Jubilee — don't ju'believe it
Now that the various celebrations to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year rule of the British Empire are finally done and dusted, I feel okay to post my criticism on the blatant misuse—even abuse—of the term “Jubilee” to label this hugely expensive, indulgent-but-shallow festival of temporary feel-good patriotism. Not a fan, in case that isn’t obvious. I avoided all of it—including riding the Elizabeth Line which opened while I was in London. So what’s my gripe?
I take issue with the use of the term Jubilee to describe such milestones of Royal rule. Jubilee, in Biblical terms, has a very clear meaning, and it is almost the polar opposite of how it is used by us today. Let me start with a quote.
And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. — Leviticus 25:10 (KJV)
By all accounts, the Jubilee law has not been practiced since around 600 BCE, roughly the same period of time that the law was written in the book of Leviticus. One wonders if it was actually practiced before that time, or if it was just one of those "nice to have" laws, an ideal rather than an actual practice. Ideal it certainly is, and if hard to practice during the time it was written, how much more so today.
Jubilee—a word derived from a Hebrew term meaning trumpet blast, or shout for joy—is like hitting the reset button, and starting over. When my laptop has been on too long it starts to slow down; some applications have consumed all the resources, hogging the memory and dragging down the cpu response time; other applications struggle to function. Eventually nothing works properly and the only thing to do is hit the restart button, allowing the resources to be distributed again more equally. That's Jubilee.
In the Jubilee year, heralded by a blast from a ram's horn trumpet, God's people were asked to write off all debts and free all their slaves and bondsmen. It was the year of equalisation, a hope on the horizon for those struggling on borrowed money to make ends meet, and for those fallen so far into debt that the only resource they had left was themselves, their personal freedom, and even that was taken by the creditor, rendering the debtor a bondsman, an indentured servant.
Debt and interest rates cripple the poor today all over the world. And there is no hope, no Jubilee to look forward to, no equalisation, no forgiveness, no amnesty. The idea is barely creditable in a capitalist society. What we have instead are laws that allow bailiffs to strip the poor of what few possessions they have left, and turn them out of their homes onto the streets. And today we call that justice. The Israelites may not have practiced the Jubilee law around debt forgiveness, but they at least had back ups for the treatment of bondsmen and bondswomen. In Deuteronomy we read,
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. — Deuteronomy 15:11-14 (KJV)
Again, a sense of fairness, equalisation, and brotherly love shine through. Today our governments and our individual political psyches are stripped of such compassion. It becomes apparent in the use of the word “Jubilee” to celebrate a violent, oppressive monarchy who in the past seventy years (let alone all previous years) have done absolutely nothing to repair, restore, redeem, release or otherwise rebuild our broken empire, our broken country, our broken laws and our broken hearts.1 If the opportunity of this seventy-year extravaganza was not grasped to right even a single wrong committed by the British Empire over the past centuries, what chance do we have? This was no Jubilee, this was more akin to Triumphus.2
Today, the poor must rely on charity for any semblance of redress, the immigrant on the kindness of lawyers working for free, the oppressed and wrongfully imprisoned on the small voice of close friends alone, and the indebted fall further and further into debt, too often resulting in death by their own hands. The system is silent. The queen apparently in complete and utter ignorance.
Imagine for a moment what our societies could be like if a form of the Jubilee law was written into every constitution—and actually practiced. Now that's a fantasy to stretch the imagination!
“The Roman triumph (triumphus) was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the success of a military commander who had led Roman forces to victory in the service of the state or in some historical traditions, one who had successfully completed a foreign war. On the day of his triumph, the general wore a crown of laurel and an all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga picta ("painted" toga), regalia that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly. In some accounts, his face was painted red, perhaps in imitation of Rome's highest and most powerful god, Jupiter. The general rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army, captives, and the spoils of his war. At Jupiter's temple on the Capitoline Hill, he offered sacrifice and the tokens of his victory to the god Jupiter.” — Wikipedia
Note: the middle section of this article first appeared as Reflection 43: Realignment, on my KJV365 project, 12/02/2021
Image from Trumpet Imagery and the Year of Jubilee, 22/03/2021