The Jubilee: A Post-Exilic Priestly Attempt to Reclaim Lands?
John Sietze Bergsma
Traditionally, the jubilee year of Leviticus 25 has been
viewed as priestly legislation aimed at ensuring the perpetual land-rights of
the small landowner and his descendants by preventing latifundism — the
accumulation of large estates by the wealthy. In recent scholarship on this
chapter, however, a different view of the intent of the jubilee legislation has
gained popularity. This view regards the jubilee legislation as the production
of exilic or post-exilic priests, with the intent to justify legally the
repossession of lands lost in the exile by themselves and other returning Judean
exiles. For lack of a better term, this view may be called the
This paper attempts to open discussion on the
"land-reclamation" hypothesis, asking whether it is capable of
explaining the presence or absence of various features in Lev 25. The issue of
the dating of the final redaction of the text, though interesting in itself and
pertinent to the subject, is not the main focus of this paper1: the only
question is whether the repossession of lands by the returning exiles motivated
the redaction. The paper concludes that there are some impediments to accepting
the "land-reclamation" hypothesis: (1) the jubilee legislation in its
final form did not serve the interests of returning exiles, whether priestly or
lay; and (2) the text betrays few signs of having been redacted or augmented
with a "land-reclamation" agenda. A comparison of Lev 25 with the
vision of land allocation in Ezek 45–48 underscores the differences between
the jubilee legislation and what is widely regarded as an actual exilic priestly
blueprint for the redistribution of land.
I. A Brief History of Scholarship on the Subject
The first biblical scholar to suggest that the jubilee
legislation was redacted with the intent to justify the recovery of lands by the
returning exiles seems to have been Gerhard Wallis in 1969. He summarizes his
approach in an English abstract appended to his article "Das
Jobeljahr-Gesetz, eine Novelle zum Sabbathjahr Gesetz":
This Law of the Jubilee originates from the later exilic
times and should open to the people returning from the exile the possibility
of regaining in the homeland the rights of land-owning, which probably had
been lost during the years of their absence2.
Wallis also argues that the interval of forty-nine years
"means" either the time between the first deportation (597 BCE) and
Second Isaiah (548 BCE) or between the second deportation (587 BCE) and the
edict of Cyrus (538 BCE).
Wallis's suggestion was taken up by several important
scholars of the jubilee legislation and related texts, such as Innocenzo
Cardellini (1981)3, Baruch Levine (1983)4, and Sharon Ringe (1985):
The new compilation [of the Holiness Code] would resolve
a major problem accompanying the people's return from the exile, namely,
the allocation and subsequent management of the land5.
Interpretations along similar lines were offered by Marvin
Chaney (1991)6, Jeffrey Fager (1993)7, Norman C. Habel (1995)8, and most
notably, Norman K. Gottwald:
The jubilee programme can thus be viewed as the political
and economic ploy of the Aaronid priests to achieve leadership in restored
Judah by dispensing benefits to a wide swath of the popu-lace, presumably
with the civil and military support from the Persians9.
However, according to Jacob Milgrom, Gottwald apparently no
longer advocates this position10.
Nonetheless, this stream of interpretation has apparently
become powerful enough to sway Klaus Grünwaldt11, Francesco Bianchi12, and
perhaps the greatest scholar of the jubilee, Robert G. North, who has recently
revised his original settlement-era dating of the jubilee legislation13:
[We] feel securely within the competent majority in
claiming that the Jubilee-decree itself was the last part of Lev 25 to be
composed, near the end of the Exile and in view of repossessing Judah [sic]
lands, though quite possibly retrieving a similar proposal from as early as
the Joshua-settlement era14.
Most of these scholars are somewhat vague about how the
jubilee legislation would have functioned practically in a land dispute between returning exiles and non-exiled Israelites15. Was Lev 25 meant as binding law to
be produced in court to verify one's land rights? Or was it only for
"internal" use, to provide intellectual reasoning for those who
already believed in the priests' and exiles' position? Lack of specificity
on matters like this makes the hypothesis difficult to subject to analysis.
Moreover, the different proponents of this same general position differ among
themselves in the specifics they do supply. For example, some scholars argue
that the legislation was produced in early restoration Judea16, while others
insist a post-exilic redaction is impossible due to the lack of correspondence
between the jubilee legislation and the actual restoration situation17.
No direct evidence — biblical or extra-biblical, textual or
archeological — has yet been produced to substantiate this hypothesis18. Our
sources do not indicate that the exiles attempted to regain ancestral lands upon
their return and met opposition, much less that Lev 25 was put forward as a
legal basis for such an attempt. The sources do not even indicate that the
exiles made a serious attempt to return to the exact property held by their
ancestors19. Therefore, the hypothesis of a "land-reclamation"
redaction of Lev 25 remains, in the words of Norman Gottwald, purely an
"exercise in historical imagination"20. That does not necessarily mean
it is false, only unsubstantiated. It is fair to ask, however, whether the
hypothesis does indeed meet even the standards of "historical
II. Does the Jubilee Legislation Serve the Interests
of the Returning Exiles?
1. Who Benefited from the Jubilee?
A common assumption of the "land-reclamation"
hypothesis is that the jubilee legislation served the interests of the returning
exiles. In order to examine this assumption critically, it is necessary to
ascertain (1) which socio-economic groups benefited from the jubilee, and (2)
which socio-economic groups were exiled.
Although many points of interpretation of the jubilee are
hotly debated, there is remarkable unanimity concerning the beneficiaries of the
legislation. The two scholars who have devoted monographs to the subject in the
past fifty years — North and Fager — are in agreement:
It would be more directly evident ... that the whole
concern of Lev 25 is with the independent small farmer ...21.
Since the purpose of the jubilee seems to have been to
preserve the economic integrity of the peasant farmer, there was no need to
protect urban property from alienation22.
North also adds that "a flourishing commercial
orientation [is] quite different from the petty-agriculture focus with which
most of the jubilee chapter deals"23. Similar views on the focus and
beneficiaries of the legislation are expressed by Habel24, Gottwald25,
Albertz26, and Milgrom27.
If the beneficiaries of the jubilee are the
"independent" or "peasant" farmers, what socio-economic
classes were exiled? According to the deuteronomistic historian, the classes
taken into exile at the first deportation were the royal court, the
"notables" (Cr)h ylw)), the
military, craftsmen, and smiths — about 10,000 in all (2 Kgs 24,13-17). At the
second deportation, the "remnant of the population" of Jerusalem was
taken (2 Kgs 25,11), including "what remained of the craftsmen" (Jer
52,15). In both deportations, "the poorest people in the land" were
left "to be vinedressers and field hands" (2 Kgs 24,14; 25,12; Jer
Thus, according to the deuteronomistic historian(s), the
exiles were the urban elite, not the rural farming class whom the jubilee
legislation was designed to protect. The first deportation, in 597 BCE, was
certainly the most significant in quantity and "quality" of people. In
the second, the "urban elite" was considerably smaller (cf. Jer
52,28-30). The non-exiled "poorest people of the land" almost
certainly would have included the "small independent farmers" who
would benefit from the jubilee legislation28.
