The respect for it, those who inhabit it; and the respect and acknowledgment of the spirits and the elders. That is what it is to be indian.”
    White Feather – Navajo Medicine Man

    So, “blood” or hereditary superiority and entitlement was rejected by early Americans, not just because they resented the King’s rule, but because of what they learned from the Indians about the chain of being and respect for fellow people and spirits and elders. They recognized that our soul could have been born into any family, and all people are due equal respect for their equal soul. I just happen to have my parents, just like everyone else does. Equality depends on there being a “queue of souls”, all of which are tabula resa blank souls with no personality or identity of goodness or badness, which enter fetuses after conception and come to life with a beating heart. The next soul enters the next fetus that is conceived, where ever it is in the world. That fact results in humility and compassion, as we realize that we are not our unique circumstances, but our bare equal souls, and we could have been born into a different body on the other side of the globe, and therefore are equal to all people born everywhere in the world. Our personality and character are entirely shaped by our circumstances, not any credit goes to our soul, which only is a consciousness and will to do what it should do, and the person learns what that is through experiences, through respect.

    Materialism assumes that people come into being independently from nothing but a bunch of chemicals that we can manipulate and create, and there are no equal souls residing inside us. It sees each person as being their genes and traits and circumstances. It thus fails to recognize our common identical souls and instead judges each person as if they were a product. This belief also leads to the idea that we can improve people and make better humans by taking more control over everyone’s production, control of their genes. There actually used to be a Transhumanist group called “BetterHumans” which obviously doesn’t believe in equality if it believes some humans are better than others. Also, transhumanist bioethicists need to explicitly reject the “queue of souls” idea to argue that genetic intervention and designer babies should be allowed.

    The thing I worry about with citing the Bible as the origin of equality is that it has the effect of propping up materialism and allowing transhumanism, it suggests that we could still use those silly quaint values to believe in equality even if people are designed and we get a gene-rich gene-poor divide, and it also implies that the only argument for equality is “just” religious, not a logical philosophical fact.

  9. Ari
    December 13th, 2010 at 13:27 | #9

    You might not like the appeal to religion, but if the shoe fits…

    I note that you cited no ancient history. The Pentateuch was written during Civilization Version 1.0 (as Dan Carlin of Hardcore History calls the era). We know how the ideas of the Pentateuch got transmitted down through the ages. First (and to this very day) by the Jews. Then by the Christians. We know the effects of these ideas.

    Your appeal to the so called “enlightenment” does not work. First of all, the “enlightenment” was as much a myth as Atlantis.

    Second, the concept of Moral Equality goes back to the Pentateuch. But the thread doesn’t end there. Check out the Divine Institutes by the Third Century Christian Scholar L. Caecilius Firmianus Lacantius. He calls Moral Equality “the second constituent of Justice.”

    Anyway, for full details see: The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark and Created Equal by Joshua Berman (the author of the article linked in this post).

    As far as I’m concerned, the only effective rebuttal you can present is a Hittite, Egyptian or other ancient source (predating the Pentateuch) with concepts of equality. Good luck with that.

  10. December 13th, 2010 at 23:03 | #10

    I found something to back me up on this, it’s worth reading I think.

    The English had been watching America unfold before their eyes for a century when John Locke published his Two Treatises on Government [1690], in which he emphasized that “natural peoples” lived in a state of liberty, but not license. Wrote Locke:

    “We must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of near perfect freedom, to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they see fit, within the bounds of the law of nature . . . a state also of equality, wherein all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank . . . born to the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another.

    “But though this is a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license . . . the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

  11. Mark
    December 14th, 2010 at 15:57 | #11

    Ari: “First of all, the “enlightenment” was as much a myth as Atlantis.”

    Actually, I believe John was referring to the Age of Enlightenment, certainly not a myth.

  12. Ari
    December 14th, 2010 at 16:45 | #12

    The fact is that the misnomered “age of enlightenment” was not much of a break from the past. The Middle Ages were a very enlightened time. Especially compared to the eras of the Romans and Ancient Greeks.

  13. Ari
    December 14th, 2010 at 16:50 | #13

    What you’ve discovered is a turtle. Now you have to ask yourself, what’s that turtle sitting on?

    I can demonstrate that the bottom turtle, as far as we know is the Pentateuch. (We know of no lower turtle for the concept of equality).

