What Does Ancient Jewish Scripture Say?
Christmas, the Bible, and the Selling of Land
Haven't we always speculated on land, bought and sold it like any other commodity? No. It hasn't always been this way. This 2012 excerpt is from Episcopal New Yorker — December. Morales is a priest in the Diocese of New York.
by the Rev. Frank MoralesIn certain times and places the selling of land and the speculation and profiteering on one's (or someone else's) home was not an acceptable mode of social relations. In fact, in some places it was considered a sin to do so. Such was the case in Biblical times, during the era of the Old Testament and the Prophets.
Chapter 25 in the Book of Leviticus says,"'the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers."
”When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord.” The Sabbath was about the Year of Jubilee, the seventh day, the seventh year, the seven times seventh years, at which time a socio-economic leveling would occur, debts would be forgiven, ancestral land reclaimed. The occasion provided a means to actualize the ethical requirements necessary in maintaining equilibrium of justice, an equilibrium fostered through egalitarian measures presumed in the household of a just God on His Holy Sabbath Day.
At that time, “the land is to have a year of rest.” So, every fifty years, “on the Day of Atonement, sound the trumpet throughout your land … and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.”
Israel’s division of the land was by lot. In fact, the modern word ”lot" as used for a piece of real estate, derives directly from this concept. The Greek and Hebrew word usually translates as”inheritance." In the Bible, it means a division made by casting lots.
Also,”you must not remove your neighbor’s boundary marker, set up by former generations on the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” (Deuteronomy 19:14)
Over time, the coveting of neighbors’ land and the seizing of property by foreclosing on mortgages became a serious abuse. Because wealth in the pre-modern world was primarily the product of land ownership and the agricultural production that came from it, greed (and laws which sanctioned it) undermined the Jewish community’s prohibition of ownership of land, rupturing the people’s relationship with God, the ultimate foundation upon which we depend.
During the time of Jesus, many centuries later, King Herod had large royal estates, royal lands. He in turn gave land to new elites, the priestly class, who’d made their peace with Roman occupation. Foreclosure because of debt (like today), fostered through the burden of taxation, was a pervasive reality.
This in turn led to the accumulation of large tracts of land by the wealthy elite and the commercialization of agriculture, with masses of displaced poor, the”blessed” inheritors of God’s Kingdom, struggling for their”daily bread.”
For life is land and land is life. And let us thereby repent and herald a return to the Law of the Lord!
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JJS: Another good quote is “the fruits of the earth belong to everyone”. The fruits get us closer to the profit from land -- or natural rent -- which is why people compete for land. If only a critical mass today would realize that the rental value of land is our common wealth, then we could have the joy of Christmas every day!
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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