James W. Watts: 0000-0002-4872-4986
Leviticus 25, biblical interpretation, literary context, ancient historical context, slavery, utopian, environmentalism, debt relief, land reform
Syracuse University Humanities Center
Biblical Studies | Religion
Though Leviticus 25’s description of the Jubilee sounds unrealistically utopian to many biblical scholars, the Jubilee ideal has stimulated many movements for freedom and economic reform in the last 500 years. It most famously motivated enslaved people to resist and abolitionists to challenge the institution of slavery. Today it continues to inspire reform movements for land redistribution and fair housing, for sovereign debt relief, and for developing environmentally sustainable economies. The contrast between scholarly assessments of the chapter’s meaning in its literary and ancient historical contexts and its proven power to inspire movements for freedom that were unimaginable to its writers poses a moral challenge to the conventional methods of biblical scholarship. This article describes the Jubilee’s ideological context in four historical settings: in Israel’s ancient Middle Eastern political economy, in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movement to abolish slavery, in contemporary movements for economic reform, and in modern biblical studies to explore how biblical scholars can credibly account for the chapter’s historical and contemporary power to inspire mass freedom movements in their descriptions of the meaning of Leviticus 25.
Watts, James W. "Leviticus 25’s History of Inspiring Freedom as a Moral Challenge to Literary-Historical Interpretation." Biblical Interpretation (online 2022, print 2023)
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