Of course, the accuracy and agenda of the deuteronomistic
historian and the redactor of Jeremiah have been challenged29, but these
challenges do not effect the present argument, since — at least to our
knowledge — no one disputes the fact that the deportees consisted of the urban
upper classes, i.e. those who would pose a potential political threat to
Babylonian rule30. This is congruent with known Babylonian policy. As Martin
Noth describes it,
After the old upper class in Jerusalem and Judah had been
taken away in 598 B.C., mainly the urban population of Jerusalem was
deported [in 587 B.C.], presumably again to Babylonia. The peasant
population, on the other hand, remained where they were31.
The urban character of the exiled population is hard to
reconcile with the exception of urban property from the jubilee laws, if the
legislation was produced or redacted to benefit them. Lev 25,29-34 excludes the
sale of houses within cities from the release of the jubilee, with the exception
of levitical property in levitical cities, which Jerusalem was not
(cf. 1 Chr 6,34-66). Why would the returning "priests"
specifically forbid to themselves and the other exiles the opportunity to
recover their urban residences? Why does the exception for levitical property
not include Jerusalem? This is particularly ironic, given the fact that a large
number of the exiles were Jerusalemites.
In sum, the problem for the "land-reclamation"
hypothesis is this: "the purpose of the jubilee seems to have been to
preserve the economic integrity of the peasant farmer"32 the very segment
of the population not exiled. The exiles were the urban elite who
benefited from the system of latifundism expressly opposed by the jubilee33. How
then is the jubilee legislation a product or redaction of the interests of the
returning exiles, priestly or lay? Realizing this, Habel even suggests the
non-exiled rural population as a possible Sitz-im-Leben for the origin of
the jubilee legislation34.
2. The "Inhabitants"?
There is also phraseology in Lev 25 that would be
particularly awkward for returning urban exiles. Lev 25,10 mandates "You
shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants [hyb#$y]."
This wording would have the potential to backfire against the exiles, who in
fact were not "inhabitants" of the land, and largely had not been for
more than sixty years35. Ironically, it would favor those whose lands the exiles
wished to repossess, especially since — as we will demonstrate below — the
inhabitants of the land regarded themselves has having been confirmed in their
right to the land by the divine action of the exile36. If the text was augmented
or redacted for post-exilic "land-reclamation" purposes, we would
expect hyb#$y to be replaced with something more
generic, such as l)r#&y-ynb.
3. The "Priests"?
But perhaps it was not the exiled population per se
that was meant to benefit from the jubilee, but only the priestly caste. This
position has been put forward forcefully by Ringe:
The priestly compilers of the laws ... would not only
have established their own authority over the regulation of the land and its
inhabitants, but at the same time would have legitimized their
administration by a reaffirmation of its basis in God's sovereignty. The
religious sanction that such legislation would have lent to their authority
would have been crucial in the consolidation of their power and in the
establishment of the holy and righteous people under God which was their
Similar views can be found in Habel38 and Gottwald39.
However, Fager, while holding that "the priests" may have benefited
from receiving back some land, sufficiently points out the inadequacy of this
kind of argument:
There are those who believe the jubilee actually bestowed
power on the priests through its control of land distribution ... However,
the jubilee worked automatically, independent from priestly prerogatives,
and it tended to maintain a relatively equal distribution of land,
dispersing economic power widely. At most, the priests may have wanted to
establish the returning exiles' right to their 'fair share' of the
land; however, had they wanted control of the distribution of the land, they
could have stated that explicitly in the legislation; the simple presence of
the jubilee in the Priestly Code does not express a grab for power by the
III. Does the Jubilee Legislation Show Signs
of a "Land-reclamation" Redaction?
One weakness of the "land-reclamation" hypothesis
is that nothing in Lev 25 requires it for explanation. Indeed, prior to Wallis
(1969), commentators such as Wellhausen, Kuenen, Eerdmans, Ginzberg, Albright,
Jirku, Eichrodt, Noth, and Snaith found it unnecessary to have recourse to such
a hypothesis41. Subsequent commentators such as Porter, Wenham, Gerstenberger,
Hartley, and Milgrom have felt similarly uncompelled42.
The "land-reclamation" perspective does not have a
particular heuristic value, such that upon accepting it, details of the text
that were obscure suddenly become meaningful. Rather, the opposite is the case.
If the final redaction was a post-exilic power-play for the repossession of real
estate, then the extensive instructions regarding the alleviation of
debt-slavery in vv. 23-55 — most of the textual unit — become irrelevant to
the intent of the final redaction, and thus a distraction from — rather than
an indication of — the central thrust of the text.
1. The Forty-nine Years
One aspect of the text that the "land-reclamation"
hypothesis claims to explain is the forty-nine-year duration of the jubilee
cycle. Frequently it is asserted that the period between jubilees was somehow
inspired by the forty-nine years between the second deportation (587 BCE) and
the edict of Cyrus (538 BCE). In other words, the returning priests established
the jubilee period at forty-nine years in order to justify, upon their return in
538 BCE, the restoration of land ownership to the situation in 587 BCE. However,
this assertion is both implausible and unnecessary, for the following reasons:
(1) According to both the deuteronomistic historian (2 Kgs
24,14-17; 25,11) and the book of Jeremiah (Jer 52,28-30), a much larger group of
exiles was deported in 597 BCE than in 587 BCE43. If the impression given by
these sources is even approximately correct, any attempt on the part of the
returnees shortly after 538 BCE to restore the land tenure situation to what it
had been forty-nine years before would have invalidated the land claims of a
majority — perhaps a large majority — of the returning exiles, who had been
deported fifty-nine years previously.
(2) The only large-scale simultaneous return of exiles for
which we have information is the one under Zerubbabel, which is generally held
to have occurred a decade or more after 538 BCE 44, by which time the
forty-nine-year period would no longer be appropriate.
(3) There is no support in the text of Lev 25 to justify
interpreting Cyrus' edict as marking a year of jubilee45. One has difficulty
imagining how the exiles could advance such an argument, based on this text, in
a title dispute against the actual inhabitants of the land of Israel.
(4) Taking the edict of Cyrus as the end of the jubilee cycle
ironically implies the cycle began in 587 BCE, the year the (second wave
of) exiles left the land, not the year they entered the land,
which runs directly counter to Lev 25,1.
