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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Jubilee

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In the Bible, the name applied in the Holiness section of the Priestly Code of the Hexateuch (Lev. xxv.) to the observance of every 50th year, determined by the lapse of seven seven-year periods as a year of perfect rest, when there was to be no sowing, nor even gathering of the natural products of the field and the vine. At the beginning of the jubilee-year the liberation of all Israelitish slaves and the restoration of ancestral possessions was to be proclaimed. As regards the meaning of the name "jubilee" (Heb. yobel ) modern scholars are agreed that it signifies "ram" or "ram's horn." "Year of jubilee" would then mean the year that is inaugurated by the blowing of the ram's horn (Lev. xxv. 9).

According to Lev. xxv. 8-12, at the completion of seven sabbaths of years (i.e. 7 X 7 = 49 years) the trumpet of the jubilee is to be sounded "throughout the land" on the 10th day of the seventh month (Tisri io), the great Day of Atonement. The 50th year thus announced is to be "hallowed," i.e. liberty 1 is to be proclaimed everywhere to everyone, and the people are to return "every man unto his possession and unto his family." As in the sabbatical year, there is to be no sowing, nor reaping that which grows of itself, nor gathering of grapes.

As regards real property (Lev. xxv. 13-34) the law is that if any Hebrew under pressure of necessity shall alienate his property he is to get for it a sum of money reckoned according to the number of harvests to be reaped between the date of alienation and the first jubilee-year: should he or any relation desire to redeem the property before the jubilee this can always be done be repaying the value of the harvests between the redemption and the jubilee.

This legal enactment, though it is not found (nor anything like it) in the earlier collections of laws, is evidently based on (or modified from) an ancient custom which conferred on a near kinsman the right of pre-emption as well as of buying back (cf. Jer. xxxii. 6 sqq.). The tendency to impose checks upon the alienation of landed property was exceptionally strong in Israel. The fundamental principle is that the land is a sacred possession belonging to Yahweh. As such it is not to be alienated from Yahweh's people, to whom it was originally assigned. In Ezekiel's restoration programme "crown lands presented by the ` prince ' to any of his officials revert to the crown in the year of liberty (? jubilee year)"; only to his sons may any portion of his inheritance be alienated in perpetuity (Ezek. xlvi. 16-18; cf. Code of Hammurabi, § 38 seq.).

The same rule applies to dwelling-houses of unwalled villages; the case is different, however, as regards dwelling-houses in walled cities. These may be redeemed within a year after transfer, but if not redeemed within that period they continue permanently in possession of the purchaser, and this may well be an echo of ancient practice. An exception to this last rule is made for the houses of the Levites in the Levitical cities.

As regards property in slaves (Lev. xxv. 35-55) the Hebrew whom necessity has compelled to sell himself into the service of his brother Hebrew is to be treated as a hired servant and sojourner, and to be released absolutely at the jubilee; nonHebrew bondmen, on the other hand, are to be bondmen for ever. But the Hebrew who has sold himself to a stranger or sojourner is entitled to freedom at the year of jubilee, and further is at any time redeemable by any of his kindred - the redemption price being regulated by the number of years to run between the redemption and the jubilee, according to the ordinary wage of hired servants. Such were the enactments of the Priestly Code - which, of course, represents the latest legislation of the Pentateuch (post-exilic). These enactments, in order to be understood rightly, must be viewed in relation to the earlier 1 Heb. deror. The same word ( duraru ) is used in the Code of Hammurabi in the similar enactment that wife, son or daughter sold into slavery for debt are to be restored to liberty in the fourth year (§ 117).

similar provisions in connexion with the sabbatical (seventh) year. "The foundations of Lev. xxv. are laid in the ancient provisions of the Book of the Covenant (Exod. xxi. 2 seq.; xxiii. io seq.) and in Deuteronomy (xv.). The Book of the Covenant enjoined that the land should lie fallow and Hebrew slaves be liberated in the seventh year; Deuteronomy required in addition the remission of debts" (Benzinger). Deuteronomy, it will be noticed, in accordance with its humanitarian tendency, not only liberates the slave but remits the debt. It is evident that these enactments proved impracticable in real life (cf. Jer. xxxiv. 8 seq.), and so it became necessary in the later legislation of P, represented in the present form of Lev. xxv., to relegate them to the 50th year, the year of jubilee. The latter, however, was a purely theoretic development of the Sabbath idea, which could never have been reduced to practice (its actual observance would have necessitated that for two consecutive years - the 49th and 50th - absolutely nothing could be reaped, while in the 5rst only summer fruits could be obtained, sowing being prohibited in the 50th year). That in practice the enactments for the jubilee-year were disregarded is evidenced by the fact that, according to the unanimous testimony of the Talmudists and Rabbins, although the jubilee-years were "reckoned" they were not observed.

The conjecture of Kuenen, supported by Wellhausen, that originally Lev. xxv. 8 seq. had reference to the seventh year is a highly probable one. This may be the case also with Ezek. xlvi. r6 - 18 (cf. Jer. xxxiv. 14). A later Rabbinical device for evading the provisions of the law was the prosbul (ascribed to Hillel) - i.e. a condition made in the presence of the judge securing to the creditor the right of demanding repayment at any time, irrespective of the year of remission. Further enactments regarding the jubilee are found in Lev. xxvii. 17-25 and Num. xxxvi. 4. (W. R. S.; G. H. Bo.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Jubilee'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/j/jubilee.html. 1910.

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