Economics 101 & Theology 101

Jubilee Myth #3: Is Private Property Relative?

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Ed. Note: This post has been adapted from its original form. Read the full paper here.

All this week we’re covering five myths surrounding the Biblical practice of Jubilee.

Myth #3: Jubilee shows the relative nature of private property. 

This myth purports that since God owns the land, there are no absolute rights to private property. If there are no absolute rights to private property – land or wealth – this provides warrant for the government to take private property and redistribute it.

Actually, Leviticus 25 argues exactly the opposite.

God owns the land, but has given the Promised Land to the tribes and families of Israel with the condition that private property cannot be sold, squandered, or given away permanently. The property rights remain with the tribe or family that was given the land in the first place.

Jubilee underlines the value and importance of private property for the tribes of Israel. The family farm cannot be taken away from them permanently:

  • No matter how tragic the circumstances.
  • No matter how immoral a family member becomes.
  • No matter how unwise the family is in maintaining their property.

The family is not permanently deprived of their land.

John Schneider, in his book The Good of Affluence, explains how property rights were originally distributed to the tribes of Israel. He points out that the shares were distributed unevenly:

  • The Levites received no land.
  • First-born sons received twice the land given to other sons.
  • Daughters neither owned nor inherited anything.
  • Non-Israelites had no share in the land.

Jubilee honors property rights by giving land back to its original owners. Schneider concludes,

What the Jubilee did was restore property and power to old landed families, the true Israelites, and there is no condition relating to whether they needed it or not…For by limiting property rights of non-Israelites or other buyers to a form of leasing, rental, or temporary investment, it literally prohibited the liquidation or sharing of assets for ethical purposes. 

Far from being relativized, private property rights in Israel were established permanently, and enforced by the practice of Jubilee.

What do you think? Does Jubilee render private property rights void? Does it make an argument for redistribution? Leave your comments here

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