In addition to being implausible, the supposed explanation of
the jubilee cycle by the duration of the second deportation is unnecessary,
since there already exists an explanation for the jubilee cycle that is internal
to the Holiness Code. The Feast of Weeks (Lev 23,15-16) is based on the same 49
+ 1 numerology as the jubilee, and is a much more proximate and likely
inspiration for the pattern46. However, in their eagerness to attribute the
forty-nine years of the jubilee to the duration of the second deportation,
advocates of the land-reclamation hypothesis have more or less completely
overlooked the similarity between the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23,15-16) and the
jubilee (Lev 25,8-10)47, despite the fact that the correlation was already
recognized by Wellhausen48 and — long before him — by the rabbis (Sifra
The 49 + 1 pattern of both the Feast of Weeks and the jubilee
has its origin in the "seven-mysticism" that is pervasive in the
ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible49. Forty-nine is seven times seven, and
therefore a quintessentially numinous number. In fact, the text of the jubilee
itself stresses the significance of forty-nine as the square of seven:
Myn#$ (b#$ Myn#$ ttb#$ (b#$ Kl trpsw
Myn#$h ttb#$ (b#$ ymy Kl wyhw Mym(p (b#$
hn#$ My(br)w (#$t
You shall count off seven weeks of years — seven times
seven years — so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total
of forty-nine years (Lev 25,8).
The counting system of the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23,15-16)
provides an explanation for the forty-nine years of the jubilee that is internal
to the Holiness Code and arises naturally from the "seven-mysticism"
characteristic of the same. It is unclear why an external and speculative
explanation — such as the forty-nine years of the second deportation — is
either necessary or compelling. Perhaps this line of reasoning would be more
convincing if the number of years of both the jubilee and the second deportation
were irregular or unprecedented in biblical literature, e.g. thirty-seven or
2. Omissions in the Text of Provisions for the Exilic Situation
There are at least three elements "missing" from
the jubilee legislation which one would expect to be present had it been written
or redacted with a "land-reclamation" agenda. The "omission"
of these elements would have made the jubilee impossible to implement in the
post-exilic situation, at least for the purpose of returning land to the exiles.
(1) From when does one count the jubilee cycle? Lev 25 does
not provide a way of determining when the jubilee should be observed. The text
simply says, "Count off seven Sabbaths of years" (v. 8). From when?
The only suggestion in the text is found in v. 1: "When you enter the
land". Thus, the narrative projection of the text is that the Israelites
should observe the jubilee every forty-nine (or fifty) years, starting from the
year in which they entered the land, presumably under Joshua (i.e. the
How was this to apply to the post-exilic situation? Perhaps
"when you enter the land" was meant to refer to the year the exiles
returned. However, if the jubilee was meant to justify the immediate
repossession of the exiles' lands, why does the legislation not take effect
until fifty years after they have returned to their homeland (v. 8)50? Would the
exiles really want to wait in Israel fifty years before repossessing their
(2) What if one misses a jubilee? The logistics of organizing
a major, permanent migration from Babylon back to Israel probably precludes the
possibility that any large group of exiles returned within a year of Cyrus'
edict (538 BCE)51. If 538 BCE was considered a jubilee year by the redactors of
Lev 25 — as most "land-reclamation" proponents seem to hold — most
of the exiles would have missed it. This raises another major omission of the
text: what happens if one misses a jubilee? The text does not deal with
the possibility that an heir to ancestral property might not be present to
regain title to his land in the year of jubilee. Does the land then become the
permanent possession of the current owner? Must the heir wait for the following
jubilee to repossess it? Does it immediately revert to the heir in whatever year
following the jubilee that he actually does show up to claim it? The text does
not specify. However, the text does imply that jubilees have been counted since
Israel's initial entry into Canaan. If this were actually the case, probably
all the returning exiles would have missed a jubilee52. Any of the second wave
(587 BCE) of deportees and their descendants who returned after 538-537 BCE
would have missed the "jubilee" inaugurated by the edict of Cyrus. The
larger first wave (597 BCE) of deportees and descendants would have missed two
"jubilees": the one in 587-586 BCE and that in 538-537 BCE. Any
non-exiled Israelite whose land "the priests" wished to repossess
could easily point out that the exiles had missed the last jubilee and therefore
forfeited their land.
The missing of a jubilee is precisely the sort of issue one
would expect to be dealt with by a redactor. A short gloss could quickly clarify
the situation for the exiles benefit: "And if your brother Israelite should
be in exile during the year of jubilee, and unable to reclaim his possession, he
shall receive it back on the day that he does return to the land."
(3) How does the exile effect the land rights of deportees?
The third and most critical omission of Lev 25 — when read as a
"land-reclamation" text — is that it does not deal with the
theological meaning of the exile vis-à-vis the possession of the land:
was the exile a divine judgment against the land-claims of the exiles?
Certainly many non-exiled Israelites interpreted it as such.
This is sufficiently clear from (the priest) Jeremiah's vision of good and bad
As with these good figs, so will I single out for good
the Judean exiles whom I have driven out from this place to the land of the
Chaldeans. I will look upon them favorably, and bring them back to this land
... And like the bad figs, which are so bad that they cannot be eaten,
so will I treat ... the remnant of Jerusalem that is left in this land ... I
will send the sword, famine, and pestilence against them until they are
exterminated from the land that I gave to them and their fathers (Jer
It seems clear that Jeremiah is arguing against the
inhabitants of Jerusalem who felt the exile was a judgment against those exiled,
and divine vindication of themselves. Who will ultimately possess the land is
one issue at stake. While the "remnant" left in the land felt as
though they had been favored by God, and were justified in their appropriation
of the property left by the exiles, Jeremiah insists the exiles — not those
left behind — are favored by God and would ultimately inherit the land.
The contours of this debate are confirmed by Jeremiah's
younger contemporary, (the priest) Ezekiel. Ezek 11,15 records an oracle of the
LORD to Ezekiel:
O mortal, [I will save] your brothers, your brothers, the
men of your kindred, all of that very House of Israel to whom the
inhabitants of Jerusalem say, "Keep far from the LORD; the land has
been given as a heritage to us" (NJPS).
Again, we see that the inhabitants of Judah between the first
and second deportations (597 BCE and 587 BCE) regarded the exiles as
providentially dispossessed, and themselves as divinely authorized to occupy the
land. Those left behind by the second deportation felt similarly:
O mortal, those who live in these ruins in the land of
Israel argue, "Abraham was but one man, yet he was granted possession
of the land. We are many; surely, the land has been given as a possession to
us" (Ezek 33,23-24, NJPS).
In the following verses, Ezekiel polemicizes against the
non-exiled Israelites. In agreement with Jeremiah, Ezekiel declares that God's
favor, including the right to inherit the land, lies not upon the remnant but
upon the exiles.
Both the priests Ezekiel and Jeremiah, therefore, testify
that there existed a debate between survivors and exiles about who had the
"mandate of heaven" to possess the land. Yet the "priestly"
text of Lev 25 does not address the issue. One would expect a gloss in the text
such as, "If your brother Israelite is exiled to the land of your enemies, but the LORD remembers him and brings him back to this land, you shall return to
him his holding".
A provision very similar to this, although concerning the
return of a wife and not real estate, can be found in the Laws of Eshnunna:
If a man has been made prisoner during a raid or an
invasion or if he has been carried off forcibly and [stayed in] a foreign
[count]ry for a [long] time (and if) another man has taken his wife and she
has born him a son — when he returns, he shall [get] his wife back53.
