In the Old Testament poverty denotes both a lack of economic resources and material goods, as well as political and legal powerlessness. In ancient Israel the poor weren’t a social class, rather they were a diverse body consisting of small farmers, day laborers, beggars, debt slaves and village dwellers. Various biblical texts discuss their plight, offering different analyses of their situation. The books of law regulate their treatment, in particular, the legal codes ensure the social well-being of the poor through distribution of food and other goods and restrictions on slave ownership.
The prophetic texts largely concern themselves with the poor being exploited by large landowners and the ruling class in Israel. The books of wisdom divide over poverty. Proverbs regularly states that poverty is the result of laziness whist Job and Ecclesiastic understand poverty to be the result Of exploitation. Finally, the psalms Often discuss God’s concern for the poor. Outside these blocks poverty is dealt with only occasionally. The narrative literature of the Pentateuch isn’t concerned with the issue, neither is most of Deuteron.
Ruth, Esther and Daniel only mention it as an aside, not leaning with it in any way. It is important to note the distribution of the different terms for poverty throughout the bible. There are a number of words in the Hebrew Bible for poverty (ebony, deal, masher, misses, ann., anima and Rasa) despite there being several different words for poverty in Hebrew, all with different meanings, no one writer uses all of them. A. Ebony -The Beggarly poor B. Deal -The Poor Peasant C. Masher -The Lazy Poor Misses -Poverty is Better D. E. Rasa -Political and Economic Inferiority F. Ann. -The Injustice of Oppression G.
Anima -A Political Movement of the Pious Poor In this essay will look more closely at terms A, B, E. A The term ebony occurs 61 time in the Hebrew Bible. Largely in the Prophetic books and the Psalms, more specifically, the Psalms of Lament. It’s use generally connotes physical insecurity and homelessness (Sis 14:30; 25:4; Amos 8:4), hunger and thirst (Sis 32:6-7; 41 :7; Seek 16:49), mistreatment by rulers of society (Sis 29: 1 9; Jeer 234 20: 13; Seek 1 2; 2229; Aaron MM unfair handling of legal cases (Sis 32:7; Jeer 5:28; 22;16; Amos 5:1 2) and economic exploitation (Amos 2:6; 8:6).
Ebb¶n appears in a particular strain of the reporter material, and, when used in tandem with an and deal, represents a stylized mode of expression for speaking of poverty. It is noteworthy that Mica chose not to use C]ebb¶n or any of the other terms for poor, even though he addressed poverty in stark detail. Only 2 Psalms give any specific information. Psalm 37 and 132. The rest of the Psalms that mention ebony are rather vague about who they refer to.
In As 37 the poor are depicted as the victims of the swords and bows of the wicked; perhaps the writer intends us to understand this concretely, though it s also possible that it is metaphorical for any kind of suffering. From the other text (As 132: 1 5), with its statement that God gives food to the Cycle¶n we can infer that the poor are those who lack nourishment, a concrete understanding of the term that is consistent with the word’s usage in the prophetic books. The notion that God assists the poor is expressed in a number of psalms.
Some portray God as the one who rescues the poor, while others are prayers calling on God to help the poor. The diverging vocabulary distribution between the Psalms and the narrative iterate would seem to favor the view that the Psalms embody a variety of cultural influences, not simply royal tradition, and reflect a diverse set of ideas regarding matters Of social justice, though with a less sharply defined agenda than the prophets. In Historical Narratives. It is striking that the term ebony is missing from the narrative materials of the DO and of the Pentateuch.
Indeed, the overall scarcity of any of the terms for poor in these extensive bodies of narrative material is noteworthy, suggesting that ancient Israel’s historians were reluctant to take up the topic of poverty. B The term deal is used 48 times in the Hebrew Bible, and half of these occur in prophetic ND proverbial texts. In many cases it seems to allude to the plight of the beleaguered peasant farmer. It appears 12 times in the prophetic literature, less frequently than the words Debby¶n or n .
It can connote unfair treatment in legal cases (Sis 10:2; 11 :4), unfair grain taxes paid to the large landowners (Amos 5:1 1), abuses in the debt-slavery system (Amos 8:6); and a lack of grazing land (Sis 14:30). Elsewhere, the term is used for those who suffer exploitation and oppression of an undefined nature (Sis 26:6; Amos :7; 4:1). On two occasions God is depicted as the protector of the deal (Sis 25:4; Zephyr 3:12). For Isaiah, God’s liberation of the poor will lead to their trampling those who are in power (Sis 26:5-6).
For Jeremiah, the deal stand in contrast to society’s political and religious authorities (Jeer 5:4-5). One text in Jeremiah explicitly defines deal as one who has nothing (Jeer 39:10), meaning people who lack vineyards and fields. In the prophetic texts, therefore, the term deal depicts the politically and economically normalized elements of society. The mention of severe grain taxes (Amos 5:1 1) and lack of sufficient razing and farmland (Sis 14:30; Jeer 39:1 0) suggests an agricultural background for this word. A background that is confirmed by uses of the word deal elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.
