Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street

By Tomas Sedlacek | Go to book overview

2
The Old Testament
Earthlines and Goodness

Let me avow it right away: I think that the Jewish religion has the same
leading ideas as Capitalism.
I see the same spirit in the one as in the other
.
Werner Sombart

Although the Jews of the Old Testament1 played a key role in forming today’s Euro-American culture and economic systems, not much space has been devoted to them in either the leading textbooks of economic ideas or other economic texts.2 Max Weber believed that we owe the

1 Following Bimson, (The Compact Handbook of Old Testament Life, 7–8, it may be useful to mention the correct use of names for the people to whom the “promised” land was given by God. If we follow biblical precedent, it is certainly correct to call them “Hebrews” from Abraham onward (see Genesis 14:13). “Israel” was the new name given by God to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson (Genesis 32:28, 43:6, etc.), and so the descendants of Jacob are “Israelites.” In Exodus 3:18 and 5:1–3 “Hebrews” and “Israel” appear to be used as synonymous terms. “Israel” also has a secondary and more specific meaning in the Old Testament, since it can signify the northern tribes as distinct from Judah, especially after the division of the kingdom. Although the terms “Hebrew” and “Israelite” continued in use into the New Testament period (e.g., Romans 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5), by then the term “Jew” was more commonly used. This originally referred to a member of the southern tribe of Judah (which is its use in Jeremiah 32:12; 34:9), but after the Babylonian Exile it came to replace “Israelite” as the most widely used term for one of God’s covenant people. This was because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were in fact members of the tribe of Judah, as the northern tribes (“Israel” in the narrow sense) had lost their identity after the fall of Samaria in 722 BC “Jew” and “Jewish” should not be used in the generally accepted sense when speaking of the period before the Exile. For the purpose of our text, however, we will treat “Israelites,” “Hebrews,” and “Jews” as synonyms.

2 To the author’s knowledge, the issue of economic thinking in Judaism has probably been considered the most by Max Weber (Ancient Judaism, Economy and Society, Sociology of Religion) and later, to a lesser extent, by Werner Sombart (The Jews and Modern Capitalism) and Karl Marx (On the Jewish Question), but none of them (possibly with the exception of certain parts of Max Weber’s texts) set as their goal to analyze the economic aspects of the fundamental texts of the ancient Jewish faith. Economic journals (the Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics Quarterly, and others) have published a number of articles on Jewish business ethics, but none of the articles known to the author examine the economic aspects of the historical and philosophical foundations of Judaism as a whole. Regarding textbooks on economic thought: As one example of many we may present the book by MacIntyre,

-45-

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