    So, you can either take three positions to contradict me.

    1) Either it’s “turtles all the way down” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down )

    2) There is some turtle lower than the Pentateuch that I don’t yet know of.

    3) You can demonstrate a complete disconnect between the believers in the Pentateuch and the thinkers you quoted.

    I doubt you can do any of those three (but #2 is your best shot, considering that it is, almost certainly, factually incorrect and the other two are pretty much impossible (#1 being a logical impossibility and #3 being demonstrably false).

  14. Mark
    December 15th, 2010 at 05:44 | #14

    Ari: “The fact is that the misnomered “age of enlightenment” was not much of a break from the past. ”

    So typical of postings here to completely disregard accepted definitions. But at least you admit that the past was not as enlightened as the current time. So why keep looking back at a less enlightened time to support your claims?

  15. December 15th, 2010 at 05:54 | #15

    Greek democracy had equality, I think. And Native Indian monotheist beliefs about the Great Spirit started around the same time, 5000BC, and were still strong in the 17th century when they were explored and studied by Europeans. I get that the Torah’s accessible monotheism was an egalitarian advance as far as high priests and the common worshipers were concerned, but it also has lots of stuff about God’s chosen people who are treasured above all other people that directly contradicts your argument.

    The ideas of equality and rights and freedom and liberty, as far as our Declaration and Constitution go, came from Native Indians.

  16. Ari
    December 15th, 2010 at 06:57 | #16

    Native Americans? You’re deluding yourself with politically correct nonsense. Why don’t you check out Primitive Warfare by H.H. Turney-High.

  17. Ari
    December 15th, 2010 at 07:01 | #17

    I can show the intellectual history of the ideas of the so-called enlightenment. I can show that their ideas were nothing new. All of the worthwhile ideas of that time trace their ancestry to the Middle Ages.

    Of course the main idea of the enlightenment that everything could be solved by the use of reason has proven false. Reason was unable to dictate morality. (Witness the Gulag Archipelago and the Great Leap Forward). We have discovered that reason is far less capable of making decisions for us due to the chaotic quality of nature.

    So, as far as the enlightenment goes, what was new was wrong. What was right was old.

  18. Mark
    December 15th, 2010 at 16:05 | #18

    Ari: “So, as far as the enlightenment goes, what was new was wrong. What was right was old.”

    Interesting, and yet, in a previous post, you became very angry when I suggested your belief in older ways included such things as slavery. I believe you said at that time that you did not believe every old idea to be better to newer ones. And, now, you appear to be supporting the opposite. And using as examples of failure of reason two ideologies that are as far away from reason as possible.

    So, you seem to be suggesting we go back to a time when the earth was flat and was the center of the universe, where disease states were demonic possessions, and the 4 humors ruled the day.

  19. Ari
    December 15th, 2010 at 16:12 | #19

    I’m specifically arguing that proposition with respect to the enlightenment.

    Other times of innovation were a mixed bag. The twentieth century had many wonderful innovations. It also had many awful ideas as well as many unspeakable horrors.

    Some intellectual movements are mostly positive in their innovations. Some are mostly negative.

    It depends on the movement.

    The enlightenment was, on balance, not a good development.

    Incidentally, if you want to mention slavery, pretty much none of the great figures of the enlightenment (the irreligious ones, I’m talking about) did much to oppose slavery. Nor did they have much to say about the witchcraft trials that were taking place at the time. In fact, there were enlightenment figures that supported these things.

  20. Mark
    December 15th, 2010 at 17:54 | #20

    Ari, you spout “truths” with no evidence.

    “Some intellectual movements are mostly positive in their innovations. Some are mostly negative.”
    Wow, nice way to be, uh, wishy washy.

    “The enlightenment was, on balance, not a good development.”
    Can you elaborate? Why was it not good?

    “Incidentally, if you want to mention slavery, pretty much none of the great figures of the enlightenment (the irreligious ones, I’m talking about) did much to oppose slavery.

    Which ones, specifically?

    “Nor did they have much to say about the witchcraft trials that were taking place at the time.”

    Again, who do you mean, specifically?

