Sunday, April 26, 2009

Renting the Land of Milk & Honey?

David Plotz read every word of the Old Testament and blogged about the experience on Slate.  One of Plotz's take home points is that in "the Bible there's more about real estate than there is about the Lord." As he said in an interview with the New Yorker:

The overarching theme of the Bible, particularly of Genesis, is real estate. God is Trump-like, constantly making land deals (and then remaking them, on different terms). When Sarah dies, for example, there are two verses about her death, and a whole chapter about Abraham negotiating to buy a burial site for her in Hebron. It’s not just land that the Bible is obsessed with, but also portable property: gold, silver, livestock. There’s a great book to be written—not by me—about Biblical economics, and what all these transactions indicate about the nature of Judean society. I’m not sure what it tells us about the current housing crisis, except perhaps that the Israelites were just as maniacal about land ownership as we are. None of them wanted to rent in the Promised Land. They all wanted to own (and there wasn’t even a mortgage interest deduction).

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Steve Clowney

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Why am I thinking there should be Don Rickles making jokes about this topic?

Posted by: gompers | Apr 27, 2009 9:45:22 AM

Well, there's a slight problem with Plotz's statement that they all "wanted to own." At least in the early period of the tribal-confederacy, there was nothing quite like what we might call "full liberal ownership" or ownership with the full "bundle of sticks". The rights are much better thought of as very strong usufruct rights as inhering to "the father's house", along with what some have called a "social mortgage." That is, the various commands limiting land accumulation, obligations regarding rights of access and the kinsman-redeemer, and the restoration of property to the "father's house" (the initial allocation) in the jubilee year are indications of a system of land tenure quite different from an "ownership" model. The initial settlers were at least aware of the command , "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me." (Lev. 25:23) G-d was the ultimate landlord, and the Israelites were more like tenant farmers with strong usufruct rights.

Posted by: Kurt Paulsen | Apr 28, 2009 11:43:28 AM

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