Bible Review 9:4, August 1993

Sweet Land and Liberty

Whether real or utopian, the laws in Leviticus seem to be a more sensitive safeguard against pauperization than we, here and now, have devised.

By Jacob Milgrom

Bible Review

A Dead Sea Scrolls conference brought me to the Annenberg Institute in Philadelphia, where for the first time (I am embarrassed to say) I saw the Liberty Bell. There I learned that the name “Liberty Bell” was not given to it by the American revolutionaries but by the abolitionist movement during the decades before the Civil War.

As all Americans know, the name stems from the quotation from Leviticus 25:10 that borders the bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof” (King James Version). “Liberty” (Hebrew, dror) in reality means “release” and it refers, as spelled out in the rest of the verse, to the jubilee year “when each of you shall return to his kin group.” This verse implies that the indebted Israelite had lost his land and was separated from his family. In other words, he had become a slave. That process is described in Leviticus 25:25–55. Thus the abolitionists, perhaps unwittingly, intuited the correct interpretation of verse 10, applying it to release from slavery.

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