Here is explicit evidence that ancient Near Eastern
legislators could and did take into account the possibility of a return from
exile and its ramifications for property (a wife) seized in one's absence.
What would have prevented the supposed exilic priestly redactors of Lev 25 from
inserting a clause like the above with "land" substituted for
"wife"? Compare also the Code of Hammurabi §27:
In the case of either a private soldier of a commissary
who was carried off while in the armed service of the king, if after his
(disappearance) they gave his field and orchard to another and he has looked
after his feudal obligations — if he has returned and reached his city,
they shall restore his field and orchard to him and he shall himself look
after his feudal obligations54.
All that was necessary for the "priests" to justify
the restoration of their pre-exilic lands was to insert a line similar to LE
§29 or CH §27 into their code of law and attribute it to Moses. One such line
would render the entire jubilee legislation irrelevant as a means of reacquiring
Those who propose a "land-reclamation" final
redaction of Lev 25 must offer an explanation for the failure of the text to
address the issue of the exile in general, and particularly its effect on an
Israelite's right to his land55. Could it be that the priestly exilic
redactors did not realize that exile would be interpreted as a divine judgment
against the land claims of the exiles? This is hardly possible, as Ezekiel
realized it was an issue, and Ezekiel is closely associated with the
"Holiness School" to whom the redaction of Lev 25 is generally
attributed. Could it be that the fiction of Mosaic authorship prevented the
redactors from attributing something as anachronistic as provisions for the
exile to the text? This is unlikely, since the exile is mentioned extensively in
Lev 2656. Could it be that the redactors were so disconnected with reality that
they thought the connection between returning sold land and returning the land
of exiles was obvious to all? Such an interpretation runs counter to the
"land-reclamation" hypothesis, however, which tends to regard the
"priests" as realistic, even cynical practitioners of Realpolitik57
who forged Lev 25 as a legal fiction to justify their very real re-appropriation
Thus, there seems to be no satisfactory explanation for this
omission. The sole means of alienation of land mentioned in Lev 25 is sale. It
does not provide instruction for rectifying alienation through other processes
such as exile58.
3. Other Difficulties Not Addressed by Lev 25
In addition to the failure to deal with the significance of
the exile vis-à-vis land claims, there are other issues not addressed in
the text that would have confronted returning exiles, such as the destruction of
property records and the disturbance of boundary stones. Indeed, since we have
textual evidence that many families' genealogical records had been lost or
destroyed (Ezra 2,62), it is a small leap to suppose that property records were
in a similar state. Moreover, since most of those who were adults at the time of
deportation would have died in exile, the vast majority of those who returned
would have been at best children when deported. More commonly, they would have
been born and raised in exile, never having seen their ancestral land, and
therefore not knowing its location or boundaries. Again, Lev 25 would have been
no help in this regard. The right to return to one's property does little good
if one does not know where one's property is or what its boundaries are59.
IV. A Comparison with Ezekiel
To get a proper perspective on the true nature of the
legislation of Lev 25, it is useful to compare it with a vision of land reform
for which we have firmer evidence to believe was written in the exile, by a
priest or priestly circle closely associated with the Holiness School, with the
intent of providing regulations for the restoration: Ezek 45–4860.
Ezekiel61 realized that the confusion over land title caused
by multiple deportations, opportunistic appropriations, and the influx of
foreign settlers in the exile rendered completely unworkable a simplistic return
to pre-exilic land possessions. Moreover, the priest Ezekiel, so closely
associated with the Holiness School62, did not approve of the way the
land was distributed before the exile (45,7-9; 46,16-18), his biggest complaint
being the expropriation of private lands by the royal house63.
What was needed was a fresh start, an entirely new
re-allocation of the land. This is what Ezekiel provides, giving extensive
instructions for the redistribution of the land (Ezek 45,1-8; 47,13–48,29)
according to the tribes of Israel, giving the borders (47,15-20), explicit
authorization to reallocate the land (47,21-22), provision for the foreigners
that had been settled in it by Assyria and Babylon (47,22-23); and including
space for the Levites (45,5; 48,13-14), the priests (45,3-4; 48,9-12), the
sanctuary (45,2; 48,8), the holy city (45,1; 48,15-20) and the royal house
Interestingly, so far from desiring the return of lands to
the priests themselves, the priest Ezekiel forbids the possession of lands to
the priests (Ezek 44,28-31). He knows of the jubilee, mentioning it in passing
(Ezek 46,16-18)64, but for him it is a provision for periodic restoration of
ancestral land, not a blueprint for post-exilic reallocation.
The problems attending any use of Lev 25 as a blue-print for
land restoration in the post-exilic period do not pertain to Ezekiel's vision.
He does not single out "inhabitants" as the subject of his
legislation, nor is urban property excluded from distribution. The problems of
when to hold a jubilee, what do if one is missed, and the implications of the
exile vis-à-vis land claims do not apply: the people are authorized to
divide up the land completely anew, respecting the ancient tradition of
distribution by tribe (and presumably smaller family units), but not bound to a
now-irrecoverable state of affairs obtaining in previous generations.
Ezekiel's vision of land redistribution looks like — and
claims to be — a blueprint for the restoration of Israel's land, written by
a priest (or priestly school) in the Holiness tradition in the exile. While the
restoration did not take the exact form Ezekiel envisioned65, and some of his
provisions are impractical in hindsight66, at least he deals with the issues
that exiles would have anticipated facing. Lev 25, on the other hand, does not
look like a plan for the reallocation of land after the exile, and does not look
like it has been redacted for this purpose. It does not resolve the issues that
the returning exiles could have anticipated facing.
The article examines the hypothesis that the jubilee
legislation of Lev 25 was a post-exilic attempt on the part of returning Judean
exiles — particularly the priests — to provide legal justification for the
reclamation of their former lands. This hypothesis is found to be dubious
because (1) the jubilee did not serve the interests of the socio-economic
classes that were exiled, and (2) Lev 25 does not show signs of having been
redacted with the post-exilic situation in mind. A comparison with Ezekiel's
vision of restoration points out the differences between Lev 25 and actual
priestly land legislation for the post-exilic period.
1 Of course, if it could be established that the Holiness
Code is a product of the pre-exilic period, it would invalidate the
"land-reclamation" hypothesis. Some recent scholarship presents
arguments for a pre-exilic dating, e.g. I. KNOHL, The Sanctuary of Silence.
The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Minneapolis 1995) 199-224,
esp. 207-209; J. JOOSTEN, People and Land in the Holiness Code. An
Exegetical Study of the Ideational Framework of the Law in Leviticus 17–26 (VTS
67; Leiden 1996) 84-92; and J. MILGROM, Leviticus 17–22. A New
Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 3A; New York 2000)
1361-1364; ID., "Does H Advocate the Centralization of Worship?", JSOT
88 (2000) 59-76, all of whom argue for a setting in the monarchic period. To
the contrary K. GRÜNWALDT, Das Heiligkeitsgesetz Leviticus 17–26.
