What may be the most radical economic laws in all of human history are found in the first five books of the Bible, variously known as the Torah, the Pentateuch, “the law,” and the books of Moses.
Central to God’s covenant with ancient Israel (the spiritual ancestors of Jews, Christians, and Muslims), these laws describe and prescribe what the new life beyond “Egypt”—at that time seen as a symbol of bondage, economic exploitation, impoverishment, and slavery—is to be like. They embody God’s dream, God’s passion for a different kind of life on earth, here and now, in this world. They include laws about debt and land.
In the world of biblical Israel, debt and land were both related to food and the material basis of existence. Most people were farmers, so access to land meant access to the source of food. In that era, a person would go into debt only for the most desperate reasons. Borrowing in order to purchase consumer goods over time was unknown. Only if one didn’t have enough food, perhaps because one’s family had to eat next year’s seed grain in order to survive, would one borrow.
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