Agrarilaws

loz: 1. The Sabbath Year 2. The Jubilee 3. Its Object 4. The Legal Rules 5. Ideas and Circumstances of the Legislation 6. Form of the Legislation 7. Its Operation and Extension 8. Other Laws Affecting the Land The Mosaic provisions on this subject form one of the most characteristic and interesting portions of the legislation. The main institutions are two, namely, the Sabbath year and the jubilee, and they are closely linked together.

1. The Sabbath Year:

In every seventh year the land was to lie fallow "that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beast of the field shall eat" (Ex 23:10 f; compare Le 25:2-7). `And the Sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant and for thy stranger that sojourn with thee; but for thy cattle, and for the beasts that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be for food’ (Le 25:6 f). This has been quoted at length because the rendering of English Versions of the Bible is misleading. "The Sabbath of the land" does not mean that the natural increase thereof is to be eaten by the Israelite peasant. That interpretation is excluded by Le 25:3-5,20-22. What is intended is clearly shown by the latter of these two passages, "I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year." The principle on which the manna had been provided for Sabbaths was to apply to the harvest of the sixth year, and this is the import of the phrase.

2. The Jubilee:

After "seven sabbaths of years, even forty and tone years" a trumpet was to be blown throughout the land on the tenth day of the seventh month (i.e. the Day of Atonement) and the fiftieth year was to be hallowed and celebrated as a "jubilee." No agricultural work of any kind was to be performed, but "ye may (so correct EVV) eat the increase thereof out of the field" (Le 25:12). God would so bless the land in the sixth year that it would bring forth enough for the Sabbath year, the ensuing jubilee and the subsequent period to the harvest of the ninth year (Le 25:20-22).

3. Its Object:

In addition to being a period in which the land was left fallow, the jubilee was intended to meet the economic evils that befell peasants in ancient societies. Wars or unfavorable seasons would soon reduce a farmer to a condition in which he would have to borrow. But money is rarely to be had without interest and security, and in early communities the rates of interest were very high indeed, while the only security the farmer could offer would consist of his land and the persons of himself and his children. Hence we find insolvency giving rise to the alienation of land and to slavery all over the world--sometimes with the retention of civil rights (as in Rome and Israel), at others in a more unalloyed form. The jubilee aims at both these evils. It is provided that in that year the peasants who had lost their full freedom through insolvency should be free (see Wiener, Studies in Biblical Law, 5 ff) and all lands that had been sold should return to the original owner or his family. "And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me" (Lev 25:23). To this theory there are parallels elsewhere, e.g. in Togoland (Heinrici, Zeitschrift fur vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft, XI, 138).

4. The Legal Rules:


5. Ideas and Circumstances of the Legislation:

"The land laws are the product of many independent ideas and circumstances. .... First such a system as that expounded in the 25th chapter of Le could only be put forward by one who had to work on what is so very rare in history--a clean slate. In other words, the system of land tenure here laid down could only be introduced in this way by men who had no preexisting system to reckon with. Secondly, there is (mutatis mutandis) a marked resemblance between the provisions of Le and the system introduced in Egypt by Joseph (Ge 47). The land is the Lord’s as it is Pharaoh’s; but the towns which are built on that land are not subject to the same theory or the same rules. Perhaps the explanation is that Joseph’s measures had affected only those who gained their living by agriculture, i.e. the dwellers in the country. Thirdly, the system shows the enormous power that the conception of family solidarity possessed in the Mosaic age. .... And fourthly, the enactment is inspired and illuminated by the humanitarian and religious convictions to which reference has already been made" (Journal of Transactions of the Victoria Institute, XLI, 160). Undoubtedly the most striking feature of the enactment is to be found in these religious convictions with the absolute reliance on constant Divine intervention to secure the working of the law (Ge 47:20 ff).

6. Form of the Legislation:

Le 26 shows clearly that this legislation was conceived as the terms of a covenant made between God and the children of Israel, and it appears from Le 26:42-45 that this of the covenant was regarded as being connected with the covenants with the patriarchs though it is also a covenant made with the generation that came forth from Egypt. The land was originally promised to Abraham in a covenant (Ge 17) and it would seem that these laws are regarded as attaching to that covenant which had been renewed with his descendants. Indeed the laws appear to be presented as terms of the sworn agreement (covenant) under which God was about to give Israel the possession of Canaan.

7. Its Operation and Extension:


In later times there are several references to the fallow of the Sabbatical year (1 Macc 6:49,53; Ant, XIII, viii, 1, XIV, x, 6, etc.).

8. Other Laws Affecting the Land:

In addition to these laws Moses enacted provisions favoring gleaning, on which see Poor. He also prohibited sowing a field or vineyard with two kinds of seed (Le 19:19; De 22:9) and prescribed that for three years the fruit of trees should not be eaten, while in the fourth it should be holy, and in the fifth it was to be available for ordinary purposes (Le 19:23 ff).

Harold M. Wiener