01 Mar 2009

Restricted Covenants: The Year of Jubilee

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Just when you think you’ve got the Old Testament God all figured out, He throws a curveball at you. Now He literally is laying down the law throughout Leviticus, and it’s not exactly summer camp.

But then in chapter 25, He explains the “Year of Jubilee” which is quite fascinating:

8 ‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. 12 For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.

13 ‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. 14 And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. 15 According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. 16 According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. 17 Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.

Now by all means, if I am missing something here, those of you with more training please correct me. But it seems what is happening here is that the LORD is making the land inalienable. So if someone screws up and gets deep into debt, he might sell off part of his “inheritance,” but really all he is doing is renting it out for (at most) 50 years. And notice in the part I put in bold that the parcels of land are to be capitalized (presumably at a zero interest rate) according to the number of harvests remaining. This struck me as really cool, inasmuch as it is the foundation of my critique of the one-good model in capital & interest theory.

Now before you atheist libertarians go nuts, remember:

23 ‘The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.

So of course, if God doesn’t exist, then yes these rules are silly; that goes without saying. But if there really is a conscious Creator of the universe, then under standard libertarian law He clearly owns everything. And it’s perfectly within His rights to say, “I’m going to give you guys this property, but only on condition that…”

I guess I really don’t have too much to add, except to reiterate that this is a very surprising twist to the image of the big meanie God of the Old Testament. One might have expected He would say, “And if any man falls into debt, let him be cut off from his people even unto the fifth generation. He is a spendthrift.” But nope, He basically lets everyone start the game over every 50 years.

Last point: There are some clauses about permanently selling houses, later in the chapter. I.e. if you sell somebody a house, then a year later you lose the right to “redeem” it (and the land on which it stands), except for certain houses related to the priestly class. So the Year of Jubilee really seems to concentrate on the land as a source of permanent income.

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