Bunch of Commies

When I read this piece on financial planners using the Bible to back up their advice, I thought about Leviticus 25, and the Jubilee. Okay, my first thought was that the "financial planners" were reading the Bible the way people interpret Nostradamus's quatrains or the way psychics read Tarot cards (and it looks like I'm right, if the examples in the story are par for the course).

But after that, I pulled one of my Bibles down from the shelf (yep--an atheist with multiple Bibles) and looked at Leviticus 25 again, and I was surprised. I'd forgotten just how anti-capitalist this section is. For example, property sales were to be considered temporary, and the price was to be pro-rated according to how many years were left before the next Jubilee, because in the Jubilee year, all property was to be returned to its original owners. And the seller had the right to redeem his property within a particular time frame, regardless whether the purchaser wished to sell it back or not. There were land use restrictions, as well as bans on the selling of certain property.

It's verses 14-17 that I really find interesting, though:

14 "'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.
The theory of capitalism, as I understand it, is that all sides in any deal are doing their best to get the deal that is most advantageous to their side. In practice, this means that all sides are trying to take advantage of the other participants in the deal--it's a zero-sum game. The exception is when you get groups playing a non-zero-sum game, where everyone benefits as the result of a deal, but even in those rare circumstances, there are generally some zero-sum games being played in the background.

But the whole theory of the economic system described here in Leviticus is one which precludes the zero-sum game. Even if one party were in a position to take advantage of the other, the law required that they not do so. I have little faith that this requirement was honored much in practice--greed is one of our more common characteristics across cultures--but it's interesting to me that this culture tried, at least, to codify the fair deal as an ideal of conduct.

This section also exposes just how out of keeping with the Old Testament tradition the Prosperity Gospel is. From the article I began with:
For instance, in the gospel of John, Jesus says "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full," which some "prosperity gospel" preachers see as a promise of material wealth to faithful givers. Others say it's an assurance of joy or contentment.
The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels was educated in the Levitical Law, and some theologians argue he referenced the Jubilee in Luke 4:19-26. To portray Jesus as a capitalist, as the Prosperity Gospel movement does, is to ignore the foundation of the society he was raised in.

Which is a little beside the point, frankly. We live in a global economy that's intricate in ways even the wisest people in the world 2,000 years ago couldn't have imagined. Anyone who's using a book from that period to justify the advice he or she is giving on financial issues is banking on the willingness of the mark recipient of that advice swallow the appeal to authority. If the advice is good, let it stand on its own. Don't hide it in hokum.

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