by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 2
June 2022
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07:00

The biblical meaning of a Jubilee

The celebration is the original 'great reset'
by Peter Franklin
A Britain re-ordered around jubilee values would put community life before investor greed. Credit: Getty

Every year the churches remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. This year, they need to do the same for the jubilee. 

The j-word is obviously related to celebratory terms like ‘jubilant’ and ‘jubilation’. These, in turn, trace their roots to a number of older words signifying a cry of joy or surprise. (The English word ‘yowl’ springs from the same source.) But there’s a second etymology for ‘jubilee’, one that goes back to the Old Testament. It is derived (via the Latin iubilaeus and the Greek iobelos) from the Hebrew yobhel — which refers to the trumpet (a ram’s horn) that was sounded to proclaim a jubilee year. 

The Biblical concept of the sabbath, i.e. the day of rest, is one that still governs modern life, though not as much as it used to. The idea of a sabbatical year (or period of months) is also familiar to us. This too comes from the Hebrew scriptures — specifically, the injunction that every seventh year should be set aside as a time of rest, for people and land alike. Then, after seven cycles of seven years, would come the jubilee — a sabbatical year with knobs on.

According to Leviticus, chapter 25, this fiftieth year was meant to be a time of liberation as well as rest — debts were to be cancelled and slaves freed. It’s no wonder that the concept still resonates with religious progressives. For instance, at the start of this century, the Jubilee 2000 coalition brought together churches, charities and celebrities from around the world to campaign for the cancellation of third world debt.  

However, this somewhat misses the original meaning. Jubilee wasn’t really about the forgiveness of debt, but rather the structuring of loans so that they’d be automatically paid-off by the time of the jubilee. Debtors would surrender the use of their land until the jubilee, in return for which lenders would advance a sum based on the likely product of that land over those years. The aim was that debtors would never be permanently alienated from their inheritance.  

Similarly, the provision for freeing slaves was about ensuring that no one could sell themselves and their descendants into everlasting servitude. The jubilee was therefore the original “great reset” — a restoration that allowed people to return home and communities to re-form. As a principle of social organisation it can be seen as deeply conservative as well as progressive. 

But is it only relevant to life as it was lived in ancient times? No, we need it just as much today. We’ve organised capitalism around the centralisation of economic opportunity while opening up the property market to unfettered speculation. As a result, we’ve priced an entire generation out of home ownership, confining them to pokey flats in place of the homes that parents and children need. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. We could freeze out the speculators’ money, while building and reserving homes for young families. A Britain re-ordered around jubilee values would put community life before investor greed.

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AC Harper
AC Harper
26 days ago

If you were serious about a great reset (other than some poke at ‘capitalists’) then there should have been 49 years of preparation.
An arbitrary ‘let’s kick the traces over’ is just a call for revolution, and people can get hurt in revolutions.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
26 days ago

Leviticus 18:22 : You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
26 days ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I’m sure there are many ways in which two people can do the business not lying down, fully kosher-compliant!

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
26 days ago

I suspect the ‘author (s)’ of Leviticus was worried about the sand, not to mention the flies.

Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
23 days ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

As many people know, or may not know, in the Jewish religion there are 613 precepts. The number 70 says : you shall not dress like a woman. The number 71 says : a woman shall not dress like a man.
In other words men are men and women are women. We have to accept it and concentrate on other isues, equally important.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
25 days ago

There are two great historical populations who have abolished slavery in one form or another. The ancient Israelites and the British Empire. The left hates them both.

Last edited 25 days ago by Arnold Grutt