Ursprüngliche Gestalt, Tradition und Theologie (BZAW 271; Berlin 1999) 375-381,
defends the position that H is late-exilic. Grünwaldt argues in part from the
dependence of H on exilic biblical texts. However, the direction of dependence
is not unambiguous. For example, on the crucial issue of the relationship of
Ezekiel to H, some recent scholarship argues strongly for the priority of H,
e.g. R.L. KOHN, "A New Heart and a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile and the
Torah" (Ph.D. Dissertation; University of California, San Diego, 1997);
ID., "Ezekiel, the Exile, and the Torah", Society of Biblical
Literature 1999 Seminar Papers (SBLSP 38; Atlanta 1999) 501-526; ID.,
"A Prophet Like Moses? Rethinking Ezekiel's Relationship to the
Torah", ZAW 114 (2002) 236-254; J. MILGROM, "Leviticus 26 and
Ezekiel", The Quest for Context and Meaning. Studies in Biblical
Intertextuality in Honor of James A. Sanders (ed. C.A. EVANS – S.
TALMON) (Leiden 1997) 57-62; ID., Leviticus 17–22, 1362. For older
scholarship arguing Ezekiel's dependence on H, see A. KLOSTERMANN,
"Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Pentateuchs", ZLThK 38
(1877) 401-445; and H.G. REVENTLOW, Das Heiligkeitsgesetz formgeschichtlich
untersucht (WMANT 6; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1961) esp. 30; but also L. HORST, Leviticus
xvii–xxvi und Hezekiel. Ein Beitrag zur Pentateuchkritik (Colmar
1881); L.E. ELLIOT–BINNS, "Some Problems of the Holiness Code", ZAW
67 (1955) 26-40. Binns and Horst regard H as having been available to
Ezekiel, but as uncompiled, independent traditions. The relationship of H to
Ezekiel is significant: since much or all of Ezekiel appears exilic, Ezekiel's
dependence on H would indicate a pre-exilic date for the latter. On the exilic
dating of much or all of Ezekiel, see W. ZIMMERLI, "The Special Form- and
Traditio-historical Character of Ezekiel's Prophecy", VT 15 (1965)
515-516; L. BOADT, Ezekiel's Oracles against Egypt (BibOr 37; Rome
1980); B. LANG, Kein Aufstand in Jerusalem. Die Politik des Propheten
Ezechiel (SBB; Stuttgart 1981); W. ZIMMERLI, Ezekiel 1 (trans.
R.E. CLEMENTS) (Philadelphia 1983) 68-73; M. GREENBERG, Ezekiel 1–20 (AB
22; New York 1983) 18-27; ID., "What Are Valid Criteria for Determining
Inauthentic Matter in Ezekiel?", Ezekiel and His Book (ed. J. LUST)
(Leuven 1986) 123-135; T. COLLINS, The Mantle of Elijah. The Redactional
Criticism of the Prophetical Books (BiSe 20; Sheffield 1993) 91-93; E.F.
DAVIS, Swallowing the Scroll. Textuality and the Dynamics of Discourse in
Ezekiel's Prophecy (JSOTSS 78; Sheffield 1989); L.C. ALLEN, Ezekiel
1–19 (WBC 28; Dallas 1986) XXIV-XXVI; and D.I. BLOCK, The Book of
Ezekiel: Chapters 1–24 (NICOT; Grand Rapids 1997) 17-23.
2 G. WALLIS, "Das Jobeljahr-Gesetz, eine Novelle zum
Sabbathjahr-Gesetz", MIOF 5 (1969) 344-345.
3 I. CARDELLINI, Die biblischen
"Sklaven"-Gesetze im Lichte des keilschriftlichen Sklavenrechts.
Ein Beitrag zur Tradition, Überlieferung und Redaktion der alttestamentlichen
Rechtstexte (BBB 55; Bonn 1981) 363-375.
4 B.A. LEVINE, "Late Language in the Priestly Source:
Some Literary and Historical Observations", Proceedings of the 8th
World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem Aug 16–21, 1981. Panel
Sessions: Bible Studies and Hebrew Language (ed. D. KRONE) (Jerusalem 1983)
5 S.H. RINGE, Jesus, Liberation, and the Biblical
Jubilee. Images for Ethics and Christology (Overtures to Biblical Theology
19; Philadelphia 1985) 26.
6 M.L. CHANEY, "Debt Easement in Israelite History and
Tradition", The Bible and the Politics of Exegesis. Essays in Honor
of Norman K. Gottwald on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (ed. D. JOBLING et al.)
(Cleveland 1991) 127-139, esp. 138-139.
7 J.A. FAGER, Land Tenure and the Biblical Jubilee.
Uncovering Hebrew Ethics through the Sociology of Knowledge (JSOTSS 155;
Sheffield 1993) 60-63.
8 N.C. HABEL, The Land is Mine. Six Biblical Land
Ideologies (Overtures to Biblical Theology; Minneapolis 1995) 97-114,
9 N.K. GOTTWALD, "The Biblical Jubilee: In Whose
Interests?", The Jubilee Challenge: Utopia or Possibility? (ed. H.
UCKO) (Geneva 1997) 37. Gottwald does not flesh out his proposal further. Is it
really true that a return to the land distribution situation of 587 BCE would
please those living in Yehud in the 530's? Isn't it just as likely that such
a move would alienate all those who had not been exiled, and even some who had?
What would be done with lands formerly owned by the crown or by people who had
died or decided not to return from Babylon? How confident can one be that the
Aaronid priests had the civil and military support of the Persians in the early
(pre-Ezra) post-exilic period? If the redaction of the jubilee legislation is
placed in the exile, a certain lack of correspondence between the legislation
and the actual post-exilic situation can be excused, since the redactors did not
know exactly how the restoration would take shape. By placing the redaction
among the priests "on the ground" in post-exilic Yehud, Gottwald makes
it harder for himself to explain the lack of correspondence between the jubilee
and actual post-exilic conditions.
10 J. MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27. A New Translation
with Introduction and Commentary (AB 3B; New York 2001) 2242-2243.
11 GRÜNWALDT, Heiligkeitsgesetz, 380-381.
12 F. BIANCHI, "Das Jobeljahr in der hebräischen Bibel
und in den nachkano-nischen jüdischen Texten", Das Jobeljahr im Wandel.
Untersuchungen zu Erlaßjahr- und Jobeljahrtexten aus vier Jahrtausenden
(ed. G. SCHEUERMANN) (FZB 94; Würzburg 2000) 55-104, esp. 84-89. Bianchi places
Lev 25 in the very late 6th century, without responding to the
arguments of KNOHL (Sanctuary, 199-224) and JOOSTEN (People and Land,
84-92) for a substantially pre-exilic H. Milgrom's position on the jubilee (Leviticus
23–27, 2241-2257) would have been unavailable to him.
