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 "land-reclamation" hypothesis.

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 imagination".


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 52,15-16).

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 aim37.

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 priests40.


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 Emor 12,8).

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 sixty-one.

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 settlement).

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 lands?

(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 figs:

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 24,5-6.8.10, NJPS).

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 their lands.

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 of land.

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 (45,7-8; 48,21-22).

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) 69-82.

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, esp. 113.
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.
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, "Debt-Easement", 138-139.
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 population" (37).
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 elsewhere.
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 jubilee.
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, Theology, 115-118.