  21. Ari
    December 15th, 2010 at 19:21 | #21

    Enlightenment figures who on the record either supported or did not oppose to slavery: Baron Montesquieu, Comte de Mirabeau, Edmund Burke, David Hume, Voltaire, Hobbes, Locke,

    Enlightenment figures who condemned witchcraft: Thomas Hobbes, Jean Bodin, (slightly pre-Enlightenment, but of the same mind as the enlightenment), Paracelsus, Joseph Glanvill, Henry More.

    You can get full details in For the Glory of G-d by Rodney Stark (Chapters 3 and 4).

  22. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 07:31 | #22

    Ari, while I have not read “For The Glory of God” (and can find few reviews of it outside of religious sites), I doubt the information you present here. Voltaire, at least, did write of his objections to slavery. Also, Baron Montesquieu, who did not support slavery which is shown in his support for individual liberties.

  23. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 07:56 | #23

    Montesquieu believed that slavery was justified by natural law. His views on individual liberties didn’t apparently extend to Africans.

    Voltaire did think it obscene that Christians profited from the slave trade, but he he supported the trade in general and believed in the inferiority of Africans.

    To back this up, Stark cites Edward D. Seeber’s Anti-Slavery Opinion in France during the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century, Johns Hopkins University Press.

  24. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 09:43 | #24

    Ari: “Montesquieu believed that slavery was justified by natural law.”

    Can you reference this, without using this one source by Stark? Because everything else I have read contradicts this statement.

  25. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 10:59 | #25

    Behold the enlightened words of Baron de Montesquieu:

    5. Of the Slavery of the Negroes. Were I to vindicate our right to make slaves of the negroes, these should be my arguments:

    The Europeans, having extirpated the Americans, were obliged to make slaves of the Africans, for clearing such vast tracts of land.

    Sugar would be too dear if the plants which produce it were cultivated by any other than slaves.

    These creatures are all over black, and with such a flat nose that they can scarcely be pitied.

    It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise Being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body.

    It is so natural to look upon colour as the criterion of human nature, that the Asiatics, among whom eunuchs are employed, always deprive the blacks of their resemblance to us by a more opprobrious distinction.

    The colour of the skin may be determined by that of the hair, which, among the Egyptians, the best philosophers in the world, was of such importance that they put to death all the red-haired men who fell into their hands.

    The negroes prefer a glass necklace to that gold which polite nations so highly value. Can there be a greater proof of their wanting common sense?

    It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.

    Weak minds exaggerate too much the wrong done to the Africans. For were the case as they state it, would the European powers, who make so many needless conventions among themselves, have failed to enter into a general one, in behalf of humanity and compassion?

  26. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 11:12 | #26

    I think we can conclude about Montesquieu’s views of slavery thus: 1) He thinks it inefficient. 2) He thinks it’s not a good idea to do in Europe. 3) He thinks that the context of the slave system matters a great deal– it’s more justifiable in some situations than others. 4) He’s not exactly boo-hooing about the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade.


    Now, if you want to contrast his writing with that of William Lloyd Garrison or William Wilberforce, Pope Paul III or other religiously motivated individuals, we can go head to head on this any day.

    Anyway, I think this is the time when you say, “Gee, Ari. You were right. That primary source quotation you cited was right on the money.”

  27. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 12:26 | #27

    Ari: I am not sure what source you are quoting because the one you linked to definitely indicates that the Baron de Montesquieu views slavery as wrong.

    His first sentence says “WERE I to vindicate ….” meaning he is playing devil’s advocate, satire. He does not mean he supports slavery at all as is clear in the rest of the document you site:
    “But as all men are born equal, slavery must be accounted unnatural, though in some countries it be founded on natural reason; and a wide difference ought to be made between such countries, and those in which even natural reason rejects it, as in Europe, where it has been so happily abolished.”

    The entire document talks about the evils of slavery. Even though you try to take a reference out of context to try to prove what you want to believe, it doesn’t make it so.

  28. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 12:43 | #28

    Okay, Mark. Now’s the time when you show me a quote in which Montesquieu specifically condemns African slavery. As I said above, he thinks slavery has different moral connotations in different contexts. I think from reading this document, you can conclude that it is morally repugnant to enslave human beings, but Africans, not so much. As for his use of the word “were” (remember, this is a translation), I would agree with you had you provided a place where he contradicts himself specifically with reference to the Africans. He seems to make an exception for them.

