Are there parables for food


1.1. The economic background

Historically, interest is much older than the economic form of capitalism, even older than the general spread of the money economy. Interest is required for the temporary transfer of material or funds. The recipient of these funds, as the debtor, is obliged to pay a certain surcharge to the assignor as the creditor, in addition to repaying the funds made available. This does not necessarily mean that the debtor will make a profit with the borrowed from which he can pay the interest. If he or she has other income, the interest can also be paid from this (e.g. nowadays when buying a house on credit, if the interest is paid from the salary). Heinsohn and Steiger therefore define: "There is interest ... for the waiver of the property premium" (203).

1.2. The contemporary German language

The German word "Zins" derives from lat. census "Estimate". In older German, the word → “Wucher” was used for this, which from its Old High German root (related to “grow”) simply means “yield / fruit / profit” (as used throughout the Luther Bible from 1545). It is only in modern German that a distinction is made between “interest” and “usury”. "Interest" is a technical term without moral valuation, while "usury" is used to describe interest that is unreasonably high and may be obtained by taking advantage of an emergency, inexperience or carelessness of the debtor. Like older German, Hebrew does not have this semantic distinction.

1.3. The usage of the Hebrew Bible

As expected, there is no definition of “interest” in the Hebrew Bible. It is assumed, however, that there is interest not only on money, but also on food. The formulation in Dtn 23:20 is particularly concise: “You must not take interest from your brother, neither interest on money, nor interest on food, nor interest on anything for which interest is taken” (cf. similarly Lev 25:37). When it comes to “food”, one should not only think of consumer goods, but above all of seeds. Because with a successful harvest it throws a surplus from which the interest can be paid.

There are two different expressions of interest used in Hebrew, namely næšæk and tarbît or. marbît. On the basis of Lev 25:37 (“You shall not give him your money næšæk give, and not around marbît should you give him your food ") it was suspected næšæk going for interest on money and tarbît or. marbît used for interest on food (so Loewenstamm). But since in Deut 23:20næšæk denotes both interest on money and on food, that is hardly tenable. From the Hebrew roots, it is more obvious to think of different types of calculations or transactions. The root nšk actually means "bite". It is thought that when the loan is issued, a reduced amount is paid out (ie something is "bitten off"). When returning, the full amount is to be reimbursed, indicating the difference we as interest. tarbît and marbît carry the root rbh in itself and literally mean "increase". This is our usual form that more has to be repaid than what was given as a loan (also Stein 163; Neufeld 355-357; for a discussion of the terminology in detail Klingenberg 38-52). It should be repeated that this semantic differentiation has nothing to do with the contemporary German distinction between interest and usury.

Interest is a noticeably frequent topic in the Hebrew Bible. They appear in all three parts of the Old Testament → canon, in the Torah, the prophets and the scriptures. This corresponds to the great importance that the credit system as a whole, and with it the demand for interest, had for economic life in ancient Israel and Judah. At no point in the Bible is there a neutral discussion of interest; a critical light always falls on them. And that has nothing to do specifically with usury, but affects interest claims of all kinds.

2.1. The Torah's prohibition of interest

Just as interest is an issue in all three parts of the canon, the prohibition of interest appears in all three corpora of law on which the Torah is based.

1. Federal Book. The oldest version contains the → covenant book in Ex 22:24: “If you lend money my peopleIf you are poor with you, you shall not be like a believer to him. You shouldn't impose any interest on him". The sentence shows traces of processing in two places. The first is the grammatically hard "my people". It stands unrelated next to the description of the debtor as "the wretched with you". Already in the oldest version of the interest prohibition there is a tendency to expand the scope. In most societies it is taken for granted that a relative or neighbor will be helped in an emergency, even without the expectation of interest. It's about solidarity in the small group, which is ultimately mutual. This is the meaning of the original version: "If you lend money ... to the poor with you, you should not be like a believer to him". In contrast, the addition of the words “my people” is to be understood as an indication that a rule that naturally applies to impoverished relatives and neighbors should be expressly extended to the whole people. - A second addition is the sentence: “You should not impose interest on him”, which, in contrast to the first half, is formulated in the plural. Without it, only being a believer is forbidden, which means above all the relentless collection of debts. The addition of the prohibition of interest in the plural suffix makes it more precise that even the taking of interest as such and not only the ruthless enforcement belongs to the kind of being a creditor that is forbidden.