13 For North's original position, see R.G. NORTH, Sociology
of the Biblical Jubilee (AnBib 4; Rome 1954), 212, et passim.
14 R.G. NORTH, The Biblical Jubilee ... After Fifty Years (AnBib
145; Rome 2000) 114. North makes similar comments on pp. 11-12, 18, 19, 31, 82,
83, 97, 103, 108, 112, 113. (But see p. 98, where he equivocates, seemingly
re-affirming his 1954 position).
15 A case in point is the position of Cardellini, who seems
to vacillate between viewing Lev 25 as earnest legislation and as utopian
vision. On the one hand he states, "der Text verlangt zwingend eine
konkrete Basis, weil er konkrete Bestimmungen enthält [wurde]" (369), but
on the other, "das Jobeljahr schon von Anfang an nicht als wirksame
rechtliche Vorschrift verstanden wurde" (374). Likewise, Bianchi (Jobeljahr,
84-89), despite an extensive discussion of the social history of early
post-exilic Judah, never describes how or by whom exactly the jubilee was supposed
to have been promulgated and implemented, although he is confident it never was.
In our opinion, this vagueness on the part of scholars as to the exact nature
and intention of Lev 25 arises from the fact that the legislation cannot quite
be made to fit the post-exilic situation.
16 GOTTWALD, "Jubilee", 37; CHANEY,
17 WALLIS, "Jobeljahr-Gesetz", 344; also Gottwald
as quoted in MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2242-2243.
18 Interestingly, in the opinion of, e.g., Bianchi, the lack
of any evidence of the observation of the jubilee in the monarchic period rules
out the possibility of a pre-exilic setting of Lev 25 ("Jobeljahr",
83); but the same lack of evidence for the post-exilic period is explained by
the fact that the reform movement represented by Lev 25 was abortive
("Jobeljahr", 87-88). Thus, silence means different things in the pre-
and post-exilic periods.
19 In Ezra 2,3-35, some of the returning Israelites are
identified not by their ancestor but by their ancestral town. Ezra 2,70 simply
reports that the Israelites "took up residence in their towns." If
there was opposition to their resettlement, or a contested attempt on the part
of exiles to reclaim family estates from before the exile, it is not reflected
in this text. Neither do Haggai or Zechariah reflect such a situation. Neh 11,1
indicates that the resettlement of Jerusalem took place by lot, i.e. apparently
with disregard for pre-exilic property assignments. Jer 32,6-15 may testify to a
pre-exilic hope that exact property titles would be restored. On the other hand,
Ezek 47,13–48,29 gives instructions for a completely new post-exilic
re-allotment of land which abolishes pre-exilic boundaries.
20 GOTTWALD, "Jubilee", 38. It would seem that,
since the need to regain lands for the exiles turned out not to be an issue, if
one presumes the land-reclamation hypothesis for the final redaction of Lev 25,
then the terminus ad quem for this redaction would be the initial return
of the exiles under Cyrus. After that time, it would be clear to all that the
issue was moot. Before this time, it might be imagined that priests in the exile
thought there would be a larger population of returning exiles and more
resistance from those who had settled on the land in the meantime, such that
they would anticipate a conflict over land and thus a need for legislation
authorizing the restoration of the exiles' property. Proposals for a
land-reclamation redaction by post-exilic priests are not realistic,
since there is no historical evidence that any such conflict over an attempt to
regain pre-exilic lands — which exilic priests may have anticipated —
actually developed. Cf. MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2242-2243.
21 NORTH, After Fifty Years, 34.
22 FAGER, Land Tenure, 88-89.
23 NORTH, After Fifty Years, 58.
24 HABEL, The Land, 97, 111, 112 — "There is a
strong concern in this proposed social order to preserve the traditional
landholdings of the peasants and maintain their independence over against rich
landowners", 113 — "The ideal of the peasant society depicted in
Leviticus 25–27 is that peasant farmers will be completely free from
domination by the urban elite."
25 GOTTWALD, "Jubilee", 35. Although ultimately
Gottwald argues that "the priests" put forward the jubilee legislation
in their own interests, the priests' interests are tied to the fact that the
legislation would "dispense benefits to a wide swath of the
26 "Hence the degressive cancellation of debt within the
period of the Year of Jubilee should very much be understood as a serious
attempt to restructure economic laws for the sake of preventing small farmers
from falling ever more deeply into debt" (R. ALBERTZ, Der Mensch als
Hüter seiner Welt [Stuttgart 1990] 53; trans. in E.S. GERSTENBERGER, Leviticus
[OTL; Louisville 1993] 380).
27 MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2243, and
28 It is interesting to note the mention of the
"remnant" working the vineyards and fields (2 Kgs 25,12; Jer
52,15-16), since vineyards and fields are mentioned together several times in
Lev 25 (vv. 3-5.11).
29 See, e.g. R.P. CARROLL, "The Myth of the Empty
Land", Semeia 59 (1992) 79-93, and H.M. BARSTAD, The Myth of the
Empty Land. A Study in the History and Archeology of Judah During the
"Exilic" Period (SO.S 28; Oslo 1996). Although challenging
other aspects of the biblical presentation of the exile, Barstad concurs that
the exiles were "Judahite elites."
30 See M. NOTH, The History of Israel (New York 21960)
282, 287; J.M. MILLER – J. H. HAYES, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Philadelphia
1986) 420, 424; and J. BRIGHT, A History of Israel (Louisville 42000)
327-328, 331, 345.
31 NOTH, History, 287.
32 FAGER, Land Tenure, 88-89.
33 FAGER, Land Tenure, 85: "Such a power
structure [i.e. latifundism] benefited the urban classes and the wealthy
creditors who were able to accumulate large landholdings and keep the peasants
in a dependent status".
34 HABEL, The Land, 113.
35 As will be discussed further below, the period from the
second deportation to the edict of Cyrus was about forty-nine years. However,
most of the exiles were taken in the first deportation (597 BCE), fifty-nine
years before the edict of Cyrus. And it cannot be taken for granted that even
Sheshbazzar's expedition — if indeed he led one — returned within a year
of the edict.
36 Interestingly, Ezekiel uses virtually the same word (yb#$y)
as Lev 25,10 to refer to those left behind by the second deportation
(Ezek 11,15), as opposed to the exiles.
37 RINGE, Jesus, 26-27.
38 HABEL, The Land, 111-112.
39 GOTTWALD, "Jubilee", 36-37.
40 FAGER, Land Tenure, 99. Habel gives an additional
twist to the argument rejected by Fager. He believes that since gifts of land to
the LORD — if not redeemed before the jubilee — became the permanent
property of the priests (Lev 27,20-21), therefore the legislation gave the
priests higher social standing, since they alone were able progressively to gain
land (HABEL, The Land, 110-113). Two things count against this argument,
however. First, the priests, as a subset of Levites, were barred from owning
land, a fact implied by Lev 25,32-34 (cf. NOTH, Leviticus, 190-191;
MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2201) and acknowledged elsewhere in the Bible
(Num 35,2-3; Deut 18,1; Josh 14,4; Ezek 44,28-31). Lev 27,20-21 is an
exceptional case in which they needed to administer property belonging to the
sanctuary. Would this exception really be enough to offset their general
landlessness, such that they would attain greater "social standing"?
