Leviticus 25-27: Jubilee year, blessings and curses, consecration

When you enter Canaan, every seventh year shall be a sabbath year–the ground shall lie unsown and unreaped.  Every 50th year shall be a jubilee year, when no sowing or reaping shall take place.  On the jubilee year, every Israelite shall return to their ancestral holdings.  If the holding had been sold, it must be returned on the jubilee year.  You may not keep your kinsman as slaves, but you may enslave foreigners and resident aliens (including children); you may give them to your children as possessions.   If you follow my laws, you will receive abundant blessings, including great harvests, peace, and deliverance from enemies.  If you disobey me, I will punish severely.  Your enemies will trample over you, wild beasts will eat your children, and I will let enemies conquer you and slaughter you.  Even so, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and not forsake you completely.

You may consecrate humans to me by paying money to the temple–for example, 50 shekels of silver for males 20-60, 30 shekels for females of the same age.  Animals and land may also be consecrated by giving them to the priests, but the first-born of animals cannot, because they already belong to the LORD.

Commentary:

  • Under this peculiar set of laws, land is never really bought or sold, only rented, since they must return to their original owners at the jubilee year.
  • 25:44-46 make clear that not only does the Priestly source not condemn slavery, it explicitly endorses slavery.  They read: “Such male and female slaves as you may have–it is from the nations round about you that you may acquire male and female slaves.  You may also buy them from among the children of aliens resident among you, or from their families that are among you, whom they begot in your land.  These shall become your property: you may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property for all time.  Such you may treat as slaves.  But as for your Israelite kinsmen, no one shall rule ruthlessly over the other.”
  • 27:29 is about human sacrifice.  It reads: “No human being who has been proscribed can be ransomed: he shall be put to death.”  In the preceding verses, “proscribed” is used to mean “consecrated to the LORD”.  Thus, it is possible to sacrifice a human–either oneself or another–as an offering to the LORD.
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