Sunday, 19 March 2017
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Leviticus: Chapter 25 - Rules on Land and Property and Liberty
So we are now coming to the end of Leviticus, which will come as a relief to us all I'm sure. There has been no continuation of the story of the Bible and of the Israelites at all. No stories of burning bushes, no prophesies, no coats of many colours, no arks or talking snakes. It's all been rules rules rules. And the last three chapters are the same too. Coming up we have yet more rules and edicts from God. In this one we have rules about property and what to do with it. Plus a nice phrase that the writers of the King James Bible came up with that people liked so much they put it on a bell.
So God once more, we are told, spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, it must have been one hell of a chat. He's quite the talker isn't he, God. Anyway this time he wanted to tell him about what they should do with the land he was going to give them.
So, said God, when you get to the promised land, the land of milk and honey, you are to use that land to grow your milk and honey for six years but then give the land a rest, a Sabbath if you will, every seven years. On this year there was to be no reaping and selling of produce. Whatever the land produced could however be used as food. This, by the way, is not unreasonable and, in the days before modern agriculture techniques and fertilisers, a sensible approach to land management. Even land needs a rest once in a while.
Then, said God, they were to count off the Sabbath years 7 times 7. So, when they reached the 50th year there was to be a great sounding of trumpets and a Jubilee declared. This was a kind of property reset. On this year all property purchased during those previous 49 years returned to its previous owner. This was to prevent vast accumulations of property by the rich and is again sensible. On this year everyone was to return to their own ancestral property and to their clans in a kind of big family reunion, which is nice.
Also on this Jubilee all slaves were to go free, something that was noticed by anti-slavery campaigners many years later in America. In this 50th year they should proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. That's a phrase liked so much they put it on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
God comes across more like a property lawyer here doesn't he. And he even introduces a kind of early leasing system with a raising and diminution of prices according to how many years there were before the next Jubilee. There is one exception though, the Jubilee did not apply to property in towns and cities, so urban developers and gold obsessed builders of phallic towers need not worry.
God then went on to lay down rules about how landowners must not exploit the poor and could not enslave other Israelites or otherwise exploit them. Enslaving and exploiting anyone else was of course perfectly okay and indeed recommended. Heathens, said God, those who didn't believe in him, were ripe for exploiting and enslaving. So much for that liberty throughout the land eh?
God was effectively telling them that he had given them this land but that consequently they owed an allegiance to him. They were his people. Unto me, he said, the children of Israel are servants, for he had freed them and brought them to this land of plenty. And he intended to exact a price from them in servitude, obeisance and animal sacrifices forever.