Secondly, the priests had no coercive power to gain land. They were entirely
passive in the transaction of Lev 27,20-21, dependent on the good will of
individual Israelites who may have wanted to devote part of their ancestral
property to God. Even then, it was only if the land was never redeemed before
the jubilee that it passed to priestly hands. Is this a scheme to aggrandize and
enrich the priesthood? Surely better and easier ones could be devised, if that
were the intent. "The priests" could have simply written in an
exception for themselves to buy and sell land without being subject to the
41 J. WELLHAUSEN, "Pentateuch and Joshua", Encyclopedia
Britannica (Edinburgh 91885) XVII, 513; A. KUENEN, Historico-Critical
Inquiry into the Origin and Composition of the Hexateuch (London 1886); B.D.
EERDMANS, Das Buch Leviticus (Alttestamentliche Studien IV; Giessen
1912); E. GINZBERG, "Studies in the Economics of the Bible", JQR
22 (1932) 343-408; W.F. ALBRIGHT, Archeology of Palestine and the Bible (New
York 1933) 156; A. JIRKU, "Das israelitische Jobeljahr", Seeberg-Festschrift
(Leipzig 1929) II, 169-179; W. EICHRODT, "Religionsgeschichte
Israels", Historia Mundi (ed. F. Kern – F. Valjavec) (Bern 1953)
II, 385; M. NOTH, Leviticus (trans. J.E. ANDERSON) (OTL; London 1965);
N.H. SNAITH, Leviticus and Numbers (CeB; London 1967).
42 J.R. PORTER, Leviticus (London 1976); G.J. WENHAM, The
Book of Leviticus (NICOT; Grand Rapids 1979); J.E. HARTLEY, Leviticus
(WBC; Dallas 1992); E.S. GERSTENBERGER, Leviticus (OTL; Louisville 1993),
MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27.
43 According to Jer 52,28, the first deportation was more
than three times larger than the second. It could be argued that these figures
are inaccurate. However, it must be acknowledged that 2 Kgs 24,14-17; 25,11; and
Jer 52,28-30 are the product of exilic or post-exilic redactors, and both books
almost undoubtedly reflect the perspective of the exiles and their descendants
(cf. Jer 24,5-6.8.10; 2 Kgs 24,14; 25,12), not those who remained in the land.
So, according to the exiles' own beliefs, the majority of them were taken in
597 BCE (cf. R.P. CARROLL, "Empty Land", who argues that almost all
the relevant biblical literature reflects the perspective of the exiles of 597
BCE and their descendants, who naturally saw this deportation as the most
important.) If the exiles had invented a jubilee terminating with Cyrus'
decree, it should have been on a fifty-nine year cycle.
44 Many scholars hold the view that there was an initial
return under Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1,9), and a larger one under Zerubbabel sometime
later, c. 525 BCE. However, there is no record of Sheshbazzar's expedition,
and John Bright concludes, "It is unlikely that any major return of exiles
took place at this time" (A History of Israel, [Louisville 42000],
362-363). Miller and Hayes argue that conditions were not conducive for a
large-scale return until the reign of Cambyses (530-522 BCE) (cf. MILLER –
HAYES, History, 446-447).
45 The chronicler (i.e. 2 Chr 36,20-23) makes a connection
between the period of the exile and the sabbatical years of Lev 25,1-7, and thus
may subtly hint at an association between the Cyrus edict and the jubilee year.
However, this would be a reinterpretation of the text of Leviticus; there are no
traces of an identification of the jubilee with Cyrus' decree in the text of
Lev 25 itself. Interestingly, even in Lev 26, which is closely linked with Lev
25 thematically and linguistically, there is no explicit promise of a return
from the exile.
46 See e.g. MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2163, 2166.
47 For example, a perusal of the indices of both FAGER (Land
Tenure, 132) and CARDELLINI ("Sklaven"-Gesetze, 436)
reveals that neither makes reference to Lev 23,15-16 anywhere within their
monographs. Similarly, Bianchi shows no awareness of the correspondence of Lev
23,15-16 and Lev 25,8-10, but finds the coincidence of the lengths of the second
deportation and the jubilee to be decisive evidence in support of a post-exilic
setting for Lev 25 ("Jobeljahr", 84)
48 J. WELLHAUSEN, Prolegomena to the History of Israel
(Atlanta 1994) 118-120, esp. 119; repr. of Prolegomena to the History of
Israel (trans. J. Sutherland Black and Allen Enzies, with preface by W.
Robertson Smith) (Edinburgh 1885); trans. of Prolegomena zur Geschichte
Israels (Berlin 21883). Says Wellhausen, "In the Priestly
Code the year of jubilee is further added to supplement in turn the sabbatical
year (Lev. xxv 8 seq.). As the latter is framed to correspond with the seventh
day, so the former corresponds with the fiftieth, i.e. with Pentecost, as
is easily perceived from the parallelism of Lev. xxv. 8 with Lev. xxiii. 15. As
the fiftieth day after the seven Sabbath days is celebrated as a closing
festival of the forty-nine days' period, so is the fiftieth year after the
seven sabbatic [sic] years as rounding off the larger interval; the seven
Sabbaths falling on harvest time, which are usually reckoned specially (Luke vi.
1), have, in the circumstance of their interrupting harvest work, a particular
resemblance to the sabbatic years which interrupt agriculture altogether. The
jubilee is ... superimposed upon the years of fallow regarded as harvest
Sabbaths after the analogy of Pentecost" (118-119).
49 On the significance of the number seven throughout the
ancient Near East, see J. FREIBERG, "Numbers and Counting", ABD
IV, 1139-1146. On the use of seven in H, cf. MILGROM, Leviticus 17–22,
1323-1325; GERSTENBERGER, Leviticus, 377; and SNAITH, Leviticus,
162, who mentions Assyrian examples of the sacrality of the number 49.
50 Cf. MILGROM, Leviticus 23–27, 2242.
51 MILLER – HAYES, History, 446-447.
52 Except those taken in the second deportation who actually
managed to return within a year of the edict.
53 Laws of Eshnunna §29, ANET 162b; virtually
identical to Code of Hammurabi §135, ANET 171b. Cf. also Middle Assyrian
Laws §36 and §45, which state that a returned exile gets his lands back, but
if he has died, the crown shall reassign them.
54 ANET 167a.
55 Fager recognizes the polemic between exiles and those left
behind: "During the decade following the first deportation, it was often
believed that those exiles were the ones being punished for Judah's sins. This
became more difficult to believe after the destruction of Jerusalem, yet those
who remained in Palestine still made the claim that the exiles had been expelled
from the cultic community (Ezek 11,14-17). Not only did this add to the exiles'
sense of alienation from the ritual that made them part of the Yahwistic
community, it also seems that 'participation in the cult was somehow connected
with the legal right to the land'" (Land Tenure, 48). Despite
recognizing this problem, Fager does not account for the failure of the jubilee
laws to address the problem of exile vis-à-vis title to one's land.