2. Law of Holiness. The prohibition of interest on interest in the → holiness law (Lev 25: 35-38) is part of the wording of the prohibition of interest from the beginning: “If your brother becomes impoverished ... you should support him - the stranger and the bunker - so that he can live with you . You should not take any interest or surcharge from him. ... You should not give him your money for interest, and you should not give him your food for a surcharge ”. As in Ex 22:24, the tendency to expand beyond the circle of immediate relatives and neighbors can also be shown here. It becomes clear when you add the two laws that come before and after and begin with the same formula “If your brother becomes impoverished…” (Lev 25.25-34 and Lev 25.39-55). They too consider the case of a national's impoverishment. But in solving the problem, only solidarity within the family comes into play. In each case, the “redeemer” is asked, who is expressly defined in Lev 25,48f as a close family member. In Lev. 25: 35-38, on the other hand, the solidarity of all in the people is required in solving the problem. Not only clan members should not lend each other at interest, but all members of the people. In the inclusion of related terminology, they are referred to as "brothers" or better "siblings". “Siblings” no longer only means real, manageable relatives, but the genealogically presented national association of the “Children of Israel”. "The commandment to help the economically weak brother in faith was developed out of the clan ethos and its solidarity based on kinship and was transferred to the whole people of God" (Gerstenberger, 1993, 354). The tendency to expand is additionally underlined by the literary secondary addition in Lev. 25,35, the hard inserted words “the strangers and those who are sitting around”. This section of the population should also be counted among the “siblings” in the sense of the regulation and benefit from interest-free loans.

3) Deuteronomic Law. The Deuteronomic Law (→ Deuteronomy), which contains the third version of the interest prohibition in the → Pentateuch, naturally assumes that the interest prohibition concerns loans for citizens; there is no longer anything to indicate that the interest prohibition is an extension of a practice originally only practiced within the family group. In Dtn 23:20 it says: “You must not take interest from your brother, neither interest on money, nor interest on food, nor interest on anything for which interest is taken.” That here too the “brother” is the member of one's own people is, is expressly stated by the subsequent clause in V.21: "You can take interest from the foreigner, you may not take interest from your brother." This clause has nothing to do with the distinction between internal and external morality, as Max Weber suspected (cf. Weber 357f and the related anti-Jewish stereotypes Leutzsch 125-127). Rather, a distinction is made between two types of credit. One is the emergency loan, for which interest-free lending is required. The other is pure trade credit. From the outset and with the consent of both sides, it serves to generate profit. Money or goods are either given to equip a caravan or a sea expedition or are brought into a joint venture. This type of loan is of course linked to the success of the business. If the business trip or the joint venture fails, the lender has nothing to expect in return. The fact that only the foreigner is named for the trade credit is probably due to the fact that such transactions in little Judah were in fact the responsibility of foreigners.

2.2. Interest rate criticism

In addition to the Torah's prohibition of interest, there are other passages that criticize the taking of interest - and thus at the same time prove that the prohibition of interest was by no means observed for granted.Ez; Ez 22.12 and Ps 15.5 include the waiver of interest in a number of behaviors that characterize the righteous and therefore admitted to the cult. According to Ez 18: 7f, he who “is not violent against another, returns his pledge - guilt -, does not steal robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, there is no interest and no surcharge, holds back his hand from dishonesty, true judgment holds between man and man… ”. In Ez 22:12, on the other hand, it is stated that Jerusalem is, among other things, to be called a “city of blood” (Ez 22,2) because one takes “interest and surcharge” in it. Ps 15 lists a whole series of behaviors that characterize the righteous as part of a liturgy of admission to the temple. One of the answers to the question of who is admitted to the temple is: "Who does not give his money for interest and does not take bribes to the detriment of the innocent" (Ps 15: 5). All passages in Ez 18; Ez 22 and Ps 15 are worded in such a general way that they generally brand the interest-taking as an unjust act. Of course, this also includes loans for the economically weaker. But the ban on interest-taking tends to go beyond such emergency loans.

