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Gleanings and Musings from the Study of the Rector of Monken HadleyThomas Renz
Updated: 32 min 49 sec ago

Hebrew Bible Perspectives on Economic Ethics

Fri, 07/09/2018 - 15:17

Thomas Krüger, “Wirtschaftsethische Perspektiven der Hebräischen Bibel,” in A. Härter, E. A. Kunz, and H. Weidemann (eds), Dazwischen: Zum transitorischen Denken in Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft (FS J. Anderegg). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2003. Pp. 333-347.
  • the location of the Torah in the wilderness following the experience of slavery and mistreatment,
  • that the wilderness where everyone is provided for by God and no-one knows whether they are going to be rich or poor in the land is an ideal place to agree to a law which serves rich and poor
  • that the people’s voluntary agreement is required for the divine laws to be put into force (Exod. 24; Deut. 26:16-19; 28:69);

  • the importance of key terms within the prophetic critique such as zedakah (the preservation and restoration of a life-promoting order for the community and the world), mishpat (which aims at the amicable resolution of conflicts in a balancing co-ordination of interests), and hesed (the elementary bond, solidarity and loyalty in the manifold human relationships such as between relatives, between friends, between host and guest, between master and slaves),
  • the ideal of the economic independence of individuals or individual families (ideally shalom);

  • that the social critique of the prophets assumes that the ultimate aim of social and economic action is to safeguard the freedom of all members of the community which requires a certain distribution of goods and especially of the means of production (which can well be uneven but not such that the rich become richer at the expense of the poor);

  • a development within the composition history of the Torah from (1) Exod. 21-23 which focuses on the reconciliation of interests between the rich and the poor, via (2) Deut. 12-24 which aims at the elimination of poverty – a goal which is considered worthy even if not achievable, to (3) Lev. 25 which has even distribution of income as its goal;

  • the biblical insight that the freedom of the individual and of the individual clan requires economic independence  and
  • the biblical conviction that an economic system oriented towards freedom and justice will be more successful in the long run than ways of running the economy which ignore them;
  • makes the point
  • that the difference of treatment between members of the community and foreigners is not to take advantage of foreigners but to prevent being taken advantage of, given the less charitable systems in Israel’s neighbourhood,
  • that the Psalms and wisdom literature qualify the value of wealth and prosperity in favour of justice (e.g. Prov. 10:2) and love and peace (e.g., Prov. 15:16-17), not least with God and the afterlife in view (e.g. Ps. 4:6-8; 17:14-15; 73:25-26), so that wealth can be considered problematic as much as poverty (Prov. 30:8-9);

  • that the most detailed and thoughtful reflection on the value of material wealth and its just distribution is found in Ecclesiastes, esp. chap. 4, reinforced in 5:9-6:9, where it is emphasised that material goods are means to an end, namely the enjoyment of life which God intends for every human being with the consequence that (a) the rich can only lay claim to that part of their wealth actually needed for their enjoyment of life and (b) a distribution of goods which allows everyone to enjoy life is desirable;
  • that Eccl. 11:1-2 then reinforces the second insight of Eccl 4 which given the uncertainty of life draws the conclusion that it makes sense for the rich to work towards a system that balances  discrepancies of income, not least as they might be in need of such a system themselves in the future.

  • that we obviously cannot simply transfer the ethical deliberations and economic concepts of the Hebrew Bible to our situation in which economic structures and processes are vastly more complex but
  • that the biblical texts can remind us of some of the basics easily overlooked in our complex world, namely that freedom presupposes economic independence, that wealth and propserity are means to an end, that success of human endeavour does not depend only on effort and skill but also on factors beyond human control,
  • that the biblical aim of an an even distribution of “land” (which in those days meant means of production, labour, and food) is at least worth considering.

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