  29. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 12:54 | #29

    Ari, in the very reference you site, he states “But as all men are born equal, slavery must be accounted unnatural”. He does not need to differentiate between African slaves versus other race slaves because the very nature of slavery is wrong in his eyes.

    It’s very interesting that a quick search on goggle brings up this site, which explains how you are using his words incorrectly and out of context:

  30. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 14:42 | #30

    About Montesquieu I’ll concede for now until further study.

    That said, you still have Voltaire, Comte de Mirabeau, Edmund Burke, David Hume, Voltaire, Hobbes, Locke (Locke, by the way was an investor in the Atlantic Slave trade…).

    Plus all the enlightenment figures who didn’t have much to say about witchcraft trials that was particularly enlightened.

  31. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 15:40 | #31

    Ari, as far as Edmund Burke (author of Sketch of the Negro Code) is concerned, he was quoted as saying “”Slavery is a weed that grows on every soil. ” His paper spoke of a gradual elimination of slave trade and slavery.

    Comte de Mirabeau was a member of the Societe des Amis des Noirs which advocated for the abolition of slavery.

    David Hume: ““It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once,”… “Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom that it must steal in upon them by degrees and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes in order to be received.”

    So, there are 3 men who appear to not have supported slavery. With more time, I am sure more information can be found.

  32. Ari
  33. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 16:47 | #33

    As for as Montesquieu goes, it looks like my initial assertion was pretty much correct, except that instead of slavery being okay in certain contexts due to “natural law” it was justified in certain contexts due to “natural reason.” Looks like Prof. Stark missed that little nuance in his book as well. But that said, it seems that this is minor quibble.


    Note especially the last line, first column page 459.

  34. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 16:50 | #34

    As far as the Comte de Mirabeau goes, he may have been a member of an anti-slavery organization, but that organization is hardly impressive in its abilities or accomplishments.


  35. Mark
    December 16th, 2010 at 18:14 | #35

    Ari, you look at these men from a point of view of 2010. Try stepping into their shoes, in their time. They were proposing the elimination of slavery, perhaps not immediately, but definitely in time. You may choose to take out of context words and sentences but then you miss the meaning of their ideas.

    Burke was advocating doing away with slavery but not suddenly as this could disrupt society. But he still believed slavery was wrong.

    Montesquieu was referring to a relativity of oppression, i.e. in a despotic society where noone has free rights, slavery wasn’t so bad. He was not saying slavery was good.

    And while the Comte de Mirabeau was “hardly impressive in its abilities or accomplishments.” – that may be, from a 2010 view. But at the time, it was a radical proposal.

    Nothing you have shown so far supports your “fact” that none of these enlightened figures supported slavery, and, to the contrary, they appear to oppose it

  36. Ari
    December 16th, 2010 at 18:54 | #36

    Whatever the truth of that statement, the fact is that there were many religious people who were advocating for the immediate abolition of slavery. The pope did everything he could to stop it. The organizations that actually did something (rather than just opining) were all religious organizations including the Quakers, and other groups.

    So, whatever the opinions of the above mentioned people, you realize that there were people who did more than just opine. And didn’t care one bit whose interests would be adversely affected by the immediate cessation of slavery. And they pretty much were all religiously motivated people.

  37. Mark
    December 17th, 2010 at 10:00 | #37

    Ari, your original comment was “Enlightenment figures who on the record either supported or did not oppose to slavery: Baron Montesquieu, Comte de Mirabeau, Edmund Burke, David Hume, Voltaire, Hobbes, Locke,”

    I have shown you that this statement is simply not true.

    Now you throw out statements regarding the Pope and the “fact” that people who did make a difference in slavery “pretty much were all religiously motivated people.” Do you have any sources to back up such claims? Yes, I can find sites referring to past Popes banning slavery, but it was of no good. (Course, I could throw in here the cowardliness of Pope Pius XII in regards to the Nazi’s but that is a different topic. )

  38. Ari
    December 17th, 2010 at 10:55 | #38

    And those enlightenment figures all deserve a profiles in courage award. You’re right. The enlightenment figures were all great heroes who deserve our unending praise. All praise Voltaire!

  39. Mark
    December 17th, 2010 at 14:09 | #39

    Ari, they were human beings, no more, no less.

    However, it is telling (again) that you do not respond to my inquiry.

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