Jubilee observances are part of the economic legislation of the Old Testament (Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15:1-18). Related themes include the cycles of sabbath days (Exodus 20:8-11) and years Leviticus 25:1-7). The jubilee year capped seven cycles of sabbatical years. On Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) of the jubilee year a ram's horn was sounded as a fourfold call to: (a) liberation of slaves; (b) cancellation of debts; (c) cessation of agriculture for one year; and (d) education for a spiritual democracy through study of the Scriptures (Torah).
Biblical scholars disagree whether the jubilee was actually practiced. Evidence of this observance is found in Nehemiah 5:1-13, Jeremiah 34:8-22, and Ezekiel 46:16-18. A key prophetic text with jubilee themes is Isaiah 61:12. This text Jesus of Nazareth applied to himself in his home synagogue (Luke 4:16-19) in A.D. 26-27, which, according to calculations by Andre Trocmé, was a sabbatical year. Some scholars also view the "all things in common" texts (Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-37) as jubilee-inspired observances of the early church. Paul's concept of "mutual aid" (2 Corinthians 8:13-14) may also reflect jubilee influences.
The jubilee was not a major observance in the Western (Roman) church, with the hierarchy of church leaders (excepting the monastic orders) accumulating worldly power and wealth. The Roman Catholic church did maintain the prohibition against usury (requiring excessive interest on loans).
Protestant Reformation leaders (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, and Ulrich Zwingli) all abandoned the usury prohibitions. They were maintained only by the Anabaptists. The Swiss Brethren and South German Anabaptists practiced mutual aid, while the Hutterian Brethren practiced having all things in common. Among 20th century Mennonites, only the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman), group rejects giving and taking interest (business, economics, investments).
The 1970s and 1980s saw a resurgence of attention by North American Mennonite scholars to the jubilee themes. The General Conference Mennonite Church declared 1975 to be the ninth jubilee since the origin of Anabaptism in 1525. Observances occurred at Bethel College (Ks.), and in a number of congregations. In 1987 the Sabbatical Voluntary Service theme was a current jubilee-inspired application sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee Canada.
North, Robert. The Sociology of the Biblical Jubilee, Analecta Biblica: Investigationes Scientificae in Res Biblicas 4. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1954.
Trocmé, Andre. Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution, trans. Michael H. Shank and Marlin E. Miller. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973; originally published in French, 1961.
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972: 34-41, 64-77.
Klassen, Peter James. The Economics of Anabaptism 1525-1560. The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1964: 29-49, 66-67, 90, 105.
Hiebert, Clarence. The Holdeman People: The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, 1859-1969. South Pasadena, CA.: William Carey Library, 1973: 472-79.
Blosser, Don. "Jesus and the Jubilee - Luke 4: 16-30: the Year of Jubilee and Its Significance in the Gospel of Luke." PhD diss., St. Andrews, U., Scotland, 1979.
Driver, John. "The Jubilee Legislation of Moses and the Historical/Political Situation of Jesus." Church and Peace Quarterly Report (Schoeffengrund, West Germany) vol. 2, no. 1 (January 1980): 13-21.
Habegger, David. "The Year of Jubilee." Mennonite (11 February 1975): 81-83.
Hull, Robert. "Sabbatical Service." Mennonite (27 January 1981): 49-51, (3 February 1981): 68-69.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 468-469. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Hull, Robert. "Jubilee." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/J823ME.html.
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