This tendency becomes even clearer in two other passages that justify the prohibition of interest-taking with the motive of greed that stands behind it. Hab 2: 6b threatens to reverse the situation for someone who pays other people's pledge and takes interest from them: “Woe to him who increases what is not his - for how long? -, and imposes a heavy pledge on you! Will your interest payers not suddenly rise up and awaken those who beset you, and you become their prey? ”Whoever gives credit on interest is considered to be“ one who increases what is not his ”. What is meant by this condensed expression is that what he gains through interest is something that actually does not belong to him. He who takes the other as prey is now threatened that he himself will become the prey of his "interest payers".

Things are similar in the only saying of proverbial wisdom that deals critically with the interest-taking. Prov. 28: 8 reads: "Whoever increases his wealth through interest and surcharge collects for one who has mercy on the poor." Whoever enriches himself through interest does not in truth collect his wealth for himself, but for another, namely for one who “has mercy on the little one”. Behind the saying stands the idea that wealth acquired through injustice cannot be kept, but rather falls to someone else, as it is clearly formulated in Hi 31,7f.9f. “Anyone who redistributes property in favor of those in need has to expect a redistribution of his property to someone who is in solidarity with those in need” (Leutzsch 120).

Both Hab 2.6 and Spr 28.8 name the increase in wealth as the motive for taking interest. The root used in both places rbh Hif. "Increase" is the same as the word for "surcharge" (tarbît or. marbît) underlying. In addition to the idea of ​​solidarity with the weak, which dominates the formulations of the prohibition of interest, there is also criticism of greed, which aims to increase one's own wealth and uses interest as a means to achieve this. In the Hellenistic epoch, the wise Ecclesiastes sums up the fact that there is no natural limit to the pursuit of increasing money: “Whoever loves money will not be fed up with money” (Ecclesiastes 5: 9).

Literature research Index Theologicus

Literature research Biblical Bibliography Lausanne

1. Lexicon article

  • Biblical-historical concise dictionary, Göttingen 1962-1979
  • Theological Real Encyclopedia, Berlin / New York 1977-2004
  • New Bible Lexicon, Zurich a.o. 1991-2001
  • Religion in the past and present, 4th edition, Tübingen 1998-2007

2. Further literature

  • Gamoran, H., 1971, The Biblical Law against Loans on Interest, JNES 30, 127-134
  • Gerstenberger, E.S., 1993, The Third Book of Moses. Leviticus, ATD 6, Göttingen
  • Gerstenberger, E.S., 2008, The Old Testament Interest Prohibition - and How to Avoid It. The history of the impact of a biblical determination, WUB 47, 48-51
  • Groß, W., 2000, The Old Testament laws on fallow, sabbath, remission and jubilee years and the prohibition of interest, ThQ 180, 1-15
  • Heinsohn, G. / Steiger, O., 1996, Property, Interest and Money. Unsolved riddle of economics, Reinbek near Hamburg
  • Kegler, J., 1992, The prohibition of interest in the Hebrew Bible, in: Crüsemann, M. / Schottroff, W. (eds.), Debt and Debt. Biblical Traditions in Contemporary Conflicts (KT 121), Munich, 17-39
  • Kessler, R., 2008, interest ban and interest rate criticism. Scope and justification, in: I. Kottsieper et al. (Ed.), Points of contact. Studies on the social and religious history of Israel and its environment (FS R. Albertz; AOAT 350), Münster, 133-149
  • Kessler, R., 2009, The Hebrew Debt System. Terminology and metaphor, in: ders., Studies on the Social History of Israel (SBAB 46), Stuttgart, 31-45
  • Klingenberg, E., 1977, The Israelite Ban on Interest in Torah, Mišnah and Talmud (AAWML.G 7), Mainz / Wiesbaden
  • Leutzsch, M., 2000, The biblical interest prohibition, in: Kessler, R. / Loos, E. (eds.), Property: freedom and curse. Economic and biblical objections (KT 175), Gütersloh, 107-144
  • Loewenstamm, S.E., 1969, nšk other m / trbjt, JBL 88, 78-80
  • Neufeld, E., 1955, The Prohibitions Against Loan at Interest in Ancient Hebrew Laws, HUCA 26, 355-412
  • Seeligmann, I.L., 2004, Loan, Guarantee and Interest in Law and Thoughts of the Hebrew Bible, in: ders., Collected Studies on the Hebrew Bible (FAT 41), Tübingen 319-348
  • Stein, S., 1953, The Laws on Interest in the Old Testament, JThS.NS 4, 161-170
  • Weber, Max, 1921, Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion III. Ancient Judaism, Tübingen

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