Like most "land-reclamation" interpreters, Fager assumes it would have
been clear to everyone that the jubilee provisions applied to loss of land
through exile, even though the only type of land alienation mentioned in the
text is that of sale.
56 Interestingly, Lev 26, in its discussion of the exile,
never explicitly says that the LORD will bring those exiled back to the land.
57 Cf. RINGE, Jesus, 28: "The redactors of the
Holiness Code, like the priests and other official leaders, appear to have
approached the problems of Israel's resettlement by concentrating on the concrete
ordinances and judgments that would prepare the way for God's dwelling in
the midst of the people" (emphasis mine). Cf. also FAGER: "the priests
were a part of the ruling class in Jerusalem, involved in financial matters of
temple, and they were part of the intelligentsia of a nation in exile in a very
advanced empire. It is difficult to believe that they could not have foreseen
the economic stumbling blocks of the jubilee" (Land Tenure, 110). It
is difficult to see how the jubilee can simultaneously be a piece of
hard-headed, cynical Realpolitik (a "ploy" [GOTTWALD,
"Jubilee", 37]) and also utopian and impractical. See above, note 15.
58 Cf. Gottwald's point (as quoted in MILGROM, Leviticus
23–27, 2243) that the jubilee legislation provided no way to settle
jurisdictional disputes in the restoration.
59 One could argue that "the priests" did not
foresee these difficulties, but cf. FAGER, Land Tenure, 110, quoted
above, note 57.
60 Ezekiel 40–48 has been — and continues to be (e.g.
BIANCHI, "Jobeljahr", 88) — attributed to late post-exilic
redactors. However, since it was the Torah of Moses and not the Torah of Ezekiel
that was considered authoritative in the restoration period (cf. H. NAJMAN, Seconding
Sinai. The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism [Leiden,
forthcoming]), it is difficult to imagine what if any motivation could have
existed to retroject unrealistic laws into Ezekiel's mouth in, e.g., the fifth
century BCE. For the attribution of Ezek 40–48 to the prophet himself, see M.
GREENBERG, "The Design and Themes of Ezekiel's Program of Restoration
[Ezek 40–48]", Int 38 (1984) 181-208. W. ZIMMERLI, Ezekiel 2
(trans. J.D. MARTIN; ed. P.D. HANSON – L.J. GREENSPOON) (Philadelphia 1983)
547-55, thinks these chapters reached substantially their final form at the
hands of Ezekiel's disciples at about the time of the initial return from
exile. On the authorship and exilic dating of Ezekiel, see above, note 1.
61 We follow Greenberg in attributing Ezek 40–48 to the
prophet. However, even if the material was augmented by his disciples into the
period of the initial return, as held by Zimmerli (see previous note), the
arguments presented here would still be valid. One would only need to replace
the name "Ezekiel" with "the Ezekielian school" in the text
below. What is pertinent to the argument is only that Ezek 40–48 represents
the perspective of a priest or priestly circle in the exile, not that it comes
from the prophet so named.
62 On Ezekiel's relationship with the Holiness School, see
above, note 1.
63 Ezekiel's testimony on this point is particularly
interesting, because an unspoken and unsubstantiated assumption of the
"land-reclamation" hypothesis is that "the priests" were in
favor of the land distribution situation prior to the exile and wanted to return
to it. However, it seems quite plain from the scriptural texts from the late
pre-exilic and exilic period that land was not distributed with equity
(cf. Isa 5,8; Mic 2,2; Ezek 34,17-22; 46,18; cf. Gottwald as quoted in MILGROM, Leviticus
23–27, 2243). Why would the priests want to restore this situation of
inequity? Perhaps the very cynical position could be advanced that, despite
appearances, the purpose of the jubilee legislation was not to restore
equity but to restore the inequity of land distribution before the exile,
which benefited the priests and the other returning exiles. However, Ezekiel
witnesses to a different attitude among the priests. Moreover, interpretations
that posit such economically self-serving interests as the motivation for the
jubilee legislation's final form cannot be maintained when the text is studied
at length. Fager, who favors a modified "land-reclamation" hypothesis,
still concludes, "The Jubilee rested upon the assumption that all
Israelites were attached to family land allotted to the several families at the
time of the conquest of Canaan; therefore there was the basic presupposition
that God willed all Israelites to have a relatively equal opportunity to share
in the richness of the land" (Land Tenure, 110).
64 On Ezekiel's knowledge of the jubilee, cf. the comments
on Ezek 46,17 by G.A. COOKE, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book
of Ezekiel (ICC; Edinburgh 1936), 512-513: "the year of release
is referred to here as an established institution needing no comment ...";
likewise H. WILDBERGER, "Israel und sein Land", EvTh 16 (1956)
415: "Jedenfalls beweisen die Ezechielstellen, daß das Jahr der Freilassen
im alten Israel eine bekannte Ordnung gewesen ist"; and W. ZIMMERLI,
"Das 'Gnadenjahr des Herrn'", Archäologie und Altes Testament.
Festschrift für Kurt Galling zum 8. Jan. 1970 (ed. A. KUSCHKE – E. KUTSCH)
(Tübingen 1970) 328: "[I]n diesem wohl in der Exilszeit entstanden Gesetze
[wird] diese Institution ganz selbstverständlich vorausgesetzt. Nichts deutet
daraufhin, daß sie hier erst durchgekämpft werden müßte." It should be
noted that in the opinion of ZIMMERLI, Ezekiel 2, 346-247; GREENBERG,
"Design and Themes", 190; and J.D. LEVENSON, Theology of the
Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40–48 (HSM 10; Missoula, MT 1976) 18,
the "twenty-fifth year of our exile" (Ezek 40,1) in which the temple
vision occurred indicates the half-way point of a jubilee cycle beginning in 597
BCE, at the end of which (547 BCE) the prophet anticipated the restoration of
Israel. If this is the case, then the forty-nine/fifty-year period of the
jubilee was already established in the exile, thus invalidating the
land-reclamation hypothesis. The date formula of Ezek 40,1 cannot be a
post-exilic retrojection placing Ezekiel's vision at the half-way point of a
"jubilee" cycle construed as 587-538 BCE, because Ezekiel dates the
"twenty-fifth year" from the first deportation.
65 Ezekiel seems to have expected larger numbers of returning
exiles, including representatives of the Northern tribes dispersed more than a
hundred years earlier. In fact, only relatively small numbers of Israelites took
up Cyrus' offer to return, and these were mostly Judeans. Nor was the entire
land of Israel restored, but only a reduced Judah.
66 Ezekiel had a mental picture of Israel with Jerusalem in
its geographic center. His redistribution is based on such a view. Cf. LEVENSON,