The term deal appears only 5 times in the Pentateuch. It is found twice in legal contexts, twice in ritual contexts, once where the deal is enjoined to pay the same census tax as the rich and once where the poor are permitted to bring less costly offerings because of their status as people of lesser means (Good 30:1 5; Level 14:21). It is difficult to know why in the one case the rich and poor are not distinguished, whereas in he other, the poor are treated according to their financial circumstances (Level 5:1 1; 12:8).
It may be that the principle of not showing favoritism to the poor had its limits, or it may be that the deal was not the poorest of the poor, that is, a person entirely without property, but was someone of modest means who stood somewhat above the ebony on the social ladder. Because of the agricultural nature of the passages, the texts may have in mind the small farmer. The only other occurrence of deal in the Pentateuch is in a narrative context where the subject is not poverty but a description of the emaciated notation of the cows in Pharaohs dreams (Gene 41 :19).
This most vividly captures something of the image that must have come to mind when an Israelite thought of the condition of the deal. Note that the distribution of the word deal follows the Same pattern as other words for poor in the Pentateuch: it occurs almost exclusively in legal texts and is only rarely found in the narrative materials, and when found in the narrative materials, the terms are rarely used to discuss poverty per SE. Elsewhere in the narrative texts, deal appears only in Ruth (3:10), where it stands opposite rich and means simply poor.
Boas praises Ruth for not turning to younger men, whether poor or rich. Considering the agricultural context of the book of Ruth, it is perhaps no coincidence that the narrator chose to use a word for poor that applies to poor peasant farmers. Notably, the word deal is quite rare in the Psalms, occurring only 5 times in 4 psalms. Most of the occurrences concern God’s care of the poor (As 72: 13; 82:3, 4; 1 13:7), though the situations are largely left undefined. One text alludes to injustices in matters of law, for God calls on the divine assembly to judge the poor justly (As 82:3).
While most of the texts once God’s attitude toward the deal, only one text deals with a person’s relation to the poor, where a blessing is pronounced on those who are considerate toward them (As 41:2). The Psalms are therefore even more vague about the deal than they are about the Cycle¶n, making it difficult to know how explicit these texts intend to be about physical poverty. In Proverbs, the term deal, is used only in chapters 10-29. This type of poverty is contrasted with wealth: it shatters the poor (10:1 5); it is a friendless circumstance (1 9:4); however, it may produce insight that the rich can fail to rasp (28:11).
Charity toward the poor is elevated as a virtue of the wise person, though the motivation for such benevolence is to reap the rewards that come from having a reputation for magnanimity (19:17; 22:9; 29:9). Although the life Of poverty is certainly no virtue to the proverbial writers, the pursuit of wealth should not involve mistreating the poor. Frequently wisdom warns of the dangers inherent in attempting to profit off the deal (14:31; 21 :13; 22:16; BIB, 8, 15).
E The word Rasa occurs 22 times in the Hebrew Bible, mainly in wisdom texts, ND should be viewed as a wisdom term (it does not appear at all in the Pentateuch or the prophetic writings); the word Rasa refers to someone who is politically and economically inferior, frequently referring to someone who is lazy. The majority of occurrences are in Proverbs (1 5 times), all restricted to the sentential literature of chapters 10-29. In Proverbs, this term implies poverty that results from laziness (10:4) and want that arises from disordered living (13:23). This type of poverty is seen to be a friendless condition (14:20; 19:7; 28:3).
The wisdom analysis of the origins of poverty in personal laziness verges radically from other streams of biblical tradition, such as the prophetic and legal, which see the problem of poverty in terms of social structures and power arrangements. The wisdom analysis is to be explained by the fact that sociologically it finds its home in the educational circles of the social elite of ancient Israel. Thus the term Rasa often stands in Contrast to rich(1 3:8; 14:20; 1823; 22:7; 28:6). In one of these texts (18:23), the word Rasa would seem to be best translated as beggar or bum.
The text depicts this person imploring the rich for assistance. Consistent with the proverbial hilltop’s, this type of poor person is not to be mocked because God creates all people (1 7:5; 22:2; 28:27; 29:13). The term Rasa is used on several occasions to teach that there are worse things than poverty, for example, perverse speech and stupidity (1 9: 1), lying (1 9:22), and evil deeds (28:6). Obviously, the use of this teaching device does not mean that the wise cultivated poverty as a virtue; rather, they drew on these proverbs to help their students grasp how one acts if one embodies wisdom.
