Leviticus 25 is devoted to Yahweh’s commandments concerning the 7th year land Sabbath, which is basically a reprint of the older Elohist law preserved in Exodus 23:10-11.
“And in the 7th year the land shall have a Sabbath, a ceasing, a Sabbath for Yahweh: you shall not seed your field, and you shall not prune your vineyard; you shall not reap your harvest’s free growth, and you shall not cut off your untrimmed grapes.” (Lev 25:4-5)
The tradition preserved in Deuteronomy 15, on the other hand, while making no mention of the land Sabbath tradition nevertheless speaks of (or creates?) another tradition: debt-remission every 7th year.
“At the end of 7 years you shall make a remission, and this is the matter of the remission:
- Every holder of a loan is to remit what he has lent his neighbor. He shall not demand it of his neighbor and his brother, because a remission for Yahweh has been called. (15:1-2)
- When your Hebrew brother or sister will be sold to you, then he shall work for you 6 years, and in the 7th year you shall let him go liberated from you. (15:12)
At first I was inclined to say that the 7th year fallow of the land in Exodus 23, presented as the land Sabbath in Leviticus 25, and the 7th year debt-remission in Deuteronomy 15, where nothing is mentioned of the land Sabbath, were complementary rather than contradictory. But now I am inclined to see the 7th century BCE Deuteronomist as once again (see #194-197, #198-204, and #205-208) altering the Elohist tradition that he inherited and consciously changing the 7th year land-fallow to a 7th year debt-remission—thus in effect contradicting and eliminating the earlier Elohist tradition in Exodus 23. My reasons are as follows:
- This shift from land-remission to debt-remission suits the Deuteronomist’s humanitarian agenda in general. This humanitarianism or secularism comes through in various secular laws penned by the Deuteronomist with a view to help the social classes of widows, orphans, the poor, the foreigner in the land, and Levites: remission of all debts every seven years (15:1-11), the tithing of all produce every three years (14:28-29), the setting aside of sacrificial portions for the Levites (18:6-8), giving animals that are dead to the foreigners who live in the land, rather than throwing them to the dogs (#188), no-interest loans (23:20-21), and prohibitions against biased judgements and fully reaping one’s fields (24:17-22). There are even special provisions for warriors who are newly wed, or have recently built a house or planted a vineyard (20:1-9), and laws that require parents to honor the birthrights of the firstborn (21:15-17). Finally, although the treatment of slaves is similar to the Deuteronomist’s source, Exodus 21, the Deuteronomist adds the commandment that provisions must be provided upon a slave’s departure from his master (#139). All this leads me to believe that the Deuteronomist consciously changed Exodus 23:10-11 into a 7 year debt-remission law.
- In Exodus 23, it would seem that the 7th year land-fallow was decreed so that the indigent of the land could eat what remained on the land; in other words it was decreed for the poor. Following from #1 above, I see D as understanding this, but pushing it further to its logical conclusion by altering the 7th year land-remission for the indigent to a debt-remission and indentured slave remission and in that respect accomplishing humanitarian aid to the indigent in a manner that the Elohist’s 7th year land-fallow law could not. Moreover, D is silent about this tradition. Nothing is said of the land. That is, rather than restating Exodus 23:10-11, the Deuteronomist suppresses and modifies it so that it is now a 7th year debt remission.
- Lastly, we have already noted the contradiction between the Deuteronomist’s (as well as the Elohist’s) 7 year release of the indentured Hebrew and the 50th year release of the same in Leviticus 25:39-46 (#140). In other words, in the Priestly source, the 7 year land Sabbath is retained as it was in Exodus 23:10-11, and nothing is mentioned of a 7 year debt-remission or indentured Hebrew release, but rather of this release on the Jubilee year, the 50th.
All of this leads me to believe that we have 2 contradictory traditions here: a 7th year land Sabbath tradition that makes no mention of debt remission, or does so in the 50th year, versus a 7th year debt-remission tradition that makes no mention of the 7th year land Sabbath.