Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Chapter 2:
First Principles: "The Earth is The Lord's"
THE general principles upon which the Hebrew Land Laws were based are
absolutely fatal to the idea of private property in land. It would
be too little to say that land monopoly was treated with great severity
Law: the Law was expressly designed to make it impossible, for the
Lawgiver knew that there can be no social justice in a State while what
Spencer called "the equal right to the use of the earth" is
denied to its members. ...
For, while the class which the late Lord Salisbury so worthily represented
seems to say, "The earth is the (land)lord's, and land doth he 'furnish'
to the farmer," the Biblical reading is quite otherwise. "In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Therefore "unto
the Lord thy God belongeth the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth,
with all that therein is." "The heaven, even the heavens,
are the Lord's; but the earth hath He given to the children of men."
No phrase could possibly be wider in its application, or more completely
destructive of the claims of a landlord class to the monopoly of God's
earth, than the simple words "children of men." Is there
any man, woman or child who lives now, or who ever has lived, or who
live, who is not included among "the children of men?" No:
Jew or Greek, native or foreigner, black or white, lord or peasant,
poor37 — all find, in this sweeping generalisation, the charter
of their birthright in the soil. The simple and unlettered field-worker,
never heard of Herbert Spencer, may yet deduce from his Bible as good
an argument for the "equal right to the use of the earth" as
is to be found in Social Statics; and he will probably hold to it more
than the "Perplexed Philosopher" did. ...
If, therefore, God, the sole Landowner, has given the land to "the
children of men" — i.e. to the whole human race in its widest
extension through time and space — it follows that no single generation,
still less any single individual, has absolute ownership in land. It is
not the right of property in land, but the right to use land — limited
by the equal right of every one else, now and for ever, to use land — that
God has given to man. No man can claim land as "his very own," "to
do as he likes with," e.g. to sell. "The land shall not be sold
for ever; for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with
Me,"43 saith the Lord. No man could sell land "for ever"44
for any man's interest in it was only a life-interest; a temporary usufruct,
and not a permanent, absolute ownership. It is only the interest of the
race that is perpetual. "The days of the life of man may be numbered;
but the days of Israel are innumerable."45 For God has given the land — i.e.,
the use of it — not to any particular class or generation of
men, but to all generations of mankind. ... Read
the whole chapter,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — 4:
The Year of Jubilee: Land and Liberty
§ 5. For once in every fifty years — which we may take roughly
to represent a generation of Hebrew life — the original equal division
of the land was restored. Whatever inequalities might have crept in, through
the foolishness or improvidence of some, or through the selfishness or
injustice of others, were redressed when, in the fiftieth year, "on
the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement," the
trumpet of the Jubilee sounded throughout all the land and proclaimed the
national festival of Land and Liberty. "And ye shall hallow the
fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all
thereof; it shall be a jubilee to you; and ye shall return every man
unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."
139 The Book of Jubilees (second century B.C.) makes
the Jubilee cycle one of forty-nine years. But according to Jos. (Antiq.
iii. 12. 282), and most other authorities, it was the fiftieth year:.
Ewald (Antiq., Engl. transl. of 3rd ed., pp. 374, 375) says that it
included the last half of the 49th and the first half of the 50th year;
and that it "naturally began with the preparatory day of the Autumn
festival, after the year's harvest of every kind was complete."
140 Lev. 25:8-10. There is no definite historical record of the actual observance
of the Year of jubilee. (But see Jewish Encyclopedia, x. 607, for the tradition
of its observance before the captivity.) "On a close inspection nothing
is more certain than that the idea of the Jubilee is the last ring of a chain
which only attains in it the necessary conclusion, and that the history of
the Jubilee, in spite of its at first seemingly strange aspect, was once
for centuries a reality in the national life of Israel" (Ewald, Antiq.
378). "It is impossible to think that (as sometimes been supposed) the
institution of the Jubillee is a mere paper-law -- a theoretical completion
of the system of seven; at least as far as concerns the land (for the periodical
redistribution of which there are... analogies in other nations) it must
date from ancient times in Israel (Driver, Literature of the O.T., 7th ed.
p. 57). Ezekiel (7:12, 13) mentions its non-observance as one of the signs
that "the end is come" upon the nation for its abominable misdoings
It is to be noted that the Hebrew's estate in land is always spoken
of as his "possession" or his "inheritance," and never
as his "ownership" or "property." Ewald seems to
have expressed the distinction with exactness: —
"The existence of property is assumed by every system of legislation,
even the earliest, because such a system can only follow on a long
period of social development and exertion. But Jahveism assumes more
For, according to it, each of the tribes of Israel is to have its
landed possessions, and each individual household in the tribe is to
definite portion of the land belonging to the tribe, which is for
ever to remain the inalienable heritage of this house and form the
of all property."
The Hebrew did not own land. It was not "his own" to
do as he liked with; "the land shall not be sold out and out;" it
was only his to use, subject to the equal rights of every other Hebrew.
He only enjoyed an interest in land, and, if he sold anything, he could
only sell that interest. He could not sell the equal interest
of his children or his children's children. The land of Canaan was,
as it were, held from God on lease, by the families of Israel. At the
of every fifty years, all the leases fell in simultaneously, and God
made a fresh grant of the land, for another fifty years, to all the
families of His people, in equal shares as at the first. Hence the
voluntarily or through some compulsion, "sold his land," sold,
not the ownership of the land, but the "fag-end of the lease" — till
the next year of Jubilee. When the Jubilee proclamation again sounded
from the sacred rams' horns, the land came back to his family, all contracts
of sale to the contrary notwithstanding, and his children enjoyed the
same advantage of a "fair start" as their father had had
before them. ... Read the whole chapter,
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