Wisdom is more than knowing how to respect wealth and poverty. The word Rasa is used twice in Ecclesiastic. One ext (4:14) concerns the contrast between the poor but wise youth and an old, foolish king who does not heed warnings and collapses into poverty (see D. Above). In another passage, the word Rasa is used in the context of structural economic exploitation, a usage that is unusual for Rasa. The writer says that one must not be surprised by the exploitation of the poor in a province, for society is structured in such a way that those above exploit those who are below them on the social ladder (Cycle 5:7).
Though the writer’s sentiment is rather cynical about the situation of the poor, the author turns the meaning f the word Rasa on its head by suggesting that Rasa is not a poverty that results from laziness as the writers of Proverbs maintained; this inversion of categories moves Ecclesiastic in the direction of Job and the prophets, who also emphasize the structural origins of poverty. The word Rasa does not appear at all in Job; this lack is yet another factor that sets Job apart from Proverbs, even though both are generally regarded as wisdom texts.
That the book of Job avoids the term Rasa strengthens the view we have argued for above that the book of Job is more akin to the prophetic materials in terms of engage and social analysis than it is to the wisdom tradition, at least insofar as Proverbs is a typical representative of this tradition. In the Psalms. The word Rasa appears only once, in a prophetic psalm, where God calls on the divine assembly to bring about just legal decisions for the poor (As 82:3). This passage is rich in its use of terms for the poor (deal, an , Rasa and ebony, all occur in 82:3-4). All are victims of the wicked.
In Historical Narrative. Like the word deal, the word Rasa is unusual among the words for poor in that it crops up at least a few times (4 times) in the course of the DO. The first instance concerns the rising figure of David in the court of Saul; David sees himself as an insignificant individual when compared to the importance of the ruling king, Saul (1 Sam 18:23). The word is not used to bring up the topic of poverty; rather, it specifies political inferiority. The other uses of Rasa in 2 Samuel all occur in the context of Antenna’s parable addressed against the adulterous affair and murder perpetrated by King David.
In the immediate context of the parable, the Rasa is depicted as one who owns only one small sheep in contrast o the rich person who owns many flocks and herds (2 Sam 1 2:1-4). Clearly the term has a strong economic flavor to it, and the text tacitly recognizes the cruelty of the rich when they steal what little the poor possess. However, the purpose of the text is not to critique economic relations in the manner of the prophetic texts or the book of Job (the term Rasa is not prophetic and is the wrong word to put in the mouth of a prophet); rather, the text seeks to make explicit the political miscalculations of King David.
In this way, the Deterministic writers are actually quite consistent in their use of Rasa and al: these words are used to stress political weakness and are not drawn on to analyze the situation of the poor in their society. Some streams of the biblical tradition are clearly concerned about poverty, although their theologies and analyses of poverty differ radically. Nevertheless, the legal, prophetic and wisdom books all see poverty as a matter of significance to the community.
Poverty is a decisive issue in the prophetic and legal traditions. It is in these traditions that we are brought face-to-face with the harsh living conditions of the poor: hunger and thirst, namelessness, economic exploitation, legal injustices, lack of sufficient farmland. All these form the web of poverty in ancient Israel. The prophets protest what they see to be the oppression of the poor at the hands of the society rulers, while the legal tridents offer some limited provisions to ease the burdens of those who suffer in this situation.
The liturgical tradition, as represented in the Psalms, presents a God who assists the poor in their distress, and the psalmists offer many prayers on their behalf. However, as we have seen, the Psalm’s use Of terms for the poor tends to be rather vague tit regard to their specific circumstances, causing us to wonder if the text is more metaphorical in its use of the terms and therefore more spiritualists in its approach to the topic. The wisdom tradition offers divergent positions.
Proverbs, in part by drawing on a different vocabulary for poverty, develops a markedly different view of poverty: to the wise, poverty is either the result of laziness or represents the judgment of God. By contrast, the book of Job moves in the direction of the language and analysis of the prophets. In this book, the poor are victims of economic and legal injustices. Furthermore, poverty becomes one of the book’s major Issues: Job has to defend himself against the charge that he has exploited the poor.
One of the arguments for his innocence is built around the fact that he has defended the cause of the poor. One unexpected conclusion have arrived at through this study is that the plight of the poor was not a vital issue for ancient Israel’s historians. A onto able lack of poverty language distances the Pentateuch and Deuteron from the issues of poverty. You could choose to read the Exodus events as God’s intervention behalf of the poor but the language of poverty is not resent, and it would seem that this is deliberately the case.
It would seem, then, that the writers of the Pentateuch and Deuteron are not concerned with poverty and injustice, even in the case Of the Exodus text. An alternative analysis of these texts would argue that the writers of Exodus and Samuel through Kings are concerned with developing a critique of kingship and foreign domination, but not with an analysis of the structures of poverty in their society.